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Can a $500 Bike Keep Up with a $10,000 Bike Part Two:  The Rest of the Story…

In a post the other day, I linked to a couple of videos that provide irrefutable proof that, indeed, a $500 bike can keep up with a $10,000 bike.  In fact, unless you’re a noob (as we all once were), you already knew that this was the case.

Now, if you were to ask, could a pro lay down the same performance on the two bikes, well we all know the answer to that as well.  No chance.  The reality is, if the bike fits, and has comparable gearing and shifters (10 or 11 sp 11-28 teeth cassette, integrated brake/shifters – even if they’re a lower level, etc.), the same person will go faster on the $10,000 bike than they do the $500 bike.  That’s just the way things are.  The difference won’t be enough to shake a stick at though, somewhere between two and five seconds a mile, at best.  Unfortunately, as a noob, I had high hopes that when I was finally able to afford a race bike that I’d finally be able to keep pace with the Cat 3 and 4 racers in our group ride.  I was sorely mistaken.  I’ve got the bike and while there’s no doubt fast is easier and more comfortable on it, I’m still off the mark.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made in bike purchases had to do with the hope that I wouldn’t be at much of a disadvantage with the older down tube shifter drivetrain.  While I still enjoy riding the bike from time to time, in a group ride with those $10,000 bikes, the Cannondale is just short of useless.  It’s not that I couldn’t keep up with that bike, if I worked hard enough, because I could…  The trick is, I’d have to be in vastly better shape than the Cat 3 and Cat 4 racers I ride with to do it.  Read that sentence very carefully if you must.  I’d have to be in vastly better shape than Cat 3 and 4 racers…  That’s really what this boils down to in the end – and it’s confirmed in those videos I linked to if you know what you’re looking for.  The reality is, with a $500 bike, you just have to work a little harder than everyone else to keep up.  That said, writing this in the US, you really can’t get a decent club ride-ready bike for $500.  They start around $750 and you get an aluminum frame, a carbon fork and some fairly cheap wheels.

More important than what the frame is made of, is the component set on the bike.  For an entry-level bike, you get Shimano Sora or maybe Claris shifters with an 8 or 9 speed drivetrain and more than likely a compact crank set (50/34 tooth combination).  The compact crankset will be just fine for all but the fastest groups that you’d want to keep up with.  Where this gets tricky is that 8 speed drivetrain.  Most newer, high-end bikes run with either 10 or 11 speeds and I’m here to tell you, those two or three gears matter.  Now that I’ve been into the more hectic speeds for a while, cruising down flat roads between 25 and 29 mph, I can tell you that the key to not burning out is finding the right gear.  Spin too fast and you won’t be able to stomp on the gas during a surge.  Spin too slow and you overwork your muscles, become tired and you won’t keep up…  The fewer gears you have, the larger the gap in between them, the harder it is to find a good gear to match your speed.  It’s as simple as that.

To use a perfect example, let’s look at a head-to-head comparison of my Venge and an entry-level Specialized Allez.
allezVs.  IMG_7055

You should be able to see the setup advantage with the Venge easy enough:  Low bars, high saddle, less wind resistance.  That notwithstanding, my Venge has a ten speed cassette, 11 to 28 tooth.  The Allez comes with an eight speed cassette, 11 to 32 tooth.  Now, let’s stack the gears up:

Allez:  11-13-15-18-21-24-28-32
Venge:  11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-24-28

With the ten speed cassette, you’ve got a one-tooth difference jump up to 15, then two thereafter until the last two easier gears.  With the eight speed cassette, you’ve got a two tooth difference for the first three but they you start jumping by three’s, and finally four’s.  In a faster group ride, call it 21-29 mph, you’re using the 13 thru 24 tooth gears.  I’ve got seven gears that I use regularly on the Venge (that last 24 t gear is for climbing only).  On the Allez, you’ve got just five, with three tooth jumps from the 15 tooth gear, up.  What ends up happening is that you have a tough time matching a good gear to the pace of the group.

All is not lost, of course.  If one were to plan on riding faster club rides, all one would have to do is go with the Allez Sport for another $200 or maybe even the Allez Comp (with 105 racing components) for another $830 and you get one more gear than I have – an 11 speed drive train.  For those who wonder, my Venge is a ’13…  The year before they came out with a 105 11 speed.  The new Venge has the 11 speed 105 setup, though starting price is $3,000.

For those who think that they can just start with the base bike and upgrade their way to happiness, should they decide to go all out, it’s not all that simple – especially for someone who doesn’t have an intimate knowledge of bikes.  Let’s just delve into it for a second though…  You’ll need:  a 10 sp. cassette, new rear derailleur, new crankset, new shifters, new chain and a new set of chain rings.  See, the 8 speed chain is a little wider than the ten speed so nothing works together.  To upgrade, you need a full setup:  $480-$530 (unless you can find something used on eBay).  Figure in another $200 for labor to install everything and you might as well get the Allez Comp and save yourself the hassle – and you get a better set of wheels out of the deal.

Nothing in this post should be construed to mean that one cannot keep up on an entry-level bike, but if you think it’s going to be easy, you’ve got another thing coming.  It won’t – and you’ll have to work harder than everyone else to do it.  Of course, that’s not a bad thing either because if you can keep up on an entry-level bike, when you shill for the better race bike, you’ll lay waste to all.  Cycling is all relative, baby.  Sometimes it’s Sweet Aunt Sally and others, it’s that @$$hole Uncle Richard.