I’ve owned a few Walmart bikes throughout my life. I’ve worked on Walmart bikes for friends and family. I’m familiar with them. These bikes are a perfect example of “you get what you pay for.”

But I’ve also noticed that most of the bikes are good enough for light use. They should be perfectly fine for kids to ride around the neighborhood. (At least they should be, if they are assembled properly.)

Wal-Mart and Dynacraft Sued Over Defective Bicycles

There’s an interesting article at CBSNews.com titled “Parents Say Wal-Mart Sold Faulty Bikes.” Here’s the situation:

Nine families are suing Wal-Mart and bicycle maker Dynacraft. The lawsuit claims Dynacraft bicycles sold by the retail giant were defective, causing the front wheels to pop off, which sent kids face-first into the pavement.

But Walmart has a pretty solid defense:

Both Wal-Mart and Dynacraft deny that the bikes are defective and blame the accidents on parents and kids tampering with the quick-release levers.

First, let me say that my condolences go out to all the families and their children involved in all this. Second, practically speaking… this was an important lesson learned the hard way.

We’re dealing with cheap, poor quality bikes to begin with. Add quick release skewers and incompetent employees and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

Actually, for these families, it did happen. The disaster being their kids going face-first into the pavement. That definitely does not sound like a fun time on the bike for anyone involved.

There are two main takeaways that allow everyone to learn from this situation:

Lesson 1: Don’t buy department store bikes.

If you can afford it, you’ll have a much easier time if you buy a bike from a bike shop instead of a big box store like Walmart.

Walmart bikes aren’t very good to begin with. But then think about the assembly. Any bike from Wal-Mart will most likely have been assembled by some lazy teenager working for minimum wage. A far cry from a qualified bicycle mechanic.

(Even if there is a skilled bicycle assembler on staff, it’s likely that they have to take so many shortcuts to be able to meet their quotas, it’s similar to having an unqualified person doing the assembly.)

Lesson 2: Learn how to inspect and maintain your bike.

Most importantly – learn how to maintain your bike. Knowing how to work a quick release lever is a necessary skill that anyone riding a bike should know. Anyone in a real bike shop will be able to show you the proper method of tightening the quick release so that the wheel will not fall out unexpectedly!

Also, the bike should come with some sort of owner’s manual that tells you how to work the various components. I think that is required by law. Read it!

Now on to another big problem – Wal-Mart is the #1 seller of bikes in this country. Not good. Not good at all. Unfortunately, if Wal-Mart quit selling bikes, a lot of kids would go bikeless. And that would not be good either. This specific issue is so big that we’ll have to leave it for some other time.

Back to quick releases…

These stories of the front wheel popping off and sending kids straight to the ground brought back a vivid memory.

It was probably 5 years ago. I found an old-school BMX racing bike in my uncle’s barn. One-piece cranks, huge handlebars – it was perfect for riding around! Yeah…

I was riding down a gravel road and decided to pull up and do a manual… That’s when the front wheel just fell out of the fork and went rolling away on it’s own!

Then I watched the empty fork slowly falling back to the earth, giving me plenty of time to ponder what would happen. It was surreal – it really did feel like time slowed down. But half a second later I found out.

The fork dropouts dug into the dirt, stopping the bike instantly. The jolt sent me off the bike and through the air. Thanks to numerous wrecking experience from my earlier days of riding BMX, I was able to take the fall on my shoulder and roll out of it.

I was scraped up and my shoulder was a tad sore, but I was able to walk away from it. The funny part is that the front wheel was still rolling when I got back on my feet!

(By the way, this bike didn’t have a quick release. It was just old and I didn’t bother inspecting it for safety!)

Our next point of discussion will focus on something one of the mothers said – the point about it being a child’s bike bought in the toy area of the store. Exactly!

The fact that the bikes are displayed in the toy aisles should tip you off to their inherent problems. Bikes are not toys! Again, go see a real bike shop if you want a quality bike that is safe to ride. Is an $88 bike really a good value if it puts you in the hospital?

Next up, the Wal-Mart claims adjuster. She has a good point – it is highly likely that accidents of this type could be caused by improper use of a quick release. But… even if the quick release is not tightened, the wheel should not fall out of the fork.

But after recently watching the “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price” documentary, I’m wary of Walmart.

Case update: A jury found Wal-mart not guilty of selling defective bicycles.

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