Will the real one percent please stand up: How much should your bike cost?

Bernard Thevenet,  in a 1975 Tour time trial.  Averaging 27.9 mph on a stock
steel Reynolds 531 frame, with crap (sorry) Mafac, Simplex and Stronglight components.
Read with some amusement the other day that article about the advent of the $10,000+ road bike.   'Halo bikes' they call them.  

Halo Bikes.  Hallelujah, let the pigeons loose.   

Ten to twelve grand for a race bike?   Utterly ridiculous.  On oh, so many levels. 

It got me shaking my thick-mick head, and thinking longingly back to the good ol' days.  The mid '70's, when road racing bicycles were all hand brazed, lugged steel tubing.  Your wheel choice?  Pick 28, 32 or 36 spokes.   Grouppo?  Either Campagnolo Nuovo Record, Super Record or maybe Shimano DuraAce.   There were a lot of bicycle company 'brands' (e.g. frame designers, brazers and assemblers), but the basic ingredients were all about the same really.   Funny thing was, guys still rode 30 mph on them, no problem.    In fact, I think they could handle them a heckuva lot better in a peloton too.

And the best stuff, and by that I mean the bikes and technologies used by top professionals - even by winners of the Tour de France - weren't the luxury goods they've become now.  Their prices were startlingly cheap.   But what would yesterday's pro team bikes cost in today's dollars?   Here's a fun and illuminating archival magazine dig, and quick analysis using an online inflation calculator...

If you take the PX10 'outlier' out of the equation (my first race bike), it seems the sweet-spot present value for a pro-level ride hovered between $2,000 and $3,000.  For quite some time.  

Van Impe's '76 Tour winning Gitane w/Campy Super
Record.   $10 says he'd drop Andy Schleck with it.
In the late '90 though, the cost of the best inexorably started creeping up.  I recall back in 2002-2003 when I owned a retail bike store, the top of range race bikes - like an all Campagnolo Colnago C40 - sold for around $4,000, or so.  Most people thought that was insane money.   $4k would be ~$5k today.  

It's just in the past few years, flying in the face of global economic crisis, that 'pro team' cycling equipment has rocketed to levels of absurdity.   A $10,000 -$12,000 Halo bike is between 4 to 6 times the cost of Thevenet's, Moser's or Battaglin's grand tour winning rides.   Does this application and transfer of available- albeit high-priced - technology deliver a real competitive advantage to the elite pros it was designed for?  

Can you say 'PLA-CE-BOOO'...?

It's a diminishing return on investment if you ask me.   As much as they'd have us believe it, engineers don't win bicycle road races.   Heart does.  

I respect engineers.  It's just that I think they should spend their valuable, expensive time figuring out how to make our road and bridges better, and come up with a substitute for nailing power lines to poles that every snowstorm and hurricane takes out.   Just one man's opinion.

Raphael Geminiani said it better, in his new book 'mes quartre verites'.  "I want to pass a message on to the youth...you can still hope to be a champion, even in the age of WiFi, the iphone and the i-pad.   My message is clear.  One isn't born a champion, like one is born rich or poor, white or black.  One becomes one. By work, and only through work."

Not by buying a better bike, Gem.  So is this new technology 'worth' such a premium?   Depends on to whom you're referring to jongen...

"Hmm..I guess I'll take the
one in the middle"
Pricing strategy 101:   I once read an interesting article on some research done on consumer shopping behavior using wristwatches.  Two watches were presented to a pool of shopping subjects, bearing two different prices. A pretty low percentage (naturally) chose the more expensive of the two.   But an interesting thing happened when for a second test group, a third, super-high priced watch was added to the line-up.    A much greater percentage of the total 'upgraded' to the middle watch than with the first group.  Marketing types call it the law of the middle choice.  Adding a third luxury item 'pulled' more consumer 'up' to a more expensive item

Hey, what do I know, I'm just a simple caveman.  But I think these stupidly-expensive luxury bikes are there to get more consumers feel like they're actually saving money, by (gladly) spending up to $4,000-$5,000 on that next bike instead of the more prudent $2,000- $3,000 option that's still available, probably more appropriate and frankly, way more than good enough for their ability.  

