Let’s not be coy; there happens to be a reason the average triathlon participant has a yearly income in excess of $125,000 in the US, and it ain’t because running and swimming are expensive sports. Sure, a wetsuit will set you back a few hundred bucks and shoes are anything but cheap, but everyone knows the real money is in the bike(s). Expensive is easy when it comes to cycling. Plop down a crap-ton of money and ride. Great if you’ve got $10,000 laying around ($20,000 if you’re married because the spouse has gotta ride too!) but if the sport can seem out of reach to everyone but the very well-off. It’s not. Now, the amounts I’m going to cover still won’t be cheap, so if you’re hoping to get into road cycling for a few hundred bucks, you won’t. You will not. It cannot be done. Buy a mountain bike and be happy. The road clothing alone costs more than the few hundred if you get it on sale. We can, however, beat $10,000 by a lot.
In this post, I will cover in detail, how I went from this:
To this (in less than $1,500 – it took me $1,750 I think, but I’m pretty picky):
First, buy the bike used – the depreciation isn’t great as bikes tend to hold their value after the initial plunge once they’ve been ridden: $750 is what I paid for that red beauty above (new, it was over $2,500 – in 1999, that’s about $3,700 today). Now, don’t do what I did and spend a bunch of money on trinkets for the bike, that’s the first good tip! Develop a plan and a color scheme and go with it. Get the bike painted: $400. Have a new headset installed while they’re painting the frame because chances are, the old headset is smoked (mine was): $100 – $150 (ish). Add a couple of matching bottle cages ($40 total) and you’re well on your way. Add some new bar tape ($20 – $70 [for leather, like mine]), and a new stem so the bike fits you ($80). Throw in some new 9 sp. shifters from MicroSHIFT ($75 delivered), $100 for some pedals and all that’s left are wheels. Mine came from a different bike ($0), a saddle ($25 to $175 [mine was $25]) and a new seat post because I didn’t like how the old one adjusted ($100). That’s $1,765 total, for a perfectly functional carbon fiber road steed… Or roughly, a little more than $1,000 less than you’d pay for the new equivalent.
Once the bike is complete, the only thing left is maintenance. Tires, chains and cassettes, and the better you maintain the bike, the longer those things last. I clean my chains once every two weeks, whether they need it or not. I get a full season, 3,500-5,000 miles per bike, on a chain. Most people only get 1,500 miles out of a chain.
Where we often get into trouble is thinking this through without the added benefit of time. To buy everything new, you have to plunk down a large amount up front, or worse, finance it… It took me five years to get that bike to the shape it is now. First was the saddle and bar tape, then I rode it for two years before I did anything else to it. I changed my pedals to go with some shoes I won, but that wasn’t out of necessity… Then came the wheels because the original rear wheel blew out at the brake track (literally, the aluminum cracked in several places). Next up was the seat post, then the stem and handlebar (the bar came from a different bike $0)… Then the paint job and headset… more than a year later the old Ultegra shifters finally gave out and I had to replace them. After the bike is out of the way, then it’s some cycling-specific clothing, pedals, shoes, and a melon protector and you’re good to go. Again, not cheap, but not unattainable either.
The important point is, the worst hit I took was the initial $750 for the bike. After that, it was bits and pieces up until the paint job/headset (which was a fair chunk). Over the six years I had the bike, we’re looking at an average of only a couple hundred dollars a year and that covers the bike and all of the parts I picked up for it. In other words, if one has a mind to approach cycling on a budget, it is possible. I did it.
In conclusion, we have to deal with expectations. Don’t expect this:
That will run you a pretty penny… [Full Disclosure: technically you’ll need another 499,999 pretty pennies to go with that first one, give or take]
You do not have to be wealthy to be a cyclist. Like any other leisure-time sport, it doesn’t hurt to have money, but it’s not a requirement.
Next, I’ll tackle clothing… Now THAT’S a tricky topic. Stay tuned.