Does a More Expensive Bike Make a Better Cyclist?

08
Oct
2010

You’re out riding, and you see a guy (or girl) on a pimped out $6,000 road bike….what’s the first thing that goes through your head?  Probably a few different things (and feel free to let me know what those things are with a comment below), but one possible thought is “man, this person must be a really good cyclist to have a bike like that”.

Possibly….but it could also just mean that he or she has a lot of money available to sink into a bike.

Okay, so lets flip it and put a really good cyclist on a cheap no-name road bike….what happens?  A lot of discomfort, perhaps….but I’m thinking that they’re still going to kick my butt as long as it’s in good working condition.

There is no doubt that buying a good quality bike is worth the money and will alleviate a lifetime of unnecessary repairs and grief.  But once you buy a good quality bike, what is the increased performance/amount spent graph look like?

I debate this question quite often.  Maybe I use it as a way to justify the thought of me walking into a bike shop and dropping a few thousand on a bike, so that I can upgrade to a new one.  Maybe it really would help with my performance.  It’s a tough call.  I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this one.

What I do know, is that Canadians are buying less bikes, but ones of better quality.  Momentum Magazine has listed that:

Companies that supply bicycles to independent Canadian bike shops have reported an increase in overall sales for 2009, but a decrease in the number of bikes sold. Combined with a 23 per cent spike in the average price of bikes that were sold to retailers, the Bicycle Trade Association of Canada (BTAC) says this indicates a trend towards consumers buying higher quality bikes in the independent bike shop sector.

It looks like Canadians have got the first part right, and realize that it makes good sense to buy quality…..now where are the studies showing me performance vs price?

Okay, Alleycat Racers, it’s your turn to voice your opinion.  Please leave a comment with your name and race number…but before you click the ‘Yehuda Moon’ image to go to the next checkpoint, let us know what you think. Does a more expensive bike make a better cyclist?


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  • JM

    a better bike can make a better cyclist. compare a $100 bike to a $1000 bike. The person on the $1000 bike will go faster with the same effort. However, the difference between a $3000 and a $4000 is a lot smaller.
    4889

  • Debbie

    Debbie #4848 – I don’t think it matters.

  • Iwakura

    Another site added to my favs ;)

    Iwakura
    #772

  • http://gomeansgo.org ryan

    #3313.
    For less than one percent of cyclists a more expensive bike will make a better cyclist. Much more of it can be attributed to natural ability and training. If you aren’t pro- then your $500-1000 bike is more than likely just fine.

  • http://samh.net samh

    A better bike does not inherently make a better cyclist. – #1565

  • http://www.802bikeguy.com Tom

    If we’re talking about someone going from a janky wal-mart bike to a real bike shop bike, yes, the proper bike does make a difference.

    #9501

  • http://danharrelson.com Dan Harrelson

    #2913

  • Widsith

    #1330 thinks it’s the cyclist that matters, not the price of the bike. As an astronomer told me in my youth, when I was describing my cheap, difficult-to-use telescope to him: “Learn to do a good job with the equipment you have, and someday, when you get something better, you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll do because you’ve already had to learn to do your very best under difficult cirmcumstances.”

  • Mark Balawender

    2530–It all depends what better means for you. More expensive right now seems to mean lighter and more stylish, but with all the focus on bike commuting I think we’ll see it shift to more reliable, more comfortable, and better utility. In all seriousness, does anyone really believe that a dura ace shifter is twice as good as a 105 shifter, or however many times better than deore or acera? Could one even tell the difference between those rear derailers without seeing the name printed on them or a gram scale? I venture that it would be impossible to tell just from shifting and that any of the deore and up level stuff would last the same amount of time. In fact, the heavier stuff might last longer. The focus on levels of components seems to have gone the way of high end audio stuff–the perceived benefits are just perceived (not actual) and are manufactured by advertising to justify a ridiculous price to the rich.

  • Mark

    #2530–It all depends what better means for you. More expensive right now seems to mean lighter and more stylish, but with all the focus on bike commuting I think we’ll see it shift to more reliable, more comfortable, and better utility. In all seriousness, does anyone really believe that a dura ace shifter is twice as good as a 105 shifter, or however many times better than deore or acera? Could one even tell the difference between those rear derailers without seeing the name printed on them or a gram scale? I venture that it would be impossible to tell just from shifting and that any of the deore and up level stuff would last the same amount of time. In fact, the heavier stuff might last longer. The focus on levels of components seems to have gone the way of high end audio stuff–the perceived benefits are just perceived (not actual) and are manufactured by advertising to justify a ridiculous price to the rich.

