Many cyclist folks will tell you not to go near the discount department store bikes. Many bike shop mechanics will sneer at you when you bring in your cheap-bike-from-China to have its brakes adjusted (which will inevitably be needed). They may even call it a toy, not a bike. They may try to make you feel bad. Shamed. Less than.
If you have the means to spend more on a better-made bike and to support a local bike shop while you’re doing it, then, yes, please do. But if the thing keeping you from riding a bike is the cost (especially if you are getting bikes for more than one member of your family), get whatever you can afford for now and ride it whenever you can. Many folks just starting to ride (or using a bike for utilitarian reasons such as riding with kids a mile or so to school) stick to relatively short routes anyway, and the department store bikes are fine for that. (Note: Just make sure it fits you comfortably before you buy it — and if you’re somewhere hilly, don’t get less than 7 speeds.) If you get more into it over time and see your needs change, you can always save for something different down the road. What’s more, you’ll then know better what kind of riding you like or need to do and whether a road, hybrid, mountain, cargo, tandem, trike, recumbent, or other type of bike best fits your life moving forward.
Mulie, one of the bikes featured in my book, cost $79 at Target about 15 years ago and has taken me to and from schools, stores, farmers markets, city halls, the state capitol, urban farms, and a thousand other places. One from Walmart (that I named Schwinneola) that cost about that amount just took me all over the place where I grew up. Don’t be shamed into thinking you are “less than” a cyclist for making this choice. Anyone on any type of bike is part of this exhilarating movement sweeping America. Welcome.
I just taught a woman who is in her 50s how to ride a bike for the first time in her life, on a bike from a discount department store. She called it liberating. I call it priceless.