The recent addition of a Civia Hyland to my permanent stable started me thinking about bicycle prices versus automobile prices and what constitutes an “expensive” commuter bike. Many people seem to feel commuter bicycles should be cheap and semi-disposable, based on the assumption that they’re going to be abused and possibly stolen. For those who live in high crime areas where bicycle theft is a daily occurrance, I can certainly understand this thinking. Also, for those who suffer through long, harsh winters, it makes sense to have a “winter” bike for riding in icy/snowy conditions where road salt and grime will take their inevitable toll on a bike.
But for those who live in mild climates and low crime areas, is there really any reason to avoid riding a nice commuter bike? Is it really a badge of honor to ride a beater? I would argue that—budget and personal aesthetic sensibilities permitting—there’s no reason a commuter bike should be any less attractive or appealing than a racing or touring bike.
People routinely spend many thousands of dollars on high end racing bikes. A small percentage race, but many ride purely for recreation and fitness. There’s nothing at all wrong with this, and as I’ve stated many times before, I’m always glad to see a fellow bicyclist on the road, whatever their riding style and bike preference. But if a person is willing to spend thousands on a bicycle used only for recreation, the same should hold true for a bicycle used as a replacement for a car. Unfortunately, because of the reasons stated above, there seems to be a bias against expensive commuter bikes, a sort of commuter bike “glass ceiling” if you will.
A Honda Civic today costs something in the vicinity of $15,000-$20,000. A Honda Civic is a nice car, but it’s not what most people in the U.S. would consider a luxury item. On the other hand, a $2,000 bicycle used to replace a $15,000 automobile is likely to be considered expensive, even extravagant. So a $10,000-$15,000 car is “cheap”, yet a $2,000 bicycle is “expensive”, even though they both serve the same purpose. How is that? I believe it stems from our complete immersion in car culture here in the U.S. From the time we’re little kids, we look forward to that rite of passage that is obtaining a driver’s license. The message is clear: bicycles are for children, cars are for grownups.
None of this is to say a person needs a $2,000 commuting bike — certainly almost any bike will do in a pinch. But if your situation allows it, there’s also no reason a person shouldn’t spend whatever they’d like on a commuter bike, particularly if they can justify the expense as a replacement for an automobile.