I just want to go fast but it turns out bikes are more complicated that that
September 1, 2008 11:28 PM   Subscribe

Bikefilter: Trying to get into road cycling for the first time. Trying to pick up the (strange) conventions of pricing and choices. Help!

Ok, so I am a runner with plantar fasciitis, who decided that cycling might help relieve some of my workout load. I cycled to school and for transportation in college, and occasional bailing aside, I really like it. So here I am, trying to buy my first road bike.

After perusing the bike forums, I have decided that I have about 600-650 to spend on a bike, leaving me about 150 to spend on extra stuff (jersey, pump, water bottles, cage, etc). So, I've been looking at a Giant OCR3, Felt Z90, Z100, and a Trek 1.2, all listed at list price of 750ish.

However, reading bike forums and sites, I keep seeing these bikes listed as $600 dollar bikes. I am confused. Even at the bike shop, these bikes are 720+!!! The only exception I found was with a 2008 OCR3. Am I getting ripped off (as I expect) by the local bike shops? Is there some kind of pricing scheme where most shops hack off a good 10-15% from list price?

After also trying to navigate the used market, I am really frustrated. I know what I need. I need an aluminum or steel frame, 2007 or newer to prevent "surprises" (dead cables, messed up clip pedals, etc) and sora/tiagra components or better. They are low end, they will all feel relatively the same to me.... who cares! I just want to get something with relatively good value, so I can resell to upgrade, and so I don't have to go to the shop every five minutes. In fact, the only reason I am considering new first, is because I don't want my bike to break 10 miles from home, or take my "new to me" bike to the shop and spend 400 making it roadworthy, right off the bat.

Too many choices, too much conflicting information. If someone can provide a general strategy and what to expect in actually purchasing a new, low end road bike, (including haggling) I'd be thankful forever. Thanks!
posted by wuzandfuzz to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
When you buy from a local retailer, the premium over the "internet price" pays for the sales person sorting you out with a bike that fits your body and riding style, advice on other accessories like pedals and shoes, and most importantly of all, the ability to bring the bike back for repairs, adjustments, and all of the post-sale care that a good local bike shop has to do to stay in business.
You're only getting "ripped off" paying the bike shop price if you can do all of these things yourself. Personally, I'd find a bike shop with a good reputation for after-sale care and buy from them even if the price was higher than other close-by outlets: you can't put a price on the pain of things going wrong.
Last of all, if you don't yet have one, budget for a helmet. I can't tell you how many times mine has saved me from concussions or worse.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:50 PM on September 1, 2008

I used to be very into road biking, and I did 2 centuries, and worked at a bike shop. My road bike was a used one, which originally cost $1000, but I got for $500. I'd encourage you to be a little more flexible on the used side of things. Some of the concerns that you bring up (breaking of cables, messed up clip pedals) really should not be a problem. If you verify the cables aren't rusted, they really shouldn't break-- they are coated with some kind of clear coat that does not let water through. As far as the pedals are concerned, just verify they click in with a shoe.

Word to the wise, I would not start off with click in pedals. If you get in an accident and are still clicked in, that can have worse consequences than otherwise. Familiarity with balance in riding across different conditions should be something at which you become more adept prior to taking the pedal plunge. Click in pedals proved too scary for me.

Also, if you buy used, say from craigslist, you could get an incredible value. There are many extreme dreamers out there who buy their perfect bike and then have to sell it to make next month's rent. Having a used bike tuned up properly (wheels trued, brakes checked, etc) should not run you anywhere near $400. Just ask where the good mechanics are in your area-- the best very well might not charge the most, especially in this economy.

One more thing-- remember to raise the seat so that your knees have a 10 degree bend at your leg's full extension. That will give your knees the least amount of stress, and the most power per revolution.

