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Lessons learned about road biking from a Walmart bike

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Lessons learned about road biking from a Walmart bike

Old 06-12-10, 12:39 PM
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deadprez012
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Lessons learned about road biking from a Walmart bike

The machine: 2009 GMC Denali.

The man: 6'0", 182lb, highly athletic, mechanically inclined.

The story:

Last school year (Aug 09 - May 10) I was riding a borrowed Panasonic racer (looked & felt mid-80s to me, but I know nothing about those bikes). That was my first experience on a road bike. From it, I learned how stiff an old Al frame can be (after transitioning from full- & partial-sus MTBs); the importance of a proper cadence; and just how valuable it is to get a non-ripped, proper-sized seat. Incidentally, I rather passively learned how important it is that a bike actually fit you.

So now I have the Denali, on which I have put about 40 miles in three or four days, and I've learned even more things--and quite honestly, because the bike was so cheap, and thought of so poorly within LBS-loving cycling communities (like the one I'm in now), they have been skills I am convinced higher-priced bike owners neglect to develop.

After CigTech's very thorough review of the bike, and another review <a href='https://hubpages.com/hub/GMC-Denali-Road-Bike-A-Balanced-Look'>here</a>, I saw considerable value in the bike if I was willing to get my hands dirty and I have not been disappointed.

I took the time to read thoroughly about bike fit, and picked a Denali that measured well for me. If I said little else about it, having a bike that fits me properly for the first time in my life, has made it well worth any other hassles associated with ownership.

Once I got it home, I took it for a quick spin and it had a plethora of squeaks, squeals, rattles, and shakes. The wheels needed to be trued, the brakes were terribly maladjusted, the front derailer wouldn't get the bike onto the small chainring after shifting up, the rear derailer was just in plain poor alignment and the high-setting stop screw was way to deep. The tires had about 15psi air pressure, the seat was low and loose, and the chain was dry like the Sahara.

But I'd done brake jobs before, tire pressure is a fundamental fix, and there were plenty of manuals out there for the other jobs. So, as a person serious about saving my money and having something I can enjoy now, instead of "waiting for a better bike" or group-bashing Wal-Mart bikes, I decided to learn.

There's a lot of valuable information on this forum, there are a few amazing books out there (at the library naturally), and the internet is an incredibly powerful tool. With about two hours of research and four to seven hours of labor (hard to tell now that it's done), I've lubricated the chain and most other spinning parts, adjusted both derailers successfully, AND trued my wheels. I've taken the bike on every one of those 40 miles all out, and made a few intentionally foolish moves (sloppy shifting, locking the rear, oversetting the brakes, trail braking the front into tight turns, etc), and while it still has shortcomings, I know that I am not only a better rider, but a better bicycle owner because of this bike.

It would have been great to have $650 to toss at a nicer bike. A Jamis Ventura sport or their steel-framed low-price model would have been amazing. But honestly, if I took 2.5 months to save all that money, and, as is inevitable, still would have needed a set-up and some fine tuning, I truly doubt I would have felt brave enough to do the work myself. That bike would have been on a pedestal so I that my tools would never touch it.

Plus, if I had blown that much on an initial bike, I wouldn't have netted any gain by giving up my truck. Also, to invest that much money in a first road bike which could see some slides and impacts in bad weather or by sloppy cagers--especially before I become intimately familiar with our roadways by bike--would seem immature, impractical, and ill-advised.

Quick summary: Spending $160 on what many consider a POS removed enough worry about damage that I've been willing to break out my own tools, make my own mistakes, and learn my own lessons about owning a proper cycle. The bike isn't a racer, it isn't super-lightweight, and it doesn't have all the pretty, shiny bits that lots of pricier bikes have.

But it does fit me, it does have a solid frame, its components are perfectly functional; I can cycle at speed, I'm saving plenty of money and getting just as fit, I reap all the benefits of cycling (being present in nature, meeting other cyclists, learning the bike culture). So, the GMC Denali has been an amazing investment in myself.

