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5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Buy Walmart Kids Bikes

Photo from Walmart.com

I get it: you want to buy your child (or grandchild) a bike and you want to do it without spending a ton of money.  That’s fair, and really, that’s what we all want, isn’t it?!  Unfortunately, buying a Walmart kids bike isn’t the way to do it.

Walmart kids bikes (and ALL Walmart bikes for that matter) are junk.  They are heavy, poorly designed, and will fall apart quickly.  That doesn’t mean you can’t buy a bike on a budget, it just means that there are better ways to do it.  

Here are 5 reasons why you shouldn’t buy a Walmart kids bike, and 3 better ways to find a good quality bicycle that won’t break the bank.

(And for the record, we’re giving Walmart a hard time here, but this really applies to all big box stores.  Don’t buy a bike from a big box store.  Buy from a reputable local bike shop, bicycle non-profit, or directly from one of the better kids bike manufacturers).

#1) Most Walmart Kids Bikes are REALLY heavy

Want to know how much a typical Walmart kids bike weighs?  Way too much!  The #1 best selling bike on Walmart.com, the Huffy 20″ Sea Star, weighs 26.8 pounds.  My 6-year-old, who rides a 20″ bike weighs 42 pounds.  That means that the Sea Star comes in at 64% of his body weight.

In comparison, I weigh 125 pounds and ride a bike that weighs 25 pounds.  That means my bike weighs about 20% of my total body weight, compared to a heavy kids bike that might weigh 50% or more.  

That’s a serious problem because kids don’t actually have that much muscle mass and younger kids are still developing their gross motor skills.  A heavy bike makes it hard to learn to pedal and ride, and once kids have mastered pedaling, it can make it so they tire quickly.  Don’t expect a child on a heavy bike to ride much further than around the block.

When I’m helping parents choose the best bike for their child, I usually tell them to buy the lightest bike that they can afford.  In my opinion, weight should be the #1 thing you look for when buying a kids bike.  Lighter bikes make it easier for kids to learn how to ride.  Lighter bikes are also easier to handle and maneuver making them safer, and are easier to ride longer distances. 

That said, you also can’t just look at weight in isolation.  Some cheaper bikes are made with low-grade aluminum that’s light but that can easily bend or dent.  Other inferior bikes might be lighter simply because they lack components like hand brakes and  gears.  

#2) They are Poorly Designed

In addition to weight, the geometry of a kids bike can make a huge difference in how easy a bike is to handle and ride.  Many of the better kids bike brands have invested a lot of time and money into the design of their bikes.  

The bike on the right is easier to ride.  Notice the longer wheelbase, lower bottom bracket,  and shorter handlebars.  

These top-end bikes tend to have a longer wheelbase (the distance from front wheel to rear wheel) which provides increased stability and ease of balance.  You’ll also find that they have narrower Q-factors (the distance between the pedals) than Walmart bikes which makes pedaling easier and more efficient.  Finally, the geometry of the handlebars can make a big difference.  To accommodate for the short wheelbase, poorly designed kids bikes tend to have high-rise BMX-style handlebars that actually reduce control and create a “twitchy” ride for young riders.

The bike on the left has a wider Q-factor than the bike on the right.  A narrower Q-factor makes for more efficient pedaling.  

Other things that you’ll see on a better-designed kids bike are lower bottom brackets, lower minimum seatpost heights, and shorter cranks.

We have tested ALOT bikes over the years and worked with enough kids and parents to have seen first-hand how much difference geometry can make.  A well-designed bike can make it easier to learn to ride, easier to ride further faster, and less likely to cause frustration.  

#3) They’ll Fall Apart Before They Can Handed Down to The Next Kid

The truth is that cheap bikes are usually made with cheap materials. Walmart bikes have lower grade aluminum frames that can bend and crack, have bearings that aren’t sealed and rust, and cheaper components that will break quickly.  While they might work well for a while, eventually they are going to start falling apart.  In the long run, this makes them a poor investment because they won’t last through as many children.

Enkeeo Balance Bike Poor Quality Parts
This is a cheaper kids bike.  Notice the bent tube on the left as a result of low-quality frame material.  The headset (right) shakes loose easily causing a safety issue.  

