How much is too much?

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.

46 Responses to “How much is too much?”

  • William says:

    I ride a $2,000 bike around San Francisco, where bike theft is rampant. I bring it inside if at all possible, lock it well otherwise (both proper technique and proper equipment make a big difference), and I have insurance. I love the bike more than anything else I own, and by a good bit.

    Two things convinced me I need to stop riding crappy bike around the city. First, it’s a lot less enjoyable, and I found that led to my biking less. And more importantly, it wasn’t safe. I had couple of close calls riding crappy bikes that (unsurprisingly) failed on me.

    That’s not to say you can’t have an older bike that’s safe to ride, or that you need to spend $2k to be safe. To me, crappy meant not just cheap, but somewhat neglected. After all, if you bought a bike for $100 but you maintain it every weekend and love it more than life itself – you’re not going to want to see that get stolen either. Long story short, I got rid of the beaters, and now I ride an extremely well built, well maintained, and well loved bike everywhere I go.

    Besides all that, it’s really nice to have just one bike to store and keep up – and one companion to take out, whether for a loaded tour or a run to the grocery store. Not to say I won’t ever go back to being polyamorous with my bikes, but for now the simplicity suits me just fine. As Alan said, $2k is not a lot to spend if its a car substitute – many people spend that much in a couple months just paying for the various expenses of owning a car (not including it’s purchase).

  • Ryan says:

    I just purchased a Surly Big Dummy on Saturday. It is quite expensive and it seems as if everyone in my family thinks I’m nuts. I do carry a lot, and like to use my bike instead of a car so in my mind the purchase was easy to justify. My dad called me yesterday and said I inspired him and that he just rode his bike to Home Depot to pick up some hardware.

    I guess that is all it takes, just get out there on your bikes, others will see that it is possible to get around without a car and maybe a couple of people will be inspired to leave the car behind once in a while.

    BTW: I bought a 1991 Trek 950 Mountain bike. Lugged Steel Frame, in great condition. It is a little small for me at 18″ but will make a great commuter bike. If anyone is interested in buying it, email me at wakenstrum(at)yahoo.com (I live in the Sacramento, CA area).

  • Scott says:

    Well put, Alan. My commuter (I’ll send some pics soon, I promise) is a converted MTB–an Ibex Alpine. I was riding an old but serviceable bike for many years and purchased the Ibex for mountain biking, something I never got around to doing. I started looking at this nice bike and thinking how the beater didn’t really fit me. I ended up donating the “beater”–had some good old school Shimano XT gear on it, actually–and started converting the Ibex: Put on ridgid fork, rack, etc. Now I’ve probably got about $900+ in the bike. Not wildly expensive, not cheap either, but dang I love riding this thing.

    My recumbents see more miles by a wide margin, but the commuter sees the most frequent use. This being the case, I decided that I wanted the bike to be nice and a pleasure to ride, and it is! I will probably have this bike for the rest of my life.

    Cheers,

    Scott

  • Tom says:

    I would not spend alot of money on sport bike to commute or ride in the winter or bad weather. I would pay over a thousand bucks for a high quality utility bike.

    I don’t leave my bike outside but even the wear and tear from riding in the rain on a regular basis has cause some of the parts of my bike (not a cheap bike) to show some corrosion in less than a year. Plus, I havethe pleasure of having to clean a chain and deraileur every other week.

    I guess my point is, the worse the weather, the better quality of bike. I imagine it’s all in how you define quality.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I have a tendency to use my bikes for all my needs. My new Raptobike http://www.flickr.com/photos/watson_house/tags/raptobike/ is currently being used as a commuter.

    My bike is stored at the office when I am there, I don’t have to leave a bike at a train station or anything like that. I am happy to use any bike for commuting as long as I can carry the necessary cargo. All of my bikes currently have more than $2000 invested in them. I also carry insurance that covers my bikes, because I would cry if they were stolen.

    My household is car-light and was car-free for 8 years so investing in bikes is pretty cheap compared to even the most inexpensive car.

  • cyclepete says:

    Well ….For years my cars were very used cars that I would buy for about $3000 and get 3-4 years use out of before selling ( typically to junk yards) and starting over with a new used car. A friend of mine still does this for about $3000 per car. So $2000 for a commuter bike does seem like a lot to me.

