Two Myths about Bicycling

You guys know that I’m totally into bikes. Today, I thought I’d try and shed some light on two myths surrounding bikes.

Casual Utility Cyclist

Myth: Bikes are Cheap
It’s not uncommon for people to ask me for advice when they’re considering buying a new bicycle.  My first question is always “how much are you looking to spend?”  $300 seems to be the most common price point. Generally, people are very disappointed with the options available to them for $300.   Usually, after someone tells me what they’re looking for in a bike, I tell them that they should consider raising their price point to at least $500, or maybe closer to $1,000.  It’s not that I think more expensive bikes are necessary to enjoy cycling, but I find that most people have unrealistic expectations for what they will get for their money.

Now, don’t get wrong.  I’m no bike snob.  I know there are a lot of folks who buy a $180 bike from a big box store and are perfectly happy with it.  I also know that sporting goods stores sell bikes at the $300 price point that are entirely sufficient for many riders – especially if you’re just looking for a comfortable bike to take on Saturday afternoon rides.  Used bikes are easy to come by for less than $200.  And if you’re willing to put some elbow grease into an older bike, you really can find something for cheap – but it won’t come without effort.  I do not discourage these options, but the buyer should be aware that their options will be limited, and the versatility and durability of these bikes is questionable as well.  If you skimp on up-front costs of purchasing a bicycle, you will probably pay for it later in maintenance costs.  I am all for dumpster-diving frames and parts to piece together a bicycle for hardly any cost at all, but don’t underestimate the amount of time and tools that will be required.

In addition, maintaining a bike can be expensive as well.  Cyclists who do their own bike maintenance will inevitably spend several hundred dollars on all the special tools required to do some of the more intense maintenance.  In addition, people are often surprised by the labor rates charged by local bike shops.

Bike Maintenance

Myth: Bikes Don’t Require Maintenance
I own both a car and several bikes.  My bikes regularly require more effort and maintenance to keep them on the road.  Snow, ice, and rain will very quickly cause a bicycle to start performing poorly.  Fairweather cyclists (I don’t use that pejoratively) will escape much of the maintenance costs that all-weather cyclists face.  However, every bicycle requires regular lubrication, cleaning, and adjustment to keep it running smoothly.

To some extent, this is directly related to the cost of the bike in the first place.  Part of what you pay for on more expensive bikes is higher-quality parts that will require less maintenance and are more easily repaired, replaced, or adusted.  In my case, I realize that my collection of rusty old bicycles I’ve pulled out of dumpsters requires more maintenance than if I had bought high-quality bikes in the first place.  But even the most expensive bikes require regular maintenance.  This is often more expensive or time-consuming than people think.

5 comments to Two Myths about Bicycling

  • Ren

    I got a Nikon D40X for my first digital SLR. I've had it 3 years and put in my time, taking over 10K pics (and dropped it a time or 2 as well) so I know I'm ready to upgrade and the investment will be worth it.

    I think people who are just getting into cycling or testing the waters would do well to get something cheaper and prove themselves that they're going to get out and ride before making an investment in a better bike. I'm speaking for myself here and anyone else who's meh about committing to exercise and/or a habit.

    I bought a $175 used Schwinn 5 speed at re-cycle and I love it. I got a different seat on sale and spent money on helmet, gloves, air pump but this is a good choice for me just really starting out again. I've managed to do some novice damage to the bike & don't feel bad because it's not a major investment.

    Re-cycle had put new tires on it and had a 30 day period during which they'd fix anything that went wrong (nothing did).

    If I can prove to myself I'll continue riding (and another #30daysofbking begins in September), then next year or in 2012 I'll get a lighter frame bike.

  • @Ren, I hear what you're saying and I mostly agree. I encourage people to pull whatever dusty bike down out of the attic they can find just to get their feet wet.

    However, I have also known people who have been enthusiastic about cycling, but end up having a bad experience because their bike is too impractical for what they want to do with it.

  • I'm glad you posted about this. I have a bike that's on the expensive side (~$2k) and people give me strange looks when I tell them the cost (after they ask). They think I'm crazy for spending that much. That makes me feel bad because I actually got the bike at a steal of a price. Seriously, I bought it used (only about a year old) and I got it for about half the price it was when brand new. If people only knew that the legit racing bikes are close to $10k. I've even seen some that go for about $20k. Yep, that's no typo – bikes can cost more then cars. I've seen a single bike wheel that costs about $2-3k. So, yes, I totally agree with you that people unfamiliar with bikes have unrealistic expectations about their value.

    That being said, I think you have to be a professional (or be stupid rich) to be able to justify paying more then $5k for a bike. I think at that point it's like anything on the high end, i.e., extremely subtle upgrades. But, that's just my opinion.

  • Ren

    Oh yeah. If you're more than "meh", then make the investment up front fo sho. 🙂

  • @Brian – glad you liked the post. Like most things, the sky is really the limit on how much you can spend on a bicycle.

    Not that anyone here is disagreeing with me, but I want to clarify that I'm totally not saying that anyone needs to buy an expensive bicycle to have a good time. Quite the opposite. Even very cheap bikes can be a total hoot. But if anyone is planning on putting a substantial number of miles on their bike… the investment will be worth it.