Good luck getting into cycling! I had a great time with it.
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 11:53 PM on September 1, 2008

It is a well-known fact that your Local Bike Shop (LBS) typically charges more than a cut-rate website somewhere in the cloud. A big part of what you are paying for is said LBS staying in business, so that you can wheel in your bike for free tune-ups, or when something is not right you can show it to a mechanic and they will fix you up on the spot and charge little or nothing. You get your value in other ways, basically. Many people like that; some just buy a bike where it is cheapest and deal with it on their own. It's all up to you.

FWIW, bargaining in LBS typically does not go far in my experience, but consider whether they will also throw in free tune-ups and/or some extra equipment with bike purchase. This having been said, the "regulars" at LBS often do get significant discounts, sometimes all the way down to what the shop paid to wholesale distributor. This is a way for the shop to reward and retain customers who are known to be a good revenue stream. Your chances of waltzing in from the street and convincing someone that you will buy lots of stuff in the future are more or less nil. But these discounts may well be where the low prices quoted on other web sites are rooted in

Moving on, I think you are over-reacting w.r.t used bikes being unreliable. Bikes are basically rather simple mechanisms. There is very little that can go wrong that you would not notice during a short test-ride. If you are really worried, I'd look into local shops selling used bikes - they might even provide a warranty. But, really - a $700 used bike very likely will be something of a fairly high standard of manufacturing, even if the actual components are not the best. It will not fall apart. If it rides well, it will almost inevitably Just Work, in my opinion.

All of this having been said, I want to throw in a recommendation for Novara bikes. Novara is an REI house brand, and is thus sold only by them. They make a number of bikes in different categories, and all are basically well-built, reasonably priced work horses of bicycles. Check them out, if you have not already.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 11:57 PM on September 1, 2008

There are several problems with buying used:

- You absolutely must have a sense of what you're buying. That means being familiar with components. Prices vary wildly at places like Craig's List where sellers either don't know what they have and price it too low or too high, or do know what they have and are trying to dupe novice buyers... caveat emptor.

- You must have an eye for damage and condition problems that may need attention. You need to be able to access if a bicycle will need serious work. Some bikes can look great at first glance, and only after a close inspect will damage become apparent. If a bike only needs a tune up, that shouldn't dissuade you - all bikes need a tune up sooner or later, however, you should be able to access on your own and not take a seller's word for it.

- You must know your size down to the centimeter.

- You must be patient and not jump the gun on the first bike you see that sort of fits your bill.

In short, buying used requires a lot of work. Unless you're unsure of any of the points I've outlined above, save your money for a while longer and buy new.

I need an aluminum or steel frame

Er... aluminum or steel? So basically just about 96% of all bikes ever made then...

2007 or newer to prevent "surprises"

This is a false assumption. Newer bikes can be full of "surprises" while I've seen 30 year old bikes which were in as-new condition. You should factor the cost of a tune up and inspection into any used bike you're considering.

sora/tiagra components or better. They are low end, they will all feel relatively the same to me.... who cares!

In your price range it's possible to find 105 and sometimes Ultegra level components. The real attention should be paid to the group's age. There are lots of very nice 105 and Ultegra 9-speed bikes out there going for a song because the new 10-speed groups are what everyone wants nowadays.

Still, if it's a cheap sora/tiagra road bike you want I suggest you just order new from Bikes Direct and then pay a pro to put the bike together. Here's one to start with.
posted by wfrgms at 12:11 AM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Am I getting ripped off (as I expect) by the local bike shops?

There's a previously that may be of interest.

I also found this story while googling a bit, and it's a nice little fable. Now, I'm likely going to piss off some AskMe bikies here, but your budget lands you not so much at the low end of the bike market, but the arse end of the bike snob shop market. As a result, the shop margins on those bikes are thinner than the tyres.

I'm a defender of the gently-used steel-frame ten-speed Raleigh/Peugeot or similar for tonking about on the road, especially if you're new to long rides. (There's a learning process; you're also going to need some basic maintenance skills down the line anyway.) It's a perversion born from many happy miles on bikes that would draw forum scorn -- American bike culture is weird that way -- and built upon advice from veterans who rode club races on inexpensive bikes.

