Welcome to our first review !
We have owned this bike, the GMC Denali 700c, 21 speed road bike, since new 2 months ago.
It’s tenure with us has only added to luster to our initial admiration.
It’s a keeper, for sure.
The kind of purchase that makes you feel guilty, like you paid way too little, for how much performance & enjoyment it offers.
Yes, it has a few flaws. But nothing that is not easily addressed.
We’ve done a few key improvements. We’ll cover them in a minute.
First, for the uninitiated, this is “the road bike” that is sold thru Walmart stores.
In fact, the Denali 700c, 54cm / 22″ road bike, is the sole road bike Walmart stocks.
This GMC Denali is also sold on Amazon.com.
It’s not surprising then, that this bike is a very decent offering that gives more excellence for less dollars.
When one considers it’s stocked in over 5,000 Walmarts throughout North America, backed by their iron-clad ‘no questions asked return policy’. Amazon.com also sells it with a ‘no questions asked return policy’.
If every Walmart sells just 2 per month (it’s probably that minimally or more), that likely makes it the best selling ‘road bike’ in the US.
Due to the it’s understated excellence and ubiquity, I’m going to nominate the GMC Denali for the title the ‘New Schwinn Varsity’ award.
[Those who are my age (late 40's) may chuckle at this designation; when we were kids the venerable Schwinn Varsity was the 'standard issue 10 speed' - there were cheaper offerings, but the Schwinn was kinda deluxe, and $ 25 more than the cheaper ones: a full 10 speeds, nice warranty, built like a tank - must weighed 37 lbs, but was nearly unbreakable !]
Now, riding feel & performance wise, the GMC Denali is light years beyond the Schwinn Varsity, which felt ponderous, if reassuringly sturdy. (Not surpising given the manufacturing advances in crafting bike frames from advanced aluminum alloys & favorable frame geometry, etc)
The Denali features a modern, aerotube Aluminum Alloy frame – the ride it gives is responsive & handling is very quick, due to the robust & compact seat & chain stays.
Yes, the Denali weighs 29 lbs, but to me, it feels lighter than my “Old School” Benotto – circa 1987 – Italian Road Bike (which weighs 25 lbs), proabably due to the Benotto’s frame being steel & it’s more flexible, longer, thinner tube geometry.
The Denali features Vitesse Lite aero rims, which are very stout and precise, if a bit heavy. Their hubs appear to be heavy duty, a bit like MTB hubs (to be fair, though, no larger than the Shimano 2200 hubs on my Benotto’s upgraded wheelset….).
With the very rough pavement & potholes we seem have in abundance here in North East Texas, and the resultant punishment they give to the rolling stock, it’s a good thing to have have strength in the wheelset, even at the cost of weight
The gearing is very wide range, with 3 front chainrings & 7 cogs in the rear, making this machine ideal for those who need gearing for both large hills & flat terrain.
One of the Denali’s most notables feature is the utilization of a MTB type gear shifter system, the Shimano RevoShift, which although they appear out of place on a road bike, operate very precisely & accurately.
A readout window is provided to show which chainring is engaged
(In fact, this system provides more shift accuracy than the Shimano Sora type integrated brake / shifter levers on my Benotto).
To me, form follows function, things look better when they work well, and so this RevoShift, which seemed out of place at first, is now a much more welcome feature.
One item of note: to allow installation of this shift system, a two piece handlebar system was designed. When installed correctly, it’s impossible for the two halves to come apart – so safety is not a worry.
However, getting the two halves aligned may not have been done by the assembly person, so do check to make sure they’re aligned. If not, just loosen the stem attachment, realign the bars & retighten the thru bolt that fixes them in relation to each other.
The seat is pretty much ‘standard issue’. If you’re 18 years or younger, or riding less than 10 miles at a time, it’s perfectly fine. If you go further – (we’ve gone 40 miles at one time, and go 20+ miles twice a week on this bike), you’ll want to upgrade to something better.
Now, there is a downside to the RevoShift system, and that is, it takes up the space on the handlebars normally devoted to accessories like a cycling computer & headlight.
It’s the only true negative I’ve found, and one that the bike’s other strengths make me willing to live with.