Higher-end kids bikes, while more expensive initially, can be handed down to two kids or three kids or even four kids.  They also have higher resale values, meaning you can often buy a bike, use it for a few years, and then list it on Craigslist and recoup half of your initial investment.  It also means that you can FIND one of these used bikes and know that they still have plenty of life to offer.  

#4)  They May Be Improperly Assembled and Potentially Unsafe

Walmart sells bikes but it is not a bike shop.  The folks assembling the bikes are not real bike mechanics and they do not have any certifications or professional training.  

We’ve seen bikes sold at big box stores with forks installed backward, loose headsets, and other serious safety issues.  According to this article from BikeRoar:

Some of the biggest safety concerns discovered were loose handlebars and stems, which are an accident waiting to happen. Other problem areas were poorly adjusted brakes and loose wheelnuts. Issues like these have already led to serious injury and legal action.

If you do end up having an issue with the bike, you’re also unlikely to get much help.  The benefit of buying a bike from a local bike shop or one of the better kids bike manufacturers is the level of customer service and support you’ll receive post-purchase.  

#5) They Have Stuff You Don’t Want On a Kids Bike (i.e. coaster brakes and training wheels)

Wait a minute, I hear you protesting, I DO want training wheels.  It’s how I learned, you say, and I turned out just fine.  

Truth.  I learned on training wheels too and I happen to be a serious cyclist who rides my bike EVERY day.  That said, just because it’s the way that we learned as kids, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to learn to ride a bike.  The fact is that for 90% of kids, they are going to be better off learning to ride WITHOUT training wheels.

Instead of going straight to a pedal bike with training wheels, start your child on a balance bike OR start them on a pedal bike (sans training wheels) and remove the pedals.  By teaching a child to “scoot” on the bike first, they learn to balance without the added complexity of pedaling.  Then, when you add pedals to the mix, kids tend to learn to ride MUCH FASTER, with fewer crashes, and fewer tears.  This is why you’ll find that the better kids bike manufacturers simply don’t include training wheels on their bikes.  And yes, it is true that you can always remove the training wheels from a Walmart bike, BUT what you’ll also find is that most of these bikes have been designed to use with training wheels and the seat height is simply too high to use without.  

Coaster Brake
A child’s bike outfitted with a coaster brake only.

The other thing you’ll discover on Walmart kids bikes is that they have coaster brakes rather than hand brakes.  We dislike this for 3 reasons: (1) coaster brakes are heavy, (2) coaster brakes can make learning to pedal frustrating, and (3) the lack of a hand brake keeps kids from learning good braking skills at a young age.  

How to Find a GOOD Kids Bike

Let me be clear: just because I’m telling you not to buy a kids bike from Walmart doesn’t mean I’m a snob.  Like you, I have to figure out how to pay the electric bills and the doctors bills and the grocery bills and all that.  But I also believe that you buying a kids bike from Walmart is basically wasting your money.  Because the thing WILL fall apart, you won’t be able to re-sell it for more than a couple of bucks, and ultimately you can do better.

Here are a couple of things I would try before resorting to a bike from a big box store.

#1) Look for a used bike on Craiglist or Ebay

Cleary Gecko

Buying a high-quality kids bike second-hand is about the best decision you can make.  A really good kids bike will last through multiple children, and depending on the area you live in might not be that hard to find.  The key is to know which bike brands you should be looking for before you start your search.  One of my friends found a Cleary Gecko for $100 on Craigslist, and turned around and sold it a year and a half later for $100.  That means the bike ended up costing her ZERO DOLLARS.

#2) Reach Out to Local Non-Profits and Bicycle Collectives

In Salt Lake City, we have an awesome organization called the Bicycle Collective.  They take donated bikes, fix them up, and then sell them for cheap.  To be honest, some of the bikes are cheap big box store bikes, but others are really decent bikes for the big bike manufacturers (Trek, Specialized, etc).  

If you live in a big city, chances are that there is a similar organization in your area.  In smaller towns, makes some phone calls to your local bike shops.  Some have trade-in programs where people can trade in used kids bikes for new ones.  This is a great way to snag a high-quality used kids bike for a killer price.  