Still, I'll admit you do need to know what you're buying, so if you don't have someone to call upon, do what wfrgms said, and get it put together, ideally by someone who doesn't reflexively sneer at people who aren't one-upping on their parts list.
posted by holgate at 12:49 AM on September 2, 2008

You should be able to get a fine 9 speed 105/ultegra mix on an aluminum frame for $500 on Craigslist, depending mostly on the size you're looking for.
posted by rhizome at 1:09 AM on September 2, 2008

Used can be tricky because serious, expensive issues can be very subtle, like the rounding of cog heads, which would indicate excessive wear. I recommend Park Tool's website for a good primer in all of the mechanical systems and how to repair them. Most repairs are simple.

My first road bike was a Giant OCR3 I bought used. I put many thousands of miles on that bike, and it's a great model for beginners because of its adjustability. You might be able to haggle with your LBS, especially it now being the end of the season -- not so in California, perhaps. They might also have a line on good used bikes that they have checked over.

You have the right idea about components. Sora is still a very strong and robust group; you need good solid wheels with lots of spokes that will stay true longer -- and the cheap ones all fit this perfectly; aluminum in place of carbon in areas that take a beating if you fall. One area of concern is the seat -- you won't know what you need until you start riding. Everyone has a preferred shape that is fingerprint-unique. (I have two Sella Italia Flites that they don't make anymore stockpiled because it's perfect for me.) So make sure you buy from a LBS who is willing to swap out components such as the seat to suit your needs.
posted by luckypozzo at 1:17 AM on September 2, 2008

There is already some good advice upthread, but I'll just add a few thoughts anyway. For a new cyclist, nothing matters more than a bike that fits well. The quickest path to injury and general unpleasantness on the bike is to ride a bike that doesn't fit. The premium you pay for buying from a (good) local shop will pay serious dividends because they'll make sure you get a good fit, get things set up right, etc. Plus, a good shop will almost certainly take care of keeping your bike running smoothly -- probably doing tune-ups and minor repairs for nothing or significantly discounted prices.

Good shops take care of good customers; dedicated cyclists form long-term relationships with shops. I consider the guys at my shop to be good friends, and they've gone out of their way many many times to make sure I'm taken care of. You won't get that if you buy the bike on the web or used (unless you buy from a shop that sells used stuff).

Plus, a lot of shops will discount additional purchases (like the pump, clothing, etc. you've mentioned above) when you buy a bike. So you might recover some of the extra cost in that discount.

One other important note: I noticed your list of extras did not include shorts. If you're going to spend money on ONE extra, make it a really good pair of shorts. Nothing will end your cycling career faster than bad shorts which could mean saddle sores or pain or discomfort in a very sensitive region. (There's a reason that serious cyclists pay many hundreds of dollars for multiple pairs of specialized shorts, and then spend additional money on chamois creams, skin conditioners, etc.) You might think cycling shorts look silly or are not comfortable or are insanely overpriced, but I promise you will not regret the investment if you make it (and you will almost certainly regret not making it if you don't).
posted by dseaton at 2:57 AM on September 2, 2008

First, at the low end, the biggest cost input is the group (the derailluers and brakes). I'd look used 105 if I were you.

Second, you should go the shop route. Once you are a regular, they will start cutting you slack on the pricing (this is why LBS's go under). I'd basically tell the sales person everyrhing you said here.

Finally, GET CLIPLESS PEDALS! You'll be fine, they don't bite and you can get out of them faster than clips.Doom stories posted above aside, they are easy, safe, and increase the fun factor a lot.