  • Den

    Den #7685

    A more expensive bike DOES NOT make you a better cyclist. It’s not the price of the bike… it’s the ability of the rider!

  • Mister A

    8310 Money doesn’t make you a better cyclist only the desire to move forward.

  • http://www.welshcyclist.wordpress.com welshcyclist

    I honestly dont know, I’ve only ever ridden “cheap” bikes, when I was a boy, my mates and I made our own bikes from pieces scounged from the scrapyard, that was in the 1950′s. Since starting to ride again about 7 years ago, the most I’ve paid for a bike is £199, which has proved fit for purpose.

  • http://www.velotraffic.com Reuben Collins

    #5290 expensive better!!!

  • http://www.baddaskat.com Badda Skat

    It definitely does NOT make a better cyclist. To me, I find that the riders that don’t have much money to blow on bikes tend to be those that not only know the most about their bike, but also put in more hours on it.

    Badda Skat #6233

  • John J Wilde

    Wow this is addicting.
    Xtrajack #1455

  • Xander

    Hi. #2293 here.
    I’m not going to read every post, so maybe its already been stated: but I think generally your dollar/quality ratio goes up pretty fast up to about $1000. After that, it tapers off slowly, then rapidly and you get into law of diminishing returns etc.

    Now, if the question is does a “quality” bike make a better cyclist? Then yes. Put two cyclists of equal ability each on a high end bike and a low end bike and have them race. Then swap and have them race again. The better bike will be with the winner each time, I hypothesize.

  • cycler

    I think that to a certain minimum threshold of good quality components, a more expensive bike helps, but after that there’s no real correlation
    Cycler 4505

  • Ian Prust

    Ian Prust
    #9475

  • Thomas

    It really is not the bike it is how you use it!

    #7804

  • http://problemsolversbike.com DK

    Heck no. Riding your bike a bunch makes you a better cyclist. Now, having a nice bike can make your experience more pleasant, lead to more riding, which in turn will make you a better cyclist…but it’s not a direct result of an expensive bike.

    #812 DFL?

  • http://www.balloonbiker.blogspot.com Jami

    I definitely don’t think that you need an expensive bike…actually a pricey bike might actually make you a worse cyclist since you don’t have as many obstacles to overcome.

    #5635

  • http://www.ecovelo.info Alan@EcoVelo

    #5016

    Feelin’ the bonk coming on…

  • Brent Strange

    #2277 for the Alleycat. No a more expensive bike does not make you a better cyclist. If anything it makes you a bit more paranoid about having something damage the bike.

  • goathens

    goathens # 7561
    I think once you are beyond the absolute cheapest bike (in it’s class, a cheap folder costs much more than a cheap mtnbike, but it is still crappy), it doesn’t matter so much. just so long as it isn’t falling apart- but who cares about titaniums and all of that.
    If anything, it’s a correlation without causation that bike$$$ = better appearing cyclist.

  • Jean

    Jean/5162

    You need functional equipment, but the cyclist is so much more important than the bike.

  • http://newgirloldbike.blogspot.com/ NewGirl!

    This post starts with the assumption that the cyclist is a roadie. Like Yehuda and Joe demonstrate, there are many different attitudes and views on bicycles. Price should never be the differentiater between a ‘good’ cyclist and a ‘better’ one. But I resist the ‘good’ descriptor anyway – we’re all cyclists, why try to make someone better than the other?

    • http://newgirloldbike.blogspot.com/ NewGirl!

      I’m #8706 if that matters :)

  • andy

    thanks for helping host the alleycat! Andy, #6749

  • Aaron

    I agree that there is a minimum threshold for bike quality/price. However, once you cross that threshold (i.e. the bike fits and has no major mechanical problems) only the most elite athletes will reap any benefit from more expensive gear. So no, a more expensive bike does not make the cyclist better. 5827

  • Claire

    Claire #1186

    A higher-end bike probably brings more convenience, durability, and comfort, but if a person really loves cycling I think they will bike no matter how “cheap” their trusty steed is (provided it actually works). There’s probably a point at which higher prices deliver diminishing returns as well.

