Walmart Launches High End 'Viathon' Bike Brand
Walmart getting into higher end bikes is interesting because, between their purchasing power and the direct to consumer business model, they have the potential to disrupt the bike industry.Viathon’s first mountain bike offering is a carbon hardtail called the M.1. It is being released alongside a carbon road bike, the R.1, and a carbon gravel bike named, you guessed it - the G.1. All three bikes come with a similar black and white paint job across a range of price points. Walmart appears to have ponied up the resources to go beyond open model “catalogue” bikes, hiring Toronto-based Kevin Quan Studios to design and engineer the bikes. The Viathon team is lead internally at Walmart by Brand Manager Zach Spinhirne-Martin.
Oversize Bottom Bracket: The bottom bracket of the M.1 is oversized and reinforced with extra carbon to increase stiffness
Internal Cable Routing: The M.1 has internal cable routing, allows for electronic or mechanical drivetrains, and accommodates a dropper post.
Asymmetric Design: The chainstays on the M.1 have apparently been shaped to accommodate the forces generated on each side of the bike, which Viathon says improves pedaling efficiency and ride quality.
Maximum Utility: The frame gets three water bottle mounts, so Levy will be happy.
Frame Options & Build KitsThe Viathon M.1 is available in three complete build kit options, starting at $2,400 USD.The top of the line M.1 XX1 comes with a RockShox SID RLC 120mm fork, a SRAM XX1 gold Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Level Ultimate brakes, an FSA K-Force carbon 740mm x 31.8mm handlebar, and Stan's No Tube Crest CB7 Carbon Pro 29 Wheels. It sells for $6,000 USD.The mid price point is the M.1 XO1 which comes with a RockShox SID RL 120mm fork, a SRAM XO1 Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Level TLM brakes, an FSA SL-K carbon 740mm x 31.8mm handlebar, and Stan's No Tubes Arch MK3 Team 29 Wheels. It sells for $3,500 USD.The entry level price point is just $400 more than the frame. The M.1 GX1 comes with a RockShox SID RL 120mm fork, a SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Level TL brakes, an FSA Afterburner 740mm x 31.8mm handlebar, and Stan's No Tubes Arch S1 Team 29 Wheels. It sells for $2,400 USD.The frame-only option is available for $2,000 USD, but at just $400 less than the GX1 build, most will opt for the complete.
*Disclaimer: we’re comparing full MSRP on brands’ USA websites in USD. The comparisons might be different in other markets and currencies. It also doesn’t take into account frame quality—we have no idea how the Viathon rides yet, and not all carbon hardtails are created equal.*
At first glance at the prices and the marketing lingo in the press kit - “You could spend more to ride fast, but honestly you don’t have to,” “...our team is able to pull all this off at a cost less than you’d expect” and “Dollar for dollar, there’s perhaps no faster bike” - the prices seem fairly inexpensive. But then I remember that I haven’t actually purchased a bike without rear suspension since my XC race days over ten years ago. So how do these prices really compare with the modern XC hardtails available to purchase today?At $11,629 USD, the top of the line Specialized S-Works Epic HT with XX1 is almost twice the price of the most expensive Viathon M.1 XX1. The next closest price point to the $6,000 M.1 is the Epic HT Expert, which is less expensive at $5,379 and comes with carbon wheels, but a more economical GX Eagle drivetrain. The cheapest Epic HT you can get is $3,589, and that will get you SRAM NX and a RockShox Reba RL fork—a significant step down from the RockShox SID RL and the SRAM XO1 Eagle on the $3,500 M.1 XO1. The most expensive XC hardtail offering from Trek is the Procaliber 9.9 SL, which comes with carbon wheels and XX1 at $8749. On the other end of the spectrum, Trek’s most inexpensive carbon hardtail is $2,599 USD, which comes with a RockShox Recon Gold RL, and a SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain. So far, the Viathon offering looks like a steal.However, when we look at models that are competing on the direct to consumer model, the prices for the Viathon M.1 aren’t significantly less expensive. In fact, the pricing scheme is pretty darn close to what Canyon is doing. Canyon also has three price points for its Exceed carbon hardtail, with the 6.0 retailing for $2,199, the 8.0 retailing for $3,499 and the 9.0 retailing for $6,500. But what do you get for your money at those price points? For the entry-level price point, it looks like you get more with the M.1 GX1 than the Exceed 6.0. On the Exceed 6.0, you get the same fork, but an NX Eagle drivetrain instead of a the M.1’s GX Eagle drivetrain. For $3,500, both the Exceed 8.0 and the M.1 come with SRAM Level TLM brakes and an XO1 Eagle drivetrain, but on the Canyon, you get carbon wheels with a Reynolds TR 249 Carbon wheelset and a RockShox SID RLC. On the M.1 you get Stan's No Tubes Arch MK3 Team 29 Wheels and a lower-end RockShox SID RL fork. This round goes to Canyon.For $6,500, the comparison is a bit more difficult. On the Exceed 9.0, you get a Fox Factory 32 Step Cast fork, Reynolds XC carbon wheels and an XX1 drivetrain. Trade the fork out for a RockShox SID RLC, and that’s a pretty similar components package as on the $6,000 M.1. All in all, the Viathon M.1 has a solid value for components package at all levels, but it isn’t as mind-blowing as we first thought when compared to an established direct-to-consumer brand.
Same goes when comparing the M.1 to Trek’s Procaliber. All the numbers are comparable, except that the seat tube angle on the Procaliber is a slacker 72° and the reach is 427mm. Perhaps the most direct comparison is with the Scott Scale, which matches the M.1’s 73.6 degree seat tube angle, also has a 69.5 head tube angle, and is only 5mm longer with a 422mm reach. That being said, the wheelbase on the Scott Scale is only 1101mm wheelbase compared to the M.1’s 1119mm.What about the Canyon Exceed that is so close in price point to the M.1? The headtube angle is the same as the Specialized, Trek, Scott, and M.1 at 69.5°. The reach is longer on the Canyon Exceed than the M.1 at 425mm, with a steeper 74 degree seat tube angle and a shorter 1104 wheelbase. We’ll be checking the bike out in person at Sea Otter and we’re planning on throwing a leg over it soon to see what these numbers really mean once the bike gets out in the wild. Walmart is one of the most well-known and highest grossing brands in the world. The company that started with a single store in Arkansas now has 11,300 retail units under 58 banners in 27 countries, and eCommerce websites in 10 countries. Revenue for the brand in its most recent fiscal year was over 510 billion dollars US, more than double the revenue of Amazon in the same year. The Waltons are no strangers to the cycling world. The Walton brothers are avid cyclists that have poured millions of dollars into trail construction around their Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters through the Walton Family Foundation, and Tom Walton was a speaker at last year’s IMBA World Summit in Bentonville. In 2017, high-end road cycling apparel brand Rapha sold to the grandsons of Walmart founder Sam Walton. Rapha isn’t being sold in Walmart stores or on Walmart.com however, and until recently, Walmart wasn’t catering to customers looking to drop over $1,000 on a mountain bike. While their first offering may not be enough to pull core mountain bikers away from their local shops or established direct to consumer brands, who is to say future offerings won’t. You can bet that Walmart didn’t take this step lightly and has a whole team of analysts looking at the market potential. Bikes are also a very technical product to sell, so how the company resources for customer service and warranty could make or break the brand. The bikes are assembled to 98% using Carlsbad, California based company Lucidity to be ready for a home delivery with minimal final assembly. Walmart says that their website will host a repository of quick-start and assembly instructions and customer service will be offered through [email protected] and on @viathonbicycles social media accounts. They will also have a 1-800 number that will connect to heir customer care team. So is this a massive threat to shops? The industry as we know it? Putting aside whether you believe that’s a good or bad thing, industry folks shouldn’t be hitting the panic button quite yet. Viathon appears to have made a solid first offering, but it’s less cost-effective than we’d have expected. If they can push their prices down further and make quality bikes more accessible to people who wouldn’t have been able to afford them otherwise, then we think that’s an interesting development.With such a huge pool of resources, Walmart has the potential to grow mountain biking and get more people out on two wheels. Here’s to hoping.