By now, you’ve probably heard that Walmart just launched a premium bicycle brand called Viathon. The new bikes are to be sold online, so don’t expect these carbon fiber steeds to show up on shelves at your local Walmart anytime soon. Prices start at $2,000 for a frameset, with builds ranging in price from $2,400 to $6,000.
I got a chance to see the Viathon M.1 in person at Sea Otter and clearly, it’s a very nice bike with top-of-the-line components and a clean, sleek, high-performance design. The $6,000 XX1 build is said to weigh just over 21lbs, and I believe it.
Many of us were surprised to see Walmart launch a high-end bike brand, but in some ways, it makes sense given the Walton Family Foundation’s focus on cycling, and on building mountain bike trails specifically in the area surrounding the Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. The real question is, who is the customer for a Viathon mountain bike?
The Viathon website offers a clue on their “Our Story” page:
At Viathon, we believe that great bikes make riding more fun. And when you have fun, you ride more.
We feel strongly that everyone should have access to a high-quality bike. That is why we set out to create a line of bicycles that are performance-driven yet comfortable, practical, fun to ride, and beautifully designed.
I heard the same story from the Viathon brand manager, who indicated Viathon bikes are not about competition, rather offering riders a fun, comfortable bike that they will enjoy riding. Which is why the M.1 is so confusing. This appears to be an XC race bike, designed for suffering and winning races, not just having fun and being comfortable.
Viathon leads with “performance-driven” in their de-facto mission statement. This is telling, and based on what I’ve seen from the M.1 mountain bike, it’s accurate. Almost everything that comes next, however, seems to offer a contradiction, or at the very least, a series of counter-arguments.
The phrase carbon hardtail rarely brings to mind the word comfortable, at least in my mind.
Starting at the head tube, the Viathon M.1 has a 69.5° head tube angle which is about as steep as you’ll find on any mountain bike in 2019. Even Nino Schurter’s Scott Spark sports a 68.5° head tube angle, and it’s a full suspension bike. (To be fair, the Scott Scale hardtail does have a 69.5° head tube angle.)
Mountain bikers are always on the lookout for the mythical quiver killer. A single bike to handle all conditions — or at least most of them — is a practical desire. Yet, the M.1 is pretty extreme even for an XC bike, placing it far to one side of the mountain bike spectrum. It seems like a trail bike — even a short travel one — would be a more practical choice for most mountain bikers.
Fun to ride
Viathon says a size medium M.1 frameset (with derailleur hanger and water bottle mounts) weighs just over a kilo at 1,035g which is impressively lightweight. Sure, there are lighter XC frames out there, but most people who are looking at frame weights down to the gram aren’t just mountain biking for fun. Then again, riding a lightweight carbon bike is generally more fun than pushing around a steel boat anchor.
The 120mm suspension fork does lend a bit more personality and excitement to the M.1, though it’s unclear how well this pairs with such a steep head tube angle. Bikes with similar geometry tend to offer a 100mm fork.
A dropper post on the top-end build certainly makes the M.1 more adaptable, and arguably more fun, but it’s the only build that comes with one. This isn’t all that surprising for an XC race bike; after all, many pros prefer a rigid post for XC races. But for everyday “fun” rides, a dropper post goes a long way toward making the ride more enjoyable and comfortable.
Check! The graphics and safe colors may not do it for everyone, but the lines are clean and the M.1 casts a nice silhouette. Viathon worked with famed Kevin Quan Studios to come up with this one-of-a-kind frame design, and the team clearly did a great job.
One more thing to note from the Viathon quote is this line: “We feel strongly that everyone should have access to a high-quality bike.” Based on current prices, it doesn’t seem like Viathon is there yet. It’s hard to compare apples-to-apples, but there are certainly direct-to-consumer bikes with similar quality available from other brands at the same or slightly better prices.
The M.1 is the first mountain bike from Viathon, and from the sound of things, it won’t be the last. Whether this will serve as a “halo product” to introduce more affordable (or approachable) mountain bikes from the brand in the future is yet to be seen. In the meantime, it seems Walmart isn’t quite sure what they’ve created or who the customer will be. Once they figure things out, there’s a good chance they might make a bigger splash.