It’s springtime, that magical time of the year where the birds chatter, it’s windy as hell, and everybody is throwing up their lists of favorite “affordable” bicycles for the year. A few that have popped up in my newsfeed define affordable as under $2000. I don’t know about you, but $2000 is still a chunk of change even if it is affordable in a sport where a new frameset alone can set you back $7000 for carbon fiber or titanium.
So, it’s spring and you’ve got that itch to go for a ride. Unfortunately, that tax money you expected to get back turned in a huge liability, so you’re strapped. You’ve got a few options:
- Go to bike store and get a bike loan. Yes, they’re a thing
- Go to WalMart and get a bike that may or may not kill you
- Do a little digging and find a decent used bike that will suit your needs
Another option is to build your own. I’ll cover that in a little while.
I was at one of the local bike stores here in Albuquerque a couple of years ago looking for bar tape and QR skewers for a bike I was building and there was a couple in there buying a pair of mid-range bikes (at $3500 each), shoes ($100-$200 a pair), helmets ($100 or so and up), car rack ($200+), and clothes (ungodly expensive). So, I’m wating for the salesman to acknowledge my presence and wondering who in the hell walks into a bike store and drops nearly 8K. It turns out you can get bicycle loans. They’re just like car loans, or any other kind of loan, only they’re for buying bicycles.
Okay, car loans I get. I hate them, but they’re a necessary evil and since I tend to keep my cars until the wheels fall off and the transmission falls out, there’s usually a significant amount of time where I’m driving but own the car outright. In a place like Albuquerque where the city’s so spread out and the mass transit sucks, cars are good things to have.
But the fact that bicycle loans are a thing boggles my mind. Especially when it’s a multi-thousand dollar loan for someone who just wants to get into the sport. You know, get their feet wet and see if it’s something they’ll enjoy. From the sheer amount of used bicycles out there, I’m betting most people get the loan, ride for a few weeks, find out it’s hard, and give up. That’s a lot of money to try out something you might not get into.
Of course, not every bicycle in the bike store is a multi-thousand-dollar beast. And, contrary to what the nice salesman is telling you, you don’t need a top of the line bike to get started. Find something affordable and functional and see if you’re even really interested in riding. If you are, great. Upgrade at some point. If not, well, a $500 investment is a lot less than a $3500 investment.
You can also go to the local big box store and pull a bike off the rack for under a few hundred dollars. WalMart and Target both have bike sections filled with flashy rides with colorful paint jobs and fact sheets that advertise things like SiS! Disc Brakes! Super-light aluminum frame! Shimano! SRAM! Nearly 30 speeds!
What those fact sheets don’t tell you is the brakes suck, the components will break, and most people will never use that many speeds. Big box bikes are okay for toodling around the neighborhood. Just give yourself plenty of time to stop and don’t be surprised when the plastic brake levers bend and flex. But, let’s face it; that’s good enough for most people. If all you’re doing is casual rides around the neighborhood or along a trail, that $300 Schwinn is going to be perfectly servicable.
The only worrisome thing about big box store bikes is the components can be less than stellar. If you’re taking slow rides, no worries. If you’re planning on going faster or riding off road, or putting any kind of stress on that bike at all, bad components can be dangerous. Brakes that fail because the metal flexes too much or the pads are insufficient can kill you. Having to re-true wheels after every ride gets old fast. A frame that came apart at the seams because the welding was crap can end a ride quickly.
On the other hand, I had a buddy back in high school who broke a Specialized frame by hitting a rock on a trail. When he contacted the company about a warranty, they said, “You were riding off-road? That wasn’t what he had in mind. No warranty.”
It was a mountain bike.
Perhaps teh best way to find the new ride of your dreams is to do some digging. Those people that dropped all that money on brand new bikes so they could try out the sport? They probably dropped out and are selling those bikes at a fraction of the cost of new bikes. People who get really into cycling also love to upgrade constantly (guilty) and sell off the old stuff. You can find used bikes all over the place that, with a little elbow grease, can ride just as well as they did when they were new. Check your local Craigslist, sporting supply stores, eBay, Pinkbike, the classified. I can almost guarantee you, someone is selling a bike that would be great for you for far less than you’d pay new. Plus, it’s a kind of recycling (pun intended), so that’s pretty cool, too.
A final option that most people probably won’t go for is to build up your own bike from scratch. The upside is you can get exactly what you want and if you dig around Craigslist and eBay, you can build it for a lot less than buying a complete bike. It’s also a fun project, great experience, and teaches you how to maintain your own ride. The downside is you need some specialized tools like crank pullers, bottom bracket tools, headset presses, and things like that. Fortunately, those show up on Craigslist and eBay all the time, too. It’s not for everyone, but I’ve built three bikes now and I love the process of building and tinkering almost as much as riding.
For those wondering, here’s my latest creation. I found the frame on eBay for $250, components from Craigslist, eBay, and Nashbar before they went all weird. It rides like a dream and even though it’s got mid to high end parts and a carbon fiber frame, cost about $800 spread out over a couple of years. Still pricey, I know, but buying a bit a time over months made it easier. With cheaper parts and frameset and a little digging, a good bike can be built up for about $500 or so. Plus, when something breaks, you’ll know how to fix it because you put it on there in the first place.
I know people love their bikes. If you’ve got a pic or a story, put it in the comments. I’d love to see your ride or hear your story.