    While always being a transportational cyclist, I would generally switch to a car for utility trips greater than, say, 16 miles round trip. Just a time and sweat factor ( didn’t want to show up to an offsite business meeting sweating ( or if showers were available, spend the time showering and changing when I got there). Plus some health problems really reducing how far I wanted to ride a bike.

    But I decided enough of this car dependency. Rather than just sweating, I bought a Bionx kit for my bike. My transport bike was worth about $600 and the Bionx kit cost me ( I got a special deal for a 350PL) $1200, so that’s nearly a $2000 bike.

    Now I use it for pretty much ALL my trips. 20 mile round-trip to the specialist doctor’s office, no problem. For a while there, I was putting in close to 30 miles a day on utility trips several times a week. My travel speed went up from about 13 mph average to 18 mph, which makes a difference on the longer trips. I don’t mind transporting heavy shopping loads. I think I get more exercise now than before I put int he assist. And sweat-free when I need to be.

    But I still wonder about spending that much on a bike when I was spending similar amounts on a car. I realize the car operational expenses, especially repairs and insurance, are probably more than what I spent on the bike. But the battery on the Bionx will need replacing about every 3 years at a cost of $900! So while I’m ahead, money-wise, it’s not as much as you might think.

  • bentguy in vanvouver says:

    I commute everyday rain or shine. I live in Vancouver, BC where the winters don’t get so harsh that you can’t ride all winter. In the last year I’ve ridden over 9,000 km on my bike. I’m just unwilling to do that to my body on a cheap bike. When you include all of the extra bits, bags, clothing etc., I have spent over $4,000 (not including the gps) on my bike — and that’s Canadian. When I tell co-workers that they say that I’m crazy. When I tell them the distance I’ve ridden on my bike I often hear, “Wow, I don’t go that far in my car.” And you know that they’ve spent far more on their cars. But when you break down what I’ve spent (and will spend) to the cost per km, it’s negligible. It’s a matter of perspective.

    With the exception of an old back-up bike and our touring tandem, this is my only ride. I use it for everthing, I can load it up with 4 bags, a trunk and a bob trailer for hauling stuff or I can strip it down for fun. I have it insured and if it gets stolen I’ll be at the store the next day ordering a new one. I ride it through all weather and if it gets dirty I’ll clean it. If a part wears out, I’ll replace it. But I won’t ride a crappy bike because I fear any of that might happen.

    My bike is the most useful (and used) thing that I own and being a full time cyclist it is far too important to me than to live in fear that something may happen to it or that someone thinks that I’ve spent too much. I waste money on stupid stuff all the time but my bike isn’t one of them.

    Oh yeah, I ride an HP Velotechnik Street Machine Gte with full racks and a fairing. It’s a great commuter, touring, shopping, trail riding, bombing around, anything bike. Money well spent.

  • bongobike says:

    Even if I could, I would never spend thousands of dollars on a bicycle. I have owned many good bicycles, and have never paid more than $500. I have owned Cannondales, a Panasonic Professional, Koga-Miyata, Vision R-45 recumbent (a $2,500 bike which I bought for $500), Raleighs–all excellent bikes. I think bicycles in the U.S. have become just a fetish for rich dilettantes who want to be seen in flashy racer-boy duds for ego-inflating purposes. If you want a bike for practical transportation, you don’t need flashy or expensive stuff, just durable stuff that works. And you can find it for a lot less than $1,000.

  • brad says:

    I think it’s helpful to own a bike that you feel good about. That said, it’s entirely possible to love a cheap bike. I recently bought a recycled bike for $200; it’s an old road bike with a lugged frame that was converted to a hybrid by SOS Vélo here in Montréal, a nonprofit that employs disadvantage youth to restore used bicycles. In fact they sell these bikes under the brand Écovélo, so my bike has the same name as Alan’s blog!

    It’s a pretty cool bike, all black and very utilitarian; the only disadvantages I see so far are that it’s a little small for me (I’m used to that, as I’m tall and often have to settle for bikes that don’t quite fit) and the antique Shimano friction shifters (which look like they were made in the 1970s or early 80s) are a little dodgy. But the thing works, and nobody’s likely to steal it. I spent more on fenders, a U-lock, and a bike cover than I did on the bike itself! It lives outside, locked to a grid-style bike rack that I got from Saris, and I use it for all my daily errands and shopping.

    I pondered long and hard about this before making my decision. I thought about getting a nicer new bike but in the end I thought a recycled/used bike would have a lower environmental impact plus I’d be supporting a good cause with SOS Vélo. On the other hand I also felt strongly about supporting bicycle makers who make good utilitarian bikes like ANT, Civia, Batavus, etc., so it really was a hard decision for me.

