I happened on a YouTube video that looks at the difference between high-priced bikes vs. entry-level bikes as they pertain to a recreational cyclist… Now, I’m going to embed it here but you’d better put on a pot of coffee, drink up and have something else to do while this guy is talking in the background because he is quite possibly the most boring lecturer I’ve ever heard since college when I had an unintelligible Asian professor (if memory serves, she was from Communist China) lecturing us on Western Religion – oh, it was a hoot.
Now, while boring, this fella makes some very good points in his 37 minute video – when you’re talking about a recreational cyclist and only if you have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. He’s angry that cycling is going the way that it is – with people like me spending thousands of dollars on a bike when he thinks $650 on a Motobecane el-cheapo off of bikes direct dot-com should be more than enough for anyone (in his opinion of course). He compares his idea of a great bike to Trek’s top of the line Madone 7.9 that is made only for the upper echelon racer – you can get almost the exact same bike for $4,600 if you drop to a 6.2 (you give up the Dura-Ace Di2 Electronic Shifting for Ultegra components). In other words, it seems like he’s rigging the discussion to fuel his anger – what recreational cyclist would drop $11 g’s to get electronic shifting? None that I’ve ever met or even heard of – including me and I’m WAY passed what anyone could call recreational cyclist (avid enthusiast at the very least).
I actually own a bike similar to his Motobecane, my Cannondale SR400 – it’s actually a little nicer than his choice though it is 23 years older. Same idea though – it’s all aluminum but it has a chro-mo fork because carbon fiber was just being kicked around back then and was insanely expensive (today they use carbon fiber forks for most decent entry-level road bikes because aluminum sucks at absorbing minor road inconsistencies). Sure enough, when it comes to speed, he’s actually got a point – he says that a recreational cyclist could go as fast on the Motobecane as he could on the Trek… Well he’s kind of got a point. I can make my Cannondale go just about as fast as my Venge over short distances (ten miles or so). The problem is that I’ve gotta be on glass-smooth roads to do it. We don’t have those where I live. We ride on chip-seal road surfaces (small chunks of crushed gravel “glued” to asphalt roads – it’s cheap, durable and helps with traction during the winter). Riding my aluminum bike over that crap sucks, while I can keep much better speed with the composite Venge. Is having an amazingly awesome composite bike absolutely necessary? No – it’s just vastly more enjoyable to ride. Carbon fiber bikes are about weight, yes, but they’re also about comfort without having to suffer the extra weight of steel. In other words, I can ride my bike faster, for a longer distance, and more enjoyably than I can an aluminum bike.
Then, at about 21 minutes in, he goes into a long diatribe concerning a bike that’s out of alignment. He goes off the deep end when he suggests through omission that there’s a possibility that his Motobecane could roll better than that $11,500 Trek. Folks, if you spent that kind of cash and wound up with a bike that was even a millimeter off, Trek would ship a brand new bike, no questions asked and might even give you a kiss on the cheek (either one of the four) for your trouble. He then says, incorrectly, that an aluminum frame can’t be fixed if it’s out of alignment. It can be fixed – I watched Matt Assenmacher fix my Cannondale in less than an hour. The odd thing is, if his argument were true, he would be making the case that one should buy a carbon bike! At 23:30 he goes into head tube angle (seriously) to suggest that the geometry of a race bike is for skilled riders so if a noob rode a high-priced race bike they’d be slower that they would on a hybrid because a newer cyclist would be weaving back and forth on the road because of the geometry – a noob couldn’t balance on the bike in other words. Now I can pretty fairly say that the guy who made that claim is absolutely full of shit. The head tube angle on his $300 hybrid is 72 degrees. The head tube angle on that $11,500 Trek? 73 degrees. I laughed my butt off when I checked. If that wasn’t enough, you cannot buy a twelve thousand dollar race bike in the US unless you get it from a shop – if you’re buying one from a shop, they’re going to measure you up first, then try to talk you out of buying that race bike and into buying one that fits properly and costs a lot less than half of the one you think you want if you’re anything but a racer. In other words, what he’s talking about actually can’t happen in the real world anyway.
It gets better though! He then goes on to say that one should plan on replacing a bunch of components on one’s bike after purchasing it because things like crank arm length, stem length and handlebar width will have to be changed once the bike arrives – a cost that he says could be as much as an additional $6,000 for the Trek. This is pure, utter, poppycock. My Venge was a little more than a quarter of the Trek he listed as an example and everything on that bike was perfect but I bought my bike at a shop from an owner who knows me… It sounds like the guy in the video is confusing internet shopping results with a legitimate bike shop. This simply is not how things work. When you drop that kind of cash, the bike you pick up has been fitted to you. He says that with his Motobecane, replacement parts to get the bike to fit right might cost $300. Mine cost $0 after I walked it out the door (I did upgrade my wheels because I didn’t like the wheels that came with the bike, but this upgrade wasn’t a “necessity”.
He comes back down to earth for the last few minutes or so, except for calling today’s shorts with the padded chamois silly (which is stupid because they’re awesome), to talk about the additional costs of cycling (shoes, pedals, helmet etc.). The point is, cycling is a tough sport because it can cost an arm and a leg (believe me, I know). There’s a lot of misinformation out there that can sound really convincing if you don’t know how to cross check what you’re hearing or reading. Look at the whole ridiculous claim about the head tube angle causing one to wobble about the road uncontrollably – a one degree difference? If I had to guess, I’d bet the guy has never actually ridden a high-end bike, he was just throwing darts.
The trick to buying the right bike for the recreational cyclist, 1,200 words boiled down into one paragraph, is this: Buy the best bike you can. If you want to be fast, buy a road bike – the nicest one you can get your hands on, new or used. If you want to commute, slower but comfortably, buy a hybrid. If you want to play in the dirt, buy a mountain bike and an extra set of wheels so you can put slicks on it and turn it into a hybrid in less than three minutes. Just do yourself a favor – don’t buy based on watching a video made by a guy who’s been riding for 40 years and still doesn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground.
If you’re an avid enthusiast, like me, the sky is the limit. I love my high-end plastic bike. It’s the only thing I’ve ever bought that seven months later, I’m still completely happy that I spent every single penny. Stick to what you can comfortably afford and ride the wheels off of it.