'But honey, look how much I saved 'us' by only buying the $4,000 model!' 

Last time I checked, real road cyclists crash and break stuff.   All the time.  You don't need the very best stuff.  Just adequate and reliable.

Just say no to $10,000 bikes. 
It's a disturbing trend for the cycling as a sport I think.  Increasingly positioning cycling as an 'elite' activity.  It parallels other developments in professional cycling.  I know it has never been the 'real world', but the sport is increasingly moving into an elite bubble.  Literally and figuratively.  With teams formed and supported by private equity benefactors vs. the 'commercial' sponsors ever since Nivea and St. Raphael used pro cycling to sell affordable stuff to normal people.

Young Coppi.  He'd drop you.
All of you. And on this bike.  Guaranteed.
Today, we've got bike companies playing NASA, supplying teams with bikes that are only really marketable to the '1%'.    A positive development?  Maybe if you're Mike Sinyard at Specialized, or one of the other oligarchs of Chinese carbon-layup.  But I can't help but think it's all become a little bit sick.   Especially when you think about where this sport came from, and what it's really about.  

Give me the artisinal.   A Masi working in a tiny shop in the far corner of the Vigorelli Velodrome making frames for Simpson, or Merckx.

Contrast the investment banker (1% in income) buying a 'halo bike' to ride in the PanMass challenge with the story of young teen named Fausto Coppi (1% in ability) dropping the local racing team on his butcher's delivery bike.  Or of flower delivery boy Lucho Herrera doing the same thing in the Colombian Andes.  That jongens, is cycling.    Won by heart, legs and the head.  Not with the pocketbook.  And not with technology.

Road cycling is a sport of the people, (or so they say anyway... I'm starting to wonder).  Let's see how that 4-6X rise in pro level bike prices compares to other things 'normal people'... we 99%... bought over the same time span...

OK, you can probably quibble with the calculation, but I don't see a 4-6X increase in these other items, do you?

Now I many of you cafesupporters who know me, also know I'm a founding member of 'cheap p****s anonymous.'    I admit I still have a dated 10-speed Campy group on my Flandria.  The cranks are not carbon, nor are the bottle cages.  And you know what, it doesn't flippin' matter one iota.

What does matter is the eternal quest to ride the thing longer, higher, faster.

OK, I admit it, I'm a retro grouch.  Maybe an increasingly cantankerous one.   A pal recently labelled me the Andy Rooney of cycling.  

Maybe he's right.  I put in over 50 miles on a 42x16 steel winter fixed gear bike this past Saturday.   And you know what, it was great.  Thank you very much.  Didn't go much slower than my race bike either.    Still spanked it along at 18-20mph for three hours.  Halo bike, me arse.  

What do you think about 'Halo bikes', cafesupporters?     Weigh in...


  1. Ha ha. Great! I completely agree. Most memorable ride I did in the last 10 years was in Holland on a very inexpensive rental bike. No bike will make me a faster rider. Keep on going Eddy you hit the ride groove.

  2. Agree Eddy. I feel the growth in the popularity of the sport in North America has developed by focusing too much on the bike and not enough on the riding. Merckx, Anquetil both managed to ride pretty fast on steel frames and 52x13.

  3. Eddie O,
    Careful, you might just be getting your Mao card before your AARP one!

    It's priced at $10K because someone will pay $10K. Would you rather the Lipitor crew buy $100K Porsches instead?

    Let them eat cake -er Powerbars!

  4. Well spoken Eddy.

    The phenomenon you refer to about the watches is called Anchoring and Adjustment, and is a cognitive bias first pointed out by Kahneman and Tversky. I think you're correct in that those HALO bikes will also serve to help consumers rationalize their expensive buy.

    I am also guilty of doing something you mentioned to my dear wife on my last bike purchase of a 2nd hand bike, emphasizing how much money we were saving compared to the RRP.

