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Old 11-30-04, 07:41 PM   #1
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Walmart Bike Assembly

My department at work raised a bunch of money for the annual Toys for Tots campaign. They decided to buy a bunch of bikes from Walmart and got a deal on 55 bikes (yes, fifty-five of them!).

The bikes cost between $25 and $40 each with $40 for a 26" multispeed "Mountain Bike". They were all Quest branded bikes.

Yes, I know that they could have bought real bikes, but they obviously wanted to get as many as possible. Still, I find it amazing that a multispeed bike can be built and sold at a profit for $40.

Nonetheless, today I got the esteemed honor of assembling some of these bikes. They came to us still in the box so I got to see just what assembly is required at Walmart and what kind of problems are encountered with the bikes. So far, I have assembled about 10 of the multi-speed models so I have a pretty good sample. Since there is much discussion of xmart bike assembly here, I thought my experience would be enlightening, if not entertaining.

The bikes come almost completely assembled with the front wheel and handlebar/stem strapped to the frame. the rear wheel is already bolted on. The seat and seatpost are bolted together and come loose in the box. The front fork is turned backwards to shorten the required box size. The pedals are shrinkwrapped together and rubberbanded to a spoke on the rear wheel.

Assembly simply requires separating the front wheel and pedals, installing the handlebars.stem, seatpost, and pedals. The front brake cable comes threaded through the pinch bolt, but the bolt is not tightened so the front brake needs to be adjusted. This appears to be intentional and assures that the front wheel will clear the brake pads. This is the only adjustment intended other than handlebar and seat height.

Finally, the tires need to be pumped up. That's all that is required.

Of course, as we all know, xmart bikes need more than the nominal assembly to be properly assembled and safe. Here's what I found:

The front brake caliper usually needed to be adjusted or the right side pad would rub the rim. Most of the front brake pads were not correctly oriented or tightened and so needed adjustment. Curiously, the rear calipers were usually close enough. Only two of the ten bikes need a rear brake adjustment to be safe though all of the rear calipers needed adjustment to optimize their effectiveness..

The seatpost clamp bolt was often very loose and the nut and washer were missing on one bike. A couple other nuts were loose in the bottom of the box and could easily have fallen out with handling.

The reflectors came preattached to the handlebar and seatpost, but were usually not correctly positioned. Several bikes had broken reflectors and some had the mounting screws loose in the box.

The brake lever clamps were not tight enough to keep them from slipping on the handlebars. All the levers required tightening even though this was not one of the intended steps.

The tires fit a bit too loose on the rims and it was hard to get the bead seated all the way around when pumping them up. I had one tube blowout because of this.

One of the wheels was horribly out of true and needed a quick adjustment with a spoke wrench. All of the wheels were poorly constructed and had too little spoke tension. But all but one were true enough to be usable.

Overall, I was actually surprised at how easily these bikes went together. There is really very little assembly time required as most of it is done prior to shipping. An experienced assembler could easily put one of these together in about 5 minutes assuming no unplanned adjustments were required. The biggest problem area I saw was with the brake adjustment. This is, of course, a critical component that needs some attention in the assembly. So far, the only outright broken items were reflectors. However, I have not yet checked the gear adjustments.

Make no mistake, these are cheap, cheap, cheap bikes. Do not mistake my comments as any endorsement of the bike's quality. I'm only reporting on the assembly required and my experience with the condition of the bikes as received from the factory.

I'll update this as I finish checking out the gears.
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Old 11-30-04, 08:26 PM   #2
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You wil find that LBS "quality" bikes are delivered in exactly the same way and require exactly the same amount of assembly.

The thing with the LBS is that you are paying for the extra attention that sees a thorough examination of all parts. Even then, I've taken delivery of quite a few bikes (for my old hire and tour business) that required work so they were to my satisfation -- probably 80% of them.

The reason why the front brake is not adjusted at all is because the front wheel never goes on at the factory... the parts are just bundled together off the factory line, shrink-wrapped or whatever, and placed in the box. Machine-made wheels are *never* tensioned properly. Another thing a good LBS will do, but again I've seen this missed as well.

