Sunday, March 29, 2009

Walmart and Bicycle Shaped Objects...

(Image from Consumerist)

A tip of the hat to George at Bike Riding Donut Guy for this....

Normally I wouldn't pick up on a story from another blogger, especially one like George, but Norman is practically right down the road from us, if you consider a hundred miles right down the road. My wife, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, has had similarly negative interactions with Walmart and their return process. We've reached the point where we won't shop in there anymore if we can find the goods somewhere else.

I've met another bike commuter who used to ride back and forth to work on an ancient Huffy, an actual honest-to-god 10 speed that may have been manufactured during the Nixon administration. Now, it's absolutely necessary to tell you that the commuter is an aircraft mechanic, so he was able to stay on top of the maintenance. Regardless, the last time I saw the bike, its back wheel was almost square. He bought another one as a replacement. I don't think it lasted more than 6 months.

In a similar vein, there's The Bike of Doom, a blog about life on a $99 department store bike. Unsurprisingly, Steve has found that the true cost of keeping a cheap bike serviceable is more than the purchase price of a better one from a bike shop.

(What is wrong with this picture? CycleDog photo.)

All the above serves as a preface. Those of us with long years of experience view department store bikes - or 'bicycle shaped objects' - as poorly built machines meant to last a season or two at best. They're mechanically unreliable and often difficult to keep in repair. So while it's heartening to see that Keia recognized a shoddy product and sought to return it, the actions taken by Walmart's employee are reprehensible.

Remember, bicycles can be cheap, durable, or light. You can choose any two. But if you buy from Walmart, the only choice is cheap.

Excerpts follow.

Walmart Violates Company Policy, Pretends Not To Accept Bike Returns

By Carey, 5:00 PM on Sat Mar 28 2009

The Walmart in Norman, Oklahoma refused to accept bike returns until a district manager, acting on a reader tip, reminded the store that they were violating company policy. Reader Keia tried to return the "shoddily constructed," "dangerous piece of garbage" for a bike that Walmart sold him, but an employee, backed by the store manager, explained that since Walmart could repair the bike, their return policy didn't apply. That didn't sound right, so Keia went over their heads...

He writes:

Just thought I would share an experience I had at Wal-Mart purchasing a bike. I bought a bicycle with Wal-Mart in order to save on gas money and try to increase my overall health. Living within 2 miles of my University, and considering I happen to work there as well, riding a bike only made good sense.

I bought a Next brand bike from Wal-Mart for the cost of 110 dollars, and about 100 dollars in accessories (helmet, lights, lock, etc). The first problem I had - none of the accessories fit....the right plastic pedal snapped while I was riding the bike and nearly threw me into traffic. All in all, it was a shodily constructed and dangerous piece of garbage.

Needless to say, I thought it would be best for me to return it to Wal-Mart. I loaded it in my car, took it to my local Supercenter with receipt in hand, and headed to the customer service counter. There I encountered Cheryl, the Customer Service Manager at the Norman - East branch. Upon trying to return it, I was told that they had a strict policy regarding bike retuns. What follows is a rough approximation of my conversation with her:

Me: "I'd like to return this bike."

Her: "We don't return bikes."

...Me: "No one told me about this policy before I bought the bike though."

Her: "We don't have to."

I've been told by a well-informed source (Wally, who else?) that women named 'Cheryl' are not to be trusted. I'll just say that the name cannot be uttered here in Casa CycleDog unless, Wally...wants to eat cold food for a week.

One last piece of advice. If you're in the market for a bike and you don't have much money to spend, consider going to your local bike shop looking for a used bike. There's a good chance that it will still cost more than a bicycle shaped object, but you're more likely to get a machine that's in good repair, and one that fits better. Honestly, riding a cheap POS is the very best way to discover that you absolutely hate riding a bicycle. There's little joy to be found on one, so if you're at all interested in cycling, buy a good quality bike.

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Blogger The Donut Guy said...

Normally I wouldn't pick up on a story from another blogger, especially one like George

I don't know whether to be complimented or pissed :-) was a good story.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Yeah, I should have phrased that better, George. Taking a story from someone else is too much like poaching. And I usually avoid topical stuff. Others do it much better than I can.

