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GMC Denali Bike Review: A Balanced Look

I'm an avid amateur cyclist who's loved riding since age 2. In my opinion, this is a fantastic road bike for the price.

A very attractive bike, one of the more visually appealing road bikes I've seen at any price.

A very attractive bike, one of the more visually appealing road bikes I've seen at any price.

What People Said About the Denali

Before taking the plunge on this purchase, 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 GMC 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 anymore. Kent also makes the Tonino Lamborghini bikes and the Cadillac bikes, which are sold in all manner of outlets, and online.

To help market the failing Denali, Kent deftly maneuvered a non-exclusive distribution deal with America's leading retailers, Amazon and Walmart!

The Denali Goes to 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 to 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.

$139 Assembled and With a Warranty

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!

Great Reviews

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.

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Still in Great Shape After 2,000 Miles

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 pounds, 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.

Great Handling and Feel

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.

5 Stars for the GMC Denali!

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.

Be Careful Buying Cheap Vintage Bikes

If one shops very carefully, on Craigslist, 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.

My History With Bicycles

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. By age 12, I was riding a British-made 3-Speed with 26' wheels that came from the local Western Auto store.

Raleigh Record 10-Speed

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).

Peugeot U08 10-Speed

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 '80s - early '90s 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.

'70s French Jeunet Bicycle

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 '70s 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. That's what led me to this great bike!

© 2009 Matt Holm

Comments

Brian Puterbaugh on January 01, 2017:

i recently got a road bike in November off of ebay since walmart was currently out of the Denali so i got a Kent 700c Roadtech which almost the same as a Denail but it basically has the same Shimano drive train and same brakes, but the only different thing is it has the the thumb shifters instead of grip shifters, which the thumb shifters remind me of the older 10 speeds,but i have ridden it several times and just love it as much as if it was Denail.But just like the Denail, i have no complaints and no problems with any thing on it and it rides real quiet when i ride it just like your Denail,i have wait in order to ride again due to where i live at which its winter here and too cold to ride at the moment but when spring comes i will be doing some more riding and awesome review

Matt Holm (author) from Southern California on May 22, 2015:

If you purchased your bike brand-new at a retailer, say, Wal Mart, you have a Warranty, and they have arrangements with local bike shops to do the adjustments and minor repairs that are sometimes needed, on any brand of new bike, not just Denali. You should communicate with Wal Mart customer service, either in the store, or on line. If you purchased the bike second-hand, then you're on your own. Both "problems" you mention, are fixable with simple adjustments, any bike repairman at any bike repair facility can help you with this, at a minimal cost.

If you had just purchased an $800 Raleigh at the LBS, it could well have slipping gears also - in packing and shipping, sometimes the factory settings loosen. This is no reflection on the quality of the bike, just on the realities of shipping precisely adjusted mechanisms that are on bikes.

The shifter on the left side, allows you to shift between the 3 larger gears that rotate when you pedal. The shifter on the right side allows you to shift between the 7 smaller gears on the rear axle. This gives you 21 different gear ratios, so you can always find a gear that is appropriate for whatever type of riding you're doing at the time, from long level, straight riding where you want maximum road speed, to climbing steep hills, where you need a gear that allows you to climb the hill without rupturing calf muscles in your legs with the strain of pedalling.

Good luck to you in your Triathlons.

Joe Hempel on May 22, 2015:

I just bought one....my first bike in well....since I was a teen (36 now), and I'm using it in my first Tri in 3 weeks, 18 miles....then next year, I plan on using it for the IM 70.3. I'm not looking to break any barriers, just finish as I'm really more interested in the running at the end (runner at heart), but want the challenge of Tri's.

I've found with absolutely no knowledge of bikes that there are problems. Biggest one is the gear slipping, but maybe that's my lack of knowledge, it just feels that when it bangs or jerks sometimes the gear slipped and that was jarring.

The other thing I noticed is that I'm going to have to adjust the handlebars. They are not directly inline with the tire and it's maybe 10 degrees off.

I do need to learn more about gears. I know the larger number is for hills and I tend to stay on gear 4-5 until I hit the large hills in my neighborhood, but no idea what the shifter is on the left side, or what it does.

