Some of the most common questions I get asked as an auto writer and discussion I get into with people are actually not about cars but in fact ways someone could not use or own a car. This includes topics like ride sharing and car sharing services. You know companies like RelayRides, Lift, or say using public transportation, riding a bike (bicycle), etc. One discussion I have fairly often with people is, “Why don't more people use bikes?” The benefits are pretty clear;
- It's good exercise
- Gets you there faster than Walking or Running
- Reduces dealing with traffic
- You save on gas
- Less wear and tear on your car
- Less air pollution
- It can be fun (if there are not too many big hills)
There probably are some more advantages I'm missing. If you feel I'm been left out anything leave a comment below.
So if the benefits are clear and most people know how ride a Bike (I think) and we all know riding a bike is great exercise, why don't more people do it? Simple answer, road bikes are too damn expensive.
While this is an automotive website I thought it would be interesting to share my experiences with looking into a buying a bicycle recently.
Getting into Cycling
Since I've gained a good bit of “muscle” around my mid section during the winter I've been trying to figure out various physical activities to keep this muscle on. 🙂 Like most Americans I thought, “Hey, why don't I get a bike? It's great exercise.” It makes sense since around here they've added a bunch of designated bike lanes on the roads to try to make bike commuting easier. So why not get into cycling?
Before embarking on the journey of actually looking into a bicycle I decided to whip out my old Trek. This Trek is a pretty good mountain bike that still shifts ok and the tires and brakes work fine. I started riding around trails and roads a little bit realized those knobby tires were slowing me down and it would be more ideal to get a road bike for more serious riding in the city. The mountain bike would still works ok if I wanted to ride trails though, so I'd keep it for that.
I decided I'd like something that I could commute around town with, add a bike rack and possibly fenders in the future, and maybe do a triathlon If I'm really ambitious. I started Googling for information and to see what bicycles were available in my price range.
Bike Prices at your Local Bike Shop
Lurking around on various bicycling forums and seeing what people suggested most recommend going to a local bike shop to see what's available because of the service and knowledge. For those reading this that haven't look around at buying a beginner road bike in awhile you might be… well… floored by the cost. There are some entry level road bikes but honestly I didn't see much besides hybrid bikes at my local bike shop in my price range. Still I went into the bike store to see what they had.
“Most people come in here and spend $2,000.” is what the salesman told me when I asked about what road bikes they had in available at one bike store. This obviously was way above my budget and what I felt like spending on my first road bike. He assured me though of all the “technology!” on these bikes. My eyes kind of rolled when I heard this. “Technology? What technology? It's a bicycle!”
Still I test rode a Sirrus Specialized equipped with hydraulic disc brakes. Technically this is what is considered a hybrid bike since it had flat handle bars but skinny tires just like a road bike. The price for the Sirrus is $700 but I should add the local bike shop includes a 2 year maintenance plan with a fitting session. Not a bad deal just still slightly out of my budget since ideally I'd like to spend less than that on the actual bicycle and add any bike accessories or upgrades I feel I need.
I stopped at another local bike shop and the energetic salesman showed me a few models they had. He thought a Trek 7.4 hybrid would fit my needs which was $800. A road bike he showed me was a Trek One series which he thought is ideal for city use and something like a Triathlon. The Trek Cross Rip was another model priced at $1,000 which he said is extremely popular and hard for them to keep in stock. They did have some other more expensive bikes on closeout that for $1,300 that he said was comparable to the Cross Rip but offered a lot more value in terms of components. All were nice bikes, but still this is more than I wanted to spend on a road bike.
Since all the shops knew my budget and didn't offer any solutions outside of buying expensive starter road bikes, in my opinion, I thought I'd keep looking.
Buying a used Road Bike
With spring moving into summer I, like a lot of people, probably have considered getting buying a bicycle and using my car less. Still I thought there must be people doing spring cleaning and getting rid of bikes they haven't used that have just sat around in their basement or garage.
