It can be overwhelming and expensive to try to get into a new hobby like biking, but it doesn’t have to be! In the last Cheeky post, we talked about finding the right type of bike to buy to help you meet your goals. Let’s go through a handy list of bike buying tips outlining options to help you make the right decision for your budget.
When you’re looking to buy a bike, it’s helpful to first be familiar with the different bike components. We’ll reference some of these terms throughout the post/ blog… (or maybe say that these are term they will hear out in the biking world, and that’s why they should be familiar with them?).
What are the parts that make up a bike?
Biggest driver of cost of your bike can be bike frame material: Different materials (metal types) will drive pricing, provide differentiation in bike performance:
Weight is the thing everyone talks about first. How much does the bike weigh?! A lighter bike means less mass to move up a hill, therefore less effort expended. Does it mean that you might climb up that hill faster? Probably, to the tune of a few seconds. You can spend a lot of money getting the lightest bike, with the lightest components. So many riders in the biking community are utterly obsessed with their bike’s weight.
Cheeky Fun Fact: My personal strategy is to try to lose a few pounds myself, which would give me the weight advantage, and would generally make me a healthier person which also improves my riding. It’s a win-win.
Stiffness of the bike’s material/metal which is important for optimum power transfer from the effort you put into your pedal stroke and how much it transfers to your forward motion.
Comfort, Cheeky’s most valued trait, which can also be related to the stiffness of your bike. A bicycle that is stiff will transfer power and will also make for a more bumpy ride because the material/metal doesn’t absorb the bumps as much as a softer metal would.
Let’s review some common materials you’ll see in the market:
- Steel – Common on older bikes (90’s and prior). Steel is typically the heaviest option available, making it a great choice if you are looking for something very sturdy, and budget friendly. These beasts can take a beating: dings, dents, bad crashes, and small bends and still keep on rolling! This makes them popular for touring and commuting. Unlike aluminum and especially carbon bikes which “fail fast” after being damaged (sometimes immediately), a steel bike will stand up to wear and tear and will keep going for years. That’s why they remain so pervasive in the used-bike market. Steel bikes are a great option for beginning riders but can be found at yard sales, on consignment at bike shops, or on ebay. Newer designed steel bikes can compete with aluminum and carbon fiber bike weight and performance, and while they are easier to find, they can be pricey.
- Aluminum – is a lightweight material that can get you moving, widely available at most entry level price points for road bikes, mountain bikes and commuters. Aluminum is not quite as strong/durable as steel, but is typically lighter than steel and provides more rigidity which will make a difference for power transfer in your pedal stroke. Aluminum is more durable than a carbon fiber bike, or titanium bike, but may be a little heavier due to the way it’s constructed, or have less aerodynamic designs.
Cheeky Fun Fact: My first road bike was an aluminum 2001 Lemond, Nevada City, and it was a boss!
- Carbon Fiber – Found in bikes that make up the higher end of the price range because they have an incredible strength to weight ratio which makes them ideal for cranking out speed and power in the toughest of races. Because of the reduced weight of the material, designers can create extremely aerodynamic designs that would otherwise not be possible with other metals (as it would add significantly more weight). This stiff metal is great for transferring your power in each pedal stroke. Stiffness can also reduce comfort, but most big brands of bikes have adapted their design to make their carbon bikes more comfortable (you’ll feel less of the uncomfortable bumps from a rough road).
But – and this is a big but (or butt if you’re Cheeky) – a bad crash, especially into a road sign, post or car can cause serious damage to the frame. That may feel obvious that crashing into things is bad, but Carbon fiber bikes won’t dent like another metal, they crack. And once a carbon bike gets a crack it is no longer safe to ride and should be replaced. And that can get be a blow to your budget! That in mind, carbon is a fantastic option for a high performance bike, especially for road riding/road racing, due to its versatility and general badassity.
- Titanium – The most expensive of our biking options, it’s lighter and stiffer than steel but more responsive too. It won’t be as light as your carbon or aluminum options, but those purchasing a titanium bike may consider it a bike for life, or an investment, because titanium doesn’t rust or corrode like other metals.
- Combination of metals – Some bikes will come with combination or metals, for example an aluminum frame and a carbon seat post. This may be a nice compromise for optimizing performance, comfort (potentially dampening road vibrations because of the thicker sidewall of the carbon seatpost than aluminum) and your budget. Keep this option in mind too!
Component quality is another cost driver: Components, also known as the groupset, are the parts of the bike that make you go (gears, derailleurs, crank sets) and make you stop (braking systems, etc.). All component sets will get the job done, but some will do it more smoothly (like shifting between gears). They can also be made with better quality parts and look flashier.
There are a lot details available on this topic, and I’ll be honest that components groups isn’t my passion. So for those who want all the nitty gritty detail of performance levels and product differentiation check out this lovely post from BikeRadar.com.
For a TL;DR view, I’ve listed out the general hierarchy of groupset quality for the 3 most common brands (Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo), and the name of the models for each quality level/pricing point.
Shimano – Very Common groupset brand:
- Entry level Shimano groupsets: Claris, Sora and Tiagra
- Performance Shimano groupsets: 105 and Ultegra
- Pro-level Shimano groupsets: Dura-Ace
SRAM – Newest brand on the block:
- Entry level SRAM groupsets: Apex
- Performance SRAM groupsets: Rival and Force
- Pro-level SRAM groupsets: Red
- SRAM eTap groupsets: electronic shifting and hydraulic disc brakes
Campagnolo – Found on higher end bikes, and not commonly found on entry level bikes:
- Entry level Campagnolo groupsets: Centaur
- Performance Campagnolo groupsets: Potenza and Chorus
- Pro-level Campagnolo groupsets: Record and Super Record
Now that you’ve gotten familiar with the top 2 price drivers, what else should you be asking? Evaluate the bikes in your price range and then ask:
- What more am I getting in this price range than the one below it?
- What am I not getting in this price range, than the one above it?
Sometimes the features in the price range above will reduce weight, or improve the quality of components by a level. For example, you may get improved shifting by spending a little more, and the bike will be a few grams lighter. I might be willing to pay more for better shifting, but I would rather work on personally shedding a few of my own grams of weight, and keep that extra money in my pocket. That works for me, but you have to do what is right for you!
What kind of bike are you looking to buy? Leave your comments and thoughts below!
Next up for bike buying tips: How do I know what bike size is right for me?