Bikes Are Bullshit

So now the weather’s finally getting nice, and I’ve been thinking about ways to finagle more outdoors time — an important thing, when your career basically forces you to stare into a monitor 8-12 hours a day. I was walking to the Metro the other day when I noticed several bike paths that run right by my apartment…

And I think: I should get a bike. I could explore those bike trails, use it to get to class rather than drive my car, and maybe use it for part of my commute too (biking to the Metro instead of walking). And since my car is finally paid off, I’ve got some extra money every month to play with, so I can afford to shell out a little.

With all this in mind, therefore, I dropped by a local bike shop this weekend to take a look at what’s out there. Friendly Bike Shop Clerk and I start talking, and I tell him that I want a basic, no-nonsense starter bike for use around the neighborhood and light commuting. He says "Great! Let me show you a few" and walks me through the pros and cons of three different models…

… that all cost $500.

Yes. Apparently an "entry-level" bike these days costs five hundred dollars. That’s American dollars, too, Jack. 

Now, $500 may not be a lot to you, but it’s a lot to me — especially for something that would be frighteningly prone to theft. I don’t want to drop five bills on a bike and then have it go walkies on me a week later.

So I was a bit surprised to discover that $500 is basically where bike prices start these days. And they go up pretty quickly from there; you discover rapidly that the $500 bikes aren’t what real cyclists buy. Real cyclists buy $1,500 bikes, and then keep a wad of hundreds in the waistband of their bike shorts to throw at any plebeians they pass on the bike path: "Here’s some money, kid, go buy yourself a real bike."

If you can stomach the cost, there’s then the matter of choosing a type of bike. When I started looking, I thought a bike was a bike. Wrong-O! There are something like 46,000 categories of bike to choose from. There’s road bikes and mountain bikes, "comfort" bikes and "hybrid" bikes, "commuter" bikes and "touring" bikes. There’s "urban" bikes and "city" bikes — which are not to be confused with "town" bikes. And that’s not even counting the huge array of high-end bikes for the cyclist who’s busy sawing one of his balls off so he can be just like Lance Armstrong. The only thing you won’t find are cheap bikes — unless you are willing to buy disposable crap at Wal-Mart that’ll rust through before you get it home.

How the hell is a newbie supposed to find their way through the proliferation of categories? It’s as if the marketing arm of the bike business was the Judean People’s Front. (Splitters!)

I’ll probably end up swallowing hard and buying one of those god-awful "entry-level" bikes; I’ve been scouring Craigslist for a cheap used bike, but no good candidates have popped up. But the whole process has been sufficiently disorienting that I wanted to throw it out for discussion. If you own a bike, how did you find the right one? Can something that costs $500 truly be called "entry-level" with a straight face? And if bikes are so freaking expensive, should I do the logical thing: quit my job and start selling bikes???



May 8, 2007
12:52 am

Chances are you have a friend or two who are already into biking and they’d be a good source to ask how to get a starter bike pretty cheap. Hit them up for advice, kind of like when they need help with Windows.
Chances are, you can save some money by buying a slightly used bike and replace some parts (tires, brakes, …)


May 8, 2007
8:39 am

I would think If you go to a bike store, they will specialize in the expensive bikes for expensive people (particularly in the D.C. area).
So maybe the market is a little distorted in the bike shop (kind of like going to a running store for running shoes, lots of 200 dollar shoes, and you have to really look hard for the 100 dollar shoe). You go there for the expertise on what you need, and they stear you towards the top-of-the line beginner merchandise.
You can probably find what you need online (amazon alone has a decent number of under 200 buck bikes for adults), and, as much as I like to pound on Wal-mart as the next guy, what what Wal-mart has good enough for a first bike, for a lot less money.


May 8, 2007
2:07 pm

If you are planning on riding your bike to the metro and leaving it there all day, DO NOT buy the $500 bike. Absolutely do not. I had a $90 Schwinn that got stolen probably the fifth time I left it at the Clarendon stop, and believe me, I was locking it up. If they’ll saw through a lock for a Schwinn, your expensive bike will be gone the first day.
If you’re going to always be in its presence unless it is inside your house, then get the more expensive bike, because man, that Schwinn was hard to pedal sometimes.


May 9, 2007
3:06 pm

Go to Target and pick up a $90 bike, it does the same thing. Or better yet, skip the Metro bullshit altogether and just buy a motorcycle (and a good helmet, I recommend HJC) 😉

Zoran Lazarevic

May 9, 2007
11:58 pm

A few points:
– I know a doctor who commutes occasionally on a $100 WalMart bike.
– I think a lot of people buy bikes and never use them (threadmill-buying sindrome). Ask your friends if they want to give their bike. I have been given and offered bikes over and over.
– When you get a bike, get TWO locks/chains. Two security items decrease the chance of stealing far more than the most expensive lock. It is often too much hassle for thiefs to break two locks. Bike shop clerk will confirm this.


May 10, 2007
10:26 am

I think these comments just reinforce that a casual/starter bike needs to be less expensive. Theft is a HUGE problem–it’s essentially guaranteed.
Of course, maybe you should just go down to the corner and ask where you can get a bike cheap. I mean, if they’re being stolen, somebody’s gotta be selling them.

Jason Lefkowitz

May 10, 2007
10:31 am

“I think these comments just reinforce that a casual/starter bike needs to be less expensive. Theft is a HUGE problem–it’s essentially guaranteed.”
Which raises a question that seems obvious to me:
Does anyone sell bike insurance? Would seem to be an obvious thing for big-ticket items with a higher-than-usual risk of loss.
I can find lots of places selling _motorcycle_ insurance, but nobody insuring bicycles…
Maybe THAT’s what I should quit my job and go do 😉


May 10, 2007
1:11 pm

Risk is spread already–if the p(BikeStolen) = 1, then there’s no risk to arbitrage. 😉


May 10, 2007
3:14 pm

Speaking of sawing off balls, got chainsaw? Mine weigh 8 lbs each, but since I’m missing one as you suggest, I’ve now dropped my ball weight in half! LMAO……no, you are mistaken, REAL bikes cost $5,000. Get with it!


May 14, 2009
5:51 pm

Starter bike – buy a half decent ally frame off ebay suitable for the task ie don’t buy a street bike frame for off roading etc. Buy a basic shimano crankset (again used is fine) and gearset and some used rims. $500? More like $200 and you won’t be upgrading in a hurry. I don’t usually even bother with suspension frames anymore – they waste more energy going uphill than they dissipate going down. You can get a nice old Scott Comp, Marin or Canondale ally hardtail frame for peanuts if you don’t mind dinks and scratches. Biking is about fun and fitness and $$$$ signs have no place in that imho.