Bike comparison
March 21, 2011 7:28 AM   Subscribe

Bike Comparison: Need help choosing between two bikes in the $550-$600 range. And how do you learn what components are better than others?

I'm buying my first-ever road bike. I knew I wanted the integrated brakes/shifters and a frame that was relatively light.

There are two places I'm looking at, nashbar and bikes direct. At Nashbar, there's this road bike. And at bikes direct, I was looking at this bike.

I know that it comes down to the components but I really don't understand how to compare and contrast components (where do you learn all of this stuff??) I'm open to other bike reccs as well.

posted by bluelight to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, looking at the bike on Nashbar, it's got Sora componentry, which is Shimano low-end road bike. The other one has some Sora, some Tiagra, which is a step up.

The one at Nashbar has no rack mounts, and the Motobecane does. This gives you some flexibility if you wanted to chuck a lightweight rack on it to commute.

The Motobecane has reasonable tyres, Continental UltraSport, on it, which will last a while. Kenda, on the Nashbar, doesn't have a good rep for durability.

Nashbar has Alex R500s for rims, which are pretty okay. Alex is known for budget, sturdy, and somewhat heavy wheelsets. The Motobecane has XRP COMP Vueltas, considered okay. You might want to look into those to see which is lighter; the more things cost, the lighter they become, usually.

Actually, depending upon where you live, you might want to look into how much both weigh; if you have to lug it up and down several flights of stairs--I've done this myself with bicycles!--you'll want to go with a lighter option, because it becomes tedious after a while.

Basically ... I'd be going with the Motobecane, myself. It comes in a good range of sizes, too, so you should be able to get a size to suit your body.
posted by owlrigh at 7:52 AM on March 21, 2011

The BD bike has a mix of Shimano Sora/Tiagra and Tektro parts. The Nashbar bike is all-Sora. The BD bike probably was designed for some kind of value-optimization. Both those bikes are probably a good value if you like the way they ride.

Tiagra is nominally higher than Sora in the Shimano parts hierarchy, but there's really not a lot to choose between them. Tektro brakes are cheap, but there's nothing wrong with them (I've got them on my town bike).

Forget about the components, though. What it really comes down to is which bike feels better under your butt, which is difficult to determine in advance when buying mail-order.

Whichever you get, I suggest leaving room in your budget for at least a replacement stem and saddle, to get the fit the way you want.
posted by adamrice at 7:56 AM on March 21, 2011

Be aware that the Bikes Direct bikes will come partly disassembled.

The easiest way to tell what components are what is to do a quick google search, but in general, Shimano's groups break down like this:

2200 - Bargain bin stuff. Works OK, not very reliable and difficult to maintain.
Sora - Next step up. About as low level a component as you'd find on a "real" bike.
Tiagra - More reliable, easier to maintain, not very lightweight or responsive. OK for a new cyclist.
105 - Very reliable and responsive, more than enough for most cyclists.
Ultegra - Reliable, responsive and lightweight. Good enough for the avid weekend racer.
Dura-Ace - Professional race equipment.

The components to pay attention to are, in order:


So, for example on the Motobecane you're looking at:

The Derailleurs are Tiagra, which is a good place to start. The shifters (built into the brake levers) are Sora, but they'll work OK for a season or so, and then you can look into upgrades - all of the Shimano stuff works together. The Crankset is by FSA, and is their entry-level model - better than bargain bin, but another contender for upgrade as you progress. The headset is Cane Creek, which is a very good brand, but I'd be willing to bet it's not a sealed-cartridge model. Word on the XRP Comp Vuelta wheels is that they're not terribly lightweight or refined, but very reliable. The tires are Continental, which is also a very good brand. The brakes are by Tektro, which specializes in bicycle brakes, and is generally regarded as reliable and easy to maintain, while not top-notch in terms of performance or weight.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:58 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

For your first-ever road bike, I would not buy something off internet based just on specs. There is lots of potential to go wrong with the fit, and end up spending a non-trivial amount of money replacing components to end up with something that works for you. A local bike shop will be a better bet, and you may be able to get a good deal on a 2010 model of something that will rival online prices. You should also be able to get unlimited advice for selection and fit - and that is worth good money.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 7:58 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

In my experience, they don’t make bad road bikes – so either of these will probably suit you well. You can buy a terrible mountain bike, but most road bikes are quality (most).

