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Home » Cycling » How to Own a Nice Road Bike on a Budget; the Key is TIME (and Lowered Expectations).

How to Own a Nice Road Bike on a Budget; the Key is TIME (and Lowered Expectations).


September 2017

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):

I know, it’s a stretch, but stick with me…

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.


  1. Brent says:

    Here’s another way for people to think about the cost of cycling: figure out how much per mile it costs and compare that to what they pay for their car.

    Most people have no idea what it actually costs to run their car. So add up all you paid for your car over the course of a year — payments, insurance, repairs, gas, registration/taxes, fuel, car washes, parking. If you want to be really honest, you need to add in the cost of your garage as part of your mortgage (after all, your garage cost money to build and maintain — call it 10% of your mortgage or assume $100 per month per car). Most people are surprised when they do this calculation. If you have a car < 5 years old, it typically comes out to a minimum of $0.75 per mile, and it could be substantially higher depending on how cool a ride you have. And for people who drive an average of 12,000 miles per year, that's at least $9,000 in cold hard cash.

    Then compare that to what your bike costs per mile. Take the purchase price and divide it over an expected 3 year "useful life" (accountant-speak) to get an annual cost for the bike. Add in the costs for maintenance and buying goodies for it. Even add in the clothes and shoes. Then divide that figure by the number of miles per year. So if you ride the Trek 1,500 miles per year (it's your backup bike) and it costs you $750 per year including a couple of new jerseys, you're paying $0.50 per mile, way less than what your car costs. And the absolute dollars are tiny: $60 per month instead of almost $800.

    Now, which is more fun? And will you ever complain about the cost of cycling again?

    Incidentally, we got my girlfriend rigged up with a very nice Trek road bike about 3 years old we found on Pinkbike. A lady and her husband bought bikes, then got pregnant almost immediately. When their second kid was on the way, they realized that they were not going to be riding much for a VERY long time. We paid $600 for a $2,000 bike, and they threw in shoes, which were the right size. $150 worth of jerseys, helmets and miscellaneous doo-dads later, we were in business. The bike is all Shimano 105 and didn't even have a chip on the paint — it had almost certainly been ridden fewer than 500 miles. If you are careful and patient and live near a major urban area, you can get some amazing deals on bikes.

    • bgddyjim says:

      $0.02 per mile for the Trek. $0.06 for the Specialized (lots of S-Works on that bike).

      $0.38 per mile for my car (including gas, insurance and maintenance), and that’s for a brand new 2014 Chevy Equinox at an average of 27 miles per gallon. Including the garage is artificially inflating the cost as I would pay for that with the house either way. In fact, I use the garage for more bikes than I do cars!

      I get your point though. Great comment, and I was going to go there but the post would have gotten long and unnecessarily off topic.

  2. AndrewGills says:

    Ah, you have a second hand bike too. I bought my Scott carbon bike for $600 in March (it retailed for $2,500 in 2014 so it was a steal). I’ve replaced the bar tape but need to add a second layer (I double tape because I ride long and slow and have hand issues). I bought a new chain and rear derailleur hanger after snapping the old hanger. Next is a new wheelset and brakepads. But I will get an entry level set of Shimano or Alex Rims wheelset.

    Like you, I am building the bike I want bit by bit over a few years. I suspect my handlebars need to be raised and that I will need to replace the stem but time will tell.

    Oh and I paid $150 for a major service to check the bike was safe and bearings greased.

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