Also known as "bicycle shaped objects", these bikes have a tempting price but are poor quality and may be hazardous to ride.
You dig your bike out of the garage or basement where it’s been rusting for years. You can hardly turn the pedals. The chain is rusty and nothing works right. You take it to the shop. “Sure, we can fix it,” they tell you. “A tune-up plus parts, it’ll be about $100.” Walmart sells an adult’s bike for $90. You could get your old bike fixed up or get a brand new bike for cheaper. Sounds like a good deal, right?
I’ve known a few people who bought a Walmart bike. The left shifter didn’t work or the brakes didn’t brake very well. After a couple rides, disappointed over the outcome of that $88 deal, the owner stashed the bike in the garage and never rode it again.
Department store bikes have low quality components (shifters, derailleurs, brakes, etc). The people who assemble the bikes aren’t adequately trained. Walmart is facing lawsuits from people who were injured when brakes failed or the front wheel fell off, due to faulty components or improper assembly.
Spend a little to get your old bike in working order so you can enjoy the ride! If you are shopping for a bike, good used bikes are a great deal, but may be hard to find in your size and may need some repair. Most used bikes out there are former Walmart bikes—there is a reason they are available. The easiest, but initially most expensive option ($400-$2000), is to get a quality new bike from a bike shop*.
Whatever you decide to do, your bike will need maintenance. If you bought a car, you wouldn’t think that just because you bought it new, you shouldn’t have to change the oil and filters. It doesn’t matter how much your bike costs, it will need maintenance from time to time.
It’s fine to get a helmet or lights from Walmart. But those bikes are made with shoddy materials and are often improperly assembled, so my advice is to stay away from their bikes.
*Kirksville’s new bike shop does not yet stock new bikes. Walt’s, CycleXtreme, Tryathletics in Columbia, MO stock new bikes.