Good luck.

p.s. Do not buy a yellow-colored jersey. It is bad form.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:16 AM on September 2, 2008

Most shops will bargain with you, but you need to know where they have room to bargain. The price they pay for bikes is not a lot less than retail so they have limited bargaining room on the bike itself. However, they have lots of room on accessories like pumps and clothing etc. I have typically gotten about 50% off on clothing purchased at the same time as a bike, but getting anything more than 5% knocked off the price of the bike is a lot. Also, don't fear the clipless pedals. They are not that difficult to get used to, but trust me you will, at least once, stop, upon stopping realize that you are still clicked in and then flail about vainly trying to get out of the pedals prior to falling over. If people see you they will laugh. You will look ridiculous. It is unlikely that you will be injured, although you might scratch your new bike.
posted by caddis at 7:01 AM on September 2, 2008

Oh, one more thing, get the yellow colored jersey, or some other very bright color. It is better to stick out like a sore thumb than to be turned into road kill by some soccer mom in a Hummer who failed to see you while her kids were distracting her from the back seat. Neon lime-yellow really stands out. Remember, pride goeth before the fall.
posted by caddis at 7:06 AM on September 2, 2008

I work in a community bike shop, and have access to wholesale bike parts and frames (though possibly at lower discounts because of volume).

Let me share with you this:

Lets say a bike (fully outfitted) costs me $500, and its MRSP is $900. Thats quite a "rip off" to you, isnt it!

But, I had to pay someone to do final assembly (1hr @ $50/hr shop rate). I had to pay a sales guy 3 hours to dicker with customers over fit, accessories, and other details (say 3 hr @ $20).

Then I need to pay that repair guy again when the cable snaps, and need to cover it under warranty. (say 15 minutes at $50/hr).

So that $500 frame costs me closer to $700 by the time I take your money -- and we are selling it for $820 to cover our other overhead. That internet website that is charging $625 shipped for the same frame isn't going to have my expert mechanic wrench it, test the spokes, and make sure its in tip top shape. You are. And when you screw it up, you are going to come to us and have us fix it at our shop rate anyways (2 hours at $50). You are also going to think forever that "Giant sells crappy bikes that need extra work". This is why discount bike website.com doesn't sell Trek's, Cannondales, etc and only sells low end bikes that could care less about their image.

New v. Used
Cables cost $5, and housings cost $2, and its a 2 on a scale of 1-10 to replace them. Basic skills you should have anyways.

New tires will set you back $20. A new chain $20.

If you look at a used bike, you need to know two things:
a. Bring a chain wear gauge ($10 at your LBS) to make sure the chain isnt 100%+ warn which will mean the cassette ($50) and chainrings need to be replaced ($100).
b. Are the wheels true (dont wobble) -- if they arent, they might need truing ($20-$50), or to be replaced ($250).

If you buy a new bike, you are doing it for the same reason people buy new cars -- its blingier. Cars are also fully assembled at the factory. Imagine buying a KIA that the dealer put the motor, body panels and wheels onto? YeesH! Scarry.
posted by SirStan at 7:55 AM on September 2, 2008

Yesterdays 105 = Todays Tiagra. A 2009 Tiagra equiped bike probably feels as nice as a 'new old stock' 2006 105. If this is your first bike, I would suggest Tiagra it is much nicer than Sora (Sora is pretty much poop). 105 is a bit overkill though to be honest, and an 'Ultregra' equipped bike in that price range is probably older stock with crappy components, but the brakes and derailers say Ultegra.
posted by SirStan at 7:58 AM on September 2, 2008

Holigate said: "I'm a defender of the gently-used steel-frame ten-speed Raleigh/Peugeot or similar for tonking about on the road, especially if you're new to long rides."

We have a PEUGOT from the late 70's in our shop that I *LOVE*. I have been taking it on longish rides (25-40 miles) and prefer it to my $800 105 equiped Aluminum name brand bike.

The only negative is older bikes didn't have tripples (granny gears up front) or compact doubles (wider spaced two chainring in the front).
posted by SirStan at 8:01 AM on September 2, 2008

"I'm a defender of the gently-used steel-frame ten-speed Raleigh/Peugeot or similar for tonking about on the road, especially if you're new to long rides."


Pound for pound these two manufactures account for about 75% of the crap bike boom market. Horrible, horrible bikes built with the cheapest components and techniques. Gas pipe frames, stamped pot metal parts...

