Walmart Budget Bikes Are Built to Fail, According to Vice

If you’re shopping for a bike on a budget, you’ll likely make your way over to the local Walmart. For years, Walmart has sold bicycles of all kinds. Some are expensive, decent bikes, but others are very cheap. Unfortunately, with these bicycles, a low price means inferior quality. Vice got the opinions of some expert mechanics on the matter, who claim that Walmart budget bikes are built to fail.

Walmart budget bikes aren’t just cheap, they’re built to fail

A BMW car driving on a highway with bike rack on top
A BMW car with bike rack | Peter Steffen/picture alliance via Getty Images

According to Vice, Mac Liman is a bike mechanic of 18 years. She’s been working with cheap, poorly-made, and all-around crappy bikes for a long time. In addition, she’s the program director for Bikes Together in Denver, a nonprofit that provides bicycles, repairs, and education courses to community members. When she says Walmart budget bikes are built to fail; she’s not sticking her nose up at less expensive bikes. She’s giving genuine advice, which is to avoid what bike mechanics have long-called “bike-shaped objects.”

These objects are the ones people with little-to-no training build as quickly as possible in the back of Walmart. Not that it’s their fault, they’re just doing their job. However, if you’re looking for a serviceable, safe model that will last a while, avoid these bikes. Liman says this leads to misaligned wheels, bad handlebars, and backward forks and usually breaks after a few dozen hours of use.

Walmart budget bikes have gotten worse over the years

Bike riders in a race. Walmart budget bikes are built to fail, according to Vice.
A bike race in Belgium | Dean Mouhtaropoulos – Velo/Getty Images

According to Liman, the built-to-fail budget bike problem has gotten “increasingly worse over the last 10 years.” Fortunately, bikes weren’t so popular that she saw it as a real problem, someone buying a cheap bike once in a while. However, the pandemic sparked a boom in bicycle purchases around the US. This inevitably led to people who didn’t know any better buying the cheapest bike they could find in their local Walmart.

That’s what inspired Liman to start speaking up about the issue. She started a petition calling for bike manufacturers and retailers to stop making and selling these bikes altogether. “Stop producing and selling bikes that fall apart after a few months of use. We are tired of telling distraught customers and riders that their bikes are made too poorly to fix, and we are tired of seeing these bikes filling up our waste streams. Frankly, you should be ashamed of selling bikes that last some 90 riding hours.”

What makes a bike “built to fail”?

A bicycle store with people inside. Walmart budget bikes are built to fail, according to Vice.
Inside a bicycle shop | Stephan Schulz/picture alliance via Getty Images

Bikes that are built to fail come from many retail stores and online. Liman estimated a large portion of them come from Walmart but also added it’s not exclusively a Walmart problem. Vice reported that buyers can find poorly made bikes anywhere that sells them for under $500. Although it is possible to find a well-made, decent bike for less than that, most will be built to fail. Walmart, specifically, responded to Liman’s petition, saying it is committed to providing its customers with high-quality items at affordable prices. The company added that it is “looking into the concerns raised by this petition.”

Liman’s encountered problems over the last year include bent/damaged frames, bent axles, snapped crank arms, broken forks, and broken welds. She said these things shouldn’t happen in a year and a half, even with extreme use. Unfortunately, all of them are happening with very minimal use. Additionally, Liman noted that the problems could be hazardous for riders. One example is handlebars popping loose because retailers didn’t correctly tighten them, which most people overlook before riding.

Budget bikes can’t be repaired, either

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Possibly the worst part of these inexpensive bikes is that they can’t be upgraded or repaired with decent components. Another bike mechanic who spoke to Vice said that budget bikes violate three principles that make bikes great: they can be adjusted, overhauled, and replaced failing parts. “When those conditions are true, bikes are essentially immortal.” But on a budget bike, “You can often do none of those things. The parts are just too junky or malformed,” the mechanic told Vice.

Good bikes are made to be upgraded, repaired, and have parts replaced constantly. Unfortunately, budget bikes can’t say the same, so you’ll always have to replace the entire bicycle. That can get pretty expensive, even if they’re cheap bikes. Liman says she also thinks a crucial first step is acknowledging that the problem with budget bikes is systemic. Moreover, it involves predatory corporations deliberately making cheap, crappy, unsafe equipment and assembling it into dangerous bike-shaped objects. She isn’t just trying to educate the public to avoid crappy bikes.

Actual bike shops usually don’t even sell budget bikes. That’s why some people turn to places like Walmart for their bicycle needs. Unfortunately, in the world of bikes, you get what you pay for, even though it can be a bit expensive for a decent model. However, in the long run, at least you won’t have to replace your bike every 6-12 months. That’s why Walmart budget bikes are built to fail, and you should avoid them.

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