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  1. #1
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Cost of a Commuter Bike, in Perspective

    I was just looking over the spreadsheet I use to track my bike expenses, and I was really struck by something in the data. This really puts the cost of a commuter bike in perspective (for me at least), with the caveat that a lot of the miles on the Kona Jake and the Surly Cross Check below have been on long recreational rides.

    Here's my data (with the bikes in the order I bought them):

    2007 GT Timberline
    (first commuter, since given away)
    Cost: $300 (new)
    Mileage: 2500
    Cost per mile: $0.12

    2008 Kona Jake
    (commuter/cx racer/recreational distance rides, still in use)
    Cost: $900 (new)
    Mileage: 8004
    Cost per mile: $0.11

    2008 Marin Muirwoods
    (rain commuter, since sold)
    Cost: $460 (new, $210 deducting resale price)
    Mileage: 4215
    Cost per mile: $0.11 ($0.05 after resale)

    1977 Gitane Gypsy Sport
    (fixie project/commuter, since sold)
    Cost: $200 (used, $100 deducting resale price)
    Mileage: 766
    Cost per mile: $0.26 ($0.13 after resale)

    2009 Surly Cross Check
    (commuter/recreational distance rides, still in use)
    Cost: $800 (new frame + parts + some parts I already had)
    Mileage: 3197
    Cost per mile: $0.25

    1989 Specialized Rockhopper
    (bike path cruiser/occaisional commuter, still in use)
    Cost: $285 (including new wheels I built for this bike)
    Mileage: 480
    Cost per mile: $0.59

    2008 Kona Major Jake
    (cx racer, still in use
    Cost: $900 (used)
    Mileage: 279
    Cost per mile: $3.22

    1999 Kona Muni Mula
    (mountain bike used as such, still in use)
    Cost: $400 (used)
    Mileage: 60
    Cost per mile: $6.59

    To be fair, I haven't had the Muni Mula long and it will end up with more miles than it has now. The Major Jake I use only for CX racing and it's got a full season of use and ought to be good for several more.

    Two things jump out at me: (1) The commuters are ending up with a much lower cost per mile used than the other bikes, and (2) the cost per mile of the commuters doesn't seem to be very closely correlated with the initial cost of the bike. My hypothesis on this second point is that because I didn't enjoy riding some of the cheaper bikes as much, I didn't keep them as long or ride them as much.

    On the surface, a used Rockhopper would seem to be a much cheaper commuter than a new Jake, but while I like that bike I just don't enjoy riding it as much as I do the Jake. Obviously the situation will vary depending on available budget, but I strongly suspect that this shows how N+1 syndrome keeps cheap bikes from being a bargain.

    So I'm curious, how does this compare to everyone else's experience?

  2. #2
    got the climbing bug jsigone's Avatar
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    how much do you ride per yr? And do you have weekend bikes?

  3. #3
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    By foregoing just a $5k car and its care and feeding (insurance, gas, upkeep) over the last 7-8 yrs I've been able to rationalize a lot of bike purchases, and seasonal gear to keep them moving year-round. To the extent that bike stuff doesn't necessarily "pay for itself" it's not hard to justify as a hobby.

  4. #4
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    [QUOTE=Andy_K;13918806]

    I was just looking over the spreadsheet I use to track my bike expenses, and I
    was really struck by something in the data. This really puts the cost of a
    commuter bike in perspective (for me at least), with the caveat that a lot of
    the miles on the Kona Jake and the Surly Cross Check below have been on long
    recreational rides.
    That's great! This indicates that not only are you are an avid cyclist, but that you're observant and that you have the good sense to base your conclusions on fact. I find this to be refreshing.

    To be fair, I haven't had the Muni Mula long and it will end up with more miles
    than it has now. The Major Jake I use only for CX racing and it's got a full
    season of use and ought to be good for several more.
    Good. You're in compliance with the N+1 philosophy.

    Two things jump out at me: (1) The commuters are ending up with a much lower
    cost per mile used than the other bikes, and (2) the cost per mile of the
    commuters doesn't seem to be very closely correlated with the initial cost of
    the bike.
    (1) Of course the commuters are going to end up paying less per mile due to the fact that they have routine RT daily treks to make. They therefore, rack up an enormous amount of mileage, compared to recreational cyclists.