I've assembled a (good quality) bike-from-a-box once. It wasn't, as you observe, that difficult. But you can imagine what it would be like for a kid who's just been appointed as official bike assembler at *mart for the season trying to figure out where everything goes, let alone why things don't work.
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Old 11-30-04, 08:33 PM   #3
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Hmm, just chilling at the LBS, i saw a good many bike put together, mostly diamondback and raleigh, since those are the brands they primarily sell...but all of those were in a very disassembled state. Fork, seatpost, crankset, deraileurs were attatched to the frame. Brakes/shifters/grips were on the bars. Frame, bars, saddle, and wheels were separately wrapped. And no cables were ran at all. It was a far more involved assembly...which makes me think the reputation DB has now could be the dept stores effing up the assembly since they seem to come in a less assembled state than the huffys and pacifics of the world.
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Old 11-30-04, 09:11 PM   #4
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Of course, then there is the stuff that you can't see. The quality of the bearings in the headtube, crank and wheels. Their adjustment, or lack of adjustment. Their lubrication or lack of lubrication.

I read an industry estimate that during its entire lifetime, a K-Mart bike would be ridden less than a few hundred miles. And, the industry supplies parts of a "quality" consistent with lasting for a few hundred miles.

I have heard wealthy parents justify buying a $40 bike (to ride wearing $100 shoes) by saying "He will ride it this summer...next summer he will need a bigger bike". And, a carefully assembled "Mart" bike might last some kids for one summer.

I have seen $200 BMX bikes that use the highest quality frames, rims, bearings, and other components. Built to take everything "Dennis the Menance" can dish out, year after year. And his brother after him. And his cousin after his brother. At least ten good summers at just $20 per summer. Seems cheaper to me, but not to many "bargain hunting" parents.
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Old 11-30-04, 09:41 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by supcom

I'll update this as I finish checking out the gears.
My Pacific Toy store bike could never shift properly. In fact, I ended up keeping the bike on one gear and left it there. These are NOT multigear bicycles and should be treated as beach cruisers. Tell all the kids NOT to shift the bikes but to find a comfortable gear and leave it there.
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Old 11-30-04, 09:58 PM   #6
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We build all of our bikes like a tuneup. Adjust the hubs, true/tension the wheels, pump the tires, adjust headset and BB, prestress the cables, adjust the brakes and gears. And install the pedals, mount the handlebar and seat. Grease all the things that need grease(seat post, stem, and pedal threads)
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Old 12-01-04, 07:17 AM   #7
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Rev. when I wrenched we built all of our bikes like tune-ups as well. Everything you can think of was greased, lubed and adjusted. We even lubed the pinch bolt threads. Our bikes rode much better than the other local dealers.
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Old 12-01-04, 10:08 AM   #8
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Hey for the one unusable wheel, wherever its the worst, bang it on the ground. I know, its not a kosher method but it works about 90% of the time, and you have nothing to lose since the wheel is unusable as is.
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Old 12-01-04, 10:24 AM   #9
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The October issue of Dirt Rag Magazine did a test similar to this. They purchased three (?) Xmart mountain bikes, took them to their lbs to have them "inspected" and assembled properly. Then they went out rode them like their own, on their local trails. the bikes fared about as well as you might guess - not very well at all. Their conclusion was about the same as you all have noted here. Although I think their critique was a bit harsh, I can see where they were coming from - and their comments echo those made in this post so far...
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Old 12-01-04, 11:46 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by seely
Hey for the one unusable wheel, wherever its the worst, bang it on the ground. I know, its not a kosher method but it works about 90% of the time, and you have nothing to lose since the wheel is unusable as is.
A few quick turns with a spoke wrench put the wheel right.
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Old 12-01-04, 11:49 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by jerrryhazard
The October issue of Dirt Rag Magazine did a test similar to this. They purchased three (?) Xmart mountain bikes, took them to their lbs to have them "inspected" and assembled properly. Then they went out rode them like their own, on their local trails. the bikes fared about as well as you might guess - not very well at all. Their conclusion was about the same as you all have noted here. Although I think their critique was a bit harsh, I can see where they were coming from - and their comments echo those made in this post so far...
Hardly a fair test considering that xmart bikes are not designed for hardcore trail riding. It would be like taking a stock Honda Civic offroad racing.
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Old 12-01-04, 12:43 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by supcom
Hardly a fair test considering that xmart bikes are not designed for hardcore trail riding. It would be like taking a stock Honda Civic offroad racing.

This is true.

With adult bikes, the vast majority of them are ridden on the sidewalk or on the wrong side of the street. The most aggressive action many will ever see is rolling off a curb.

As long the bikes are not laden with junk like "suspension" a huffy or whatever can survive as a commuter. Periodic maintenance by someone that knows what to do makes all the difference.
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Old 12-01-04, 04:45 PM   #13
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There is a TINY market segment between a Wal-Mart bikes, and the cheapest LBS bikes. The Oshman bike. This mega-sporting goods chain has a bike department in my town with experienced techs to assemble, tune, and service bikes. Today, with a "one day" coupon, a Mongoose bike was available for $80 with assembly. If there is a problem with the bike, a customer can bring it in and get it serviced correctly.

