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Start cycling to lose weight – without dropping a small fortune…

April 2014
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Being a cycling enthusiast can get pricy in a hurry.  Thousands, upon thousands of dollars spent in a flurry of gratification.  The notion that this kind of cash outlay is necessary is misinformation (or misunderstanding – take your pick) though.  You don’t need a super-bike designed in conjunction with an exotic sports car manufacturer to have a great time and lose a lot of weight.  In fact, you can get a fantastic mountain bike for less than $750 (they’re rated up to 300 pounds usually but that can be pushed).  If that’s a little steep, you can get a decent entry-level bike for less than $500.  Throw in a decent helmet for $50, a pair of sunglasses for $25 and you’re ready to go.  Now, that’s if you buy everything new (which I recommend simply so you can get the proper size frame – it makes a big difference).  If you pick up a used bike, you can get a high-end manufacturer’s entry-level bike for as little as a hundred bucks.  You can be on the road for anything from $175 to $800.  As far as weight loss goes, my personal favorite is the mountain bike to start because they’re less expensive, vastly more durable and much more versatile.

From there, it’s simple:  Ride like you mean it and enjoy burning as many as 1,000 calories an hour depending on the amount of effort you put into it.  When viewed against the considerable cost of being overweight, $800 is a drop in the bucket, a fantastically wise investment.

Where things start to get confusing is with the super-bikes.

Super-bikes, while supremely fun, are only meant for a certain segment of the cycling population and while I happen to be a part of that segment now, a 16 pound bike was not a necessity when starting out.  I was on the road for less than $200 and it was more than a year before I looked into my first road bike and I took that step because I was hopelessly hooked on cycling by that point.  Not only was I hooked, as I got stronger the gearing on the mountain bike became insufficient for anything but single-track riding.  It was too easy to pedal in the hardest gear.  I needed more gear, so to speak.

Here’s the best way I can think of to describe the super-bike craze amongst we avid enthusiasts:  Do you drive a car to work?  I happen to drive a Ford Escape 4×4 – a truck is required for what I do for a living and the one I drive is still quite good on gas (27-28 mpg).  I do not need a Corvette, Porsche or Ferrari to enjoy my ride into work.  Race bikes, for non-professional cyclists, are the equivalent of collecting sports cars only a heck of a lot cheaper.  It’s what to do with your mid-life crisis when you don’t want to mortgage your future and want to stay active so you can enjoy as much of your time on this rock as humanly possible.  In other words, some people buy motorcycles, some buy sports cars.  I buy bikes.

I suppose, if there was anything I’d like to impress on this subject (at least from where I sit behind this keyboard), it’s that the bike matters least when you’re trying to drop weight – the butt you want to lose won’t care whether you’re on a $500 or a $5,000 bike so unless you’re certain that you’re a nut like me (or have the spare cash), super-bikes are wholly unnecessary.

They are a lot of fun though.  A lot like the difference between driving a Ford Fiesta and a Shelby GT500.


23 Comments

  1. haha! Great example! When I made the transition to a super bike, it was like jumping light years ahead. But like you said, it is totally unnecessary for most riders.

    • bgddyjim says:

      It really is like driving a high-end sports car, isn’t it? Thanks man.

      • Absolutely! The other day it was raining, so I rode my Trek Madone 3.1. The very next day I switched back to my Cervelo S5, and I could immediately feel the sluggishness of the Trek compared to the twitchy S5. It begs to driven hard. 🙂

  2. meganjanicke says:

    Well said! I hate that people think that cost is a barrier to cycling. You can always upgrade once you know you’re really “invested.” I started out on a $200 trek road bike from Craigslist three years ago. Sure, now I ride the fancy carbon bike – but I didn’t need what I have now to get into the sport.

  3. meganjanicke says:

    Well when it comes to sex appeal and street cred – most definitely 🙂 I did shed a lot of weight, bike-wise, in switching from aluminum to carbon. I can feel that giving me an edge. But, I’m also working much harder because now that I have this new, fancy bike I want to really prove myself out there and take my cycling to a new level. I’m trying to keep up with a totally new set of riders when I’m out with a group. So I don’t know if it is the bike itself which is making me go faster as much as the new found motivation that came with it 🙂

    • bgddyjim says:

      YES INDEED! I’m chuckling out loud… Now that I’ve got the bike there are no excuses! Ran into the same bit of a downer myself. I got over it pretty quick though – I hope you do as well. It’s just pride messin’ with ya. 😉

      • meganjanicke says:

        Ha – the first time I took her out for a group ride with a pretty fast club I got left in the dust. That was certainly a blow to the ole ego 🙂 Now I just peddle my butt off so it doesn’t happen again. But it just goes to show that throwing down a chunk of change on a bike won’t make you faster. You gotta do the work.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Truer words have never been written.

  4. Well said! I have been whinging and moaning about wanting a carbon racer because it’s just nicer to cycle than my aluminium horse but to be quite honest, the level that I am at (and with the reluctance to cycle that I frequently report on), it’s really not the bike that matters, it’s the machine that “drives” the bike. My goals in any triathlon from sprint to long would always be “finish” not “finish in the top 10”

    Therefore, I will stick with the aluminium racer for another while and if you are unfit, you’ll be unfit on a simple bike or a super bike. Doesn’t make a difference. You can always lose more weight and build more muscle but you cannot always fork out the extra cash.

