By Brett Rothmeyer
Last year before the annual Sea Otter Classic, there were rumblings of a high-end Walmart bike coming to the market. Yes, high-end bikes and Walmart are an easy segway to a punchline, but it is no mystery that the Walton family has a vested interest in the bike industry. I, like many of the cycling media, was whisked away to a private suite on the race track of Laguna Seca where we greeted by Zach Spinhirne-Martin, brand manager of Viathon.
To understand the origin of Viathon, we must first understand the origin of brand manager Zach Spinhirne-Martin. Spinhirne-Martin was an elite level cyclist for a pile of years, cutting his teeth in Europe and bashing around Belgium in search of cycling glory. He has spent most of his post-racing career working in the bike industry for online giants Backcountry and Competitive Cyclist before seeing an opportunity to create something on his own. With the support of Walmart, Spinhirne-Martin was able to hit the ground running with three carbon models in various builds, the R.1 road bike, the G.1 gravel bike, and for our porpuses the M.1 mountain bike. All three bikes are “budget-friendly” bikes, but by no means are they cheap.
In a world filled with longer and slacker trail bikes, the M.1 is a straight-ahead cross-country bike. A hardtail built around the purpose of going fast on the racecourse. We received the M.1 with a SRAM GX Eagle build, including the RockShox Reba fork, and SRAM Level TL brakes. The wheels were Stan’s Arch S1 Team wheels with Continental X-King 29×2.3 tires provided ground contact.
The geometry on the M.1 felt pretty balanced with a 69.5º headtube angle and a 73.6º seat tube angle. The FSA Afterburner bars are spec’d at 740mm felt a tad narrow compared to the setups I have been running on trail bikes as of late. Then again, this is a good old fashion cross-country bike, and narrower bars are fitting for the task at hand.
As a size large, the Viathon M.1 came in right at 23 lbs without pedals but with tubes, so if you are of the weight weenie variety, you probably already know the math on that. Rumor around the water cooler is the Viathon frames are coming out of the same factories as more prominent brands on the market, so do with that information what you will.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a bit of trepidation before taking the M.1 out to our local trails. After months of riding mid to long-travel trail bikes, the thought of high posting with 120mm of travel up front was a bit off-putting. However, the first few pedal strokes out of the drive on the way to the trails, I remembered one of the joys of a cross-country bike is getting to where you are going in a hurry.
Once on the trail, the bike felt stable over the roots and rocks of the first few sections. On the steep descents, I had to relearn being comfortable with my body being behind the saddle and seat post. Note: two of the M.1 models at a higher price point come equipped with droppers.
The M.1 excelled on the climbs, in the saddle, out of the saddle, it was a pure pleasure attacking any gradient long or short. On fast and flowy trails, the M.1 rolled with speed and finesse. All of the adjectives apply for how responsive and snappy this bike was; it almost made me feel like I was in some racing shape, almost.
Where this bike lacked was in the “sendy” and “gnar” segments of the trail, and let’s be honest if “sendy” and “gnar” are your thing, you are probably not shopping for a hardtail cross-country bike.
The M.1 from Viathon is the perfect bike for someone looking for a budget cross-country bike. Whether you’re looking to dabble in some racing or making a bid for the overall of your local series, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better bike for the price at just under $2000.
As we were conducting our review rides of the M.1, the Viathon line became available directly through Walmart, so in the end, yes, Viathon is a Walmart bike. However, they are only available online. You can still buy the bikes direct through Viathon as well, and all models are currently on sale. It will be interesting to see how this brand evolves and how the masses receive it. One thing is for sure; you’ll likely not be able to find more bike for the money anywhere else.
Tester: Brett Rothmeyer
Weight: 170 lbs.
Height: 6’ 1”
Top Tube: 24.6”
Head Tube: 69.5°
Seat Tube: 73.6°
BB Height: 12.5”
Weight: 23 lbs