Ok, I am going to incite the rage of everyone on here, but I am looking to buy a bike from the dreaded Wal-Mart for my girlfriend who is a first time rider. (I'm not sure how she escaped childhood without learning to ride a bike)
I have a decent understanding of the mid-range better bikes as I went from a lower end Specialized, to a lovely Trek Hybrid over the years. However, I haven't gone to the Mart to get a bike since I was 10. And bikes have changed a bit since then. My only real experience with the low end bikes is a brief foray with a Mongoose wherein I snapped a gear in half on my first day of riding. From other reviews they supposedly make a decent higher end bike, but that experience has clouded my view of them.
Regardless, it seems that a great number of the bikes offered are various flavors of Cycle Force bikes. And Shwinn (pacific) bikes. Is there a better brand to look at when looking at the low end bikes to start someone out on? I'm looking mostly for opinions on the brand / quality of brands for the low end stuff.
(Before everyone says go to a shop... I will buy her a much nicer bike if she actually rides with me and takes it up. But if she uses it like the gym membership I bought her wherein she never even showed up once to pick up the membership card, I'd prefer to only be out a little bit.)
Stay away from full suspension at the low end, try to find a used bike, that would be the best way to go, nobody would enjoy a bike that breaks on the ride, your odds are way better on a used bike, some LBS have used bikes too. Craigslist is a good place to look, that way if she don't like it you can sell it for what you have invested. Good Luck
Good luck with this...getting your GF to actually ride, getting a Walmart recommendation here. You don't tell us what type of bike you/she is wanting to try: mtb, hybrid, comfort...
My recommendations in this order:
1. Try to borrow/rent a bike that fits her reasonably well to determine if she even likes to ride or can ride.
2. Look on Craigslist for a decent used whatever.
3. Bikes Direct. A little higher prices than WM but a better bike. If it doesn't work out, better resale.
4. If you must go to WM, as said, avoid the full or dual suspension stuff. They carry some commuter/hybrid looking stuff, some comfort, and even female specific hardtail mtbs that look okay but still have pretty poor components. BTW, all brands at WM are about the same. No one brand is better than another and it will be about the component level on the bike more than the brand.
I didn't want to be too specific on the type of bike because I was hoping to hear that there was a better reputation brand on the low end. Generally I'm looking towards a hybrid or comfort bike. There is no way I can get her to go offroad, and only a slight chance of getting her onto even a trail so I feel a mountain bike would merely be increased resistance on a ride and no real benefit.
I'm 6'4" and a weightlifter.. I stay away from the full suspensions on basic principle for anyone. I can easily imagine one of those snapping in half when I ride down a set of stairs. I ride an extra large hardtail frame. As a friend of mine who plays football pointed out, if he got onto most standard bikes, he would end up bending them in half.
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