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  1. #1
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    Bicycle Price Sweet Spot

    I'm looking to buy a new bicycle in the next month or so (hooray for tax refunds), and I have a question. In my experience, most hardware, no matter what it is, has a price sweet spot beyond which the cost rapidly increases but the additional benefits get less and less. It's often most obvious in computer hardware, where you might get a 0.5TB hard drive for $80, a 1.0TB hard drive for $100, but a 1.5TB hard drive might cost you $200.

    Anyway, I'm wondering where this price point sits with bicycles at the moment. I'd be getting something for commuting and recreation (bike paths), either a hardtail or full rigid bike. Probably a hybrid, "city bike", or cyclocross bike. The most I could spend is around $1200. That's not a really hard limit, but I can't go much over.

    So what price point (roughly) will I get the most bang for my buck for a new bike? I may go over or under that anyway, but I'd like to get a reference point.

  2. #2
    Hooligan Abneycat's Avatar
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    There is a point where a bicycle goes from being a liable short term throwaway to a reasonably long lifespan machine. This is the first price point you're going to hit, and it isn't that high up. When you shop around for a bicycle and pay $200 at a sporting goods store for instance, that bike may come with galvanized spokes that will seize to the spoke nipples very easily, a freewheel style hub that will be likely to develop bent or broken axles, poor bearing seals that will let things sieze up quickly, assembled by an untrained kid, it will not be likely to last a long time - you will be much more likely to encounter problems and have to replace failing parts more often.

    By the time you go up in price a bit, visit a real bike shop and spend around (in my experience, in Canada) $450 and up, you're more likely to get better features. Professional assembly, stainless steel spokes, cassette instead of freewheel, double walled rims, all of these things start to show up pretty early in the "real bike" hierarchy, and make a huge difference in how long your bicycle lasts and how well it performs.

    Getting quality components is the real "sweet spot", and the one that REALLY matters. Past that, you get lighter weight bikes, ones with more features, more speeds, higher tech components, and so on. Your question is quite complex and difficult to answer, because the real answer changes wildly depending on the style of bicycle that you wanted to buy. Different people are also going to give you different answers, because people have wildly varying perceptions on what acceptable components are. As a mechanic, I find anything that holds its adjustment and is designed with real functionality in mind to be quite serviceable and reasonable.

    Again, my opinion is that you should avoid the lowest end. Buying parts that are designed to work, to be serviceable, and getting things which have been professionally assembled and fitted to *you* by a knowledgeable bike shop is what i'd advise.

    So you know where the "sweet spot" begins on the low end, roughly. As for the higher end of your sweet spot, you should narrow down what kind of bike you want to buy, and what kinds of features you want and we can help you determine which ones offer good value in a more specific area a lot more easily.

    Also, do you have everything you need for accessories? If not, you should keep those in mind in your budget. A good bicycle deserves a good lock, your brain may deserve a decent helmet (should you feel inclined to wear a helmet), and so on.
    Last edited by Abneycat; 01-27-10 at 10:19 PM.

  3. #3
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    Thanks for the information.

    To expand a bit, I currently have a bike I'm using for commuting and trail riding. It's an inexpensive 2009 Diamondback Kalamar. I paid about $260(US) for it in May; the MSRP is a little higher. I bought it as a "let's see how this cycling thing goes" bike that I fully expected to replace in a year if my interest and use took off. I'd say it's performed above and beyond the call of duty for a <$300 bike. I'm up around 2000 miles on it since May, through all weather (including snowy, icy, salted conditions), and the only problems I've had are a randomly broken spoke back around the 1000 mile mark, and a seatpost that would slowly slide down out of position with use (I fixed that with some spirit gum).

    That said, as well as the bike performed for the price, it leaves a lot to be desired. The frame is high tensile steel, for starters. Solid, durable, but heavy. The drivetrain is fairly mediocre, quality-wise (from what little I've gathered, anyway): just Shimano Tourney stuff. It only has six normal gears plus a megarange gear, and I occasionally really wish I had a gear between 2nd and 1st. Brakes are adequate caliper brakes, but they get a little iffy in the snow.

