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.