  • beth h says:

    One of the reasons that so many people blanch at spending 2,000 on a bike (as opposed to tens of thousands for a car) is that bicycles are still seen by MANY as toys or sporting goods, NOT as legitimate transportation.

    In 1999 I took delivery on a custom frameset, paid for from the proceed of an accident settlement for the bike that had been totaled. Fram and fork cost me $1,400 bucks. Ten years later the same frameset would cost me twice as much. Given the same situation today, would I spend that much money on a bike? No, because today I don’t have to. I probably would’ve gone with a Surly LongHaul Trucker; even with extra money for an upright conversion the whole bike would cost less today than my custom frameset did ten years ago. But the Surly LHT didn’t exist in 1998 (when I put my money down on the custom frameset), and neither did quite a lot of nice commuting/touring bikes that we have to choose from today.

    As someone who rides every day, I would rather spend the money on a better bike that will last a long time. Of course, I stopped owning a car nearly 20 years ago, so I can afford to spend the bigger bucks on a bike. By eschewing car ownership I probably save close to $5,000 a year…

  • Alan says:

    “One of the reasons that so many people blanch at spending 2,000 on a bike (as opposed to tens of thousands for a car) is that bicycles are still seen by MANY as toys or sporting goods, NOT as legitimate transportation.”

    Yup.

    “By eschewing car ownership I probably save close to $5,000 a year…”

    We figure we’re saving $7,000-$8,000 per year based upon the amount of driving I was doing prior to selling the car.

  • Adrienne says:

    When I was looking to replace my 20 year old bike, I wanted to make sure that the new one would last another 20 years. There was nothing on the market that would do that for under $1000. In 1989, my Specialized was purchased for $800 (and it was used!) and despite its age, it is still a rock solid frame and a joy to ride (it is now set up as my big hauler). When looking at bikes in the $500 range, there was nothing that could hold a candle to my old bike. Nothing came close in quality, components, paint or style until I broke the 1K mark.

    I have put about 1300 miles on my bike in the last 6 months, and I could not have done that on a cheep, low end bike.

  • Roland Smith says:

    I have but one bicycle. It must take me everywhere I cycle, in all weather, every day. Reliability is paramount, as is safety. For speed and comfort, I drive a recumbent. I owned my previous ‘bent lasted ten years and still looked good when I sold it. It never gave me trouble beyond replacing normal worn parts. That’s the kind of performance I don’t mind paying for.

    In the Netherlands we have a saying: “goedkoop is duurkoop”. This translates to “buying cheap can be very expensive”. My experience is that better stuff usually lasts longer with less trouble.

  • Val says:

    It used to be one of my pet peeves when working in bike shops – all the folks shopping for a bike or bringing a bike in for work who would use the same line: “Well, I don’t want to put too much into it – it’s just my commuter.” It took great self control not to howl and tear my hair when I heard that. If getting to work on time is not important to you, then I guess “just my commuter” is a phrase that makes some sense. If you don’t care about your own comfort on the bike you will probably spend more time on than any other, then, sure, don’t bother “putting much into it”. If reliable transportation is not a priority in your life, then the quality of your commuter is certainly not important. Me, I want exactly what works best for me (not always the most expensive item, but sometimes), and I will pay what it takes.

  • Lyle says:

    I just bought a Trek Allant for $479 at my LBS. I spent 3 months looking for the perfect bike. Too many retro for the sake of retro bikes out there. Too many cheap bikes being passed off for being merely inexpensive. Too many custom built bikes whose only purpose is to assuage the buyer’s ego. Where’s Rivendell based? On an island in the Atlantic?

    I really love this blog, lots of good information and ideas, but for me and I’ll bet a majority of commuters out there, during this downturn, most of the products are simply unaffordable.

    The porteurs of yesteryear didn’t cost two months wages back then, why should they now?

