I recently took a friend with me to a local bike shop to check out new helmets. I also wanted to see if they had any hitch mounted bike racks in stock. After seeing the price tag on helmets, apparel and the bikes he asked me why cycling is so expensive. The answer is both simple and complex. We won’t get into the economic side of supply and demand, but we will cover the underlying reasons bikes and their accessories are so expensive.
What many people fail to realize is manufacturers invest a lot of money in development costs for their products. You can’t simply draw a picture of a bike or bike accessories, then make it. Time (which costs money in the form of wages to employees and vendors) and research has to be put in. This is especially true for brands producing high end race performance level products.
I recently read a book called The Power of Habit and one of the chapters went into the details of the R&D (Research and Development) that went into making the consumer goods product, Febreze. I was shocked to learn researchers took surveys from consumers, trips to their homes, and those researchers spent late night hours in the office. A lot of work went into developing an air freshener. Now think about how much time brands must put into R&D for a product that allows you to fly down the side of a mountain at high speeds, or race across states (RAGBRAI) and countries (Tour De France.)
Why Bikes Are So Expensive
Knowing why bikes are expensive comes with experience. When I first started riding mountain bikes I started on a sub $1,000 mountain bike. (Check out my Trek Marlin 6 review here for more info on an awesomely affordable XC mountain bike.) Now I ride a carbon frame enduro bike that costs more than my first car. (Read up on that bike in this Cannondale Jekyll Review.) The average individual strolling around the block in their neighborhood probably cannot tell a $5,000 difference in price. A daily mountain biker hitting black diamond trails will be able to tell the difference.
The point I am making is the usage your bike gets will play a role in how expensive it is. This applies to both mountain bikes and road bikes. If you are using your bike to race then you need a lighter frame and lighter components on the bike. That means using thinner materials that have to be just as strong as their thicker counterparts. Carbon fiber will be more expensive than aluminum frames because the manufacturing process is more complex, but it is lighter and stronger.
Looking at all the parts on a bike; wheels, drivetrain, bars, frame and more… each is machined to perfection on a race bike. Even casual riders need a bike that works if they are riding daily. Sure, you can buy a cheap bike from a big box retailer or a discount store online. If you ride a few days each summer that is probably the bike you should buy. If you demand performance because you ride frequently, then higher price tags come on the bikes you need for an enjoyable experience.
Why Cycling Accessories High Priced
We talked about bike prices, but you are probably wondering why cycling accessories are also high priced. The same concepts apply. There is a lot of R&D that goes into making something like a helmet. Check out this Bontrager WaveCel helmet review for details on what goes into helmet testing. Helmets protect your brain from injury. I don’t know about you, but I would like to know my helmet has been tested and researched thoroughly before I use it.
For accessories like a bottle cage, you can find low priced products. I don’t think I could justify $80 for a carbon fiber bottle cage. They exist because someone out there can justify that purchase. Probably a professional racer needing to meet certain weight specifications on their bike. Next time you see a high priced accessory, try to reserve your judgement. Just because you’re ignorant about who uses that accessory and for what doesn’t diminish its value.
Why Cycling Apparel Is So Expensive
There is a lot of R&D that goes into cycling apparel. However, the biggest factor impacting cycling apparel costs is the expense of materials. Take a pair of cycling shorts for example. A normal pair of polyester athletic shorts may cost $20 or less. Polyester and Lycra, the two main materials used to make cycling shorts, don’t come cheap. The higher the ratio swings to the Lycra side, the more expensive those shorts will be.
The cycling shorts pictured above also have a sewn in chamois. They are the Pearl iZumi Escape Quest short. They are one of my favorite pieces of cycling apparel. (Read the bike shorts review here.) That extra padding material costs money, and it takes extra time to have it sewn into the short. Cycling apparel manufacturers use expensive materials for a reason. Those extra materials take more time to be sewn together compared to normal active wear apparel manufacturing processes.
Usage is also a big factor with cycling apparel. Sticking with the shorts example… They are constantly in motion because a bike has to be pedaled. Cycling shorts go through a lot of wear and tear, yet I have cycling shorts that have outlasted many pairs of casual shorts I wear outside of cycling. The quality of materials and manufacturing means I get more usage from the shorts. My cost per hour warn is probably far lower on cycling apparel than it is on my daily casual clothes or even my business suits when working.
How To Save Money on Cycling Gear
Knowing how to save money on your cycling gear is easy. Many cyclists want to support their local bike shops. That is great, but keep them honest on price. Many bike shops will price match reputable online retailers. A quick search for cycling accessories on Amazon can save you a lot of money thanks to price match offers. If you are in a time crunch, I would encourage you to buy local. Just remember, its okay to buy online to save a few bucks too.
Hopefully I’ve answered the question of why cycling is so expensive. I would challenge anybody who thinks cycling equipment is over-priced to find a cheaper alternative. Every sport has both high and low quality price points. Those higher priced items sell for those prices because they work, and they work better than their cheaper alternatives.