If you're looking for a "vintage" road bike - buy Japanese (or Asian) - they are heads above anything Raleigh and Puegeot was making at the same time.

Yesterdays 105 = Todays Tiagra. A 2009 Tiagra equiped bike probably feels as nice as a 'new old stock' 2006 105.

I actually agree with this. I've been pleasantly surprised that Shimano has taken Tiagra slightly up market. Still, Tiagra bikes seem to be a mix of lower end stuff whereas older 105 will tend to be slightly up market. I'd take the 2006 105 bike over the 2008 Tiagra, all things equal...
posted by wfrgms at 9:14 AM on September 2, 2008

wfrgms: If you're looking for a "vintage" road bike - buy Japanese (or Asian) - they are heads above anything Raleigh and Puegeot was making at the same time.

Or Italian. If you do go the used route, you can probably find an amazingly nice Pinarello in your price range. I've seen some that were absolute top-of-the-line in, say, 1987, still in good condition, sell for less than you want to spend.
posted by dseaton at 10:18 AM on September 2, 2008

Lets say a bike (fully outfitted) costs me $500, and its MRSP is $900.

The markup is even less than that. The standard industry markup on low-end, complete bikes is 50%, i.e. $500 wholesale corresponds with a MSRP of $750. And bikes are usually sold at less than MSRP.

The fact is that bike shops barely cover their costs by selling bikes. It's the accessories that bring in a profit (and a tiny one at that).

Lump me in with the "support your LBS" crowd. I work part-time at a bike shop, the rest of my time at a 9-5 salaried job. I know for a fact that I make much more money than the owner of my shop. He shares a frickin' Dodge Echo with his wife, fer chrissakes...and not for environmental reasons either.
posted by randomstriker at 10:41 AM on September 2, 2008

As someone whose neck has been saved (probably literally) quite a few times by leaping for the sidewalk when in danger of a collision in congested city traffic, I am N-thing the don't get clip pedals advice. Car drivers do stupid things because they don't really understand how fast a bike travels. You need to get off the bike fast and sideways, sometimes, to avoid injury.
As for type of bike, a used bike that fits you is just as good as a new bike. Get measured for frame size, handlebar reach, and saddle height. A good bike shop will set up and adjust all the components on your bike: crank, gears, pedals, saddle, loose wheel-spokes, etc. An online store will leave you to do these things (plus some self-assembly) yourself.
If you are a runner looking for low-impact workout, you could also consider and orbital exercise machine. I have one and it provides an excellent workout that goes easy on the joints and feet.
posted by Susurration at 3:51 PM on September 2, 2008

update: man, road biking culture is HARSH! Here are my observations, as an outsider, of the culture, and what I plan to do in terms of purchasing my new bike, based on all of y'alls great opinions.

There are a lot of very strong opinions about two wheels and how I should procure/maintain them. I went to work today, and asked our local road guru (he's like, ranked top 10 in his age group in california) for some advice, and the reaction was just hilarious.

At first, he was like, oh, awesome, you want to start cycling. (Still smiling) Then I mentioned buying a low end bike, and he didn't blink. (still smiling) Then I mentioned the word "aluminum" followed by "tiagra" and he wouldn't make eye contact for the next 10 minutes. It was like he instantly noticed that I had leprosy or something. He's normally a really cool guy, but he kept stammering something about "At least buy a used bike, you might be able to get some 2004-05 ultegra."

Other people at work into cycling had similar reactions, except for the mountain biking crew, who were like, sick! A beater! Excellent decision!