  • Kenneth Jones says:

    I have spent around $3500 for my recumbent trike and all its tricked out glory. The fact is that I was fortunate enough to be able to do it. Most folks I know would say I was crazy! I see the comparing of prices of a car vs. bike, even for commuting akin to comparing apples and lunatics – it just doesn’t fit. I live in Houston and we are way too spread out to realistically dream that pedal power will satisfy our transportation needs. Most folks live a long way from the job – presently, I drive around 25 miles one way. Figure in carting a family around to school, soccer, scouts, movies, dances, etc. and well, sorry, but I HAVE to have a car. I did recently change jobs – for a number of reasons – but one BIG one was my desire to be able to park that gas user and pedal back & forth to the nearby job. I do know however, that there will be days of drenching rain that I just won’t be able to hit the pedals – or I will be dreadfully late or I have to drop off someone or something other. I suffer from the “My Old Man” syndrome who up until he died couldn’t fathom spending .75 for a coke! “Why when I was a boy they we a nickel!!” Well, when I was a boy we would sweat and mow and save the $150 to get a Schwinn Varsity. I walk into bike shops now and see folks paying 10K+ for these featherweight masterpieces and I, well, become my old man! I found myself in this same calculus over the possiblity of financing a Go-One3 Velomobile for around 16K and just couldn’t justify it. I love the coolness and beauty of the bike, trike, and velomobile….but I will still need to own a car.

  • Dottie says:

    Well said! I’ll go even further – I live in a high-theft city with harsh winters and still have nice commuter bikes. First, I park securely indoors at work and home. Second, sometimes a more expensive bike means the weather won’t ever beat it down (see, Dutch bike with enclosed everything). If people think I spent too much for my bikes, I’d like to know how much they spend a year in gas alone (or a plasma tv, or a gym membership, etc). I bought my second bike with money earned from renting out my garage space, since I have nothing to park there :)

  • Helton says:

    Unfortunately the car culture is not an USA privilege ;o)
    As for myself, I think the most of the bike budget deserves to be put on the working horse commuter, because we NEED transportation (assuming we only have the bike or the bus/train for transportation). One thing is to “suffer” for leisure, and the other is “suffering” to do the things we HAVE to do. And surely a GOOD bike saves a lot discomfort and other minor issues, allowing more personal energy for peace of mind when it’s working time.

    @Dottie: that was really a BIKE FOR FREE!

  • Alan says:

    @Lyle

    “I really love this blog, lots of good information and ideas, but for me and I’ll bet a majority of commuters out there, during this downturn, most of the products are simply unaffordable.”

    Thanks for your comments.

    IMO, what is defined as “affordable” is unique to each individual depending upon their income, expenses, and priorities. In looking at the bikes sent in from our readers for the Bike Gallery and Photo Contest, it appears there are plenty of people who visit this blog who are willing to invest in high quality gear. Many of those bikes are more expensive than the bikes we’re personally riding.

    I know many people with cars that cost into the $10,000-$20,000 plus range who would scoff at paying $1000-$2000 for a bicycle. This is, as Beth mentioned above, a result of the widespread notion that bicycles are toys and not the serious tools for transportation that they are. For many people, it’s clearly not a question of money, but perception. That is the gist of my original post, and that is what we’re working to change.

    Alan

    PS – I’m glad you enjoy the blog.. :-)

  • Lyle says:

    Alan,

    Do we all need to drive Hummers to be taken seriously on the highways?

    I know that comment isn’t fair but nonetheless underlines the reason that many people are choosing to commute: a 30 year binge of oneupmanship has seriously derailed our economy.

    It doesn’t take bucket loads of money to change people’s perception, just a fair amount of effort.

    Lyle

    PS was it as windy in Sacramento today as it was here in Chico?

  • Alan says:

    @Lyle

    It was windy as heck. Rode straight into it all the way home (ouch).

  • greenobike says:

    Good question.
    It’s easier to say what is not enough than what is too much. If a component breaks then it is not enough. If a saddle is uncomfortable it is not enough. If the color is displeasing, then it is not enough.
    Everyone’s requirements are different.
    For me, a new commuter bike of sufficient quality would probably cost about $1000 new. An example would be the Bianchi Volpe or Surly Cross Check. An equivalent mountain bike or folder would cost about the same. A used bike in good condition would be probably $500.
    As a side note, clothing and accessories add another $500 at least – fenders, lights, bell, rack, bags, tools, pump, helmet, gloves, jacket, pants, shoes, water bottles, cages…

  • Adrienne says:

    @Lyle-
    “The porteurs of yesteryear didn’t cost two months wages back then, why should they now?”

    during the war years, bikes in Europe frequently cost 4 to 6 months pay, but cars and petrol were simply unobtainable. People bought bikes at those prices then because they knew the bikes had that much value- 5 months pay to get me and my family everywhere we need to go. When bikes have that much value to us, this will no longer be a discussion.