That being said, the second bike has slightly better components – a mix of Sora and Tiagra as opposed to all Sora. Many of the bikes you’ll be looking at will have Shimano components and the entry-level group is called Sora. From there it goes to Tiagra, then 105, then Ultegra, and then Dura Ace (there are a couple of different Dura Ace groups, which I honestly don’t know much about because they’re totally out of my price range). You may also seem some SRAM, and I think their entry-level group is Chorus, but please don’t quote me on that – the road bikes I’ve owned and ridden have all had Shimano components. I don’t know much more than that, but hopefully it gives you some idea. I'm sure other people can tell you more about other parts of the bike (on preview, this is true).

I don’t know where you’re located, but if you have some local bike shops, you may want to go by and ride a couple of their bikes to get a feel for the geometry and fit you’re looking for (you may have already done this, and if so, please disregard). There are certain manufacturers whose bikes fit me more naturally, if that makes sense. Local shops are sometimes carry used bikes that are really good deals. I bought a $1800 bike for $1000 and it is a dream to ride. Also, if Craigslist is active in your city, you can sometimes find really spectacular deals on there – a friend of mine got a $800 for $300 once.

Oh, and you may want to check out the Giant OCR3; that was my first road bike and I loved it.

Anyway, good luck and happy riding!
posted by vakker at 7:58 AM on March 21, 2011

Best answer: Shimano goes: 2200 < Sora < Tiagra < 105 < Ultegra < Dura-Ace
SRAM goes: Apex < Rival < Force < Red
Campy, I think, is: Veloce < Centaur < Athena < Chorus < Record < Super-Record

When it comes to components, the best value out there now at a lower price point is SRAM Apex. The cheapest BikesDirect has an Apex bike is this one, which is a pretty good deal. It is more expensive than your other two choices, but depending on your cycling plans, it'll take you farther-- literally and figuratively.

Don't look past steel, like this Schwinn (which has 105 components). Yes, it'll probably be heavier, but it'll be comfortable-- much more so than all-aluminum.

How, how far, and over what terrain do you plan to ride?
posted by supercres at 7:59 AM on March 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

A lot of us learned about various component levels from the print catalogs for Nashbar or other mail-order companies, back in the day. These days, I imagine you'd use the web site the same way: you can look up individual parts and compare prices and features about them. An organized shopper might make a comparison table of the specs of the two bikes, then go line by line and decide whether there's a qualitative difference between them on that part.

Glancing at it, it's awfully close. I like the adjustable stem on the Nashbar (which will probably save you having to replace it), but I like the fact that the Motobecane has clipless pedals.

And as the others are saying, this decision is traditionally influenced by riding the bikes at your local bike shop. Loss of the test ride and lack of post-sale support are the big trade-offs -vs- price when you buy online.
posted by richyoung at 7:59 AM on March 21, 2011

Sora and Tiagra work slightly differently - Sora has a thumb button on the top of the shifter for shifting, which makes it hard to shift when you're "in the drops" of the handlebars unless you have large thumbs. Tiagra has a secondary "paddle" inside the brake lever to shift - more like the higher-end Shimano components.

How to learn about this stuff? Reading stuff on is a good place to start. And then there are various internet bike forums, and hanging out with bike nerds, etc.
posted by entropone at 8:09 AM on March 21, 2011

The Schwinn that supercres posted looks like a pretty nice deal. I went from a cheapo aluminum framed bike with Sora to a steel framed bike with 105 and it the ride is way way better and 105 is a rock-solid component group, plus you get a 10-speed cassette and the compact double crankset should give you about the same gear range as a triple with slightly less complexity (and probably better shifting).
posted by ghharr at 8:18 AM on March 21, 2011

Additionally - at that level, it's likely that most of the stuff will be decent, slightly heavy (old adage: cheap, light, or strong - pick two), but without real problems - That is, compared to lower-end stuff, like Walmart bikes, generally have pieces of crap for components. Shimano's stuff is made such that lower-end stuff will work quite well - their philosophy is to have well-shifting stuff at the bottom of their component hierarchy to get people into their brand. [what's the difference between their low end stuff and their high end stuff? price, weight, and durability mostly]

The main thing that makes a difference would be wheels. Again, at that level, stuff is going to be pretty similar. If you want to drop coin later on in your bike-owning future, some nicer, lighter wheels might improve your experience. Or you might not care or notice.