Sure, many people buying bikes at Wal-mart won't take the time to teach themselves like I have. But when LBSs stop being snobby about Wal-mart bikes, create a truly welcoming environment for all cyclists (not just ones with top-dollar machinery), and if they will continue to host clinics, rides, & other cycling events, then maybe a few people will learn. And people that cut their teeth on a bike this cheap--and learn that they love cycling--will be cyclists for life.

Great experience, well worth what I've spent. And considering I can now slowly put in small amounts of money over time, it will be worth what I spend in the future as well.

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Old 06-12-10, 12:55 PM
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Great story - and Great Job!
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Old 06-12-10, 12:56 PM
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Looks good, nice work.

In defense of buying a more expensive first bike, one advantage might be that you'd be less inclined to upgrade anytime soon. But that really depends on the person, I suppose.
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Old 06-12-10, 01:32 PM
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The reason I won't buy a Wal-Mart bike is because I refuse to support Wal-Mart and their business practices, the same way I won't support Nike, BP, Exxon, and many other companies.

Glad it is working out for you, and I know a few people with that bike who absolutely love it. Some have already started upgrading components, but haven't heard of anything major just yet.
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Old 06-12-10, 01:58 PM
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I'd rather spend 100 bucks on an 80s bike.

tl;dr
people who have more expensive bikes never owned a cheaper bike they'd want to mess around with.
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Old 06-12-10, 01:59 PM
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Originally Posted by nixternal View Post
The reason I won't buy a Wal-Mart bike is because I refuse to support Wal-Mart and their business practices, the same way I won't support Nike, BP, Exxon, and many other companies.

Glad it is working out for you, and I know a few people with that bike who absolutely love it. Some have already started upgrading components, but haven't heard of anything major just yet.
What is it about Wal-Mart that you don't like? I hear people say this pretty frequently, but their arguments as to why are usually pretty weak.
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Old 06-12-10, 02:01 PM
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I wouldn't think of it as a good thing to have so many issues right away. However, what matters is that you like it.
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Old 06-12-10, 02:03 PM
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Good work.

Here's an idea for you: don't put any money into it that that you don't have to. Ride it as is and figure out what you would want to upgrade. Keep your eyes on craigslist or ebay or estate sales (etc.) for a used bike or frame that you like and build it up piece by piece when you can. Then you will have your "good" bike and still have your Denali for rainy days, use on a trainer, traveling and anything else you wouldn't want to subject something more expensive to.

Then build a fixie. Then a TT bike. Then build....wait a minute, just sell your Denali and get out now!
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Old 06-12-10, 02:08 PM
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well last year I had a slow and heavy Canadian tire mtb *you know with the useless front and rear shocks* and even though it sucked, I learned a lot from it like Derailleurs tuning and brake adjustments and all that stuff, it was well worth the pain.
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Old 06-12-10, 02:17 PM
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Good for you. Lots of cyclists never bother to learn simple stuff like deraileur adjustment. They take the bike to the shop for any maintenance more sophisticated than pumping up the tires.

The worst bike I've ever riden was an '80's vintage department store special. The front fork flexed visibly under my weight (I'm 160 lbs) and the brakes were dual pivot type made of... probably 1/16 inch stamped mild steel. When you applied the brakes they'd flex and vibrate and not really slow the bike down. It was a pretty scarry POS. I'd assume the lawyers have got 'em building these things a lot more rigidly now 'days.
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Old 06-12-10, 02:23 PM
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Originally Posted by DataJunkie View Post
I wouldn't think of it as a good thing to have so many issues right away. However, what matters is that you like it.
It's not so much that I think its arrival with 1,001 problems is a positive. The specific benefit that I find in it though is that, with inexpensive components (lifted off MTBs by and large), I have learned a lot tooling on it without risk of ruining something expensive or hard to replace.