    As to how much is too much?- If I am comfortable with what I have spent on my bike, then it wasn’t too much : )

  • edde says:

    Greetings,

    Once you get a durable frame (cromo rules) that fits, it is relatively easy and worth it to keep a bike on the road for a lifetime. There is a Raleigh commuter bike from the ’40s at a local museum that was ridden regularly until just recently.

    All worn-out components can be replaced at relatively short money.

    Good bikes can be purchased slightly used – after 15 years selling & repairing bikes I find many that were hardly used, in great condition and available for short money. Bikes costing in the thousands, recumbents included, can be purchased at a small fraction of their original cost.

    Of course, there are many more “functional” bikes on the market now. Wait a couple of years and you’ll find many of these bikes used, probably at short money.

    Good luck! Have FUN, Ride yer bike!

    edde

  • bongobike says:

    Lyle says:

    “I just bought a Trek Allant for $479 at my LBS. I spent 3 months looking for the perfect bike. Too many retro for the sake of retro bikes out there. Too many cheap bikes being passed off for being merely inexpensive. Too many custom built bikes whose only purpose is to assuage the buyer’s ego.”

    Alan says:

    “I know many people with cars that cost into the $10,000-$20,000 plus range who would scoff at paying $1000-$2000 for a bicycle. This is, as Beth mentioned above, a result of the widespread notion that bicycles are toys and not the serious tools for transportation that they are.”

    I agree with Lyle 100%. Alan, you pay tens of thousands for a car because it is two tons of steel, a complex engine, computer, electric systems, air bags, etc., etc. A bicycle is one of the simplest machines ever devised, and at 20-30 lbs., one of the lightest too. A simple machine that is older than the automobile and has been perfected over more than 100 years; just a few tubes slapped together, two wheels, a chain and a seat. THAT is why people scoff at paying $1,000-$2,000 for a bike, not because they are considered toys.

  • Alan says:

    @bongo

    “THAT is why people scoff at paying $1,000-$2,000 for a bike, not because they are considered toys.”

    Maybe it’s different where you live (where are you located?), but around here we’re still not seeing very many people replacing their cars with bicycles. Unfortunately, mostly they remain in the realm of tennis rackets, roller blades, and snow skis.

    Alan

  • Glossy says:

    bongobike (and Lyle), I’m not sure I agree.

    I’ve never paid more than 4 digits for any car I’ve ever owned. The original owners of my cars were not quite as lucky. When you live in an area where owning a car is an (expensive) necessity for getting anywhere, you have to work with your own budget, needs, and wants. Do you need an awesome sound system (extra) or can you get by with a tape deck? Wee darling wipers for the front lights or the basic set up? People shopping for cars are aware of the compromises they might have to make to afford any car at all. If the car turns out to be a lemon, or cheap and chintzy, the owner is less likely to stop driving. Often having driven a deathtrap/moneypit on four wheels is a rite of passage for drivers. Most people don’t feel that way about bikes…

    And might I point out, a lot of the plusher (esp. Euro brand) commuters are built for people (particularly in the Euro market) who want to walk in the store, point at what they want, and ride off in 30 minutes. There’s nothing odd about that. They don’t want to hear that the items they want to make the bike easy to use all have to be bolted on after that fact. That’s like buying a car where the factory drops it off, and then you have to put in the water holders and the rearview mirrors, no matter how much you pay. That’s the real competition–the expectation that you shouldn’t need anything else, or have to know it’s not included so that you can order it. I know I hadn’t been into bikes for years, and finding out that kickstands were no longer a default on cheap bikes was a surprise.

    When bike pricing comes up, many people presume that it ought to be inexpensive, after all it’s just a bike. But there are price points (and gear levels) for Ferrari buyers, and Audi lovers, as well as Ford Contours devotees. Why should bikes be any different? And if those prices are understandably too steep at any rate, then someone will be selling a decent bike somewhere. None of us are compelled to buy anything right off the show floor. Of course, if no-one buys them at all, they might never turn up used, so really, all the spendy folks are really doing it for the greater good. And I, and my Craigslist addiction, thank them.

