There are a lot of factors that go into road cycling, and a lot of those factors are very expensive, but how expensive a hobby (or obsession for some of us) is cycling really?
Well it’s fair to say that road cycling is the more expensive of the three (Randonneuring and mountain biking being the other two), though a fair argument could be made for randonneuring because those trips require time off work.
The answer will obviously vary from person to person and it can be a relatively inexpensive hobby and go all the way up to $10,000-$20,000 easy, and we haven’t even started talking about custom paint jobs yet…or a helmet, shoes and pedals!
But let’s not get ridiculous, let’s look at averages and maybe dabble a little in the higher end equipment.
The average bicycle sold in a local bike shop in the US costs $680 but many of those bikes are mountain bikes – and the average cost of a mountain bike is less than a road bike, thereby bringing the overall average down. If I took an average cost from my local bike shop, you’re looking at around $950-$1,100. Entry level high-end new bikes run in the upper $600’s to $850 range while the nicer bikes range from $1,500-$2,300. We’re not done yet though, because if you’re bound by a budget, you can buy used. You should be able to find very nice used bikes at your local bike shop for the price of an entry-level new bike ($650-$750). I did.
So that’s the bike. Now you’ve got clothes, helmet, gloves, glasses, shoes, pedals (nice bikes rarely come with pedals and never with kickstands*), pumps, tools, bike rack for the car…
There are inexpensive ways around a few things – shoes and pedals for one. My old mountain biking shoes and pedals cost all of $150 and worked pretty well for over a year. On the other hand, my road shoes and pedals run about $350 ($180 for the shoes, $140 for the pedals and $30 to align the cleats). Now that I have the proper road shoes and pedals though, they’re worth the money. Helmets are no different. You can get a less expensive aerodynamically challenged helmet for $30 at the local chain store but if you really get into riding you’ll upgrade to something a bit nicer soon enough. So figure $30 for the one you’ll give to the kids and $65-$90 for the one you should have gotten in the first place: $95-$120.
The clothes are where you can save some money. Shop at online stores like Nashbar and you can save a bundle. I’ve got two pair of cycling shorts $35 each and two pair of tights $20 ea. Three jerseys – two at $25 and one at $40 (half off at the local bike shop). You’ll need toe covers ($10) if you plan to ride when it’s cold out and full foot covers ($45) for anything below 45 degrees. You’ll want a nice cold weather jacket ($100-$150) and some gloves ($35-$45) as well.
Then you’ll need tools. Chain cleaner, multi-tool, tire levers, a spare tube, tire pump and so forth. Figure $150 or so.
As you can see, if you go all out, even if you buy a used bike, it can get expensive in a hurry. Don’t be discouraged though. If money is an issue, to an extent you don’t have to buy everything all at once (I didn’t), so the recommendation is to visit your local bike shop, talk to the owner or one of the knowledgeable staff members. They’ll be happy to help you get started, and help you figure out how to fit in what you can afford now and what you can pick up later… Over the last year I’ve acquired just about everything I want as far as road biking goes for a little under $2,000, but I bought a used bike. You can certainly ride for less – my problem is that I look at cycling the same way I did golf: It doesn’t matter how you play as long as you look good doing it. With that attitude, you really have to watch where you try to save money – eventually you’ll get bit by the “you get what you pay for” bug.
There is one important key to this though: It’s worth every penny.
*Kickstands – road cycling is a bit of a vanity sport, at least I perceive it to be. While there is certainly room for disagreement on the point, one rule remains indisputable: Thou shalt not use a kickstand on a nice road bike, so don’t even ask… And look at the bright side, you just saved $10.
UPDATE: Since writing this post, a few things have changed. I went all-in and bought a nice high-end road bike. Now, I put close to 10,000 miles on the used bike that I wrote of in this post and it served me very well. I bought my new bike for a few reasons. First, as much as I ride, the number of days left on the used bike’s components were numbered – sooner or later they were going to be used up and replacing them would cost more than a new bike. I also had a very good summer at work so I had the cash to afford a new one so I went big. The new bike is vastly superior to my old bike (which I still have and ride) and much more enjoyable to ride. In addition to the new bike I upgraded the wheels – the wheels on my new bike worked just fine but they were heavy and cheap (a practice seen often in the lower high-end bike range to keep the cost of the bike down). As far as clothing goes, because I’m riding serious miles now (150-200 miles a week peak season), I’ve upgraded my cycling shorts and added one mid-grade pair ($80) and one high-end pair ($150). The mid-grade pair are excellent for anything ranging from a 20 mile ride around the block to a metric century. Beyond a 60 mile ride I only wear the high-end shorts. Riding a century on those $35 shorts is like riding on razor blades compared to the high-end shorts. I’d had enough. Never again. Now, this isn’t to say going cheap isn’t possible, I did just fine – it’s just a lot less comfortable when you get into higher mileage rides.