Originally Posted by darkadious View Post
people who have more expensive bikes never owned a cheaper bike they'd want to mess around with.
And that's fine, but a person for whom the money is incredibly sensitive, who never needed to work on something, a more expensive bike adds just enough hesitance to deter them from working on it. I myself, given enough time (ie, at the first actual problem) would take steps to learn something about my pricey bike and how to fix it. But consider the vast majority of people who buy cars--they never had to work on their car so taking it to the mechanic is completely normal. Well, because of that, they also never learned to change their oil and instead sacrifice $40 every time it needs to get done--or just don't do it at all.

I don't mean to ramble, but I basically figure that by putting myself in a position to learn without fear, I will be a better owner to better cycles in the future.
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Old 06-12-10, 02:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Chris_F View Post
Good for you. Lots of cyclists never bother to learn simple stuff like deraileur adjustment. They take the bike to the shop for any maintenance more sophisticated than pumping up the tires.
Exactly! By the way...the Denali is nothing like that horror cycle you just described!
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Old 06-12-10, 03:05 PM
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Originally Posted by deadprez012 View Post
Sure, many people buying bikes at Wal-mart won't take the time to teach themselves like I have. But when LBSs stop being snobby about Wal-mart bikes, create a truly welcoming environment for all cyclists (not just ones with top-dollar machinery), and if they will continue to host clinics, rides, & other cycling events, then maybe a few people will learn. And people that cut their teeth on a bike this cheap--and learn that they love cycling--will be cyclists for life.

Great experience, well worth what I've spent. And considering I can now slowly put in small amounts of money over time, it will be worth what I spend in the future as well.

I can guarantee you that bike shops won't ever stop being snobby about WalMart bikes. They know that the GMC is junk with inferior shifting, inferior wheels and tires, inferior brakes and inferior assembly. You are better off setting your money on fire than putting anything into a Walmart bike.

That's not to say that a WalMart bike doesn't have it's place. It's probably ok for riding once or twice a month or as a grocery getter but it's not made for any serious mileage and in some situations it can be downright dangerous. You have to figure that if WalMart sold it for $160 they paid around $80 or $90 which means that the distributor paid $50 or $60 - so the bike cost MAYBE $30 to make. I sure I wouldn't bet my life on it.
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Old 06-12-10, 03:41 PM
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Good job learning to fix it. I wouldn't putmuch money into it, instead save up for a bikesdirect bike.
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Old 06-12-10, 04:36 PM
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Originally Posted by SalsaPodio View Post
What is it about Wal-Mart that you don't like? I hear people say this pretty frequently, but their arguments as to why are usually pretty weak.
I refuse to shop at my local walmart, but mostly because its a very poorly run store. I've been to other walmart's (many in the midwest) that were a pleasure to shop in. However, I'm always wary of the quality of what I'm buying. Some products are fine, but walmart sells a lot of inferior junk, and I'm not just talking about bikes.

I'm sure the Denali will hold up to someone who is mechanically inclined and willing to keep it in good working condition, but the main problem with these bikes is that 99.9999% of the people that buy them aren't like that. Most people just ride it in its original poorly-assembled condition and it falls apart in 20 miles. My $3,000 road bike would probably malfunction and fall apart just as fast if it was assembled as poorly as the bikes I've seen at box stores.

Last edited by mihlbach; 06-14-10 at 04:30 AM.
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Old 06-12-10, 04:46 PM
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I would love to see the panasonic to see what bike is he talking about.
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Old 06-12-10, 04:47 PM
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Originally Posted by SalsaPodio View Post
What is it about Wal-Mart that you don't like? I hear people say this pretty frequently, but their arguments as to why are usually pretty weak.
Why don't you actually spend some time to actually research the issue beyond what people can say to your face?

It's not their job to make you an informed citizen. That's your job. And the 'you convince me' is just a cover for you not wanting to put yourself in a position to challenge your own shoddily-constructed beliefs. If you actually had challenged them, then you'd have several lines of argument already queued up to go deeper on, instead of just shrugging your shoulders and asking to be led by the nose.