All in all, I do enjoy riding, I've taken it out for about 12 miles combined, 30 minutes a day since I got it (yeah I'm afraid of speed over 20mph right now so I brake, that will change as I get more comfortable). I really need to get my butt not sore from this seat, maybe just replace it LOL

Mike on January 13, 2015:

I've owned this bike for a little over a year and I love it. After riding a 1977 varsity previously, this was a nice upgrade. Sense my first few rides I've upgraded components to suit my usage. There are many things to say about this bike and it's quality and capability but at the end of the day, if you love your bike and how it rides... that's all that counts. Thanks for the write up and your review.

Big Bruce on November 30, 2014:

Well, subienut, here it is another year and several hundred additional miles, and the Denali, without even one visit to the LBS for servicing, is still performing flawlessly. It still has the original tires and inner tubes, we' ve had to reinflate the tires a few times, but they hold the air, and support little old me, now down to 235 Lbs, still pretty damned heavy on 700C tires.

The best subienut and other stooges for the LBS industry can do, is try to assail the Denali bike on the basis of componentry that compares almost equal to the components on my 1966 Raleigh and my 1971 Peugeot road bikes. In fact, the Weinmann side-pull brakes on both of those bikes, were also single-pivot, just like the brakes on my Denali. At 6 years old, none of the cables as yet needs anything, other than possibly a minor adjustment.

So, since 2009, my experience with the Denali, is a mirror image of my experience in the first 5 years of owning two old-school European bikes.

Haters, put that leaf in your pipes, smoke it, and smile.

Matt Holm (author) from Southern California on November 16, 2013:

I used the bike for exercise, until a friend of mine test-rode it and liked it so much he decided to buy it from me. Since then I've ridden a variety of vintage road bikes, as I mentioned above. They were all pretty decent, but in truth, the Denali was among the most comfortable, with just about the smoothest ride and feel. I loved the way the shifters worked, and over nearly 1,000 miles of riding, the gears shifted positively and smoothly the entire time. Again, I had no issue with the tires, and in the 4 years since he purchased the bike from me, my friend Frank has had no flat tires either.

My contention was that just as two bikes may look alike, and not be exactly the same, bicyclists are also different. I think you misinterpreted my earlier and more recent remarks about LBS customers. From my observations, they tend to have their bikes serviced more frequently by professionals than do the typical "WalMart" bike owners who buy cheap, and tend to be cheap when it comes to regular maintenance, and preservation of their bikes. Not making a sweeping statement here, just an observation after decades of biking and being around all different kinds of bike owners. Peace.

subienut on November 16, 2013:

Like I mentioned before, our shop works on any and every bike. Unlike your first description of LBS people who you claim "know so little, and aren't motivated to learn how to do simple bike repair and tune-ups" I am quite knowledgeable regarding fixes on non-LBS bikes (yours included). I have had plenty of practice as they readily need repairs. At the same time, I am a gearhead.

I guess my question to you would be do you use your bike as a commuter (if so, how far) or do you ride solo or in groups just for the enjoyment/exercise?

My central statement has always been that either bike can be perfect for the situation/budget considering that they really aren't comparable.

Matt Holm (author) from Southern California on November 16, 2013:

I don't think there's been any failure on my part to "see" both sides. I do not trust the LBS people as the last word on the subject. That was my primary, central statement all along, although many others chipped in with very adverse, argumentative, one-sided commentary. So be it.

subienut on November 16, 2013:

Are we talking about the same bike?

http://www.walmart.com/ip/700c-GMC-Denali-Road-Bik...

the one with the handlebar cut in half so gripshift shifters can be cheaply stuck on? By the way, location of purchase does not make a walmart bike. "walmart bike" is the general term for any bike with incredibly low-end parts. On the same note, Ferrari has "made" several branded bikes as well. That in no way made them comparable to a Ferrari.

http://luxefiles.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/CX...

In their defense, there were a handful of bikes they put together from generic carbon frames and high-end components. Just because they say Ferrari or GMC or have been sold in Caddy dealerships doesn't mean a thing when it comes down to how the bike performs.

Define perform: carry out, accomplish, or fulfill (an action, task, or function).

Define work: (of a machine or system) operate or function, esp. properly or effectively.