So like a lot of people suggest, if you aren't sure you can afford what a local bike shop sells beginner bikes for check online local classifieds like Craigslist. Well… I've been looking around on CL for an adequate beginner hybrid or road bike. So far I've come up empty and haven't seen anything that would work. It's either people that want too much for garbage or trashed bikes, something that might work but the size does not fit me, or pros looking to offload some crazy expensive road bike for thousands of dollars they don't need anymore. Honestly I feel I've wasted more time scouring Craigslist and other places to get a used road bike than was really worth the effort or time.
Why are bikes so expensive?
For the price it costs to get a supposedly “decent” equipped road bike according to some of the cycling snobs it seems you must spend at least $1,500-$2,000 dollars these days. Let's be serious for that amount of money I don't feel like riding a bicycle, but I'd rather buy a scooter or used motorcycle. These have much more components, parts, as well as technology behind them. Are you seriously f$%@ing telling me that there is more research and development behind a bicycle than a motorcycle or scooter with an engine? No, there isn't and don't try to tell me there is.
This is a fairly long video by Martin Horn, an ex-pro racer, that explains that for the recreational cyclist spending a ton of money on a bike doesn't make sense. It won't make go that much faster nor does he believe the components are that much better.
Horn makes a good point that the Ninja motorcycle he bought was $3,000 dollars which has an engine, hydraulic brakes, a transmission with a clutch, and an electrical system. This is waaay more technology than a road bike no matter how you cut it.
Pretty much to answer the question, “Why are bikes so expensive?” Bicycle manufacturers and companies are charging these prices because they know the can.
Buying a Bike Online
The company that Martin Horn bought the bikes in his videos from is known as BikesDirect. I have not ordered from them but I'm considering using them or another company like Nashbar, BikeShopWarehouse, or Performance Bike (they have retail locations too).
The most expensive bike he has is the Motobecane Grand Record which cost $650. He also has the Windsor Wellington 2.0 which cost $350 which he believes is an incredible value for the a bike of that price. Horn has only replaced the wheels and tires and rode the Wellington for tens of thousands of miles.
I'd love to buy a bicycle from the local bike shop but I don't know, I feel like they are out of touch with recreational cyclists and people just getting started. I'm strongly considering ordering online.
Bike Co-Operatives and Collectives
In some cities you can find bike co-operatives and collectives. They offer shared workshop spaces for working on bicycles and rebuilding them for those that don't have a lot of money. They have training and classes for those looking to learn to repair their own bicycles in addition to parts for those looking to build their own.
While the collectives are a great idea but I think most people prefer to buy a ready to roll bike. I might buy one online through a company like BikesDirect and then see if someone at the local bike coop here can help me make sure everything is good to go. These bike co-operatives are a great solution for those who want cheap transportation and are looking to pick-up skills to work on their own bikes. To bad they don't have these for cars… of course think of the legal issues there. 🙂
Should the Bike industry rethink their pricing Strategy?
It seems like the industry has freewheeled into thinking they can charge whatever they want for bikes. To be honest I guess they can as a lot of people pay these ridiculous prices. Of course a lot of people won't so they never buy a bicycle or get into cycling. Is this a positive for our society and bike shops?
Even if we were to look at some of these carbon fiber top-of-the-line bikes… how much material does the bike use? Compared to cars… little.
Talking with a friend about buying a bicycle and how expensive they are, and my experience trying to buy a one he said, “I bought a bike for $50 from Wal-Mart!” Granted this was for his son and was a few years ago when he was smaller but illustrates the point that Americans generally are not keen on spending a lot for bicycle.
As Martin Horn pointed out in his video those really expensive bikes doesn't really make you go all that faster, unless you are really good at pedaling. Most people are not so you'd probably be fine with going with an aluminum frame road bike.
Also keep in mind there are really only a few places that make bicycles frames and components these days and they are all in China and Taiwan. They can be made with different tolerances, materials, and such but if they are all coming from the same place why do they charge so much?
I've noticed the amount of people use bicycles for transportation, at least in this city, still seems to be laughable low. If the cycling community and manufactures wants to see a serious uptick in the amount of riders using bicycles for transportation or leisure fitness I think they need to take hard look at their pricing model and radically change.
I'd be happy to hear reader thoughts, what do you think of bike prices? Are they justified or completely out-of-whack? Do you believe that local bike shops are justified charging a grand for a beginner road bike? Would you get a bike if it was less expensive?