The true cost of riding? This should be good...

The true cost of riding? This should be good…

Two things I know for sure.

1. The weight of a bicycle matters – to a point.

2. That’s the first question most people ask about a bike, as they believe it is of primary importance. They are wrong.

I liken this behaviour to someone meeting a date for the first time and starting off the qualifications with, “so what do you do?”. Sure, it’s a valid question and it’s less confronting than the first question being, well, any of these, really, but it doesn’t define the person. It gives no real insight into the quality of the persons character, intelligence, moral fiber, or any of the things that really make a person who they are. There are some extremes that might give you a clue, of course (that would be a good debate, actually…), but the vast majority of occupations bear no direct correlation to who that person is.

Knowing nothing of what makes up the bike and asking, first and foremost, “what does it weigh?”, points to the same superficial understanding when it comes to what makes up a bike’s characteristics. As I said, there are extremes, and a heavy bike is indeed a bit cumbersome, but the majority of bikes in the same price-points are going to be about the same, weight-wise (again, there are exceptions, and in these cases weight might actually be an indicator of the general quality).

Not only that, but bikes are made up of many, many components, all of which can be changed, and all of which are chosen based on, amongst other factors, a price-point. If you want a really good frame but don’t have a comfortably sized budget, then you’ll get lower quality components, and that usually means more weight. If having a better selection of parts is more important, you’ll end up with a lesser frame. These things all effect the weight of the bike, but because the parts are such a primary source of a bikes weight, asking how much does it weight is actually one of the least relevant questions you can ask regarding the quality of a bike. Even crap frames don’t necessarily weigh any more than good ones.

Still, weight is quantifiable and easy to compare to other bikes, so I understand why so many people want to know this. That, and it’s one of those things that has become bragging fodder for those who can afford it, and aspirational for those who can’t.

On top of all that, you can still have a light bike that is a crap bike. The weight of a bike is indicative of one thing: the weight of a bike. So there you go. Again, don’t forget that I’m talking about reasonable bikes in similar price-points, not supermarket specials compared to Tour winners.

Aside from weight, you have cost. Good bikes are expensive, and really good bikes are really expensive. Pretty good bikes are getting cheaper with each passing year, as is always the case with products as new technology and construction processes trickle down to the more common versions of the high-end products. Do you have to spend $11,500 (this number gets a hammering in the video below) or more to get a nice bike? Obviously not, but you do to get the best bike.

Again, “the best” is relative to the individuals wants, needs, and preferences, and this is where it all gets messy.

Everyone is an expert

Opinions are easy to acquire but more difficult to substantiate. Nevertheless, everyone has them, and most people like to proudly display theirs, some more than others. The world of bikes is no exception, and there are a few people who are quite vocal with theirs that I have a hard time suppressing my own opinions about. Especially when they are so black-and-white with their opinions, having no room for any perspective but their own.

(note: I realize the irony here. It’s difficult to talk about opinions without having any of your own, and I don’t think I come off as all together without fault, but I am open to anyone adding their perspective on this matter, or any others.)

This guy, and those he represents, is one of them.

There are so many problems with this video I don’t know where to begin. The first thing that is hard to get over is that the production is appalling, and that becomes a real factor when you notice that this will last for 37 minutes! It’s the kind of intensely boring that not only puts you to sleep, but puts you to sleep with clenched fists and a strong urge to break something. The audio is poor, he doesn’t appear to have any knowledge of the bike he is setting up as the example (“Here we have a Trek… uhh… I think it’s a Trek…”), it’s illogical (comparing the value of a new top-of-the-line road bike with an older, second hand motorcycle?), and he clearly hasn’t rehearsed this or made detailed enough notes (a script would have helped), evidenced by the constant long pauses between words and sentences. Part of me wants to take this video line by line and respond to all of the ridiculousness, as there is a constant stream of it, but with 37 minutes of if we would be here for weeks. I don’t want to stereotype, but this guy sounds a lot like he has a beard, rides a recumbent in sandals and socks, uses a helmet mirror, is always the first caller on talk radio, and won’t stop talking about something the local council has done or not done to people who aren’t interested. He doesn’t appear to have a beard (though he does appear to have an agenda), but he does sound like that guy, not that there’s anything wrong with that – it just adds to the rich tapestry this video presents.