The biggest thing that makes a difference isn't what's on the bike, but how you maintain it. Learning to keep your chain clean and well-lubricated, your tires inflated, and your derailleurs adjusted adequately goes a very, very long way. Look to see if there are bike repair classes in your area.
posted by entropone at 8:19 AM on March 21, 2011

Slight derail but are these for exercise - are you putting serious milage on whichever bike you choose?

The reason I ask is that if you tend to put serious milage on these, I'd generally recommend trying to find a local shop which carries these bikes and riding these bikes a bit and seeing which is more comfortable and going with that.

Getting a bike that fits properly is likely more important then slight differences in components.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:21 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the head's up about the Schwinn supercres. I have put bikes together before so I'm not afraid of a little assembly (I also have access to necessary tools), it's just general component knowledge that I lack.

I kind of need this bike soon so after looking at the options again and reading your responses I'm pretty sure I'll end up getting the Schwinn. I'm riding slightly hilly terrain and though right now I won't be putting too much mileage into the bike it will probably see at lot more a few months down the line.
posted by bluelight at 8:36 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd stay away from a triple crankset. My fiance has a triple with, I think, Tiagra components. Once it got out of alignment we've never been able to get it shifting cleanly again, even after the bike shop realigned her rear dropout.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:27 AM on March 21, 2011

hydrophonic, what does "out of alignment" mean? You probably needs to adjust your derailleur, which involves turning two screws or paying the bike shop ~$10 to turn 2 screws for you. Triples are not any harder to maintain than a double, you just tell the front derailleur to move slightly farther.
posted by bradbane at 10:07 AM on March 21, 2011

Steel is real. Good choice on the Schwinn. All 105 makes it the winner. That frame will last a lifetime.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:08 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Once it got out of alignment we've never been able to get it shifting cleanly again, even after the bike shop realigned her rear dropout.

Could be that the derailleur is made for a double rather than a triple - in that case, getting it aligned juuuust right again would be a pain with some chainlines. A made-for-a-triple derailleur won't give you too much headache. It couls also be she bent the frame somehow - that's the only reason I can think of the bike shop would have been messing with the dropout alignment.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:45 AM on March 21, 2011

what does "out of alignment" mean?

It means the best that can be done, by us or the bike shop mechanics, is to get the small chain ring to work (run without noise) with the leftmost cogs, the large chain ring to work with the rightmost cogs, and the middle chain ring to work with the leftmost and middle cogs. Not a huge problem if you're careful not to cross-shift, but not exactly ideal either.

Yeah, the derailleur hanger got bent. Crowded bike racks can be a hazard. Maybe the derailleur got screwed up too, it's not the sturdiest thing I've ever seen. The parts are spec so I'd be surprised if it's the wrong derailleur. At any rate, if she upgrades it'll be to a double chain ring. Hopefully she can find something that will work with the shifters.

Anyway, this has probably gone too far off topic for the OP. If I had $600 to spend on a road bike, I'd buy used and look for 105 or equivalent. Although that Schwinn looks like a good deal.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:59 AM on March 21, 2011

It's easy to buy a new bike, but if you but in a bit of effort your money will go a long ways with a used one. Bikes don't really go obsolete and they rarely get "used up". Ten or fifteen year old mid-level components are almost always going to be better than brand new entry level stuff.
posted by pjaust at 11:11 AM on March 21, 2011

That Schwinn does look nicer than the others. I like to pick bikes by riding them, so if you go around to some local shops, KHS and Giant make some great deals in lower end bikes. Most brands are made in the same huge factories in China, so a lot of what you are paying for is the name.
posted by advicepig at 7:30 PM on March 21, 2011

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