  • Stephen says:

    I have invested perhaps $2000 over approximately ten years into my primary commuting bicycle, the second of two I’ve used to do so. The first was a total rebuild of an older but perfectly good steel MTB that cost around $800, and the second is a mid-range lugged steel touring frame that was kitted out for all-round riding. The primary bike is beautiful, comfortable, efficient, and reliable, and I know every nut, bolt, and bearing on it. Most of us have to make an effort to commute through traffic, inconsiderate and ignorant drivers, and a lack of integrated facilities. Cheap bikes are heavy, the bearings are crap, and if they don’t inspire you to ride everyday in a system that is not bicycle-friendly, then you’re likely not to ride.

  • bongobike says:

    Alan, I live in Austin, TX, and we have tons of bicycle commuters here. I don’t know how many people have completely given up their cars (it’s hard for anyone anywhere), but I’m sure some have. At least many folks on local blogs and listserves claim to have. I would love to go car-free, but for now I can only live “car-lite” due to location (and the wife!).

    Glossy, the last time I bought a car for less than five figures I was in my early twenties (I’m 51 now). But I’ve only bought one new car in my entire life; all the others have been used, and I keep them an average of 10 years (currently I have a four cyl. pickup that is 13-years-old and has been with me for 10). As you can see, it’s hard to separate me from what little money I have. :-)

  • Erich Zechar says:

    I totally agree with bongobike here – bicycles are such simple machines, and as such it’s hard for me to imagine paying more than perhaps $1000, even for a handmade brand new custom bike, let alone something made in Taiwan on an assembly line. Imagine how complex and expensive it is to manufacture an engine for a car alone, and then look at even the most complicated multi-geared bike. There is no comparison. The fact that a fixed-gear wheelset can cost as much as a wheelset for a car says a lot about how far bicycle pricing is out of whack.

    All of my bikes have cost less than $300 so far, and each of them has been a used steel frame from the eighties with gently used and well-kept components. I believe that there is a need for nicer bikes at a reasonable cost, and manufacturers like Surly are certainly helping out with that, though in my mind they’d sell a lot more bikes at a lower cost. It’s outrageous to me that makers like Rivendell and Vanilla charge such high prices. I admire their style, but damned if I can justify the price.

  • Alan says:

    @Erich

    IMO, comparing a Vanilla to a mass-produced car is unrealistic. To be fair about it, we should be comparing a handmade bike like a Vanilla to a handmade car like a Lamborghini or Rolls Royce. If you look at it that way, suddenly the pricing doesn’t seem quite so skewed. I wonder what a set of wheels for a Ferrari or Lamborghini costs? (I have no idea, but it must be astronomical.)

    Considering the amount of skill required to make a bike like a Vanilla, and the large number of man hours that must go into creating what is practically a rolling art piece by hand from raw materials, I think his prices are well justified. I may not be able to afford one, but I’m glad there are people who are willing/able to support artisans like Sacha White so they can make a living and continue to bless our world with their wonderful creations. :-)

    Alan

  • bongobike says:

    Well, I guess you’re agreeing with Erich, Lyle and me now, Alan. Who needs a Lamborghini? Who commutes to work in a Ferrari? Only a few rich show offs. Most people drive Chevys and Toyotas and Fords. The vanity thing has really gotten way out of hand.

  • Alan says:

    Bongo,

    My hope? We all ride whatever makes us happy and keeps us out of our cars. If that’s a beater from WalMart, great! And if that’s a custom Vanilla, that’s great too!

    Take care-
    Alan

  • Stephen says:

    If the suggestion is that spending more than a grand on a commuting bike is vanity, then I beg to differ. I have, for instance, Phil Wood hubs on my primary commuter. They’re expensive, but I never have to worry about them. I also just spent $85 on a Velo Orange saddle. My ass is worth $85, I think. It’s a bloody beautiful saddle, and it will probably last 20 years. The new Albatross bars set me back another $60, and then there’s that really sweet Nitto rear rack for another $100 or so, a new set of Panaracer tires for $60, etc. all to hang on a $750 frame that looks brand new a decade later. I love to ride this bike–it’s fast, comfy, and classy, and it helps makes commuting one of my favorite times of day.

    No car is as cheap, nor would it hold up as well over a decade.

    Sure, people can commute on the cheapest of bikes, but I figure any money spent on a bicycle isn’t being spent on my car, and why should anyone kvetch about that? I have a $300 stainless automatic watch with a Swiss movement that keeps great time and uses no batteries. I could buy a cheap plastic watch in Wal-Mart for $20 and feed it batteries for the next few years until it dies, but why should I?