  • aaron 8363

    Nope. steel is the only material that will overcome the zombie war!

    • http://www.lovingthebike.com Darryl

      Congratulations on finding this checkpoint.

  • http://www.jedimoose.org mrben

    checking in #3089

    Plus…. I hope not – my bike was given to me free :(

    In my experience the quality of the biker cannot be determined by his bike, be it the price, the condition, or anything. It’s mostly aligned to the frequency of riding, and the attitude of the rider. ref. Yehuda and Joe – very different bikes, looks, styles, but both “better” cyclists. (Although you could debate about Yehuda).

  • http://hacktastico.com Nico P

    nico.p, #9302

    I think all bikes, both low and high end have a place. That said, it’s hard to get into commuting, etc. with a bike that breaks down all the time, so there is *some* threshold for quality needed.

  • caribbeancwby

    what’s the title of this post? oh yeah here’s my two cents for it’s probably worth half of a penny.

    1) the right bike has to start with sizing, honestly many associates have not the slightest clue to even start with this important subject. just cause you ride a mountain bike, work in a bike shop doesn’t qualify for you as an expert. to better help the customer find the right bike, seek knowledge, ask questions and act cordial. there’s no excuse to act like a hot shot.

    2) well bike fitting is a huge key to becoming a better cyclist. so we’ve got the size down, now comes spending extra money: shoes, pedals, seat, possibly a new stem or handlebar. what does all this mean? the feet, butt, hands these are all contact points, keys to comfort wether its quick or an all day jaunt rely so much on proper bike fit. seek out someone who at least understands anatomy also.

    3) its attitude to simplify things. I cannot stress how many folks I’ve met over the years who walk in really with a pessimistic mindset. “oh I’m afraid, gonna fall on these skinny tires, this handlebar is foreign to me?” failure in every way possible. as the sale associate its your job to sell them not only a bike yet to convince them its fresh, exciting, healthy even instill confidence in a novice.

    so back the question “does a more expensive bike make you a better cyclist?” absolutely not, find a local bike shop you can trust in, they will help you grow to be a better cyclist.

    • http://www.lovingthebike.com Darryl

      Great tips. I appreciate you including your professional opinion….and adding to this post.

      Darryl

  • http://www.twitter.com/canadiancat JD

    I’ve enjoyed all the comments on this post so far. Some really open and honest ones that question, and congratulate, the value (or “investment” as I like to say) sunk into a high-end bike. I spent just under a £1K on my new road bike, but have clearly spent several hundred more in support of my bike on shoes, helmet, specs, lights and that “oh-so-lovely” lycra wear!

    I don’t think it’s instantly made me into a GC rider, but my interest sure has shot up: I’ve joined a local cycling club; and I fully intend to take my training much more seriously – I’m even looking at riding track too!

    Thanks,
    Jonathan

    • http://lovingthebike.com Loving the Bike

      Thanks, John, for jumping in and including your comments. I appreciate your feedback and information from your side of the world.

      Darryl

  • http://bicyclelab.com victor

    Spending 1k gets you a decent road bike so why on earth would someone spend 3k, or even 15k on a bike? I have built many high end road bikes over the years and have seen one common thread with almost all riders that buy an expensive custom road bike. They become better riders… Is it the bike? No not exactly. Its how the rider interacts with the bike. Maybe its that you spent all this money and your wife or husband is going to kill you if you dont ride it. What ever the reason out of all the riders that I work and have worked with, the ones that seem to get the most out of their cycling have super high end bikes.
    Certainly we dont need the super duper bikes but if its something you enjoy?????

    • http://www.lovingthebike.com Darryl

      Interesting perspective, Victor. Thanks for sharing it. Yeah, I’m sure the pride of having a nice expensive bike (and a spouse making sure you get good use out of all that money) helps people become better riders when they purchase a high priced bike.

      Darryl

      • http://anaphase.com/blog Annalisa

        To this point, which is sort of what I was getting at in my reply, I am waiting for a custom ANT lady Boston Roadster (and could not be more excited). It was spendy for sure! But I know that it will fit and handle extremely well, based on my test ride. And once it gets properly fitted? Watch out, Boston. :)

        To me, it’s worth it, because it will be my primary mode of transportation.