Although an $80 Mongoose is not in the same league as a $250 Trek, the professional assembly and available service after the sale make it a significant upgrade from a Wal-Mart bike. Given reasonable care, it should be a reliable bike for riding around the neighborhood, shopping, and other "low stress" purposes.

Folks who are on a tight budget might want to take a look at Oshman's bike department, or at stores similar to Oshman's in their own city.
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Old 12-01-04, 05:51 PM   #14
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Get back to us after you have adjusted the gears, test ridden the bikes, tested the gears by pedaling on the road,not just in the stand.and tested the brakes on the road too. You will discover some interesting things, I believe.

Did you check the headsets to see if they were too tight or too lose? Did you see if the B.B. was OK. Did you check the wheel bearings to see if they are too tight or too loose? Did you see if the grips were on well? Did you grease the cables like a bike shop would? These are only some of the things a bike shop would do. I think you will find more problems if you check these things out.

I'm not trying to be picky, it's just that my experience has led me believe that there will be a lot more little problems if everything is checked. I'm interested to hear what you say.I do agree that a good assembler makes a big difference too.

I have tried to adjust cantilever brakes on a Dept. Store bike that were so bad you could not position the pads correctly no matter what you did.At the shop I work at a few Dept. Store bikes have been ridden in that actually scared me. The worst was a little girl on a 20" bike that had the seat so loose she could not sit on it and the handlebars were loose too. I had to check the whole bike out, (free) I was afraid she was going to get hurt.That has happened too many times.
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Old 12-01-04, 07:09 PM   #15
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I've been checking over the bikes since most were assembled by others in the department. Not surprisingly, I found more problems:

Two of the bikes had VERY loose front hub bearings. The cone and lockwasher on one side were not tightened wich apparently allowed the cone to back off to the point where the wheel was not useable. A simple adjustment fixed both wheels but few bike buyers would have been able to do that.

One of the multi-speed bikes had a very stiff headset. Try as I might, I was unable to get it adjusted. Every time I tightened the locknut, it bound up. It turns out the head tube was not cut properly and rose up about 1/16 inch too high above the formed cup. (there is no pressed-in cup, the head tube is formed into cups) The upper bearing cone would bind against the top of the head tube whenever the locknut was tightened. As this renders the frame unusable without major facing work, we have been using this bike as a parts source and will exchange it in the end for another.

All of the small single-speed bikes were assembled with the front fork backwards. This is not a factory defect, simply an error made by the guys in my department doing the assembly. They neglected to notice that the forks were packed turned around. Since these bikes have a straight fork and no front brake, it was an easy mistake to make. And these guys are all Experienced engineers! I spent some time turning handlebars around.

The multi-speed bikes have five speed rears with friction thumb shifters. They seem to shift OK out of the box. Using friction shifters was probably the best decision since index shifters at the $40 price point would surely be a disaster.

I also looked over one of the manuals that comes with the bikes. I was actually rather impressed with the scope and readability of it. It was written in good english with clear illustrations and contained detailed instructions on how to assemble and make common adjustments.

As far as adjusting bearings, lubing cables, etc, I agree that this would be nice, but There are 55 bikes to put together and check and I have only my lunch hour available. I did bring in a tub of grease to lube up the seatpost, stem, and pedal threads. That's more than a walmart installer is likely to do. I certainly am NOT trying to equate a walmart bike assembly job with an LBS assembly. That would be silly. I am primarily giving the group some insight into how the bikes come to walmart, what the walmart assembler is expected to do, and in what condition the bikes arrive. Keep in mind that these are probably the cheapest bikes available, being sold by walmart for $40 for the multi-speed units and $25 for a 20 inch singlespeed coaster brake.
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Old 12-01-04, 07:28 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by alanbikehouston
There is a TINY market segment between a Wal-Mart bikes, and the cheapest LBS bikes. The Oshman bike. This mega-sporting goods chain has a bike department in my town with experienced techs to assemble, tune, and service bikes.
Dick's Sporting Goods (http://www.dickssportinggoods.com) is very similiar to this. They hire an experienced tech to work on the bikes there. When I bought my hybrid bike, they put it on the stand and tested everything from the brakes to the gears to the seat post. They also said they would do free adjustments for up to one year. Never had to use their services. I had one cable adjustment to make which I did myself and that has been it and I have 3,500 miles on the bicycle.

