Saturday, February 11, 2006

Don't Buy a Wal-Mart Bicycle!

In a California court case this week, Wal-Mart and importer Dynacraft BSC defended themselves against a lawsuit accusing them of knowingly distributing bikes with faulty quick-release levers.

The defendants say that any front-wheel failures associated with the bicycles are most likely a result of improper assembly, parental neglect, failure to adjust the quick-release device, or children's neglect or abuse of the bikes.
I know from experience that many people don't know how to operate quick-release levers -- I once showed a new commuter how to take off her front wheel in order to lock it up alongside the frame. It hardly bears mentioning that her bike was a cheap brand such as those sold at Wal-Mart. Any decent bike shop would never let you roll the bike out the front door without explaining how the quick-release mechanism works. Even if you think you know, they'll probably show you again just to be sure. No one at Wal-Mart is going to tell you about important things like properly using and adjusting your front wheel's quick-release.

But this court case offered an even better reason not to buy a Wal-Mart bike. The jury was given a bicycle to examine in order to understand how the quick-release works. About five hours into their deliberations, a juror broke the quick-release lever! Oops. That couldn't have helped Wal-Mart's defense. And according to a press release put out on behalf of the plaintiffs, "The bicycle came straight out of the box and had never been ridden."

Discount store and department store bikes are the Yugos of the bicycle industry. Sure, they are cheap, but you get an unreliable product that should not be trusted. Parents, would you buy your daughter the cheapest "beater" on the used-car lot for her to drive home from work at night? Of course not. Then why do so many people put their kids on these dangerous bikes just to save a few bucks?

As one who writes about cycling on the Web, I get many e-mails asking, "What bike should I buy?" My answer is always the same: always buy from a bike shop (unless you're buying something fancy via mail-order like a Bike Friday) and start out with the cheapest bicycle built by a well-known, well-regarded manufacturer. Companies like Trek, Giant, Cannondale and Specialized cannot afford to have their good reputations destroyed by inferior products. The cheapest Trek mountain bike will be far better than the fanciest full-suspension $100 Wal-Mart bike. And when you consider that the Trek will last as long as several Wal-Mart bikes in succession, it really doesn't cost more money than the cheap bike. You can certainly spend a lot more and get an even better bike, but buying a good brand is the bare minimum. And no, Huffy is not considered a good brand. Go to a bike shop. Trust me on this.

UPDATE - 02/12/2006 - Well, it looks like Wal-Mart won their case despite the broken quick-release. The jury voted 11-1 that it was the fault of the kids and parents. Without knowing the details of the case, I suspect this was an example of one side winning largely because they could afford better lawyers. Ironically, a high-profile Wal-Mart lawyer said in his closing argument, "Theories are a dime a dozen. Where's the proof? Where's the data?" Uh, maybe that broken quick-release in the jury room was the proof? Regardless of the results of this case, their bikes are still junk. If the quick-release doesn't fail, something else will. And don't go crying to the local bike shop when that Wal-Mart bike breaks. It's not their fault you bought a pretty piece of scrap metal instead of a bicycle.

12 comments:

MidnightBayou said...

Here's another good advice: don't buy any CDs at Wal-Mart. They promote censorship and wash them!!!

David Johnsen said...

Yeah, that's their way of "protecting the children." I wonder if they sell a G-rated version of the Rolling Stones' Tattoo You approved by the National Football League.

Anonymous said...

I agree!

I'll tell you what's just as bad as a faulty quick release lever.

Those pedals are terrifying. Mine popped right out when I was 15 years old and lost my footing of course!I had a severe laceration in my groan area and I split my pubic bone right down the middle because I slammed into the bar below me.

I remember the nurse telling me that I'm fortunate that I'm not a male. Because if I was, I probably would of been hospitalized or it could have resulted in death.

Now that's pretty serious yet stupid. I'm 18 now, and I now own a 2005 Giant Rincon. HA! That's a Dream come true after riding Wal-Mart bikes all my life!

Anonymous said...

ha! i agree. I am a 15 year old and i ride bmx vert. My first bike was a Wal-Mart bike and guess what it looks like now? uh.. definetly not like a bike cause the frame snapped in two!!!!!!!! I broke my arm doing that. So I went out and bought a gt (old school pre2001) so it's a good GT and then i have a diamondback joker from 1998 and of course my prize possesion an eastern with over 1,000 put into it. The price you pay is definetly worth it. Look at my GT it's 10 years old and 10 years of abuse (my older brother had it before me) and he rides just as hard as i do on it. There is not one dent on it and the only thing we replaced is the crank.

Anonymous said...

Definitely do not buy a Wal-Mart bike, just by walking through the stores you can tell their junk. One time I counted 7 bikes with the forks on backwards. All of these were full suspension or front suspension bikes, unless the installer thought they were manitous with reverse arch technology ( YEAH RIGHT!!!!) Wal-Mart doesn't know anything about bikes they just enjoy the money

Anonymous said...

al most tooka sspill on a turn when the chain derailed , the twist shifter came of thrubber twister ,cant shift anymore.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Thomas said...

I bought a Mongoose mountain bike at Wal-Mart. Two weeks later, the right pedal broke off. Four months later, the rear wheel fell apart and was immediately replaced. Two months after that, the left pedal broke off. Soon thereafter, the rear wheel fell apart. Also, the brake pads are severely worn. I thought Mongoose was a good brand, but when I took the bike to the shop for repairs, the mechanic said than the manufacturer sold the factory to another company, which would explain inferior workmanship with a reputable brand name.

David Johnsen said...

Yeah, it's a shame what happened to Mongoose. Back in the day they were one of the best, at least in BMX. I still have mine from 1980.

Anonymous said...

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Tim Little said...

I can understand your frustration with your mongoose mountain bikes but mongoose has a very extensive brand of bikes and I don't think that all mongoose bikes are bad. I don't know what the policy at Wal Mart is but I would think they should have a good return policy?

Anonymous said...

Nice advice!