Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Columbus, OH
Bikes: '08 Surly Cross-Check, 2011 Redline Conquest Pro, 2012 Spesh FSR Comp EVO, 2015 Trek Domane 6.2 disc
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My take on percieved component quality and price points: (I'm most familiar with Shimano components, so I'll use those as an example)
The lowest end components (Alivo, Nexave, 2200) are going to perform as you might expect. Lower precision tolerances, weaker materials, and the least durability. You'll find them on department store bikes under the $300 range, typically. I'd call these "low quality" for someone who is looking for components which will be put through routine heavy use.
The mid-grade components (Sora, Tiagra, 105) are where you'll start seeing some price-to-quality differences: Durability and precision can be felt between the Sora and Tiagra product lines. 105 introduces the option of 10spd shifting just like the high-end components, but at a lower cost (explained below).
The high end components (Ultegra, Dura-Ace) have even tighter precision than the highest of mid-grade components, but the cost goes up as you start shaving off the weight. The lighter a component is, the more expensive it becomes. Unless you're very familiar with the components, Ultegra and Dura-Ace feel the same during operation, but you're paying for lighter components with the D-A setup versus the less expensive Ultegra.
How to translate all that junk into real world advice?
I personally beat the snot out of my Tiagra equipped bike with mid-grade FSA cranks and an inexpensive headset and brakes. None of my components have failed in the 1350 miles I've put on them this year, and that's through snow, rain and freezing cold.
Would I benefit from upgrading to 105 or Ultegra components? Possibly.
Enough that I feel it necessary to replace parts before they wear out? Heck no.
Tom's advice on a good set of wheels is spot on. If you're spending extra cash to replace anything on a bike, get the bike with some nice mid-grade components and spend the extra money on a good set of wheels.
Another bit of advice: Don't limit yourself to a flat bar bike because of your weight. You may not feel comfortable riding hunched over in the drops like a pro-racer, but a drop bar offers the comfort of multiple hand positions and you can have your local shop set your bike up with a taller stem height so you're sitting more upright and using the tops and hoods of the drop bars. I'm sporting a bit of a belly, and that's how I've got mine set up. Bars are just about even with the seat. I've seen touring and brevet bikes with drop bars positioned higher than the seat.
"I feel like my world was classier before I found cyclocross."
- Mandi M.