        I also plan to build up a Surly LHT for touring. That will be a much lower cost bike, but as long as it’s properly fitted, it will be great.

        • http://bicyclelab.com victor

          Annalisa

          I agree. Congratulations on making the leap. The ant bikes are awesome! Post some pics when its done. On your fit though. You should always think of fit first then select a bike based on your specifics. Not all bikes can be adjusted to fit your body. On a commuter bike certain aspects of your position may not be that important but on a touring or racing bike small tweaks can make a huge improvement in your overall enjoyment.

  • http://www.bicycle-sidewalk.com Nathan

    Stress the engine.
    The engine!!

    Even on a solid entry level road bike with a good fit – ahhh – stress the engine.
    It really is a game of chess on wheels. A nice board and pieces makes for an more enjoyable game – break it down – the player is the one who will win the game.

  • http://www.smoke-remedy.com/ smoke remedy

    Thats exact what I have searched for. I imagine with this basics I can get much more details.

  • http://www.lovingthebike.com Darryl

    I just re-read over all of your comments tonight. I feel that out of all the posts I’ve written since starting this blog, this post has generated the most incredible responses. Thanks to each and every one of you. Sell42, Clive, Tim, Torsten, Welshcyclist, Clay, Michelle, Bikerly, Annalisa, Charlie, and Megbikes….thank you. Well Done.

    Darryl

  • http://www.greatdiv.com Charlie Quimby

    Riding “a” bike is an odd concept to me. I may have spent more than six grand for my rides, but nothing more than about $1.6k on my best one. They cover riding in two different states and all kinds of weather and purposes.

    Today, I rode a fat-tire one speed cobbled together from a bunch of different bikes and rode home with a case of beer in the basket. Never have to lock it because it’s too weird and rusty, yet it gets the most compliments for the same reason. Later, I took my dog for a trot with a Swobo 3-speed I ride all winter. This weekend, 40 miles or so on my road bike.

    You get the idea.

  • http://pedalponderings.blogspot.com Megbikes

    All of these points are very good. I have to admit, though, that having a really nice bike, which was custom built for me, definitely makes me want to ride more than a less expensive bike. It doesn’t necessarily make me ride any faster, but it is more fun to ride and it fits me better than other bikes, so I am more comfortable and enjoy myself more on it. I got a chance to do a kind of field test to prove this, actually- my nice bike was stolen and I wound up borrowing a $600 Bianchi road bike from a friend, which I rode but kind of loathed because it was a bit heavy and, more important, it didn’t fit me well and I was always reaching too far for the handlebars. I thought I was probably glorifying my old bike in my mind, imagining it to be better than it was- however, 8 months later, I miraculously recovered my bike, and the first time I rode it again after I got it back was absolutely glorious. It really did handle better, it fit me better, it was faster, and it was all around more fun to ride than the other bike. I think a $600 (or a $200 or $100 or free) bike can be great, as long as it fits you and you enjoy riding it. In my case, getting my nice bike back was really the instigating factor in me getting back to a more regular riding habit. And, although I invested about $2500 in it initially, that was almost 10 years ago, and I ride it nearly every day, so I feel like I’m getting a good value out of it.

  • http://lovingthebike.com Loving the Bike

    I really like how everyone commented with a lot of detail. It means a lot to see you guys digging in and expressing yourselves like this. Very cool.

    This topic is a very interesting one to debate and it’s great to see your comments.

    Darryl

    • http://bikerly.wordpress.com bikerly

      Great post, Darryl. I’m preparing an infograph response.

      • http://www.lovingthebike.com Darryl

        If anyone could sum up and clear up this topic, it is you (and one of your graphs).

        Darryl

  • http://anaphase.com/blog Annalisa

    I think it all boils down to how to quantify quality.

    There is a significant difference between a $100 Walmart bike and the $600 Giants and Treks of the world in terms of build quality, how they are assembled, and how long they will last without problems for sure.

    It gets tricky when you start talking about the differences between that $600 bike and a higher-end model. At some point, there is a law of diminishing returns in play and it’s time in the saddle that will make the difference as a rider.

    Like I told my friend who was considering two frames with a 1lb and $500 difference – “OR, you could just lose a pound or two.” :) If he was an age-group competitive triathlete that would be one thing, but as a “weekend warrior” it probably won’t make a bunch of difference, day to day.

