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US retail giant says it wants to create a new industry segment - targeting its own customers, not existing cyclists

US retail giant Walmart, which owns the Asda supermarket chain in the UK, has launched an upscale road, gravel and mountain bike brand called Viathon.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer already sells more bicycles than anyone else in the US, and is now on a mission to bring high-end models to the masses, whom it believes find specialist bike retailers intimidating.

In road bikes, the R.1 comes as a frameset ($2,000), as well as in three complete bike options, all with Shimano groupsets – 105 ($2,300), Ultegra ($3,575) and Dura-Ace ($5,850), each equipped with disc brakes.

Viathon R.1 bike

Tapping into the gravel and bikepacking trends is the G.1, with the frameset and 105 options priced identically to the R.1. The Ultegra version is $3,300 and there is also a SRAM Force option, for $3,550.

Viathon G1

The M.1 hardtail mountain bike, meanwhile, is also $2,000 for the frameset and as with its sister ranges can be bought as a complete bike, with the options of SRAM GX Eagle ($2,400), X01 Eagle ($3,500) and XX1 Eagle ($6,000).

Viathon M.1

The range was developed by Zach Spinhirne-Martin, senior buyer for CompetitiveCyclist.com, who had spent a decade with the online retailer, reports Gear Junkie.

Speaking at the Sea Otter trade show in Monterey, California, he told the website: “We wanted to create a non-intimidating platform.

“I came to Walmart to grow the bike industry. We have incredible traffic on our site. I want to figure out how to use that customer base to grow the bike industry.”

Perhaps surprisingly, according to Gear Junkie, the impetus for the project did not come from Walmart heirs and keen mountain bikers Tom and Steuart Walton, who in August 2017 bought a controlling stake in Rapha for £200 million.

Nor is the typical Rapha customer the target audience for the new brand. “The average person is a Walmart shopper,” said Spinhirne-Martin.

“For those people, being able to buy a high-quality bike online means they don’t have to go into a potentially scary, elitist, unwelcoming bike shop where they’ll be uncomfortable and possibly judged.”

Spinhirne-Martin sees the brand as complementing the current US bicycle market, rather than trying to compete with it.

“We’re not trying to undercut the industry; we’re offering our bike line at a solid price, not a ridiculously low price,” he said.

“We’re partnering with the bike industry to deliver so we don’t mess it up,” he added. “With Walmart backing this brand, we can engage in a bike segment other brands won’t touch.”

There’s no news yet on whether the brand might come to the UK, where Walmart owns Asda, not least because of two overarching issues, one of which – the proposed merger between the Leeds-based supermarket chain and rival Sainsbury’s – will be settled rather sooner than the other.

When the merger was announced on 30 April last year, Walmart said it planned to take a 42 per cent stake in the combined business.

The deal, which would create the UK’s largest grocery retailer, is subject to approval by the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA), whose preliminary assessment in February imposed much stricter conditions than had been anticipated on the potential merger.

Since then, Sainsbury’s has pledged to offload as many as 150 stores in a bid to appease the regulator, but the CMA is widely expected to block the deal when it issues its final report tomorrow.

The other, inevitably, is Brexit which – should it happen at all – then has implications for the future trading relationship between the US and the UK, including the implementation of tariffs which could make Viathon unviable here.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.