Read this before you buy a bike: affordable road and commuter biking
Biking is a big part of my life. I bike for fitness, recreation, and transportation all over my city. I bike at least 1,000 commuting miles a year, and I commute throughout the year except in the coldest polar vortex weather. When your bike is your “car” and your recreation, it is important to have quality, comfortable, reliable equipment. However, it is important to not confuse quality or reliability with either brand-name bikes or high-end components.
Don’t Buy Brand Name Bikes
Recently, I re-discovered this video put together by a professional cyclist. He spends more than 30 minutes explaining why most road bikes are over-priced, with much of the cost going to fund race teams, marketing, and high profits. Alternative suppliers, like online supplier bikesdirect.com and brick-and-mortar store performancebike.com provide generic-branded bikes that are made in the same factories as the household name brands with the same components. I think it is important to “try on” a bike for fit and comfort before buying, so I bought my bike from a local performance bike store and saved $500-$1000.
Don’t Buy High-End Components
Another important point that that this video makes is that high-end components (in road-biking ultegra or even the very pricey dura-ace) are less reliable than lower-grade components like Tiagra. Apparently the higher-end components require more exotic lightweight alloys and tight tolerances. The author tells a story about his chain “walking up” his rear cassette, catching on the wheel, ripping off the rear derailer and messing up the rear wheel. Interestingly, I had the same thing happen to me: my chain walked up my rear cassette and tore off my rear derailur, broke a spoke, bent the rear cassette, broke the front derailur, and of course broke the chain. I had to replace all of these components, which as stock on my bike were Shimano 105 or Ultegra. Based on this video, I replace all components with cheaper Tiagra components at a cost of about $125. Ultegra or 105 would have cost more than $300 for all of these components. To my surprise, my shifting has been smoother and my bike more reliable after installing the lower-grade tiagra components. So, I can confirm that this aspect of the video is true.
Learn To Do Your Own Maintenance
My story also illustrates how wonderful learning to do your own basic bike maintenance is. I have some mechanical aptitude, but no significant experience working on bikes. I learned how to replace all of the components listed above by watching youtube videos or reading articles online, along with intuition. I did take the rear wheel to the local bike shop to replace the spoke and true the wheel, but otherwise I used a few specialized tools to fix this bicycle train-wreck myself.
Besides saving me probably $200, this work has made me more knowledgeable about my bike, allowing me to take better care of it. It has also made me a better rider, since my new-found knowledge of the shifting components has taught me to “trim” my shifting to prevent loud chain noises and unnecessary wear.
“Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes” – Thoreau
When I first got into cycling years ago, I had to get the clipless shoes, the special shorts, the gloves, etc. After adopting a more casual approach to biking along with my broader world view on frugality, my typical bicycle attire consists of birkenstock sandals, tan shorts, and a short sleeve shirt. I may lose a bit of performance without the clipless pedals and shoes, but I can’t be bothered with this. I can still keep pace with my spin-instructor girlfriend, so this gear works for me! However, one piece of gear that everyone should always use is a helmet. No need to spend on a price $100+ helmet though, the basic $20-$40 helmet works just as well as all helmets in the US are certified to the same safety standards. I also do keep a pair of bike shorts around for long rides, because rides of more than about 15 miles can result in saddle soreness without proper padding.
Bikes As Status Symbols
Recently, I was hanging around with some professional acquaintances. One guy starting bragging about his Cervelo something something bike, which I think costs a few thousand dollars. Another co-worker was impressed and told him about his own high-priced bike.
I may be wrong, but there is no way that these guys have the time to train or the skill to be good enough cyclists to ride this bike to half its performance potential. They are too busy working to be able to buy the bike! So, alas, the bike is just really another status symbols – like a porsche used to commute to work, a jeep
that has never seen a dirt road, or a 4,000 square foot house with 1 or 2 residents.
The Simple Biking Life
Here, much like my other posts, I’m advocating for a much purer approach to biking. Bicycling is simply transportation, which should be its primary purpose. Of course, it is also fun and great excercise. I prefer to have all three at once – having fun, getting exercise, while getting to work and back! We should focus on these aspects to cycling, and less on the fashionability of gear and clothing. Your bank account will thank you!