Investing in a Bicycle-Thoughts and Suggestions Pt. 1

Investing in a bicycle is a very big decision for many people, especially if they are entering into the world of a particular style of cycling. Something that comes up often is an individual who wants to buy a bike for say, road or mountain biking, but often look at the price tag and aim for inexpensive. Why is this? What are the reasons behind shorting yourself the experience of a quality machine that can function how you need it to?

I suspect at times a variety of reasons can come into play. I am a person who opted to go the inexpensive route and purchase a used hybrid bicycle. Shortly after I started riding it for recreation (along with commuting) I realized I was held back by my leg-powered machine.

Another thought is that for many people, this is not their first bicycle but their second or third. It seems to be difficult for individuals to commit to spending a larger amount of money on another bicycle. One has buyer's remorse before even purchasing the item!

My second bike was not super expensive, but closer to the $800 dollar range, a far cry from my $150 used Fuji. I wasn't looking for a bike specific to road riding, just something that would be lighter and faster than my behemoth of a bike. If I were looking for a road bike, that price range would be pretty darn low and I would likely end up with a bike that I would a. want to upgrade parts on to make more functional or b. simply either try to re-sell or trade in for an upgraded model entirely.

Sometimes a person simply doesn't have the money to put into purchasing a bike that is within a higher price range. There are some things that one has to accept when one settles for a lower-priced bicycle.
1. Your bike will likely be heavy and you won't be able to do a whole lot to lessen the weight.
2. Your parts, regardless if from a reputable brand, may break, damage, or wear out easily. If you are a novice MTB you may find that it's better for you to replace less-expensive parts more frequently. That's your choice. Expensive parts can be damaged or broken as well, but generally-you get what you pay for.
3. Your ride may not be as smooth and comfortable as it could be.
4. You may decide to purchase upgrades-remember-there is only so much you can upgrade and that may end up costing you as much as a bike a level or two above what you purchased.
5. Do not buy a $700 dollar bike and expect it to function or feel like a bike within the $2,000 range.

You should talk to a bike shop that you have a strong trust and good rapport with. Discuss with them on the kind of riding you want to do, what you expect the bicycle to do, and what you hope to gain. Do you want a tool that you will outgrow in a short period of time or would you rather purchase something that you can grow into and experience a lot of miles on? The bicycle can hold you back as well as aid in your success. I've experienced this first hand with a couple different mountain bikes-a rental and my own.

I asked the question to some of the women I interviewed as well as posted on my Facebook page as well as Wheelwomen Switchboard. I wanted to see what inspired people to take the plunge and invest in their equipment. What was the deciding factor? Also, there are some great tips and suggestions given by a few women that are useful to think about when investing in a new bicycle. (Think size-frame and wheel!)

Jill Hamilton (Petal Power):
For me, I remember the "aha" moment came in 1998 or 1999 when I was first starting to race downhill.  I had been racing cross-county and wanted to give downhill a try since it was more my style, but I didn't want to spend a ton of dough on another bike while I learned the ropes. So I bought this little Specialized FSR full suspension bike billed as a "freeride" bike at the time. It had OK components...not horrible and but not great. It also didn't have enough travel as compared to "real" downhill bikes. So as a result, I struggled on this bike. The geometry, travel, and quality of components weren't right for the job I wanted the bike to do. 

A few months after I bought the bike, a friend let me ride his Intense M1 (Intense's flagship downhill bike at the time) down one of our local trails. I don't think I rode the bike 20 feet down the rocky descent before I realized I needed a different bike. The M1 made me feel confident. I felt like I wasn't fighting the bike to get it down the trail.  It just felt as smooth as silk. So needless to say, I sold my Specialized and bought an Intense M1 shortly after that point.  My results got better and I became a stronger, more skilled rider because I knew my bike would handle just about anything I rode it down.

Here are my recommendations for people looking to buy a bike:
Do your research and buy a bike that will be best suited for the type of riding you'll do. There are lots of great resources online to help you initially determine what sort of bike you need. Once you have some knowledge under your belt, seek out a good shop with knowledgeable sales staff.  Most bike shop employees are riders themselves and are really familiar with the local trails/paths and will be able to help you determine what you need.

Buy the very best bike you can comfortably afford.  Bikes with better components and/or frame material will generally be lighter, ride smoother, and last longer than entry-level bikes.  You will have a much better riding experience and will be much more likely to stick with it if you buy a higher quality bike.
If for some reason cycling isn't your thing and you want to sell the bike, the resale value will much higher on a better bike.
(Note from Josie-the better quality of care you give your bike will help with trade-ins or re-selling. Don't trash your bike and expect to be able to trade it in or sell it at book price.)

Don't fall into the trap of "I'll buy a cheap bike with a decent frame just upgrade the parts over time"!
You will spend much more money this way since the parts are more expensive and you'll have to pay someone to install them if you aren't good with a wrench. 
Here's a little secret: bicycle manufacturers negotiate big discounts with parts manufacturers because they buy in volume. These savings are then passed on to the consumer in the form of a complete bicycle. Take advantage of the discounts the manufacturers get by buying a complete bike!  If you buy a frame and all the parts at retail and pay your shop to build it up for you, you will likely spend at least 30% more than if you would have just bought the bike complete from your dealer's floor.

Julie B (WheelwomenSwitchboard)
I bought a more expensive road bike (my ride preference) after I aged a bit and started getting very sore on a bike I’d had for ten years, that really didn’t fit me. When younger, I didn’t notice the twinges, but after aging a bit, those twinges started becoming all out pains that kept getting worse...“It just doesn’t fit you.”
Almost another ten years later, that “new” road bike (which has some carbon, I admit) continues to fit me like a glove.