    (2) You can compare and attempt to correlate initial purchase cost with the cost of commuting, if you like. I don't really see the point of doing that since it's so obvious that you're simultaneously being spared, the expense of petro fuel, auto maintenance, and insurance.

    In the end, the Walgooses will result in being the most economical commuters, due to the fact that their initial cost is so much cheaper than the others and if the commuter cyclist can handle a wrench, their savings will quadruple.

    My hypothesis on this second point is that because I didn't enjoy riding some of
    the cheaper bikes as much, I didn't keep them as long or ride them as much.
    That's why we should always warn Newbies about how important proper fit is to the average cyclist. Also, joining a co-op and learning how to twist a wrench is also important. Especially in reference to the Walgooses.

    On the surface, a used Rockhopper would seem to be a much cheaper commuter than
    a new Jake, but while I like that bike I just don't enjoy riding it as much as I
    do the Jake. Obviously the situation will vary depending on available budget,
    but I strongly suspect that this shows how N+1 syndrome keeps cheap bikes from
    being a bargain.
    Like I always say, if the bike is comfortable, you'll most likely ride it more often than one that is not so comfortable. Afterall, who wants to ride a bike that constantly pinches their butt?

    I found this post to be quite enjoyable....

    - Slim
    Last edited by SlimRider; 03-02-12 at 04:48 PM.

  5. #5
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jsigone View Post
    how much do you ride per yr? And do you have weekend bikes?
    I ride about 4000 miles per year. Weekend rides make up maybe as much as 1500 of those miles. Up to now the Jake and the Cross Check have done weekend duty. I just got a 2001 LeMond Nevada City ($300 on CL) that's getting the parts from my Cross Check (which I've converted back to single speed). The plan is for that to take over as the weekend bike. It could give the commuters a serious run for their money in cost per mile.

  6. #6
    On a Mission from God FunkyStickman's Avatar
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    My car: an '06 Saturn Ion, supercharged.
    Initial cost: $15K
    Mileage: 75K
    cost of gas to drive mileage: $10,100
    Cost of oil changes, tires, and maintenance: $2000
    Insurance: $300
    Cost per mile: around $0.38 a mile so far, and will go down the more I drive it.

    My Surly:
    Cost: $800

    I would need to ride at least 2200 miles on it before it would cost less per mile than my car. Under normal circumstances, that would have taken me about 7 months.


    If you look at it strictly from a $/mi perspective, you have to put a decent amount of miles on a bike for it to be worth it, assuming the car is paid for.

    I still prefer the bike.

  7. #7
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SlimRider View Post
    In the end, the Walgooses will result in being the most economical commuters, due to the fact that their initial cost is so much cheaper than the others and if the commuter cyclist can handle a wrench, their savings will quadruple.
    Well, that's just what I'm suggesting is false. It seems like a Walgoose would be more economical, but in reality what I'm suggesting is that it ends up being more expensive if you can afford another bike because no matter how well maintained the Walgoose is, it's always going to be a BSO (even if you sink a lot of money into hanging nice components on it).

    Now, it's possible that someone who knows bikes can choose a neglected old gem and reasonably turn it into a great commuter (I'm thinking of Sixty Fiver's bikes here). I've also suggested in the past, and still believe, that newbies are best served by going cheap for a first bike with the understanding that they're paying to figure out what they really want. But once you buy that second bike, I really think it's more economical to "splurge" on the $1000 bike you really want (or whatever) rather than buying a $500 bike that you think will do the job nearly as well (since, let's face it, you're going to buy the more expensive bike eventually anyway, even if you do go through several $500 bikes before you admit that it's inevitable).

  8. #8
    rugged individualist wphamilton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    Two things jump out at me: (1) The commuters are ending up with a much lower cost per mile used than the other bikes, and (2) the cost per mile of the commuters doesn't seem to be very closely correlated with the initial cost of the bike. My hypothesis on this second point is that because I didn't enjoy riding some of the cheaper bikes as much, I didn't keep them as long or ride them as much.
    Just looking at it numerically, it would be logical to spend most lavishly on whatever will improve your enjoyment of the commuter bikes while relegating to second priority the bikes with more specialized functions. You spend more time and travel greater distances overall on the commuters, so they're worthy of greater expenditures. That is also consistent with your hypothesis.