  • brad says:

    I do think a distinction has to be made between cheap new bikes and good bikes that are cheap because they’re used. I agree that most cheap new bikes are a waste of money and are not likely to last long (the frame on my brother’s cheap bike broke after three years). I also agree that a good strong frame can serve for decades as the basis for many iterations of bicycles. It is entirely possible to get a good used and restored bike for $200 that could last 20 years or more. Similarly, I would assume that the high-end new bikes that people are buying now will continue to serve a series of owners for the next several decades. A Civia Hyland that sells for a few grand today might sell for a small fraction of that in 20 years, but it’ll still be a good bike assuming the frame has held up. Which it probably will.

  • Molnar says:

    There’s clearly an aesthetic that some of us feel and others don’t. A violin is even simpler than a bicycle, but the violinists (never mind the pure investors) who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for one are not fools: they are getting something that isn’t to be found in cheaper violins. I have an ANT and a couple of vintage racing bikes; they all give me a form of pleasure that I haven’t found in cheaper bikes. If you can’t feel the difference, or just don’t care, then you can be considered either lucky or unlucky, depending on the choice of priorities. De gustibus non est disputandum.

  • bongobike says:

    OK, so now we’re comparing Vanilla with Guarneri and Stradivarius. Yeah, now THAT is hilarious. As I said, this vanity thing is getting out of hand.

  • Dottie says:

    “I do think a distinction has to be made between cheap new bikes and good bikes that are cheap because they’re used.”

    I agree! There are absolutely no $300 new bikes I could buy in Chicago that would be durable enough to last more than a few years of daily riding, including harsh winters, not to even mention comfort and reliability. I’m more about buying fewer things, higher quality. I also agree with Alan about “affordable” being different based on people’s situations. All my colleagues drive BMW’s and Range Rovers, but I’ll stick with my $2K last-a-lifetime bike, thanks much. I am a frugal person :)

  • Ari Hornick says:

    Bicycles may be relatively simple machines, but that doesn’t mean that it’s inexpensive to create all the parts, assemble them, and deliver the product to your possession. This is especially true if one is looking for decent quality. BTW, decent quality is imperative for a commuter. If one is flexible regarding many of the details, craigslist or goodwill might have a great buy. I’m usually more particular about what I’m looking for, so I tend to buy new. How much is too much? If I’m not happy about it, it’s too much. Sound like I dodged the question? Not really. It’s a personal decision. To illustrate: I super dislike road bikes. I wouldn’t spend anything for one. On the other hand, I love LWB recumbents and beach cruisers. I’d spend whatever I could afford on one if I liked it enough. I can imagine a $5000 beach cruiser. And believe me, I’d ride it everywhere I went.

  • Scott Wayland says:

    Okay, gross confession time: I have spent a huge amount of $$ on bikes over the last few years–I’m addicted, love cool bikes, ride them all to varying degrees. As mentioned above, my commuter is nice but not over-the-top. My touring rig has been a Street Machine German recumbent that has upgraded everything. That one clocked in at around $4K. I’ve just ordered a custom LWB from Lightfoot Cycles in Montana that will cost about the same. This is my little habit–legal and safer than hookers and heroin. A bit self-indulgent at this point, but I’m not hurting anyone, and I’m supporting an industry I love.

    When it comes down to it, we don’t have to justify our purchases to anyone but ourselves and perhaps a loved one who shares the check book. Beyond that, they can all pound sand. I’ll be dead soon enough. The ecological footprint of bikes is so small as to be negligible, so worry not on that account. High end bikes are great! Everyone should have several! These are kinetic, practical works of art. Ride, enjoy, live!

    Scott

    PS: I’ve also got a tandem recumbent trike my wife and I ride–Greenspeed. “Green” to symbolize how much the buggers cost. We have such a blast on that thing. Worth every stinkin’ penny.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Bongobike, “Who needs a Lamborghini? Who commutes to work in a Ferrari? Only a few rich show offs. Most people drive Chevys and Toyotas and Fords. The vanity thing has really gotten way out of hand.”

    I think the difference with flashy sports cars is that they encourage higher speeds which threaten other road users, plus they are noisy and pollute the air. These problems do not arise with expensive bikes.

    I think Alan is right. If the bike makes its owner happy, it’s a good bike!

  • Dean says:

    There is nothing like a juicy rationalization.