Steph Hageman (LOTW Facebook):
Having spent some time on bikes with better brakes/tires than I currently had made me want that really bad...and made a world of difference in my confidence while out on the trails. I knew I wanted to ride more frequently and wanted something I wouldn't need to trade in after a year or so. AND after talking with the guy at the bike shop and hearing how bikes are tools...ok, enough- I'm sold!

Frank Stpaul (LOTW Facebook)
When I rode with friends and realized the performance and quality of their bikes screamed value over the so called bargain bikes. I've always road good bikes but the decision to step up to the road bike I recently purchased was definitely made with help from fellow cyclers.

Rachel Scott:
I totally splurged on my first road bike. And I’m so happy I did (despite paying those credit cards off for a while). I would still own that bike if I didn’t need to sell it - Titanium Litespeed with Ultegra. So I guess you could say that I immediately knew that I wanted to use that bike because I knew I would enjoy cycling. It’s ALWAYS worth getting a better bike because having a bike that doesn’t shift well, is too heavy, or constantly breaking down makes you regret gearing up for a ride. 

I didn’t head my own advice when I purchased my mountain bike. It was heavy, noisy and all around just not very fun to ride. I began regretting going on mountain bike rides. Definitely not the best bike to learn how to mountain bike on. I know they say it’s not about the bike, but with this particular bike….it most definitely was. It took a year of riding that before I realized I needed a much better bike and it was definitely worth the investment. 

The mountain bike wasn't the right fit for the Colorado trails I wanted to ride. There's a lot of climbing and when you're bike weighs about 30 lbs and is fit for all-mountain riding, but you want to climb with your fast friends on 20 lbs bikes, you're going to have to work twice as hard. You'll also tire out a lot faster, too, which can lead to crashes. Never fun when learning how to mountain bike. 

Things that I looked for when purchasing a new mountain bike:
--weight (I needed a carbon frame if I wanted to be competitive). Women especially are lighter than men so think about having to expend all that energy to haul a heavier frame around a technical section or a steep climb

--wheels - while you don't need carbon wheels, I would advise (getting or going) tubeless. You have much more traction on the trail which can make cornering or tech sections seem much less frightening. And you can carry more speed without fearing of a pinch flat!

--fit - If you're short (below 5'3") does a 29er wheel make sense? Would you have toe overlap? Could you feel more comfortable on a 650b wheel set? You absolutely want a mountain bike that fits. Mountain biking is already hard enough and when you're body doesn't feel comfortable on the bike to let it do its job, you're likely not going to ride it or have a really hard time. 

Tonya Bray (*mtbchick*):
As a skills coach I have worked with many women on lower end bikes. I often have to repeat instructions over and over. I finally realize, it must be the bike. So I jump on my client's bike and realize why she is having issues with a certain skill. It's the bike. By now, I know which brands have funky geometry and what to look for in a bike when I begin working with a new client.

A heavy bike with incorrect geometry (this includes 90% of women's specific bikes) is a hindrance to learning and enjoyment on the trail and on the road. Most women are riding a bike 20-25% of their weight; the same bike might be 10% of a man's body weight. Consider this while riding up an 8% hill.

A bike is an investment in health and happiness. I recommend making the big purchase and keeping up with technology. You can ride a bike for one year, resell it and get a new bike each year. Find a bike brand that holds its value-- something people will want. 

Claire Buchar (Kovarik Racing):
One thing I have found that can't be compromised is the size of the frame itself. If it is too small, which is almost always the case if there is a frame size problem, the client can't find a solid body position on the bike. Body position is the foundation for everything. It is important for safety and acquiring any skill on top of that.

I am a roadie (who does triathlons, but never went the tri bike route because I want a more versatile bike). Anyway, I had a perfectly functional 'entry' aluminum road bike for several years, but what make me want a better bike (carbon) were two things. I was tired of seeing my friends be able to accelerate easier (their bikes were just so much more responsive than mine) and I wanted to ride longer distances and was just becoming more uncomfortable on my current bike. Since I was really going for fit and comfort, once I test rode the bike (that fit perfectly), I was willing to spend what it cost. 

---I had to get to the point where I knew why I wanted a better bike and then found the one for me. I wasn't shopping on price anymore (I did have an upper limit, but still).

I think it's like most things we make purchases on. Do you buy the awesome butter soft pair of leather boots that will last you forever for the big price tag, or do you buy the pair that mostly fit and are good enough that will fall apart after their 2nd winter?

Sheryl (Mud Chix)
After taking this clinic I knew I had to do my homework and start researching and trying new things on my own to see what worked for me. I discovered that my riding mistakes were not only wrong technique, but also wrong bike fit for what I wanted to accomplish.”

When I found out that my bike didn't fit I most definitely went out and bought a new bike. Having a bike that is too small or too big can hugely impact how you ride because it affects your center of balance. Also the length of your handlebars and stem can change your ride greatly. A wider bar will make you feel more stable while riding.

I knew I was into biking for the long-haul so that is why I invested money into something that was a bit more expensive. I knew that by choosing quality stuff it would last longer and I wouldn't have to go out and buy a whole new bike again in another year or two. I went with a custom bike because I am short and many bike companies didn't have stock bikes that would work for me.

I would say that for beginners that are just getting into mountain biking that a lower end bike is great for the very beginning. They are going to fall and replacing parts is cheaper with a lower end bike not to mention you are less likely to break the frame. After about riding for six months to a year I would say investing in a higher quality bike is very important. It will last you quite a while and the difference in components like a fork or your shifting system will improve exponentially based on how much money you spend. Usually you can find a lot of pretty good stuff for middle-of-the-road prices. I don't buy the highest priced piece of equipment because if I need to replace it then I will be spending that money again later on when it breaks.