    I disagree here:

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    Well, that's just what I'm suggesting is false. It seems like a Walgoose would be more economical, but in reality what I'm suggesting is that it ends up being more expensive if you can afford another bike because no matter how well maintained the Walgoose is, it's always going to be a BSO (even if you sink a lot of money into hanging nice components on it).

    Now, it's possible that someone who knows bikes can choose a neglected old gem and reasonably turn it into a great commuter (I'm thinking of Sixty Fiver's bikes here). I've also suggested in the past, and still believe, that newbies are best served by going cheap for a first bike with the understanding that they're paying to figure out what they really want. But once you buy that second bike, I really think it's more economical to "splurge" on the $1000 bike you really want (or whatever) rather than buying a $500 bike that you think will do the job nearly as well (since, let's face it, you're going to buy the more expensive bike eventually anyway, even if you do go through several $500 bikes before you admit that it's inevitable).
    because

    a), the "Walgoose" bike IS it's components plus structural elements. The frame isn't always that bad, and not necessarily leading to discomfort.

    and b) a $500 bike provides sufficient performance for commuting purposes in my opinion, particularly if one lavishes care and upgrades on it through the year or years.
    Last edited by wphamilton; 03-01-12 at 02:41 PM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    I ride about 4000 miles per year. Weekend rides make up maybe as much as 1500 of those miles. Up to now the Jake and the Cross Check have done weekend duty. I just got a 2001 LeMond Nevada City ($300 on CL) that's getting the parts from my Cross Check (which I've converted back to single speed). The plan is for that to take over as the weekend bike. It could give the commuters a serious run for their money in cost per mile.
    Nice bike! You'll have to post your thoughts on it here once you get it up & running.

  10. #10
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    Do you have any idea on maintenance costs on the commuters?

    I'm finding that it's a lot less than driving, and less than taking the bus, but worth keeping track of--chains, and cassettes, and tires, and so on add up.
    I can be emailed at my user name at google's mail.

  11. #11
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    My opinion is that it might be better to change your mind rather than your bike (as long as the bike fits you).
    I have a road bike and an expensive mtn bike, they probably cost a lot per mile because I rarely ride them. They are nice to have for certain uses though.

    Then I have a 1983 Specialized Stumpjumper sport (now a rockhopper frame).
    I paid $500 for it back then, and because of my commuting, it now has >100K miles on it.
    So that is:
    0.5 cents per mile (cost of bike only)
    6.1 cents per mile (including parts/maintenance of $200 per year on average for 28 years)
    It's a heavy bike, but it's sturdy and hard to break, so I like it.

  12. #12
    Senior Member jr59's Avatar
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    You guys have to much time on your hands.

    I think I'll go ride my bike more and think less about how much a mile!
    Gravity hates us all, but it hates me more than thin people!

  13. #13
    Senior Member jdswitters's Avatar
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    86 nishiki bought last summer. $250

    two trips a week to the pub on average 56 trips so far at 19miles RT 1,064

    everytime I drive there it is a gallon of gas or avg 3.00/gal, so $168, but I usually think of it as one free beer with tip which is also 3 bucks.

    so as of right now I have 56 free beers per 1,064 miles which is .05 beers per mile. this ratio is not likely to change and the cost of the bike is irrelevant. It is however what I was using to keep my brain occupied on the ride home last night as my headlamp slowly faded to black.
    Torker Graduate, 288 rods a day without pub detours.

  14. #14
    www.ocrebels.com Rick@OCRR's Avatar
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    It's all a matter of each commuter's situation though. I have a couple of bikes that fit me better and are more fun to ride than my commuter, but since I ride the Metro Train each way (which costs $3.00 RT) I need the foldability of my commuter bike. And . . . within that context, it works well enough.

    If LA Metro ever puts real bike hangers on the trains, I'l switch to one of my non-folders instantly! So my commute bike is neither as fast nor as comfortable as my road (or mountain, or fixed gear) bikes . . . but it does fold up small (16" wheels), which is why it's my commuter.