The fact of the matter is, sure, walmart bikes can be durable. You my friend have proven so. But when you want a bike that performs, not just works, you get a bike adaptable to your needs. (if you're happy with your GMC then that is what suits your needs) If you are a serious commuter Shimano Sora components on an aluminum frame with some tough doublewalls will get your job done effectively. If you go on group rides there's no option but to have clipless pedals and something comparable or better than Shimano 105.

Try to see both sides man. The GMC is a great point A-B bike but for the higher quality stuff you pay more. For some people its worth it.

Side note: I agree with your craigslist statement 100%. I was talking about entry-level road bikes. I personally love vintage bikes. The fact that they were made before a society only cared about the profit margin attributes to their build quality.

Matt Holm (author) from Southern California on November 16, 2013:

I disagree.

NUMBER ONE: through CraigsList, I have found Shimano-equipped Japanese 1970's Road Bikes, in perfectly serviceable condition for as little as $65.00. I have purchased beautiful Raleighs, Schwinns, Centurions, Diamondbacks, etc and not once had to spend more than $150.00 for an excellent bike.

NUMBER TWO: To refer to the Denali as a "WalMart Bike" is pure nonsense. Years before WalMart got their hands on these bikes, they were being produced by Kent, for General Motors, for sale at GMC dealerships. Essentially the same bike is also sold as a "Cadillac" bike at Cadillac dealerships, I understand. The real fact is, that most people who buy bikes for cheap prices, at places like WalMart, tend to be less conscientious bike owners, less attentive to regular maintenance, less concerned with long-term preservation, through proper, climate-controlled storage, than those who purchase their bikes at the LBS.

That fact alone, definitely does NOT make the Denali inferior to the LBS bikes. Given equal treatment, equal care, the Denali holds up very well, as my friend, who purchased my Denali about 4 years ago, still uses the bike, and it still looks as good as it did on display at Walmart. There isn't even the slightest HINT of oxidation ANYWHERE on the bike, nor on the attached hardware. Also, the derailleurs, shifters, and brakes continue to operate like new. The bike glides almost dead silent, which I read in a bike magazine, is the sign of a high-quality bike. Yes, the Denali. Four years after initial purchase, the Denali. And after four years of riding, the tires have not gone flat, not even once.

There's a saying that there's an exception to every rule. I have conversed with at least a half dozen satisfied Denali owners. That combined with the direct experience close to home, tells me, we are not the exception. Hating on the bike doesn't negate all the accolades it has received, not to mention, the year-long account I related above, of the bike mechanic who put several thousand miles on his Denali, with never a problem, defect, or breakdown, until the day he was forced off the road by a dickhead in a car, and totalled the bike, (something that would have happened to the Cannondale, or Rubaix, or Trek, or whatever other LBS bike he might alternatively have been riding, that sad day).

subienut on November 15, 2013:

I half agree with either opinion. I personally (don't hate) am a bike mechanic (see, you're hating). Ignore that. At my shop we work on any and every bike that comes in. I am not going to lie. Walmart bikes 2 years old GENERALLY (not always) have more rust than the mid-range bikes from the 90's. If you store a Walmart bike inside and keep it from the elements it can quite a while. After 3 years, however, the cables will need replacing and after 10 years the shifters will need replacing. In comparison the Simplex and Suntour components from the 70's and 80's can be rebuilt for little to no cost. On the bright side, gripshift shifters are really cheap so its still not a lot against the pocket book.

Obviously, when comparing Walmart bikes and "real" bikes it goes unquestioned that the efficiency and geometry are not considered as much as cost when creating a Walmart bike.

Denali experience: I have worked on two different denalis. One of them has come in about 4 times in the last year with flat tires. Both of them were moderately dirty which had a significant negative impact on the drivetrain. the derailleurs squeaked like none other, the chain did not bend easily, and the housing didn't effectively protect the cables from the elements. Hence, the shifting was incredibly sluggish and the chain constantly jumped/rubbed. (not just a tuning issue)

My opinion: Walmart bikes are only reasonable if the buyer is responsible. They are practical for places where your bike could easily get stolen and/or you only need one for a few years.

A good bike is found used between $400 and $800. I personally have a Cannondale Caad3 I found on ebay for $600 that suits me just fine. It is decked out in 105, ultegra, and dura-ace. Much more durable and much more reliable/fixable. Keeping in mind I would be fine riding it to work and keeping it in an office but I would not lock it up outside in Portland or NYC.

