Why Are Bicycles So Expensive?
For anyone new to the sport of cycling, the first reaction when looking to purchase a high quality road, mountain, cyclocross or commuter bike is often asking why they’re so expensive. But the word “expensive” is very subjective; what’s reasonably priced for one person is expensive for another person. Besides, the bicycle is one of mankind’s greatest inventions, a device that promotes physical and mental health, happiness, zero-emissions transportation and ultimate freedom. Buying a quality bicycle is never a bad investment, but let’s dig into what’s a reasonable amount of money to spend on a new or used bike.
Although some bikes can be as expensive as buying a used, low-mileage automobile, there are a lot of great, high-quality bikes out there – especially used ones – that are a great deal. First off, it helps to understand that high performance bicycles – especially ones made from composite materials – are niche market products and can’t benefit from economies of scale like television sets, smartphones and other devices that number in the hundreds of millions. Even motorcycles, which can sometimes be priced similar to a high performance bicycle, benefit from far larger production numbers, reducing their overall cost.
But considering how advanced bicycles are these days and how much more ground cyclists can cover without experiencing as much fatigue, if you’re serious about riding almost every day of the week, the thought of a $2,500 bike doesn’t seem all that expensive. The old adage “buy cheap, buy twice” is never more true than with bicycles. You might be able to go to a department store and pick up a new bike for $250, but if you plan to ride several times per week, you’ll be disappointed with the bike’s performance and it will actually discourage you from becoming a better rider.
Over the last decade, mountain bike technology and innovation have made dramatic improvements to frame materials, suspension design, drivetrain and braking systems and wheels. All of these innovations have made mountain bikes more capable, durable and fun than ever before, but of course, all of these benefits come at an added cost.
Modern mountain bikes feature composite carbon fiber frames, wheels and components that add to the cost of the bike. Although carbon fiber can be lighter, stronger and sexier than more affordable materials like steel and aluminum, unless you’re a hardcore rider or racer, carbon fiber isn’t necessary. In fact, many mountain bike manufacturers make two versions of the same bike in both carbon fiber and aluminum, with the aluminum model often times being priced 30 percent less. The weight penalty is only a couple pounds, but the cost savings can be significant.
The same goes for road and cyclocross bikes. Some manufacturers make both carbon fiber and aluminum versions of the same bike. Because road bikes don’t offer suspension, the frame material used is often the main form of absorbing shock from bumpy roads. Naturally, carbon fiber works better at absorbing shock from rough road surfaces, so if you plan to log big miles, it may be worth investing the extra money into a carbon fiber road bike. But even if you can’t afford the extra cost of a carbon fiber road bike, an aluminum or steel frame with carbon fiber components like a fork, handlebars and seatpost can make a noticeable difference in shock absorption.
How Much Should I Spend?
How much you spend on a new or used bike will directly relate to your budget and how often you intend to use the bike. For someone new to the sport of cycling who is serious and plans to ride at least 3-4 times per week, the overall experience will be much more enjoyable if you budget between $1,000-$2,000 for a new or lightly used bike. For those who have between $500-$1,000 in their budget, there are still some worthy used options. But if $500 or less is all you can spend and you plan to ride often, it may be worthwhile to wait and save a little extra. Remember, “buy cheap, buy twice”. The added money you invest in a new or used bike will pay off dramatically in the long run and save you the hassle of having to sell then repurchase another bike.
How much is too much? Well, in my experience, once the retail cost of a new mountain bike exceeds $5,000, the performance-per-dollar ratio drops off dramatically. While I can tell a noticeable difference in performance between a $2,500 full suspension mountain bike and a $5,000 one, the difference in performance between a $5,000 model and a $7,500 one is almost imperceptible. The sweet spot for a new, high performance full-suspension mountain bike is right in the $3,000-$5,000 range. For something lightly used, figure $2,000-$4,000.
Because road bikes don’t feature suspension technology, more of the cost of a high performance road bike goes into ultra-lightweight composite materials in the components, frame and the wheels. Additionally, the advent of electronic shifting has pushed the price of high-end road bikes higher, but electronic shifting is simply a luxury, not a must-have. Mechanical shifting works almost every bit as well and is far less expensive.
There is a law of diminishing performance returns with road bikes too, and I personally feel that a new high-performance $4,000 road bike rides just as well as a road bike costing twice as much. I would personally never spend more than $4,000 on a new road bike, and if I were buying used, $3,000 would be my maximum. Unless you are dead set on having an ultra-lightweight frame and wheels with electronic shifting, spending north of $4,000 will not net you the most bang for your buck.
Although everyone’s needs and budgets are different, when it comes to finding the best performance value, buying a lightly used bike is always the way to go, and using BicycleBlueBook.com ensures that you’re never paying too much for that new whip.
BicycleBlueBook.com – What’s Your Bike Worth?
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