    My commuter is a old steel Norco Pinnacle which I bought used for $125 (new they are $400). I use it year round every day through some brutal snow and ice and -30 temps in th winter, salt, slush etc. Every year I spend a day and about $75 in parts on it and it is good to go. An expensive commuter would require the same $75 in parts consumed. I have other bikes that are expensive and serve specific purposes and they could be viewed more as sporting equipment like the tennis racket etc. My commuter is a tool, nothing more, it doesn’t look good even in sepia toned photographs, but it just gets the job done.

  • Alan says:

    Who would’ve guessed this post would elicit so many comments?!?

    I’ve had a day to mull over all of the comments and very good points have been made on both sides. I completely agree with the argument that it’s possible to successfully use a very inexpensive bike for commuting; as a matter of fact this is the norm, not the exception, in my neck of the woods. And I agree with the comments about vanity being out of control in the U.S. I live in a middle class suburb in California and I see it on display everyday.

    On the other hand, I see no problem with high end commuter bikes. We have high end bikes of every other sort and I think the market is finally ready for these bikes. I’ve ridden some well-designed, high end commuters, and they are a real pleasure. They bring together ease of use, durability, and performance in a unique way that’s optimized for daily transportation. Many people have been clamoring for these bikes and I’m thrilled that they’re finally here in decent numbers.

    I do believe it’s for each of us to decide what is practical and reasonable; we sometimes struggle with this question in our household (I’m sure it’s quite common). My wife tends to be the practical one, wanting only one bike, planning on keeping it until it wears out, etc. I, on the other hand, tend to be less pragmatic. I’ve loved bicycles my whole life, and I’ve had a constant stream of them flowing through my garage for the past 30 years. I enjoy poring over the bikes, checking out the technology and the different design elements, comparing ride qualities, and simply enjoying the aesthetics of a beautiful bicycle. Some might say my habits are impractical, but hey, it beats spending time at the corner bar (now there’s some serious rationalizing for ya’ ;-)).

    Finally, I’d like to thank everyone for keeping the conversation civil and avoiding any serious personal attacks. Our ability to disagree while remaining respectful of one another is the thing I most appreciate about the community we’re building here!

    Best regards,
    Alan

  • bentguy in vanvouver says:

    A waste of money is to buy a bike at any price and put it in the back of your garage to gather dust. I have a very expensive bike that is scratched up and usually covered in grime. I don’t dress in flashy logoized clothing though I did fork out for a decent pair of cycling shoes. I have two expensive things, my Velotechnik recumbent and my Larivee guitar, that I cherish — not because they’re expensive but because I use and enjoy them every single day. Believe me, I would have loved to have gotten these for less, but I knew exactly what I wanted. And that’s my justification — I use them every single day. To my mind if you don’t want to waste your money then invest less time and energy in excuses and get on your bike (and play your guitar).

    Am I a dilettante, or a show-off? Like Scott says, “they can all pound sand!” ( great phrase by the way ). Or as I more childishly put it, “Sticks and stones may screw up my drive train but…..

  • beth h says:

    When I ordered my custom frame over ten years ago, I was concerned about theft. I lived in a low-rent, high-crime neighborhood and I didn’t want my bike to attract too much attention. At the time I had asked if I could order it in one color, without decals. The maker said no; if I wanted to hide the bike’s brand identity I could cover the decals myself with duct tape, but that was my job and not his. He knew that he was selling not only a high-quality bike, but a status symbol; and since his business was still somewhat young I’d guess he wanted folks to see his product pretty clearly.

    While I can’t blame him, I am also aware that, like it or not, the best bikes are status symbols along with being very good bikes. That’s a byproduct of the way our culture’s marketplace mentality, and there’s not a lot I can do about that, except to ride the crap out of my Very Good Bike and not worry when dents and dings appear. Bikes are meant to be ridden, and ridden a lot.

  • Dave says:

    But it’s not just bikes. You can spend more on a computer than a used car, and cars have many times over the number of parts, pieces and weight of material than a computer. Or cabinets, or clothes, or music. If I add up what I’ve spent on records, cd’s mp3′s, players, cassettes – ugh. I suppose it would shock me. Necessary? Hardly.

    I see it more as a matter of choice – where do I want to spend money? I worked with a guy who loved to travel. He lived a very frugal life as a result. He’d say – some people like to put their money into a house, I like to go places. And he did – all over the world.

    We humans are vain, no doubt, but most any purchase represents some sort of choice. And if someone is choosing to spend money on bicycles, then I think that’s a good choice.

 
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