Anyway, his main argument is that if you are spending more than a few hundred dollars on a bike, you are being horribly ripped off. And you are stupid. Some of what he says makes sense, but he is just pushing an agenda that is fueled by his distaste for cycling becoming a fashion, which I can completely understand. What this doesn’t mean, however, is that a $300 bike is just as good as a $11,500 bike. It doesn’t get much more convincing than, “this is a $11,500 bike, and this is a $300 bike, and they are as good as each other because they both have wheels, and a frame, and gears that go ’round and ’round.” In fact, he actually tried to argue that the $300 bike is better, because it has lasted him longer than the expensive one’s he has had in the past, which all broke or failed or wore out pretty much immediately on him. Makes you wonder…

Here is another bit of reality that most people seem to miss: you know the really, really expensive parts that are designed to maximize performance for the elite athletes? The ones they use so that they can best make use of their totally maximized fitness and skill at the sharp-end of the highest level of the sport? The ones that weigh less than the breath that you just exhaled? Yeah, those aren’t the same parts that are designed to run forever, and definitely not when they are not regularly serviced and cleaned and used primarily for race days. The parts you want for regular, longer-term use are indeed cheap(er), but are still many times less crap than what you’ll find on a $300 bike.

A guy came in the shop last week and started carrying on about “why are these so expensive and what’s the difference between these bikes ($569) and Kmart bikes?” “I can’t see any difference”, he says matter-of-factly, after closely examining them for 2-4 seconds and determining that they also have two wheels and a frame and gears that go ’round and ’round. “Fine – you’re the boss”, was effectively the response from a colleague. Some people won’t be convinced, and usually don’t want to be from the start, that there is another way to see things.

Take a look at the title: The true cost of bicycling in America. Exposing the myths of high dollar bikes – A practical guide for the recreational cyclist. Before we even get past the title we already see how this is going to go. High-dollar bikes are not required for recreational cyclists. We already know this. There is no myth here. The problem isn’t that people think that they need the same bikes that the pro’s use, the problem is that when they buy them and they only last a couple of years of regular use, they get pissed off and start saying things like, “I paid $5000 for these wheels, I expect them to last more than a couple of years of regular recreational riding and commuting to work on!”. Sorry, but what you paid for was a wheel that weighs less than your big toe, is super stiff and fast, supremely aerodynamic, and is the best the designers and manufacturers could create to go really fast. That they wore out is your problem, not the wheels (or anything else that has been designed to perform within an inch of it’s life). Don’t want outrageous service bills every six months? Then don’t buy a high-end sports car. Oh, you’re tyres cost $1200 each? Don’t buy an SUV with 20×10″ rims and low-profile rubber. Don’t like a car that’s difficult to get into, can’t see out of, and are worried about it every time you park it? Don’t buy a high-end sports car. Want to go really fast and like the finer things in life? Be prepared to pay for it. It’s the same thing.

At the other end of the spectrum, what our friend here is missing is that, while cheap crap may work for a while, and may even work for a long while, it’s still cheap crap. If that’s all you need and want, then good on you, you’ve made the right decision. A pro rider could still go pretty fast on a cheap bike (but not for as long), and a recreational rider can still make use of a cheap bike, but that’s not the point, is it? If you want something that will both last a while and be reliable while actually feeling nice to use and performing many times better than the cheap crap, then spend as much coin as you are comfortable spending.

Have realistic expectations. The true cost of riding is up to you and is different for everyone, but it’s value is directly related to how realistic your expectations are.

You get what you pay for, but what you expect out of the product is different for each individual. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for buying a bike. Your personal preferences will involve many factors and they will be different from the next persons.

Anyway, before this gets too long, and before I start picking apart all the specific bits of nonsense in it, if you haven’t felt the urge to drive ice-picks into your ears and tear out your eyeballs before, then watch the video and you’ll get the idea. If you want a short, but slightly more reasoned approach as to why bikes can be expensive, then read this.



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