The GMC Denali Road Bike: A Balanced Look
An Eye-Opening Experience with a "WalMart Bike"
I've been a bike lover and rider since I was about 2 years old. As I grew, about every other year, my parents kept getting me new wheels, and by age 12, I was riding a British-made 3-Speed with 26' wheels that came from the local Western Auto store.
The real fun began in 1966, when my folks gifted my younger brother and me, a pair of brand-new Raleigh Record 10-speed road bikes. To young riders of 43 years ago, this was a radical change - TEN SPEEDS! The tract where we lived, was a Cul de Sac that climbed at a grade of about 35%. Kind of San Francisco style - and having those additional low gears, made a tremendous difference to us.
Still, Southern California Summers lure anyone with a pulse, down to the beach, and we were no exceptions. During the Summer, we'd ride fifteen miles round-trip to enjoy a day at the beach. WHAT A LIFE! Gradually, we increased the distance of our bike trips, until we were doing 15-20 mile rides from one end of town to the other, then back again. Those Raleighs were an incredible value at $69 at the bike shop!
In 1969 I crashed my beautiful Blue Raleigh into a tree, ruining the front wheel, and bending the front fork back about an INCH. I could see it, and that ruined everything for me. After replacing the front wheel, tire and inner tube, I sold the bike to our paperboy (who used it for several years on his paper route, and then enjoyed it for four more years at college). I replaced the Raleigh with a Peugeot U08 10-speed at $109 (there was considerable inflation in import prices, and Peugeot had historically been $20-$25 higher than Raleigh at the time). I loved riding that Peugeot as much as I had the Raleigh, and kept doing so until 1975 when I met my future wife, concentrated on the future with her, (a big mistake), and gave up enjoying the present. My Peugeot was suspended from the rafters in our garage for the next 20 years, before being brought down, cleaned up, and resold to a nostalgia junkie, for $100.00.
Over the years since those days, I maintained my physical tone, and in the late 80's - early 90's did so with much gym activity, and very active participation in racquetball, which I had to abruptly give up, with a raging Carpal Tunnel that came close to permanently disabling me. I became more and more sedentary, and my wife's cooking was so full of fat, carbs, you-name-it, that my weight and girth both expanded greatly up to recent times.
Having developed on a shoestring a small buy-sell business, I again became interested in bicycles and at the same time, decided I needed to make changes in my life, to be likely to see another 15-25 years above the ground. I purchased an early 70's French Jeunet bicycle on ebay, only to find out that it was way too large for me, and I couldn't ride it safely. Two good things came out of that—first, I was able to re-sell the bike locally, at a profit, and I heard from a friend, about the liquidation pricing that WalMart was offering on the Kent Denali Road Bike.
What People Said About the Denali
I did much research on the Net, and found that there were TWO opposite views on the Denali bike. There were those who knew their way around wrenches, screwdrivers, cleaners and lubricants, who could perform minor repair and tuneup jobs on a bike. Then there were those who go straight to a bike repair shop if anything requiring a screwdriver or socket wrench is called for.
I found that the tool-phobic population of cyclists is where you find the greatest number of patrons of the Local Bike Shop, (LBS). Because they know so little, and aren't motivated to learn how to do simple bike repair and tune-ups, they tend to be strongly influenced by the hyena howls of the LBS owners telling us NOT to buy Target or WalMart bikes, that they are unsafe junk, and implying that THEY, the LBS, would refuse to help out anyone having problems with a bike he purchased at WalMart. Initially, this concerned me too, but I kept an open mind, and am glad I did.
Background on the Denali
Although the GMC Denali was originally intended to be sold in Local Bike Shops and at GMC dealers, it hasn't worked out that way, and the GM dealers don't know how to sell bicycles, Heck, they hardly know how to sell 4-wheel vehicles any more. Kent also makes the Tonino Lamborghini bikes and the Cadillac bikes, which are sold in all manner of outlets, and on-line. To help market the failing Denali, Kent deftly maneuvered a non-exclusive distribution deal with America's leading retailers, Amazon and WalMart!
There seems to be a crowd of protesters, mainly loyalists of the LBS, whose idea of an entry-level bike STARTS at $450-$600, which in my opinion, is just a wee bit TOO HIGH to be competitive, especially given America's current state of unemployment and economic dysfunction. These overpriced Bike Boutiques, really need to examine economic realities a bit more compassionately, and collectively put some free-market pressure on the manufacturers, to DROP THEIR DAMNED PRICES. I'm all for small, local businesses, including the Mom & Pop Local Bike Shop. However, one of the primary laws of the jungle, is adapt, or die. With KMart, Target, Walmart, Sears, et al offering Schwinn and equivalent quality bikes under $300, and occasionally, on sale, under $200, guess where the entry-level bike buying public is most likely to shop.