    I'll have to work out the costs per mile, but so far it's just gone though 2 tubes. I did buy a rack and rack trunk to get it road worthy, but I had lights already, so otherwise (aside from the purchase of the bike), not a huge outlay.

    Rick / OCRR

  15. #15
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wphamilton View Post
    I disagree here:

    because

    a), the "Walgoose" bike IS it's components plus structural elements. The frame isn't always that bad, and not necessarily leading to discomfort.

    and b) a $500 bike provides sufficient performance for commuting purposes in my opinion, particularly if one lavishes care and upgrades on it through the year or years.
    You don't even want to see my numbers on upgrades.

    It gets real ugly, real quick for the Rockhopper. I included the wheels in my cost figures because they changed the bike signicantly and were a whopping percentage of its cost. I didn't list the XT/LX components that I borrowed from the Muni Mula when upgrading it to M770 XT. The Jake has Ultegra components right now, but I'm actually going to downgrade it to its original Tiagra as soon as the weather is nice enough to take it out of action for a week or two.

    Also, the Walgoose frame is only even theoretically acceptable if you happen to be an average sized person (which I am, FWIW).


    Quote Originally Posted by SamChevre View Post
    Do you have any idea on maintenance costs on the commuters?
    I have some idea. The frivolous upgrades I make have made it hard to judge lifespan of major components. Generally, I buy expensive tires (for reasons similar to those explored in my OP) but even so I find the cost of tires and brake pads to be less than the per mile cost of gasoline (which is getting easier and easier). I do my own wrenching, so that helps a lot.


    Quote Originally Posted by buzzbee View Post
    It's a heavy bike, but it's sturdy and hard to break, so I like it.
    My Kona Jake is sturdy and hard to break too. That combined with how fun it is to ride is why it replaced the Muirwoods as my bad weather bike last winter. I was having trouble getting myself to ride the tank when I had a more nimble bike which could also handle the abuse.

    I recognize that your point is a good one. I just haven't figured out a way to trick myself into being happy with a suboptimal bike. The reason I don't commute on my Major Jake, for instance, isn't that I'm saving it for its special purpose but rather that the base Jake is more enjoyable as a commuter than the Major Jake would be. I got the Rockhopper with the idea that I could make it a good commuter, but after a lot of tinkering I'm afraid the best that I've managed is to make it better for riding bike paths with my daughter than my other bikes.


    Quote Originally Posted by jr59 View Post
    You guys have to much time on your hands.
    This is most certainly true.

  16. #16
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick@OCRR View Post
    It's all a matter of each commuter's situation though. I have a couple of bikes that fit me better and are more fun to ride than my commuter, but since I ride the Metro Train each way (which costs $3.00 RT) I need the foldability of my commuter bike. And . . . within that context, it works well enough.
    This is definitely relevant. I guess what I've really found is that any of my bikes that isn't the best bike I have for some specific purpose doesn't get ridden. And the corollary is whichever purpose racks up the most miles decides which bike gets the most use.

    If I had a shorter commute and worked in an urban setting where I was worried about my bike being stolen, the Rockhopper would probably rise to the top.

    What happened with me was that I started off with the Timberline and once I saw how much I loved cycling I wanted to get something nicer. I wanted something that would be suitable for long road rides, but I decided to get something that I could also use as a commuter. That's how I ended up with the Jake. I kept the Timberline to be my rain bike, but I quickly discovered that the difference in enjoyment between it and the Jake was too great, so I got the Muirwoods as a rain bike. That was better, but I still often found myself wishing I was riding the Jake. Eventually, I got a disc fork for the Jake and sold the Muirwoods. The Gitane, the Cross Check and the Rockhopper were all at least partly attempts to solve the "rain bike" problem another way. The Cross Check came closest, though most of its miles came as last year's the summer commuter.

    If I didn't live in the Pacific Northwest, I could probably bring myself to have a beater as my rain bike, but since I do live in the PNW I find that the rain bike has to be something I love.