I must admit, this whole "local bike shop" thing still bothers me. To be completely honest, I find it tough to be willing to accept initial price hits in the hope that the mechanics will like me, and will hook me up later! What if I smell? What if they hate asian people? What if they just dont ever feel like helping me out despite my paying endless premiums on gear? (BTW, I refuse to believe the "just don't be a dick and they will like you" shtick, people are people, not all bike mechanics are saints)

As a whole, I'd much rather pay face value for both the bike and service - I'd rather feel like I got a good deal on maintaining my hobby than eternally wonder if I am getting ripped of by bike mechanics who are really sneering at me when I leave the shop each month. It's very interesting, how such a seemingly solitary sport is more like joining a secret society, or elite clique. I guess that these facts do belie the assertions that most LBS's really don't make much money, and are doing it for the love of cycling and their local community. After all, this kind of personal experience would be wiped out by big-box bike retail (like RRS for running) if there was real money in it.

So, cultural observations aside, I think I have recieved some consistent guidance.

1) I am going to endeavor to look at my LBS as a group of people, rather than an artifice of the open market, as I do with everything else. To this end, I guess I have to find a shop with mechanics that I kinda like, as well as the bike I want..... Doh

2) I am going to look at a used bike first. This also has the advantage of not involving the LBS, as there is no LBS that offers used near me. (rich jerks at amgen all ride crazy expensive (5-10k) bikes with funny italian names, killing the market for used stuff) Universally, everyone said I would get more value, and I, personally, won't feel so bad if I drop it. This used bike quest is looking real tough, as most of the used stuff seems to be shittastic mid 90's stuff, but I am going to try real hard to try to score an 05 cannondale or something. Maybe even something made of titanium, with ultegra components? Either way, I am going to bring my semi-pro buddy along to look at my leper bike. (He'll be holding his nose all the way)

3) If I can't score something used, my LBS has an '08 OCR3 for 660. This seems really high to me, but the other 09 bikes are just ridiculous. I mean, 800 for a bottom of the line felt, or 760 for a 1.2 trek? Damn! I am the powerplant, I make the bike fast, not the other way around! I am also going to look outside of my area for better prices, but then I miss an opportunity to get "in" with my local bike clan - and the prices may not be better.

Thanks for all the advice, it has all been eye opening - It definitely prevented me from walking into the first three bike shops and demanding (with a lot of profanity) that they match prices I found online. I'm going to mark best answers later, as I am open to more help based on my revised game plan. Thanks a lot, mefi!
posted by wuzandfuzz at 7:52 PM on September 2, 2008

It was like he instantly noticed that I had leprosy or something.

It's an American thing. Or at least, the pervasive snobbery about road biking is something I've really not enjoyed in the US. I live in a city with elements of the '$2000 bike on a $200 car' culture, but I'm from an area with a rich tradition of building and racing bikes. Just as an example, there's a guy my age who's a friend of the family back home and got his second Olympic medal in Beijing to accompany his rainbow jerseys. His first 'racer'? A Holdsworth 12-speed. (If more Americans were riding $50 Dutch-style three-speed clunkers around town, I think that things would be different.)
posted by holgate at 8:33 PM on September 2, 2008

Used is your best buy, no doubt. However, fit is the most important part of buying a bike, more important than weight, frame material, parts groups, manufacturers, etc. As a novice, it is tough to get a good fit on your own. Frankly, even with an LBS it is difficult. About one in four have someone really talented, and interested, in getting fit right, especially for the newbie. Some of those shops will provide a fitting for a fee, about $100. If they are good, that is money well spent. Your local cyclists, despite their cliquish arrogance, can fix you up on who can provide a good fit. Get a good fit and then find a used bike with that fit. If you want to try to do fit on your own, then I recommend the Greg Lemond system, which you can find at the Colorado Cyclist web site - fit.
posted by caddis at 10:10 PM on September 2, 2008

heh, yeah, thanks for the comments, caddis. If I find a cheapo used (on my own, without pro fitting) I'm just going to buy it, and figure out if I really like cycling - and if I really dig on it, I'll immediately sell it and get something more appropriate. Otherwise, I really hope my LBS's mechanics don't suck and can fit me well....... jesus, buying my car was easier than this. I keep thinking, it's such a simple machine....
posted by wuzandfuzz at 10:58 PM on September 2, 2008

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