REALITY is forcing more and more bike shoppers, to go to the lowest-price discounter, WalMart. This was the main reason I got very interested in the Kent Denali, at the $139 price at which WalMart was selling them fully assembled with warranty!
I read quite a number of 4-star and 5-star reviews on Walmart's website, and at Amazon.com given by folks who'd purchased the Denali, and were still alive to tell the story many months later! I had to ask myself, if it was possible that the LBS-loyalists MIGHT possibly have overstated the perils of buying and riding a WalMart bike.
I've excerpted a review, by a man with a lengthy background of being an aircraft mechanic and auto mechanic. He had semi-retired into being a full-time BICYCLE MECHANIC!! And he chose to purchase and ride a Denali from WalMart! I figured THIS should be interesting - - - an experienced Bike Mechanic, sharing his impressions of the Denali Bike, that he had purchased at WalMart, and then rode every day, 30 miles round-trip for commuting. through hot Summers, Rainy Springs and Autumns, and snowy, icy Mid-West winters! Here's his closing paragraph:
Saturday I got hit by a car that forced me head on into a telephone pole at 20 mph. I have a dislocated shoulder and bruised knee. The Denali is totaled. The front wheel now touches the down tube, the head tube is cracked and the BB is a wreck. So I have to go pick up a new one soon. Of course the driver took off like a bat out of hell. So I laid in the grass till the pain was manageable. THEN I RELEASED THE FRONT BRAKE AND RODE THE DENALI THE REST OF THE WAY HOME (ABOUT 3 MILES.) I had put 6720 miles on the Denali from Oct of last year to Saturday (a total of about 9 months). Which makes the cost per mile for the Denali $0.0235.
That was enough for me, and I would think it would be enough for most anyone, other than a die-hard cyclist who insists on riding $3,000 ultra-light road bikes.
Meeting and Getting to Know the Denali
I drove to WalMart, to see if they had a Denali I could examine up close. They did, and I liked what I saw. The bike they had on display, the MEDIUM 22.5" frame, is perfect for me, at 5'10". They are also offer a SMALL 20" and LARGE 25" size. I wheeled the Denali up front to check out, and take it home. Due to a hard-to-see flaw in the finish the bike wasn't full price at $139; WalMart had marked it down to $99, because of a scratch on the Denali decal about 1/4" by 1/4". I almost laughed out loud, but restrained myself, and chalked up another point for WalMart. That was on July 26, 2009.
The bike has been ridden close to 2,000 miles since then, and contrary to those complaining about getting flats because, according to the nay-sayers, at the factory, Kent couldn't mount the inner tube and tire on the rim properly, both tires are kept inflated to the specified pressure, and the tires have performed without complaint for about 50 miles of riding. I weigh close to 260, which is supposed to be the very extreme of what the tires were designed to handle, and in 6 months, NO FLATS! My friend Frank, who bought the bike from me a couple of years ago, weighs about 210 and the tires and tubes are still functioning perfectly.
I LOVE the way this bike rides and handles and just plain FEELS. Shifting is NO PROBLEM. The brakes have performed flawlessly. I have not been anywhere near a Bike Shop to have even a minor tune-up done, and so far, the Denali shows no signs of needing any adjustment anywhere. So far, this WalMart bike is performing at least as well as my European-made Raleigh and Peugeot road bikes did 35-43 years ago when I weighed nearly 100 lbs LESS than I do now.
The Denali gets a 5-Star rating from me, and so does WalMart for the excellent assembly and pre-sale adjustments they did on the Denali bike. Another Denali rider, in the MidWest, stated that he has actually met and spoken with the assembly people at his WalMart, and they are technicians who work F/T at an LBS, who are contracted to come to Walmart once weekly to do all assemblies and adjustments needing to be done. It would be interesting to see how many WalMart stores do the assembly this way, vs. those who simply "train" store employees to do it.
Why Would You Spend More on a Bike?
Why would anyone spend significantly more for a bike? There are some very good reasons. Once a rider has reached the level of riding competitively, or riding great distances, on Bike Marathons, weight will become progressively a much larger issue. At 28.5 Lbs, the Denali is like the Sherman Tank of bicycles, weighing about the same as the old bullet-proof Schwinn Varsity. If one shops very carefully, on Craigs List, or ebay, one can find excellent deals on used road bikes that weigh between 18-22 Lbs. By excellent, I mean prices around $150-$300 for a 20-25 year old lightweight British, French, Italian, or Japanese made road bike. But with bikes of that age, one has to know what to look for, in terms of components that may be worn out, and needing replacement. It is real easy, on a vintage bike, to get a seeming bargain, at $150, and then find out that it needs $250 or more in refurbishment. But that is deviating off the subject, and would be a good topic for an entirely separate article.