  5. Great post!
    I share it with my fiends, thanks!

  6. Awesome.

    As a former delivery boy/messenger myself I simply couldn't stomach (let alone afford!)the price for a "decent" Carbon bike when I decided to make a move towards real road riding. Saved my pennies for a 2011 CAAD10 Rival and could not be happier. It's performance, geometrey, and styling far exceed its cost.

    It would be worth looking into more thoroughly, but I would hazard to guess that the ridiculous escalating price of road bikes has as much to do with the age of the most powerful demographic, and their corresponding income level.

    I want so badly to be wrong, but I don't see a lot of scrappy 28yr olds who bounce from apt-to-apt and job-to-job out there on my local roads. I see mid-career creative professionals, doctors/dentists, and wealthy family men. When you got the house in the burbs, and the Audi A6 in the garage, the 10,000 dollar bike seems less of a stretch methinks.

  7. A well designed and properly built Alu frameset, with reliable mechs, and good wheels...All you need to go fast if you've got the legs. Unless you're a pro, it's just window dressing.

  8. 2011 Average income level of $63,091 - I assume that would be household income - that average is nowhere near that in Rhode Island!!!

    I purchased a nice chrome-moly Pinarello frame on eBay for $350 - all handmade in Italy - looks totally new + added Campy Record components - and the total came out to less than $1,600.

  9. I believe it's great when you can buy Timex for $20 and Rolex for $20K. Does that Porshe go faster than Chevy? No, it is 55 mph almost everywhere. Do you really need 8 cylinder pickup truck to sit in traffic on your way to work?
    $10K bikes have nothing to do with common sense, but things like that are all over us.
    Living with no choices sucks, believe me, i know.

  10. Of course you're absolutely right Mike. They absolutely should be free to make them, and sell them... and the rest of us should be free to lampoon them, and those that buy 'em, eh??
    What was it P.T. Barnum said again?
    stay well Mike, and wax up the skis!

  11. Could not agree more, but I am a proud retro-grouch. My favorite ride is my 1976 Marcel Kint 531/Nuovo Record beauty. I've got alu and carbon bikes and they are great, but the classic steel "10 speed" still holds the charm. And the cost in its day was a hulluva' lot less than even a mid level carbon bike today!

  12. Marcel Kint?! The 'Black Eagle' lives, that's awesome! Hang on to that one, and keep riding it 50x15...

  13. Well Eddy,

    Not much 'Italy' in the Masi brand even back in the steel days. Lots of San Diego, not much else. Now it's the usual OEM's for Masi like Kinesis and Merida.

    Most frame building was outsourced then as it is today.. The difference is today China's currency practices have forced production into China.

    One critical reason why bikes are more expensive. There are fewer choices of product in the bike industry. Innovation in the bike industry is suppressed and revenues protected by intellectual property law. So, the bike businesses that are big enough to survive, are allowed to collect extraordinary profits in the form of higher prices.

  14. Okay, I'll bite.

    With all due respect to your fairly awe-inspiring cycling CV, who the !$%@* are you to begrudge anyone a "Halo Bike"? Are you God? Are you his stunt double? No. You're a cyclist. And while being a cyclist elevates any person to the status of demi-god, it does not impart an ability to read minds and know exactly why anyone does anything, especially something silly like dropping 10k on two wheels. Certainly you make no attempt at comprehension, but instead rely on sweeping generalizations, google-found internet inflation calculators, and emotional appeals to nostalgia to fuel your vitriol.

    In 1996, I had enough scratch to buy what would be, by your simplistic definition, a Halo Bike: meticulously fitted, designed, and hand-built over several months, and fitted out with the finest shiny stuff the world had to offer at the time. And because it is a bespoke bike, its twin does not exist in this or any other universe. It is a creation of singular perfection that exists solely because I wanted it to exist, and was fortunate enough to be willing and able to do the work necessary to fund a few profoundly gifted artisans while they conjured it into existence. But never did I harbor any illusions about it making me faster - in my racing days I'd ridden my second-hand Trek past enough 40-something doctors to know that "Klein" was more often an ironic indication of the rider's ability to fly. Or his penis size. Or both.