    A lot of people seem content to commute on bikes that they don't really like. I always suspect that those people don't really enjoy bicycling.
    Last edited by Andy_K; 03-01-12 at 05:12 PM.

  17. #17
    Senior Member no motor?'s Avatar
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    My exwife was a CPA, and I'm sure she could give you the $/mile figures but I've never had the desire to figure things out too closely. I have decided to keep closer track the changes in my health, and adding in those benefits would definitely make commuting more economical. One other conclusion that could be drawn from your detailed figures Andy is that you clearly need to ride some of your bikes more. Shouldn't you turn the computer off and go out and ride?

  18. #18
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    I think this is very interesting. I'd love to see upgrades and maintenance factored in. And I understand that a lot of that is driven by want, not by need.

    You have a 1977 bike that costs more per mile than a 2007 bike; I don't know how old you are, but I assume that's when they were made, and not when they became yours?

    I also think this is interesting to post in a sub-forum that's so avowedly against cyclocomputers and mileage tracking.
    Don't believe everything you think.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
    Well, that's just what I'm suggesting is false. It seems like a Walgoose would be more economical, but in reality what I'm suggesting is that it ends up being more expensive if you can afford another bike because no matter how well maintained the Walgoose is, it's always going to be a BSO (even if you sink a lot of money into hanging nice components on it).

    Now, it's possible that someone who knows bikes can choose a neglected old gem and reasonably turn it into a great commuter (I'm thinking of Sixty Fiver's bikes here). I've also suggested in the past, and still believe, that newbies are best served by going cheap for a first bike with the understanding that they're paying to figure out what they really want. But once you buy that second bike, I really think it's more economical to "splurge" on the $1000 bike you really want (or whatever) rather than buying a $500 bike that you think will do the job nearly as well (since, let's face it, you're going to buy the more expensive bike eventually anyway, even if you do go through several $500 bikes before you admit that it's inevitable).
    Well, in order to properly assess your suspicions, you'd have to conduct some type of an experiment or survey, or something. About 75% of all bikes sold within the United States, are sold via the BIG BOX stores. Most people purchase bikes for somewhere around the $400 pricepoint.

    The overwhelming majority of cyclists aren't that serious about the sport. They will occasionally take a ride in the park or around the neighborhood, but they don't regularly cycle. Even the cyclists that take up cycling for the expressed purpose of exercise, fail to cycle as of often as originally intended. Most of these people would never entertain the idea of purchasing a bike near the cost of $1000. As a matter of fact, most people who purchase bicycles, soon lose their cycling enthusiasm within the first year of purchase. Since the intial purchase was most likely slightly less than $400, I really can't see anyone spending more than that on a sport for which they've abandoned.

    In reality, only the relentless cycling commuter and the race conscious roadie are the most committed cyclists. One is crafted out of necessity, while the other is fueled by the fever of competition.

    We cyclists here at BF, are a minority. We are bicycle enthusiasts through and through...We're hardcore to the bone. Some of us cycle in order to commute, but most of cycle just because we love to cycle. Most of us here would drop more than $2000 on a bike, if we could afford it. Also, I'd wager to bet that most of us here own more than just one bike, too!

    In the end, there's really no need to record or attach any mileage data to the actual cycling performed by cyclists. I can assure you, that we all benefit in a variety of ways from cycling, the most important of which is health. Economics is merely the first runner up!
    Last edited by SlimRider; 03-01-12 at 04:47 PM.

  20. #20
    Yabba-Dabba-Doo! AlmostTrick's Avatar
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    Not really the point of the thread I suppose, but in the last few years I've given away several rideable bikes to people. Not junkers, but name brand bikes all tuned up and ready to go, with new tires, brake pads, etc.

    $.00 per mile, no matter how many miles they ride!
    Have Bike, Will Travel

  21. #21
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    You have a 1977 bike that costs more per mile than a 2007 bike; I don't know how old you are, but I assume that's when they were made, and not when they became yours?
    Yeah, the '77 was a CL rescue project. The $200 I put with it is a very generous estimate that disregards most of the parts I added to it -- basically $40 I paid for it as a pile of rust plus $160 for new wheels. I'm old enough to have bought it new (42), but I didn't.