#3) Raise Your Budget

woom 4 geometry

I know a top-end kids bike isn’t a financial priority (or a financial possiblilty) for everyone.  That said, if you do have the ability to raise your budget, it makes sense to do it.  Like many things in life, spending a bit more on a kids bike equates to a much nicer product.  Not only does a nicer bike create a more enjoyable product for your child it buys you a bike that will last longer and have a higher resale value when your kiddo is done with it.  

Learn More About How To Buy a Good Kids Bike

Save yourself money, time, and frustration by doing your research before buying a bike for your child. 

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5 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Buy Walmart Kids Bikes”

  1. yeah I guess in Canada it might be a bit different but the bike stores I’ve been to , like sportschek or sportsmart are in the thousands. When you but an assemebled bike youre going to want to tighten everything up, just like if you bought an assembled bbq (Although I dont think i’ve seen anyone going out of a store with an already assembled one, just the boxes where you do it yourself lol) When we went camping we took my sons bike. He, of course, hit a tree. We drove to the nearest town which happened to have a bike store and there was not a bike under a grand. Fine if you make good money but if you are both min wage earners, like myself and my spouse then your kid better have a after school job if they want something like that.

    Reply
    • You do know that the bikes that Walmart sells aren’t bikes that Walmart makes right? Some of those bikes are made from well known brands like Schwinn, Huffy, Mongoose, Dynacraft, Kent among a few others. Those bikes are specifically made for Walmart, they are also sold at other stores like Target, Kohl’s AND Privately owned Bicycle Shops. This is known information since I search for bikes not just by brand but name also for my 3 kids at every bike shop that will let me see their inventory online, even Privately owned shops, as I try to get the best bike for the best price.
      So it what this article is really saying is that all the bikes found at Walmart are junk, NOT just at Walmart but anywhere you buy them? I can see not buying the ones on display at Walmart since they let people take them down and what not, but Walmart doesn’t have a hand in how the bikes are made since they are made by other companies. Most of them aren’t junk and since I’ve actually been looking online for a bike for my daughter, I’ve been reading each bikes details from all stores, since some are more detailed than others, I’ve found that they all weigh about the same when comparing them to bike brands that aren’t sold at Walmart and in fact some sold at Walmart weigh less. In my experience of buying bikes for the past 17 years, I’ve read many many reviews and stories from friends & family and find many issues people have with the bikes is “operator error”, meaning the person putting the bike together is the reason for the issues with the bike.

      Reply
  2. I find the worst parts on cheap Asia bikes are the bearings and tires. The bearings don’t spin properly (which is especially dangerous in handlebar and wheel bearings), and the tires are of the worst quality. These cheap bikes are essentially throw-aways. You are much further ahead spending more and getting a good quality bike that will last years instead of months

    Reply
  3. Solid advices We’ve so far only employed points #1 (buy used) and #3 (increase your budget), but I’ll keep #2 in mind when my kids outgrow their bikes! Owning good quality bikes really has made such a difference. We started with Walmart or comparable models (hey, any bike is better than no bike!) and two of my kids would literally cry on our way home from a one mile ride to the playground. With lighter and better bikes, we’ve had very few tears, maybe even nine, one rides of up to 25 miles.

    Reply
  4. i purchased a girls bike for my 8 year old granddaughter’s birthday. it arrived in a big box and i hired a professional
    to put the bike together. thankfully he had the tools to put the bike together as there were no instructions or even
    a small tool to help. it took a long time to put together as the handlebars and the seat were very hard to tighten.
    fast forward to gift given to the child. she rides it and promptly falls head first off of it as the handlebars came of.
    she very badly hit her knee and there was blood all over the sidewalk and she couldn’t walk and her parents had
    to carry her inside and take care of the badly cut knee. when she was falling, she tried to stop the fall by using her
    elbow which subsequently also was badly cut up. and she had a large cut on her upper chest. her father had to
    order new screws to secure the bike handlebar and seat and as of today, the screws haven’t arrived.
    all this in the middle of summer when the child really wanted to ride her bike.
    i would ask around to other parents who have purchased what kind they bought and where. toys r us please come back,
    thank you.

    Reply

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