Thank you for posting it.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

This has been an issue for ages. I worked in a bike shop and we consistently had people coming in with bikes they bought form departments stores that were poorly assembled, many times to a dangerous level. I'm surprised there haven't been more lawsuits.

6:46 AM  
Blogger jasonk said...

I lived in Norman when I purchased my first bicycle as an adult. As is my custom, I researched it pretty thoroughly, trying to figure out why it was better to spend so much more on a local bike shop machine than a Wal Mart special. I spoke to Mr. Miller, proprietor of Miller's Cyclery in Norman, and he kindly took me out back, where he kept a pile of cranksets from department store bikes. It perfectly illustrated the need to avoid department stores when it comes to cycling. Surprisingly, I didn't have to spend THAT much more for the LBS bike. Mr. Miller led me to a bike that was on the floor of the shop, last year's model, and on sale at a great discount. I rode it for 18 months, sold it and bought a second bike from Mr. Miller. I've been addicted ever since.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Michael Graff said...

A couple years ago, we bought our son a "disposable" department store bike for riding to school. We got a single-speed coaster brake model, trying to minimize the things that can go wrong. He got reasonable service out of it, but things kept coming loose and he eventually decided it was unusable.

A couple weeks ago, Grandpa offered us a pair of 1970's Sears Ted Williams Free Spirit 3-speed bikes from their shed. Aside from some surface rust, they're in surprisingly good shape. Our son loves the "new" bike.

If you look closely, you'll see crimped/stamped tubes and other low-end construction on these old bikes. But they seem overall better built than their modern counterparts.

11:26 AM  
Blogger The Donut Guy said...

Actually....I was totally kidding about the "pissed"'s *all* good my friend:-)

8:37 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Thank you, George. I try not to be deliberately offensive until the time comes to be deliberately offensive.

9:14 PM  
Blogger WheelDancer said...

My sweetie and I passed a department store bike in the store a while back and I nearly threw my back out trying to pick it up. I didn't know plumbing pipe was available in those sizes but I suppose it could have been the cast iron wheels. Either way it nearly fell apart when I touched it.

It's a shame the mass merchandisers can't figure out the value of a bike that's built properly and assembled like someone's life might depend on it not falling apart but I suppose they know most of these bikes just end up sitting in someone's garage after a couple trips around the block anyway.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Paul Tay said...

I hope some PI attorney makes his retirement suing the pants off Wally-world because of crappy bikes.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Noah Clements said...

Where does one find these cheap and durable bicycles? Can't seem to find a kid's bike for less than $250 (more like 300 at lbs), and even on craigslist nothing other than walmart costs less than 200. So what does that leave parent not wanting to spend so much on bike that could get stolen, etc.?

2:26 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Noah...finding a durable kid's bike is almost an oxymoron. They're notoriously hard on bikes, and they out-grow them quickly. Many parents buy from one of the big box stores, knowing that the bike will be on the scrap heap within a year or two.

If possible, try to find a used child's bike at a shop. Granted, you'll pay more, but it will be serviceable and it's likely you'll get more for it on resale.

If you know what to look for, garage sales can be a good source, but beware any abused or suspect bikes.

Finally, if there's a bike co-op in the area, try them for a quality bike. In Tulsa, we have the Tulsa HUB. It's still in the formative stages, but the HUB will be a wonderful resource.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

I bought a bike at Wal-Mart, a Mongoose XR-75, last year. Two weeks later, the right pedal broke off. About four months later, the rear wheel fell apart, many spokes broke, as well as the axle. At the time, that was all I could afford. At 238 lb and riding 50 miles a week, sometimes more, I don't expect a bike to last as long as they say. When I saw "made in China", I would expect better, as the Chinese are big bikers.

6:05 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Thomas, as I wrote in the body of this piece, go take a look at the Bike of Doom. I can tell you from experience that us big guys have to be a bit more careful with equipment. I weight about 220, so my fully loaded Bianchi commuter is close to 270 on the road. I went through a round of broken spokes for a while too, replacing one or two every month for about a year until I finally had the wheel rebuilt. Big guys should not attempt bunny hops over RR tracks and speed bumps!

7:21 PM  
Blogger WVcyclist said...

This is a list of all the BSO companies in North America. If you ever find a decrepit product of theirs... do not hesitate to contact them and let them know it is ass.

6:25 PM  

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