(One potential solution; upgrade to the Shimano STI integrated shift / brake lever system, but that costs about $ 160 – MicroSHIFT sells a similar system for $ 120. Another, much more budget friendly option would be to use Shimano’s basic, yet functional A050 handlebar / paddle shifters. Their advantage of this Shimano A050 Paddle Shifters is they can be moved outwards some distance, allowing room on the inboard side, next to the stem, for your accessories. These shifters are sold on Amazon for just $ 15 for the pair, quite the bargain.)
There are two or three other areas of easy improvment – the Denali isn’t alone in these deficient aspects – that is the pedals & the tires.
The standard cage pedals are OK, but wholly unsuitable for serious road rides.
Mandatory, in my view, are standard toe clip pedals, for use with street shoes, or obviously, the more advanced matched cycling shoe / clip pedal combination.
We opted for the former option, due to it’s flexibility. It allows most street / athletic shoes to be used, and is just $ 25 – for the pedals, plastic toe clip & strap. We bought Bontrager Standard Aluminum pedals with clip & strap at the LBS.
[FYI: We may shortly try the very budget friendly deal - on cycling shoes & compatible pedals, $ 70 for the whole shebang, here: http://www.RoadBikeOutlet.com
The tires on the Denali are much more of a hybrid tire, and at 32c, just too wide & heavy for serious road work.
If you’ll only ride the Denali on your street or at the campground, they’ll be ok.
We rode the Denali for the first 6 weeks with these 32c beasts. In fact, my 16 year old son beat me like a drum riding on them, at the 25 mile “Pineywoods Purgatory”, while I rode my lighter, more serious Italian Benotto Racing bike.
(So much for equipment being the determining factor in who finishes first !)
Anyhow, we upgraded these to the Kenda Kwest in 700x28c, a much lighter tire with generous rain groves, and a much smoother rolling profile.
This one change cut 1.5 lbs from the weight, alone !
This is probably the single biggest performance increase that can be made for minimal $$ outlay. We could have even gone with the next size down, to 25c tires for even more weight savings.
Now, the Denali with these simple improvements (toe clip pedals & lighter, road type tires) is riding on a par with our Benotto ‘Old School’ Italian Road bike.
Consider for a moment, that Benotto road bike cost $ 700 back in 1987 (adjusted for inflation, maybe equivalent to $ 1800 today)…..wow, and a $ 159 Walmart / Amazon road bike performs virtually as well !
True, it may weigh about 3 lbs more than the Benotto, but it sure doesn’t feel like it to my senses.
The only time the extra weight has a negative effect is on serious hill climbs, but for now we live with that.
As a friend is fond of saying, you can cut down and loose 5-10 lbs off of yourself a lot easier than you can afford to pay to shave that weight off your bike.
Oh, how very true !
The simple, final improvement: remove the cheesy GMC sticker from the frame….which vastly improves the looks of the otherwise attractive paint job.
(Let GMC get their own advertising….not using this bike….)
To remove, simply heat with a hair dryer & peel carefully – we had to cut carefully at one point.
Result: A much, much cleaner look – in fact, now the bike is easy to mistake for a much more custom make !
So, to recap & summarize:
The main factors that helped us decide to buy the Denali were:
- Great reviews on Walmart & Amazon – 4.3 / 5 stars, many positive reviews
- Walmart iron-clad 90 day return policy, if not fully satisfied.
- Our need for a low investment, sturdy entry level road bike to match my childrens’ uncertain, and unpredictable future interest in road biking.
- Availability of various sizes – (somewhat unexpected at this price point), Walmart offers small, medium/large & extra large frames.
They even list a child’s model with 24″ wheels, and a ladies frame roadie !
Only the standard large size – 54 cm / 22″ is stocked in store, which fits most riders 5’7″ to 6′ – the other sizes are available at Walmart.com
I, myself, bought the Benotto Modelo 850 I’ve referred to, in about 1987 for $ 700 – (then considered expensive) – and then was guilty of letting it sit for 23 years, gathering rust & dust, before it’s recent restoration.
Having that self-inflicted neglect in mind, I decided it was much wiser to invest modestly into a beginner bike – hence this GMC Denali, then upgrade if his interest continues to build.
He’s showing great promise, by the way, keeping up on the Denali with guys riding Carbon Fiber $ 3,000 bikes, while powering a bike weighing (possibly) twice what theirs do.
We’re wondering what his performance will be like when we finally put him on sub 20 lbs bike !
And, Lord willing, when / if that happens, he has 4 sisters waiting to take over the Denali, to see if they like road biking, too….
Please ask any questions relating to this review in the comments section….thanks for reading !