    No, this wasn't a "Halo Bike." It was - and is - a Holy Grail, a physical manifestation of the Bicycling beau idéal. And because it is the only bike I own, it is meticulously cared for, which is why I can ride it through 40 rain-soaked miles like I did just today and know, with as much steely certainty as the stuff from which it's made, that it will perform flawlessly, hampered by my physical limitations and not its own.

    So to answer your own question, your bike should cost exactly as much as it takes for you to be passionate about the sport. To love it so much that bitter cold, blinding headwinds, Sisyphean climbs, irreparable flats, occasional breakdowns and even an aging body serve only to make the dawn-rides, downhill bomb runs, track-stands, Sunday crits, and post-ride burgers and beers that much holier. And the next time you see some cat on a Halo Bike, chat him or her up before you begrudge them their ability (and the hard won success that engenders it) to own such a machine. Not everyone is an Investment Banker with more dollars than sense; some of us buy these things because our hearts and our heads are in the right place.

  15. Probably didn't make my point clear enough Anon... 'ik ben god niet', and I'm not begruding anyone the right to spent their 'scratch' on whatever they want. Just pointing out (simply) that for many years 'the best of breed' (e.g. the halo bike) was more approachable, available and affordable to most of the world...
    Thanks for reading and taking the counter point!

  16. meh.

    Train hard. Grow the sport. Kick arse if you have to. Ride what the team will pay for. ;-)

  17. Eddy,
    on a different subject, get this book
    "Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France"
    Published this year in England and available on Amazon. The best thing ever written. I cannot tear myself from it for a third day.

  18. Looks like you got out of the bike biz right on time there! Halo bikes are cutting edge. Wait a few years and the technology trickles down to "affordable" price points. DI2 is almost a deal now. 3 more years it will be on 2k bikes.Gotta keep pushing that envelope.

  19. I agree with you, nobody needs a $10K bike because (along with other reasons) for that money they could join us in Italy for the vacation of their lives and bring their wife AND have money left over. But I'm biased of course. One interesting thing though, compare this to motorcycles - an entry-level sporty bike like a Yamaha RD400 cost around the same price as a decent quality pro bike back in the late '70's as I recall. And the equivalent bike today, perhaps a Honda CBR600 costs around $10K I think. So a lot of this is just the poor value of the US greenback. But there's NO question too much emphasis is put on WHAT you ride rather than how (or how much fun you have) while riding. Thank/blame the bike industry for this - if YOU made bikes in low-wage countries that were pretty much like all the other ones, you'd have to spend big bucks on advertising to convince folks they were somehow better and worth all that markup vs the competition. Add in the shift of road cycling from working man's (I got into it when the $2K bike was more than the guy's car was worth) sport vs today's "new golf" and there's no question the $10k bike powered by 79 cent legs becomes more common. It was there back when I worked in a shop too, but back then we'd say "we sell everything you need here, EXCEPT the legs" and had no problem discouraging the newbie from buying an expensive, pro-level bike as his first one. Nowadays the shops are so desperate for a sale it's "yes sir, that carbon-fiber machine will make you the fastest, coolest cat out there, now hand over your credit card". It's a case of a market maxed out - too many bikes and bike shops chasing too few customers and sales.

  20. Great post, and dead-on.

    I'm returning to the sport after 10 years, and I'm floored by how pricey things have gotten.

    To me, there's nothing better than a handcrafted Italian frame. All my old bikes are beautiful Italian steel, and I'm wondering if anyone around here can point me to resources for refurbishing these things? The biggest challenge for me is figuring out what to do with shifting and headsets.

    Rather than risk the Wrath of the Wife, I think if I kept the frames and upgraded piecemeal, I could have some serviceable, awesome machines.

    Anyone have experience doing this? I'd rather not "cold set" the rear triangle, but I've heard you can squeeze a 130mm hub in there without risking any long-term damage.