    Then again, if having a fancy bike means you get out on the roads more (and thus start improving as a cyclist), then perhaps it’s worth it to you. In any case, it’s not my place to pass judgement on how much you spend on your bike, how much you ride it, or what your form looks like.

  • http://gomdgirlgo.blogspot.com Michelle (mksinmd)

    I don’t care what people ride. I think it is good that they are out there riding. If you maintain any bike it will last for years to come. I went from a tank of a hybrid/communter bike to Cannondale Fem C4 when I made the decision to do more road cycling and get into doing triathlons. Yes I spend a few $$ on my bike, but I had made the decision that I wanted carbon after trying many different bikes in prices above and below what I spent. I planned for this expense in my budget and I knew I would be riding it for many years and many miles. Never once have I regretted this decision. I have a bike I love and that fits me. Does it make me faster? Well compared to the tank I was riding – yes. Compared to a lower end model of a Cannondale – I don’t know. I have become a better cyclist since I bought this bike, but that is mainly because I have been foucsing on cycling, riding year round and learning from better cyclists. Those gains could have happened on any bike I am sure.

  • Clay

    I look at the rider to see how they ride.
    I pity this combination: expensive bike + poor form.
    I respect this combination: expensive bike + good form OR cheap bike + good form.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Loving the Bike

      Very accurate way to explain it.

  • http://www.welshcyclist.wordpress.com welshcyclist

    I’m with Sell42 on this one, if you’re a real cyclist, you just want to be out there pedalling. My bike cost £250, it does the job fine, and I’ve just paid £38 for a new chain and rear cassette fitted. That’s after 7000 miles plus in 9-10 months use, good enough for me. Sure I’d love the daddy of all bikes, but would it make a whole lot of difference to me, or my present lifestyle? I think not.

  • http://giantonmybike.com Torsten

    I recently upgraded, but I went used. Riding comfort is a big deal to me and I’m happy with my choice: 2008 Trek Madone 5.1 w/ a couple of upgrades. I was riding a 1997 Lemond Buenos Aires, which is still in good working order.

    As for seeing that really expensive bike on the road, it makes me want to chase it down…but that’s pretty much true of anyone I see out there when I’m riding alone. :)

  • http://oldguy2wheels.wordpress.com/ Tim

    For most cyclists there is a diminishing return curve. For the average weekend warrior is there really a performance benefit to buying that pricey carbon fiber handle bar? Does the few ounces you save on a set of SRAM Red component get you anything more than a bigger credit card bill? Probably not.

    For my own part, I bought a mid-level Specialized road bike. Why did I pick that particular model? Not sure other than it met my price point and had a good feel. The shop had models with slightly less cost and the same performance. However, I knew that I didn’t like the entry level bikes.

    And I’ll echo what Clive said. For certain styles of bike there are definitely minimum standards you want.

    But no, a more pricey bike does not guarantee a better cyclist. Just as in the motoring world, where the skill of the driver seems to have an inversion relationship to the cost of their car.

  • http://www.massivemtber.co.uk/ Clive Chapman

    I use a Giant Defy 2 for my roadbike, very much an entry level road bike and costs around £900, according to my iPhone currency converter that’s roughly $1400.

    That’s expensive to some (me for instance) and mere small change to others.

    I think most committed cyclist will pay the max their budget will allow. I know that committed cyclists will also spend the money to get a better experience in the saddle.

    As for MTBing then you do need to spend due to safety, I cringe when out on my trails and I see folk launching themselves off various drop offs and slopes on what we call in the UK £100 Halfords specials. They’re not bikes but bike shaped objects totally unfit for purpose and some are downright dangerous used as a proper MTB!

    So I can’t really answer your question Darryl, just spew forth random observations. Although sometimes with some of the bikes I see a phrase we used in the Army a lot keeps coming to mind. “All the gear and no idea!”

  • http://www.sell42.wordpress.com Sell42

    I use to think having a higher quality bike was a must. However, this summer has changed my mind on this. I ride a lower end Trek 2.1 and have had zero issues keeping up with anyone. In fact it’s often been quite the opposite. I think roadies are big on spendy bikes. Cyclists just don’t care–just pedal–anyway–anyhow.

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