So, here’s how this breaks down. Originally, with the used bike, I estimated my cost to get fully outfitted at about $2,000 – including the bike. The cost, including much of the same equipment that I still have, plus the high-end clothing changes and my high-end bike (2013 Specialized Venge Comp), I’m coming up with about $5,000. Now, at $5,000 I have everything that I want, set up just the way I want it, and I’ll be good – at least as far as the bike goes, for a very long time. I have plenty of cold weather gear (enough to ride fairly comfortably in temps all the way down to freezing, great summer gear, literally everything I need. From here out, it’s just miles, new chains and cassettes for a while.
I can remember reading a story last year about a fellow who had decided he would like to lose weight so he bought a bike and put almost 4,000 miles on that bike in a spring/summer/fall season. At first, I thought that was dubious, if not impossible for anyone but a retired fellow… Then I did that same thing this season. From March thru September I’ve got 4,024 all-purpose miles – running and riding (I didn’t count swimming, but I didn’t spend very much time in the water this year). The funny thing is, it wasn’t all that hard to do. An hour most weekdays, and two to three hours on Saturday and Sunday.
The gentleman I read about lost 80 pounds. In one riding season.
Here’s the math:
From March till October 1st, I burned 222,204 calories, an average of 31,743 per month. Now, just looking at calories burned, if I managed only to eat enough calories a day to satisfy my basal metabolic rate (BMR) – or the amount of calories it takes to support bodily function, in other words, no dieting, that 31,743 calories per month would work out to about 9 pounds, each and every month. We’ve only scratched the surface though… For someone who started out overweight, the exercise is compounded. More lean muscle is built by cycling – especially in the big leg muscles. Lean muscle requires more energy to sustain, thereby adding to the loss.
There is a small trick to this – if your desire is to lose weight, you want to burn fat. If the intensity of your workout is too high (we’re talking quite high here – in other words, if you’re 50 pounds overweight, you probably can’t physically push that hard for more than a half mile on a bike – above 75% of your maximum heart rate) your body will look for easier fuel first – carbohydrates and glycogen, or what you’ve eaten. If you keep your cardio at or just below that 75% range, that’s where you’ll see the best results. So saith the scientists. To put this into context that is easy to understand without a heart rate monitor, if you can hold a conversation while you’re riding or running, you’re going too slow. You want to be at a point where you can get out about two or three words at a time before you have to take a few recovery breaths. The reasoning behind this is simple: The faster you move the more calories you burn. The trick is to find that happy medium where you’re burning calories efficiently and can do it almost every day without burning out or getting injured. Using myself as an example here, sticking with cycling because running is a different animal altogether, my “butter zone” when I started out quite was a bit faster than I initially capable of. I had to work up to a decent pace for a decent mileage over the space of a few weeks. If you’re just getting off the couch, this will take a bit more time, but don’t dawdle. If I were to do it all over again, I would ask my doctor (I just spoke with mine seven months ago about my plans to go from 1,800 miles in 2011 to over 4,000 this year, just to make sure I was good) about his thoughts on my goals, then stick with that plan until the workouts got too easy. I’d call him again, tell him where I was at, and bump it up from there as he saw fit… After that, I figured I’m in good enough shape to push it as hard as I can.
In short, I have no doubt, after putting in the miles this year, that losing 80 pounds in a season of riding is possible, though unlikely – going from the couch to 4,000 miles in a season takes a huge commitment. I’d have done it myself this year, but I’ve been physically active for more than a decade – I just took it to a much higher level over the last year and a half… Instead of the weight loss though, I was asked on Friday if I’d like to start a modeling career. I won’t be holding my breath – I’ve been down this road before, and it’s usually paved with good intentions and hopes and dreams – and that rarely turns out as I’d hope and dream. Kind of reminds me of something else.
So, there you have it. If you’re sitting on the fence about weight loss, there’s nothing between the way you are now and what you want to be but air, opportunity and a bike – or running shoes, or better yet, both.