    Alternatively, if anyone knows where to find old-style freewheels, I'll stick to friction

    Any advice is appreciated... :)

  21. Larry's jammed 130 mm (Campy 8-speed)rear wheels in more than a few of these old bikes with no problem, though a skilled frame alignment guy can spread things out a bit and tweak the dropouts to be perfectly parallel without too much trouble. The not-exactly-parallel drops can cause problems with extra stress on the axle, especially if it's an older, screw-on freewheel setup.

  22. Thanks, Larry and Heather!

    I'm going to take one of my boys to the local framebuilder and see what they say. I'm excited to get some old friends back on the road again.

    I can't wait to spin up my 1990 Colnago and blow by someone on a $6000 bike. Wait, should I have not said that?


  23. We only blow past others these days when going down a twisty descent - though on a steel bike it's easier - more weight and more stability. As Andy Hampsten once said, "the only thing worse than racing uphill without a lightweight bike is racing downhill WITH one."

  24. The whole business has gotten to be BS.
    There is no good reason that a rather respectable bike should not be able to be purchased for $1000....road or mtb. Yeah, pro race stuff maybe $3000. But these days, $1000 bucks buys you crap. Oh the frame is probably fine, but it will only shift properly for about a week.

  25. I really enjoyed the read. Seriously. And for the most part I agree with its premise

    ...except I'm about to drop $10k on a bike. *Happily*, I might add.

    Not because I think this $10k bike will make me faster, not because I think it will be in any way better than a dozen other possible bikes that cost half (or a quarter) as much.

    I'm doing it because that's what the bike I want costs.

    If the bike I wanted cost $2k I'd spend $2k. If the bike I wanted cost $20k I'd spend $20k. As it happens, the bike I want costs $10k. So oma spend $10k. And I'm gonna get the bike I want.

    If you're not gonna get the thing you actually *WANT*, why would you bother buying anything at all? Are your closets filled with compromises? Is all your furniture a compromise? Is your spouse a compromise?

    Get what you want.

  26. I think it's funny anyone even cares how much someone else spends on their bike, or whether they "deserve" the bike they're riding. Everything is relative. As hard as it might be to imagine, if you make $500,000 or more a year, $10k on a bike is trivial to say the least. Would you rather they put that $10k toward a giant SUV?

    Even funnier are all the people who claim to "blow by" guys on $10,000 bikes on their 1972 Schwinns. How do you know they're not out for a recovery ride? Or maybe they are in the middle of a 150-mile ride? Did the person you just blew by know they were in a race?

    So sad. Just jealousy and false pride.

  27. "So sad. Just jealousy and false pride."

    You're right. Your well-reasoned argument has convinced me to put my 1972 Schwinn on craigslist, and donating the proceeds to Mitt Romney's campaign, IMMEDIATELY.

  28. http://bikecatalogs.org/SCHWINN/1973/Catalog/FULL/1973_10.jpg I wouldn't mess around with someone with the legs if they were riding THIS! Even Mitt Romney can't BUY the legs.

  29. Just a point of clarification. In 1975, Bernard Thevenet's Peugeot was not a stock bike. In 1974 Peugeot finally got with the times and started its own custom bike operation, the "Prestige Peugeot" division. I've seen some of those bikes, and they're gorgeous, totally different from the stock factory bikes that were used my most of the Peugeot professionals until 1974.

  30. http://www.flickr.com/photos/7448869@N03/4149915787/

  31. I have a two steel road bikes that I truly enjoy, my first was a red 80s Raleigh and the queen of the stable is an almost mint 88 schwinn Le Tour all original still riding the original tires. Beautiful bike and I can personally say I've dropped guys on carbon (keep in mind I'm 22) while I don't judge people on those expensive bikes I am currently after a vintage specialized road bike right now. So I completely agree with your article

  32. You've created an excellent blog about Uniform Suppliers Brisbane. Your blog gave me some unique and useful information. Thank you for bringing this article to our attention.


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