    Besides that, I have had loads of conversations with friends who are cycle enthusiasts (or former pros/amateur cyclists) and they all say that unless you are ready to drop something between 5000 to 6000 Euros (or the equivalent in dollars), the differences between a 800 Euro bike and a 2000 Euro bike are not significant enough to really spend the money if you do not have very ambitious goals.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Oh, I’d have to disagree somewhat with the enthusiasts who say you have to jump to 5-6000 Euros to notice the difference. My Venge cost 2,200, plus a 230 Euro wheel upgrade and it’s absolutely amazing compared to my aluminum bike. I’m sure doubling that would be a great advancement as well, but I won’t afford that any time soon – that’s too much for me right now.

      The rest of your comment, I’m with you all the way.

      • Well, I suppose if you go from aluminium to carbon you do feel the difference. I did anyway when I rented a carbon for a week. Having said that, I know a former pro who does not like riding carbon. What my “pros” usually say that you should always think of upgrading the parts (wheel sets, etc) before upgrading the bike because what is on the bike in general is just cheap and cheerful factory gear. I guess that is the angle that they are coming from.

      • bgddyjim says:

        It could very much depend on the bike and the geometry too… I own three road bikes, all with the exact same setup (or as close to it as is possible on different sized bikes). My aluminum Cannondale is fun to ride and with a wheel upgrade is manageable but my carbon 5200 feels like a limo in comparison. My Venge, on the other hand, blows the Trek out of the water… On good roads I feel like I’m riding on glass and it is awesome. As far as the parts go, given the age difference between the three, they’re all quite close (Ultegra on the Trek and 105 on the Venge)… All I can share on that is my experience and that my Venge and I are the human/bike equivalent of soul-mates (not to be confused with the much more important wife as a soul mate – different world altogether). LOL!

      • Maybe that’s what I need to find… my bike soul mate. Maybe that is the reason why I just hate cycling so so much! There’s food for thought! 😉

      • bgddyjim says:

        Makes all the difference in the world my friend – though I consider myself EXTRA lucky… I feel in love with cycling on a bike that feels like I’m riding on a dirt road on relatively smooth roads. When I bought the Trek, I was giddy. Now that I have the Venge, I’m over the moon.

  5. PedalWORKS says:

    Good post. I started biking to lose weight on a borrowed 5-speed. Over the years, as i lost weight and became more proficient I wanted better bikes and, wanted to ride more and drive less. Today, I have 4 bikes I ride regularly – one that is 35 years old and one that is close to $10,000. I enjoy riding them all. Ride on!

  6. saltyvelo says:

    One other consideration for a “super bike” and being over weight is they tend to take the wheels made for a 150 lb rider. No thanks.

    Although I have a bike which most likely surpasses a “super bike” in cost. A lot of them, any way. My commuter and a bike I put 3000 miles on a year, I paid $300 shipped to my door!

    • bgddyjim says:

      I’d agree with 175 pound limit on the wheels – but you’re absolutely right – the super-bikes aren’t made for the big folks.

      I was being a little facetious with the whole “super-bike” thing. That was tongue-in-cheek. 😉

  7. Enjoyed reading this and i agree the overall sentiments. When I was buying my latest road bike, the guys in the store were chatting to me about the various pedals and the weight differences. In the end I said, thanks but I think the biggest difference I can make is reducing the weight of the body that’s sat on the bike ! They laughed but knew how crazy people were to gain an advantage without actually working for it

    • bgddyjim says:

      Indeed, and when you’re talking about gaining a few grams in the pedals you’re really splitting hairs at that point! My shop pro suggested Look’s Keo Classics and while I’ve thought about trading up to the lighter Keo’s, the reduced weight to cost ratio is just not worth it (at least to me). I doubt it would be that big a deal if I were racing.

      You’re right too… Until you get to a good race weight and are fast enough to actually race (I’m neither), it’s all about “How much am I willing to spend on a hobby”?

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  8. first road bike i ever rode was i 92′ specialized allez (carbon tubes bonded to aluminum lugs) epic i bought from a hippie of crigslist for 300$. i didn’t event know what size frame i needed i guessed i needed a 58cm in reality i need a 56cm. the guy assured me it was in great shape, after 150$ for a tune up, chain and tires i was in to it for almost 500$, that seemed like a fortune to me at the time when i started. over all the bike road really well it was light and climbed well, when i sold it a year later i almost got what i had in to it ($475) then i moved on to my previous felt f 75, and now my scott addict 10, never thought id invest that much in a bike

    • bgddyjim says:

      Ours is the progression followed by so many enthusiasts. My first road bike purchase was much the same, only the one I bought was too small. I can tell you, though I wish I could have known enough to skip buying that Cannondale (I’d have saved about $500), it took what it took to get me where I am – and I’m vastly happier today than I was before cycling so it was worth it.

      I hear you though… I never imagined I’d be so happy spending what I have on cycling.

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