There is a TON of well-researched, thorough, good information about the whole issue out there. Google some of it. Read. Looks weak? Keep looking.
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Old 06-12-10, 04:56 PM
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Good job learning to work on the bike, that will transfer over to more expensive bikes in the future and you won't have to be dependent on a shops schedule. Ride the bike, enjoy it and learn about cycling. but just don't spend any money upgrading beyond replacement tubes or a lock. Any money you'd spend on upgrades will be better spent on a future bike.
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Old 06-12-10, 05:00 PM
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Originally Posted by schnee View Post
Why don't you actually spend some time to actually research the issue beyond what people can say to your face?

It's not their job to make you an informed citizen. That's your job. And the 'you convince me' is just a cover for you not wanting to put yourself in a position to challenge your own shoddily-constructed beliefs. If you actually had challenged them, then you'd have several lines of argument already queued up to go deeper on, instead of just shrugging your shoulders and asking to be led by the nose.

There is a TON of well-researched, thorough, good information about the whole issue out there. Google some of it. Read. Looks weak? Keep looking.

wow defensive? he asked what nixternals reasons are because what others have told them is weak. Maybe others have told him they don't shop at walmart because don't want to come out on "people of walmart." Why not ask him what has been said instead of jumping to conclusions and looking so defensive. Or maybe what you think are important issues just aren't to him. Not everyone holds the same things to the same degree of importance,
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Old 06-12-10, 05:06 PM
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So the short version is that a Wal*Mart bike is cheap if your time is free.
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Old 06-12-10, 05:07 PM
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Also, to the OP, good for you on self-sufficiency. It's a bit of a lost art.

That said, you have to remember web forums are self-selecting, and roadies skew towards having more money. Here, we argue over the luxury of titanium vs. carbon vs. steel. A fixed gear or commuter forum would be much more open to 'financially strapped but plenty of gumption' type.
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Old 06-12-10, 05:09 PM
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In hindsight, buying a high-grade vintage racing bike that fits you is better than buying a generic sized ultra-low-level bike for the same price. I mean, if you're going to have crappy non-STI/Ergo/bar-end shifters, you might as well get some old Dura-Ace of Campo downtube shifters... it'll make you feel like Greg LeMond circa 1987....er, wait...scratch that.

Unless you bought a Schwinn/Denali used for less than $125 (like me), in which case it's a perfect price to see if you even like road cycling, except that when it turns out you did and you buy a $1,500 bike, you've ended up spending $1,625 instead.
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Old 06-12-10, 05:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Yaniel View Post
Ride the bike, enjoy it and learn about cycling. but just don't spend any money upgrading beyond replacement tubes or a lock. Any money you'd spend on upgrades will be better spent on a future bike.
Why not? Go ahead and buy a nice set of wheels (the wheels are the thing I'd be most concerned about). Upgrade the drive train. Once you've got a nice component set on there go out and buy a new frame. Then you have a whole new bike, piecemeal. "This is my grandfather's axe. My father replaced the handle and I replaced the blade."
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Old 06-12-10, 05:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Yaniel View Post
wow defensive? he asked what nixternals reasons are because what others have told them is weak. Maybe others have told him they don't shop at walmart because don't want to come out on "people of walmart." Why not ask him what has been said instead of jumping to conclusions and looking so defensive. Or maybe what you think are important issues just aren't to him. Not everyone holds the same things to the same degree of importance,
OK, fair enough.

Google.
"Why not shop at Walmart"
1st page of results

https://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/77/walmart.html
https://walmartwatch.com/issues/
https://www.walmartmovie.com/facts.php

The issues are difficult to be summarized in sound bites, because they rely on a lot of facts and background information.
Much of it is challenging to laissez faire capitalism concepts in general, so it will take work.
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Old 06-12-10, 05:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Chris_F View Post
Why not? Go ahead and buy a nice set of wheels (the wheels are the thing I'd be most concerned about). Upgrade the drive train. Once you've got a nice component set on there go out and buy a new frame. Then you have a whole new bike, piecemeal. "This is my grandfather's axe. My father replaced the handle and I replaced the blade."
I did that, and while it seemed like a good idea at the time, I now realize I would've been better off getting everything in one shot and saved a lot of money.
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