I strongly recommend if you are going to buy a low end bicycle, buy one from Dick's or from Oshman's.
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Old 12-01-04, 07:33 PM   #17
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I see many xMart bike being ridden in the small towns I live near in South Carolina. Used everyday. If you can do basic maintenance, you can get a lot of mileage out of xMart bikes. And if something breaks that is major, just buy another. You aren't going to keep up with roadies nor handle tough mountain trails on them. But if you use it to ride with the kids or run errands in town, there is nothing wrong with an Xmart bike. I prefer Dick's Sporting Goods myself over xMART bikes myself but I have ridden a $58 Walmart Roadmaster from Columbia SC to Raliegh, NC before.

Walmart also has a good return policy on bicycles.

Regardless of what you ride, as long as you ridd it is what counts.

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Old 12-01-04, 08:36 PM   #18
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The fact that a bicycle can be sold for $40 is incredible. That is no small acomplishment. It is interesting to hear how things go. I wonder if they are being donated as a tax free donation, I can't imagine they can really be sold at that price.That probably pays the freight, or the import fee or something else.There can't be any profit at that price, as far as I know.
If this is the case, or even if it's a huge discount, Walmart should get some credit for a donation to a good cause. So should you.
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Old 12-01-04, 08:45 PM   #19
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wal-mart sells a mtn bike new for $53 regular price (roadmaster mt. fury)...so I'm pretty sure they can sell kid's bikes for $40 and make money.
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Old 12-01-04, 08:59 PM   #20
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What Walmart does is "threaten" their suppliers. They tell, lets use Huffy, that Walmart bikes must sell for 39.95 and Walmart wants to make a profit margin of 18% This puts all the risk onto Huffys shoulders. Walmart is a huge company and, some businesses feel, they can make or break their business.
Levi's once made all of thier jeans in the US. Because Walmart wanted to sell them for $16 (About half their usual retail) they now do all of their production overseas, only distribution remains in the US. The quality of the product has suffered as well.
Walmart deserves no praise for selling cheap crap. It is the Devil
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Old 12-01-04, 09:06 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by 2manybikes
The fact that a bicycle can be sold for $40 is incredible. That is no small acomplishment. It is interesting to hear how things go. I wonder if they are being donated as a tax free donation, I can't imagine they can really be sold at that price.That probably pays the freight, or the import fee or something else.There can't be any profit at that price, as far as I know.
If this is the case, or even if it's a huge discount, Walmart should get some credit for a donation to a good cause. So should you.
The $40 was the price in the store for a 26" 15-speed bike. The bikes were not donated to us nor did we get any significant discount that I am aware of. The credit goes to the employees who donated the money through various means to purchase the bikes. We collect and recycle soda cans, conduct a couple silent auction bake sales, and a few other miscellaneous things to raise money each year. In the past we bought a bunch of different types of toys, including bikes. For whatever reason, this year we bought all bikes.
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Old 12-01-04, 11:55 PM   #22
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Walmart deserves no praise for selling cheap crap. It is the Devil
Amen Preach on Rev.
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Old 12-02-04, 12:37 AM   #23
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wal-mart sells a mtn bike new for $53 regular price (roadmaster mt. fury)...so I'm pretty sure they can sell kid's bikes for $40 and make money.
Darn, I paid $58 for my Roadmaster Mountain Fury when I went from Columbia SC to Raleigh a few years ago on the fly. One thing I did like about that bike is the shifters on it. Like the good ole days. It was heavy, it was slow, it had no quick release wheels or seat but eh, it worked! Other than one brake adjustment, it worked well. Frame was small on it though. I also wouldn't trust using it as a real mountain bike, the forks look like they would break easily. I see a lot of the locals in the small town where I live by use those $53 Roadmasters for errends and such. Donated it to Goodwill when I got to Raleigh and took a Greyhound back.

Of course now, I prefer my hybrid bike.
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Old 12-02-04, 01:05 AM   #24
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My main gripe about that bike was the size being too small, weak chainrings, and the brakes....well...they break alrright...pity when they break, i can't brake.

I think if I was to get one again, I would get the brake calipers replaced with some cheap dia-compe single-pivot side-pulls. It would add about $15-20 to the bike though, but it would be well worth it.

If the frame was larger, it would have made a fine "who gives a **** if it gets stolen" bike, to run errands with and such.
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Old 08-01-06, 06:26 PM   #25
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i am going in for a interview for a walmart bike assembler so i did a search and found this topic...

i have never put a bike together before but i should learn in the first week under training so what can i expect for a new person doing this job? thanks.
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