    I have done some looking around at features. Like I said, I'm looking at a hybrid, cyclocross bike, or so-called "city bike" (which seems to just be a specialization of the hybrid category). I want at least one or two more gears over my current ride, but a full 21 speeds is overkill (not that I would rule out a 21 speed bike). Disc brakes or something comparable in foul-weather performance are a must; Rochester winters are not gentle. 700c wheels. An internally geared hub might be nice from a maintenance standpoint, but isn't critical.

    Accessory-wise, I'm pretty much set. I've spent more on various gear and accessories for the Kalamar than I spent on the bike itself. A better lock is probably a good idea, though, and I might need a new set of fenders.

    Bikes I've been eyeing:
    The Bamboosero City Bike (~$1200 if full bikes ever go up for sale). Everything I've read about the performance of bamboo frames suggests they're great performers. Light, fast, nimble, with great vibration damping. I also admit the idea and appearance tickles my fancy. It also looks like they'll have all the features I want. Down side: No way to try the specific bike before purchasing; I'd have to estimate comfort based on the geometry of other bikes I can test.

    The 2010 Raleigh Detour Deluxe (~$800). It looks solid, is much less expensive, and again has basically all the features I want. As a bonus, it comes with fenders, a rack, and a dynamo hub-driven light system. I believe this is testable at a local bike shop around here.

    The Kona Dr. Dew or Dr. Fine (~$900-$1000). All the features I want, but no bonus stuff. There's a bike shop that carries Kona in the general area, but it's a significant distance away. It would probably be a day trip for me to check them out.

    I've discovered that finding a hybrid/commuter/city bike with disc brakes is surprisingly difficult. It's not impossible by any means, but I would've expected them to be more common.
    Last edited by Arcanum; 01-28-10 at 07:51 AM. Reason: Cleaning up links.

  4. #4
    Pants are for suckaz HandsomeRyan's Avatar
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    The top of the bell curve from most cyclists will be in the $800 to $1,000 range.

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    I think HandsomeRyan is about right. There won't be too much difference in dependability between most major component levels anymore, it's mostly about weight and operability. The things to really keep an eye on when buying mid-range are the wheels and hubs, saddles, bottom bracket etc. Places where the manufacturer might skimp and the average buyer wouldn't notice till too late.

    FWIW I own a Dew Deluxe and love it. It's my winter, bad weather, beater bike. Gets no TLC beyond a chain lube and has been extremely reliable. I chose it because the secondary components were speced better then the other bikes at it's price, well and I thought it looked cool.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by dewaday View Post
    I think HandsomeRyan is about right. There won't be too much difference in dependability between most major component levels anymore, it's mostly about weight and operability.
    That's actually really good info (and something I was starting to suspect myself). I do wish you could easily find out the assembled weight of bicycles. I'm hardly a weight-weenie, but at the same time I'm not going to deny that lighter is generally going to be more desirable than heavier, all other things being equal.

    Thanks for the Dew Deluxe info. I've heard good things about Kona in general but more info is always good.

  7. #7
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    Most frames around a price mark are about the same. May be a difference in set up so they may feel different but they are about the same. Components are where a personal choice will come in- Bars- saddle tyres.

    But on the groupset- there is a mark where you start to get sensible quality. On a road bike this is 105 and mountain bikes this is LX.

    And wheels are a minefield. Untill you start getting away from inhouse wheels- You are not getting a quality wheel. Then even in the after market wheels- you have to get a wheel that suits you and your riding and not just rely on price.

    There is no price mark where you are going to get the good deal. But there is mark that you can afford that will suit your riding.
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  8. #8
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    For a hybrid bike about $700. For a cyclocross bike under $1000. For a road bike or tourer $1200

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arcanum View Post
    I want at least one or two more gears over my current ride, but a full 21 speeds is overkill
    Arcanum, right now you have an 18 speed (6 in back X 3 in front). If you add ONE more gear in the back you will have a 21 speed (7 in back X 3 in front). Usually the added gears are just smaller steps between the high and low limits.

    IGHs are a different matter. All except the most expensive have less of a range than the average MTB or Hybrid drivetrain. If you find yourself needing the easiest gear and using the hardest gear on your current bike, an IGH may not be ideal. If you tend to switch around in the middle and don't see too much need for both extremes, then IGHs work ok.
    THer is also a loss of efficiency with IGH drivetrains - small but noticable in some gears. This makes them a little less desireable for longer distances and performance riding.