    Regarding components, I'm a recovering upgrade junky. The only bikes in that list haven't had either Ultegra or XT parts on them are the Timberline and the Gitane (and I put an eBay Shimano 600 crank on the Gitane, so I guess really only the Timberline). The thing is, I've moved the parts around a lot. I bought one set of Ultegra components and one set of M770 XT. The Major Jake came with another set of Ultegra shifters. The good parts have generally found their way to the bikes I ride most, but I'm slowly starting to develop a sense of what upgrades make sense. Right now, the Muni Mula has the XT components and the Ultegra are on my Jake and my LeMond (not mentioned in the OP because it doesn't have any miles on it yet). I downgraded the Major Jake to 105, and I think I'm going to downgrade the Jake to Tiagra (which will leave a set of Ultegra levers on the shelf as spares).

    I find that I have even less tolerance for cheap components than I do for cheap bikes in general (though it turns out that Tiagra/Deore is good enough to make me happy). A nice set of Marathon Supremes and the XT components helped the Muirwoods attain the mileage total it did, but eventually I felt compelled to upgrade the frame.

    I suppose another way of looking at this data would be to see it as the cost of being an upgrade addict. The LeMond is an attempt to keep myself from spending $3000 for a bike I only ride a few months of the year. We'll see how that goes.


    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    I also think this is interesting to post in a sub-forum that's so avowedly against cyclocomputers and mileage tracking.
    Bah. If you can't geek out around Freds, where can you geek out?

  22. #22
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SlimRider View Post
    Well, in order to properly assess your suspicions, you'd have to conduct some type of an experiment or survey, or something. About 75% of all bikes sold within the United States, are sold via the BIG BOX stores. Most people purchase bikes for somewhere around the $400 pricepoint.

    The overwhelming majority of cyclists aren't that serious about the sport. They will occasionally take a ride in the park or around the neighborhood, but they don't regularly cycle. Even the cyclists that take up cycling for the expressed purpose of exercise, fail to cycle as of often as originally intended. Most of these people would never entertain the idea of purchasing a bike near the cost of $1000. As a matter of fact, most people who purchase bicycles, soon lose their cycling enthusiasm within the first year of purchase. Since the intial purchase was most likely slightly less than $400, I really can't see anyone spending more than that on a sport for which they've abandoned.
    I think a case could be made that the two statements I put in bold above are related.

    The reason I started biking to work is that my health coach told me that if I really wanted to stick with an exercise program (which I hadn't up to then) I'd need to find something I really enjoyed doing. Her advice was spot on. Luckily, while I started with a low-end bike it wasn't quite a BSO and it got me through the six months until I got one I loved.

  23. #23
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by no motor? View Post
    One other conclusion that could be drawn from your detailed figures Andy is that you clearly need to ride some of your bikes more. Shouldn't you turn the computer off and go out and ride?
    Good point!

  24. #24
    nashcommguy
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    Quote Originally Posted by wphamilton View Post
    Just looking at it numerically, it would be logical to spend most lavishly on whatever will improve your enjoyment of the commuter bikes while relegating to second priority the bikes with more specialized functions. You spend more time and travel greater distances overall on the commuters, so they're worthy of greater expenditures. That is also consistent with your hypothesis.

    I disagree here:



    because

    a), the "Walgoose" bike IS it's components plus structural elements. The frame isn't always that bad, and not necessarily leading to discomfort.

    and b) a $500 bike provides sufficient performance for commuting purposes in my opinion, particularly if one lavishes care and upgrades on it through the year or years.
    I agree.

    My Motocecane 2x9 CX commuter cost 499.00 USD in May of 2008. Just replaced the bb 2 weeks ago. Everything else is still original. Sora/Tiagra comps. Oh, yeah I replaced the stock cx tires w/some SMPs as the cx tires were too soft for pavement. Had 2 flats in the first 2 weeks.

  25. #25
    Member Froghunter's Avatar
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    I would like to post my .02, but it's time for bed!

    PS:I run a Target Goose Daily!
    While you guys save the world.......I'm going to continue to commute on my "Ghetto Single Speed Bicycle" and place horse pucks on my garden.

    1.88 mile daily Town/Rural Commute

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