Best cheap Walmart/Target Bike?
February 20, 2016 3:22 PM   Subscribe

Looking for assistance finding a cheap bike. See inside for generic deets.


I posted last year asking about commuter bikes, and I've determined that I can't really afford something like a Trek now. Instead, I'd like a basic bike for riding paved bike paths on weekends. I don't really want a hybrid because the shocks make it harder for me to pedal. Does anyone have a recommendation on a large store bike that is under $300.

Thank you
posted by Draccy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm okay with the 7 speed Schwinns Target has. Under $200 and then you'll have some money left for a rack. Some Targets also have Schwinn pannier baskets for $20 rack that hook onto the rear rack nicely.
posted by tilde at 3:27 PM on February 20, 2016

Do you need gears? The fewer moving parts on a cheap bike, the better.
posted by supercres at 3:35 PM on February 20, 2016

Best answer: if possible, try get a cyclist / mechanic friend to look over whatever you buy. many of these bikes suffer not so much from being bad bikes (as long as you avoid things like suspension), but from being badly assembled at the store. if you know someone who actually enjoys fixing bikes (like me!) then they could probably make quite a difference to how well it lasts (and feels).
posted by andrewcooke at 3:37 PM on February 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: @supercres I'm not sure honestly. How hard is it to do small slopes or small hills (like 25-30% grade) without gears? The bike paths around here (Worcester) aren't too crazy.
posted by Draccy at 3:38 PM on February 20, 2016

Best answer: Consider stopping by your local bike co-op, they might have a better quality, freshly tuned-up used bike in your price range. And as supercres says, your best bet when looking for a cheap bike is to find one that is cheap because it has fewer features (single-speed or not many gears, no suspension) instead of one that implements every feature as cheaply as possible.
posted by contraption at 3:40 PM on February 20, 2016 [11 favorites]

Good point supercres. We returned the Schwinn because the durailer exploded though I think that was the kid dropping the bike like crazy. The $15 or so for the warranty was worth it; we got a 1speed to replace it but will get a 7speed again when he's a little more coordinated.
posted by tilde at 3:42 PM on February 20, 2016

Best answer: Depends on your fitness. I would tell a friend who needed a cheap bike to get a five-year-old but legit-brand* single speed or non-suspension hybrid off of craigslist. Single-speed tuneup will be probably half the price of geared, but count on new tires, tubes, and brake pads.

* It kills me that Schwinn doesn't qualify anymore
posted by supercres at 3:44 PM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Is there a reason you want to purchase at a big box? In your situation, I'd look for a Craigslist bike in the $200 range and leave yourself room for a solid tune up.

Lots and lots of people buy bikes and never ride them. Many bikes on Craigslist are practically new.
posted by 26.2 at 3:54 PM on February 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: I was worried about craig's list, because I can't guarantee quality. I'll take a look though!
posted by Draccy at 3:59 PM on February 20, 2016

good idea to check used at a real bike shop, but andrewcooke also has it right - these bikes are not terrible, but they're put together by someone with absolutely no knowledge of how to do it. And they come in a box that requires some really crucial stuff to be put together. So if you must buy at a WalMart or Target or the like, get someone to check it over.
posted by randomkeystrike at 4:05 PM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

My brother is a big time biker/racer who rides every day and he buys all his bikes on Craigslist. He then adds/fixes whatever he wants.
posted by celtalitha at 4:30 PM on February 20, 2016

I was SO happy with my Costco bike. I had my $900 bike stolen and didn't want to spend more than 300 bucks. Costco was the only place I could find something that satisfied me. Downside- if you are really tall or short you might not find what you need.

I think it was $220.
posted by ReluctantViking at 4:34 PM on February 20, 2016

Yes, these bikes are very poorly assembled - I've seen bikes come out of Target with the forks installed backwards, not to mention a variety of other problems. The components also tend to be of low quality, and between an initial check from a professional mechanic and a year or two of basic maintenance you can easily end up spending the same amount you paid for the bike all over again.

I would strongly encourage you to check Craigslist, find a local bike shop that sells used, or search for a Bike Collective* in your area. I would recommend looking for old (mid 80s to early 90s) mountain bikes and replacing the tires with semi-slicks suitable for road riding. Depending on what bike pricing in your area looks like, you can probably do this for around $200.

Bike rental shops sometimes sell decent used bikes at a substantial discount when they upgrade their rental fleet. If you know anyone in the bike racing community, mention to them that you're looking for a bike - they may know someone who upgraded and is selling off an old bike.

*I've volunteered at several bike collectives, but probably not your bike collective. The ones I'm familiar with usually have decent commuter-ish bikes in the $200 range, often "converted" mountain bikes as described above or older, moderate-quality road bikes.
posted by sibilatorix at 4:58 PM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you actually live nearby where your profile says you are, Worchester Earn-a-bike might be worth looking into. And you'll also learn some basic bike maintenance and repair while you're at it!
posted by that girl at 6:00 PM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

You will get so much more for your money by buying a used bike rather than buying a department store bike.

Like, really, those department store bikes are criminally bad. They only exist because it is so easy to take advantage of people who know nothing about bikes.
posted by 256 at 6:09 PM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

As you can see from the responses, there are many ways to get a decent bike for not a lot of money.

I've got several bikes, and one of them was an impulse buy at Target. They had a 7-speed Schwinn, unexcitedly named the "Median" on clearance for $60, marked down from $200, so I couldn't pass it up. As others have said, don't trust the assembly of department store bikes. I adjusted everything and started using it as my regular work commute bike (5 miles each way) and for semi-regular 10-15 mile rides on weekends. I've had it for almost five years now, and it's been great.