    If you are currently riding a hi-ten steel mountain bike, then a properly maintained hybrid with an IGH will feel like a sports car in comparison.
    However, a nice entry level road bike with high pressure tires will feel like a race car.

    Edit: Looked at your bike. I was mistaken and assumed you had a triple chainring on the front. No matter, in the back (where most shifting is done, a 21 speed has 7 on the back, 3 on the front. you don't have to shift the front if you don't want to. I always tried to tell people it was like a 7 speed with three ranges... like 2 wheel high, 4 wheel high, and 4 wheel low)
    Last edited by LarDasse74; 01-30-10 at 09:29 AM.

  10. #10
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LarDasse74 View Post
    Arcanum, right now you have an 18 speed (6 in back X 3 in front). If you add ONE more gear in the back you will have a 21 speed (7 in back X 3 in front). Usually the added gears are just smaller steps between the high and low limits.

    IGHs are a different matter. All except the most expensive have less of a range than the average MTB or Hybrid drivetrain. If you find yourself needing the easiest gear and using the hardest gear on your current bike, an IGH may not be ideal. If you tend to switch around in the middle and don't see too much need for both extremes, then IGHs work ok.
    THer is also a loss of efficiency with IGH drivetrains - small but noticable in some gears. This makes them a little less desireable for longer distances and performance riding.

    If you are currently riding a hi-ten steel mountain bike, then a properly maintained hybrid with an IGH will feel like a sports car in comparison.
    However, a nice entry level road bike with high pressure tires will feel like a race car.
    In most cases not. In fact it has been proven that a properly broken in IGH in many cases has less loss of efficiency than a derailleur system. It is also a fallacy that they are much heavier. The biggest plus is reduced chain wear and maintenance.

    In answer to the OP's question; there are many decent bikes available in the $~600-$700 price range, they can go up a bit from there.

    Outside of living in mountains a Nexus 8 speed should give you all the range you need, and they are available for disc brakes. The Civia line comes to mind as do some bikes from the REI lineup the Novara Fusion comes in well under your budget and is very well equipped, I almost bought one on sale last year, but I really, really, really, don't need another bike right now.

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  11. #11
    Pants are for suckaz HandsomeRyan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wahoonc View Post
    It is also a fallacy that they are much heavier.
    I'm not an expert on IGH's but I can tell you that my SRAM S-7 is a lot heavier than a comparable freehub/cassette wheel.

  12. #12
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    IGHs are a different matter. All except the most expensive have less of a range than the average MTB or Hybrid drivetrain. If you find yourself needing the easiest gear and using the hardest gear on your current bike, an IGH may not be ideal. If you tend to switch around in the middle and don't see too much need for both extremes, then IGHs work ok.
    I only rarely use anything above 5th and only occasionally drop to 1st. I think I've touched 7th once or twice, after a long, steep downhill.

    If you are currently riding a hi-ten steel mountain bike, then a properly maintained hybrid with an IGH will feel like a sports car in comparison.
    However, a nice entry level road bike with high pressure tires will feel like a race car.
    It's a hi-ten hybrid, but yeah, I get that feeling. Between the heavy bike and riding in the dead of winter, I figure I'll be decently fast come spring with a nice, new, light bike. I do need more versatility than a road bike will give me, though. Mud, grass, gravel, curbs, etc. I'm thinking I probably don't want to go narrower than 700x35c or 700x32c tires.

    Edit: Looked at your bike. I was mistaken and assumed you had a triple chainring on the front. No matter, in the back (where most shifting is done, a 21 speed has 7 on the back, 3 on the front. you don't have to shift the front if you don't want to. I always tried to tell people it was like a 7 speed with three ranges... like 2 wheel high, 4 wheel high, and 4 wheel low)
    Yep, I get how gearing works, and that, in principle, you could even add a second chainring to an IGH drivetrain (though it's uncommon to do so). The overall range on that 7 speed seems pretty good. I've only touched 7th once or twice after a long downhill, and I only occasionally use 1st. I'd want a gear to fill in the gap between 2nd and the megarange 1st. I'd say maybe one gear lower than that, but it may not be necessary with the lighter bike.

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