Matt Holm (author) from Southern California on August 28, 2013:

It is human nature for our egos to be bound up in our purchase decisions. I have had numerous conversations over the years with people who purchased cars, (for instance) that were obscenely overpriced status symbols. These people would argue all kinds of ways their paying FIVE TIMES the price of a Honda Accord, made them privy to a car that was worth every penny, and then some, of what they had paid.

It's the same with bikes, although, it's hard to argue that the rider who spends $1,500 on a 15-Lb ultra-lightweight Rubaix, is overpaying for his bike. But, someone who buys a Kent-produced Schwinn, or Raleigh, or other $500+ "Name-Brand" bike, (in my opinion) is paying more than they need to for a reasonably serviceable road bike. And to do so, based on the advice of the LBS, in my opinion, is rather naïve.

MAX on August 28, 2013:

Sounds like the LBS people know deep down inside they overpaid for their bike that was probably made in the same factory in Asia as the Denali. I've been riding for many years and there have always been the elite that feel if you did not pay $$$$$ for a bike, your not a "real" cyclist. If a lower end bike like the Denali or other Walmart brand gets a person into biking I am all for it. It would also be great if the newbies don't turn into future "Bike Snobs." The world has too many of them already.

Keep on riding and have fun!!

Carlinis on July 30, 2013:

I have this bike (about 7-8 moths with it) I use it for work and put 22.6 miles exactly, 5 day a week... (Except hollidays) Im 317lbs (started 366lbs)

And have no complains about it!

It runs perfectly, quiet, smooth... And I dont mind if its heavy or not, any bike will be heavy with me on top! :)

2 weeks ago I switch from the 700x32 tires to 700x23 tires (just for the look, and runs even better!!!)

steve on June 28, 2013:

I love this bike, first bike I have own in 15 years and I love it. Got some auro bars and road bike tires and it compares to the $700 bike one of my buddies has. In 4 months I have put 300 miles on it and had it tuned up by Sports Authority and it is great

Grizzly907la on April 08, 2013:

Here's my Denali as I begin the shake down cruise for it. I removed the stickers with a blow dryer, tore the paint off in one spot but that can be covered with reflective tape or I can strip the spot down and spray it over. Not professional but will get the job done.

http://24.media.tumblr.com/60fc6c8d0cd1ac31e968b70...

Matt Holm (author) from Southern California on April 07, 2013:

It's always interesting when the termites and trolls come out from their lurking mode. :-)

Grizzly907la on April 07, 2013:

Thanks. I'll right up a review for the road bike forums, and let the LBSP's flame war begin.

Matt Holm (author) from Southern California on April 05, 2013:

Cool. And I think learning as a volunteer at a bike coop is the best way to do it, short of getting a part time trainee job at a LBS. Good Luck to you, and stay safe on these dangerous streets.

Grizzly907la on April 05, 2013:

I want to volunteer at one of the bike co-opts in DTLA and hopefully they will teach me the finer points of bike repair in exchange for me volunteering. My goal is to be able to take a bike apart and put it back together. I've seen videos on how to tune gears (I did the rear one myself on the Varsity but messed up the one on the front because I didn't let out the cable,) and adjusted the front brake. I am not adverse to using wrenches and screwdrivers. Don't let the haters get too you and for the record I've had a $1000 mtn bike and it really sucked when I lost it. The $200 road bikes ride about the same as the $1000 bike btw. I'll do a yt vid once I get ride and get a feel for the denali.

Matt Holm (author) from Southern California on April 05, 2013:

I agree with your decision. As long as you don't have unreasonable expectations, the Denali should perform well for you. Then again, road bikes tend to be easily damaged, if subjected to abuse, or improper use. Treat it gently, keep everything clean, well-oiled, and store it where it won't be exposed to the elements. If you aren't already knowledgeable about adjusting brakes, derailleurs, cable tension, etc. it would be a super idea to get familiar with such things, and invest in a basic tool kit so at the first sign of something amiss, you can keep your bike ridable and enjoy using it, without the downtime involved if you have to take it in for repair or adjustment for every little thing that could happen. I hope you get all you're hoping for from this bike.