So, I wouldn't dismiss a bike just because it came from Target. Just be sure to adjust it or get it tuned it up, and keep an eye on things. These bikes aren't made for the Tour de France, but for everyday riding, they should give you years of use.
posted by The Deej at 6:57 PM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nth-ing that you should involve a real bike shop somehow. Either buy used, or take your new bike there immediately. Give them a chance, they will help immensely.
posted by intermod at 7:23 PM on February 20, 2016

Have you had a look at Landry's? They are a shop near you I would trust miles more than Target or Walmart. Also worth poking in at REI in Framingham.
posted by Dashy at 7:29 PM on February 20, 2016

Walmart sells a decent cheap single speed/fixed for around $100. Comes in some garish colors, too. But they seem tremendously popular around here, and there is no reason they would not be perfectly serviceable riders. If you were to buy one, it might be a good idea to order it for delivery and have you and/or a bike savvy friend lube up and adjust the bearings before assembly, bypassing the store altogether.

Really, sub $100 walmart grade bikes can last a very long time with a bit of routine maintenance, just like any other bike. I know this first hand, being the owner of a stable full of alley rats that I ride. About three I ride very regularly for my 26 mile round trip commute, switching out depending on my mood, need, or flat tire. One I know was from walmart. Another might have been Target or kmart. But they're fundamentally fine, and the work they've needed over the years has been routine (lubing, replacing chains, cables, adjustments, tires/tubes), or just for fun (switching out seats, handlebars, adding racks/baskets).

Simple is better, regardless of cost, if one is looking for greatest reliability. The key is being able to do the routine maintenance yourself, or a trusted buddy. Again, regardless where you got the bike. If the bike cost as much as a car, sure, you'd probably want to have it serviced professionally. But that doesn't sound like your situation.

I'd be wary of buying used or coop, if you aren't able to do maintenance and/or don't know exactly what to look for. A nice used bike will spare you sneers from snobs, and may offer a more finely crafted foundation for a good bike. But you'll likely be in a position to perform maintenance regardless the quality of bike. And sometimes even not so old bikes have bits and pieces that are obsolete and hard to find, as the bike world can get pretty ridiculous that way, making for costly repairs or kludges.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:37 AM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Caveat: I am definitely not a serious cyclist. I have an Avalon bike (this model) from Walmart, and it's treated me pretty well considering what I payed for it (about $90)--I've had it over 3 years and only replaced the seat. It's aluminum-framed, so it's nice and light. It is suspension, which a) doesn't seem to do much and b) really limits the baskets you can put on it, so I maybe wouldn't buy a suspension bike again, but I've been really happy with it, and they're popular in the city where I live, so they seem to work for a lot of people.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 7:18 AM on February 21, 2016

This many posts and no one has mentioned bikesdirect?

A bunch of my snobby cyclist friends love to hate on it, and some snooty bike shops refuse to work on them "out of principal", but they're honestly WAY WAY better than any walmart/target/etc bike for the price. In the commuter section quite a few of the basic ones seem decent. And a lot more decent than some of the awful stuff i've seen at walmart.

Like, this looks eminently decent to me. No walmart bike that price is going to have a sora drivetrain or a lot of the other decent things going on there. Plenty of other good choices on there too.
posted by emptythought at 5:19 PM on February 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I love the Bikesdirect bike (earlier model of this one) I got brand-new off Craigslist for much less than half list price 'cause the guy who ordered it bought the wrong size. That freed up a lot of money to outfit it with everything I need to make the bike useful -- lights, bags, lock, fenders, etc. I've swapped out various parts over the years I've used it (heavily!) and that's often something I've been able to do cheaply or even free (!) at local bike shops and co-ops. A lot of bike-related things can be bought steeply discounted, so keep an eye out for sales, locally and online.

The best way to make sure you're making good use of limited funds when you buy a bicycle is to use it to save or even make you money. Get a bike that allows you to replace some trips you'd otherwise be making by transit or automobile, and it's money back in your wallet. Though destination-free rides on weekends are fun and will very likely save you money in health care costs in the long run, too. The only way to make purchasing a bike, no matter how cheap, a bad financial decision is to buy one you're not going to ride. Find one you enjoy riding! (And get someone knowledgeable to give it a once-over to make sure it's safe.)
posted by asperity at 7:04 PM on February 21, 2016

I rode a walmart bike as my daily commuter for years in the Bay Area and it was never gave me a moments trouble. I think I bought new inner tubes and had one tune up in about 4 years.. It was relatively heavy and slow but it was never stolen even when I forgot to lock it. Let me repeat: no one tried to steal it ever in the Bay Area. The world epicenter of bike theft. Best commuter bike ever.

Buy one with no gears or normal derauilers, not three speed or an internal hub gear, so anyone can fix it if it breaks. Spend a little time with Youtube to learn how to make sure it's set up to optimize your pedaling efficiency, buy a multi tool, a pump, replace the inner tubes with better ones and have at it.

People are insane about bikes. Around here half the population is dirt poor and commutes year round on cheap crappy bikes. Buy what you can afford and get out and have fun.
posted by fshgrl at 8:03 PM on February 21, 2016

have you looked at craigslist? there are many year old cheap bikes that are in really good condition .
posted by radsqd at 7:53 AM on February 22, 2016

I'd definitely echo the previous comments about seeing if there's anything second-hand which would fit your needs. Bike co-ops are a good place to start if you have one nearby, or even just find the Facebook page for a local cycling club and ask - someone's bound to have something taking up space in the back of their garage.
posted by A Robot Ninja at 11:21 AM on February 23, 2016

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