Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

A Case for Buying the Bike You Want

We don’t do–or at least haven’t done–car reviews on this site. One reason is that car companies aren’t exactly eager to have us dole out opinions about their new turbo-charged super-sleds to a bunch of design-oriented minimalists who err on the thrifty side. But another reason is that we don’t like cars very much. Sure, they get us around. Some of us even have them (this author shares a well-used Honda Element with his wife). But our relationship with them is one of tolerance and necessity, not adoration. Cars are expensive, dirty, promote sprawl and have many moving pieces that tend to complicate life. We appreciate that many of our lives cannot function without owning a car, but if workable with your lifestyle, we recommend selling your car and picking up a car-sharing membership instead.

Bikes, on the other hand, are a different matter. Maybe it’s because they are the world’s most efficient form of transportation, or because they condition our bodies as they get us to our destination, or because we need somewhere to place the fetishism we had for cars in our youths–whatever the reason, we love bikes.

When we test drove the Schindelhauer ThinBike last week, we received a few comments about its $1500 price tag. We notice people tend to balk when a bike’s price goes north of $1000–a figure that seems orders of magnitude greater than the $60 Murray of our youths. While we won’t deign to say how much you should or should not spend on a bike, we will make this recommendation: Don’t be afraid to buy the bike you like and will ride…even if it cost more than $1000.

There are some technical reasons why you should consider an upgraded bike. Cheap bikes tend to be cheaply made; they often have crappy bearings and seals, stamped (not forged) metal parts that bend, steel rims that rust, brakes that barely stop, frames that weigh a ton. And before you say you can’t tell one bike from another, test ride an expensive bike against a cheap one. See if it doesn’t ride better and is not easier to pedal, shift and brake.

There are also intangible reasons why you should consider an upgraded bike. In an edited life, one where most everything you have is necessary, it’s important that the stuff you have is the stuff you love and will use. Every item you have needs to be a starter, not a second-string player.

This longwinded preamble was really just an excuse for this author to show off his new bike.

Before I put it together, I had two bikes: A well-worn road bike with a slightly buckled headtube and a mountain bike I was always planning on (but never) riding. I decided to trade both in and get the one bike I wanted and would match my riding needs. BikeEdited, if you will.

The bike is built around a very basic chomoly-tubed frame by a company called Murphy Himself (I think it’s one guy actually). I chose it because it has multiple eyelets where I could install fenders and a bike rack for a baby seat or touring. I like it’s clean, decal-less look. It’s not particularly light, but I’m not riding competitively so why should I care?

(As an aside, if you are overly concerned about bike weight, specialized equipment or having the latest and greatest equipment, you must read Grand Petersen’s “Just Ride.” Petersen is the founder of Rivendell Bicycle Works and debunks many commonly held myths amongst ‘serious’ cyclists, such as the necessity for clipless pedals, padded shorts and carbon frames.)

Like I mentioned, a big priority was having full fenders. Even light rain on a fenderless bike can create a huge stripe up your back. I wanted to make sure I was fully protected. Clip-on fenders tend to rattle off and provide incomplete protection, so I purchased a set of Velo Orange hammered-alloy full fenders that fit and look great and provide ample coverage.

alfine-rear-hub

Next, I wanted a bike that was almost maintenance free, so I decided to use a Shimano Alfine internal 8 speed rear hub instead of a derailleur-based drivetrain. It’s a bit heavy, but it shifts flawlessly and 8 speeds is enough (don’t ask Petersen what he thinks of 33 speed drivetrains). Because I wanted to use drop bars, I purchased a bar-end shifter from a company called JTek Engineering.

jtek-shifter

The rest of the bike is a smattering of new and old parts stripped from my previous bike: A Dura-Ace crank, Mavic front hub, Velocity Deep V rims, Panaracer tires, Ritchey seatpost, Selle San Marco saddle, Cinelli bar, Kore stem, Tektro brakes. When all was said and done, the bike cost around $1400 (I saved a little money using old parts).

I love the way the bike rides, fits and–I’ll admit it–looks. I make up excuses to ride it. And therein lies my point: When we get the stuff we want–whether it’s a bike or a frying pan–we use it, cherish it and take good care of it. A bike just happens to be an important piece of stuff in our estimation. And while this cherished stuff might be a little more expensive (or not), as we like to say around here, “If something costs twice a much, but lasts four times as long [or is used four times as much] it’s effectively half price.”

None of this is an excuse to spend money needlessly. Nor is an excuse for a superfluous upgrade. And many may find a cheap bike they can safely lock outside serves their needs better. Likewise, there are many great bikes under $1000; if you know a thing or two about bikes, buying used can be a sound idea. We’d also be remiss not to mention bike sharing. For many city-dwelling bike commuters, systems like NYC’s Citi Bike effectively eliminate the need to own a bike at all.

For the rest of us who don’t live near a bike sharing system or have long distance commutes where a personalized bike makes a difference or just like riding our own bikes, we think making an investment on a bike you love and will ride is a good one.

[Full disclosure: In my previous life, I worked at five bike shops, crossed the US and a few other countries by bike and have generally been an advocate of bicycles.]

  • Marrena

    I’m more of a public transportation person than a bicyclist, so this is idle curiosity, but won’t a bike worth more than a thousand dollars get instantly stolen?

    • David Friedlander

      i’ve been pretty lucky (knock on wood). i keep my bike inside wherever possible, but when not–which is often–i leave it in the most conspicuous spot i can find. burglary hates witnesses.

  • Tim Domenico

    When I ride my electric bikes I feel like I’m riding the future. You can build one for less than $500 (start on Ebay looking for “electric bicycle wheel”). My friend in China has an electric scooter that’s he had for three years and only had to replace the batteries once in that time. Lightweight electric propulsion is the future.

  • siliconsleep

    Thanks for this update, David, however I think that you’ve included a different link than the one to the original article that you’ve referenced that received the comments “balking” at the cost of the bike. I just wanted to make the case here that you don’t need a $1000 bike or even a $500 bike to ensure that it is solid enough to withstand the tests of time and trial. You can build a fixie or a geared bike for ~$300 that will last you easily 5 years for standard road use. Would I use that bike in a competitive race? Probably not, but for standard, everyday use, I think the point that should be communicated (or what I would communicate to your readers) is that you can have a great, more eco-friendly, more healthful way to get from point A to point B, C, and/or D while keeping the price reasonably low. I do not need a designer bike to pick up my soy vanilla ice cream from Trader Joes 10 miles away.

    • David Friedlander

      ah, so i did. thanks for keeping me on my toes.

      in terms of the expense issue–and forgive me for being a bit of a bike snob–but many (not all) of the recent spate of ~$300 fixies are pretty poorly made. they look cool, but have lousing headsets, bottom brackets, saddles, tires, etc. again, there are many quality levels and you might know of some rides i don’t.

      after finally upgrading my bike after about 15 years of solid use–commuting and sport–5 years feels like a very short life indeed. i expect my current bike to serve me no less than 10.

      • siliconsleep

        15 years is a long time – that’s like 105 in doggie years. Kidding aside, you must have done a great job keeping up that bike. I would tend to agree with you about buying $300 fixies that are factory-made or even kit-made. I think I was more referencing building a bike from scratch and sourcing good materials to build it. You can find solid fixie frames on ebay for ~$150-200 and than just putting in the time to get the rest of the parts ($50 stem, $65 saddle, $50 pedals, $35 flywheel). So, yeah I guess it doesn’t add up to $300, but I’m sure it could be done!

        • Matt Libbey

          I’d have to agree on the ability to get a great “getting around” bike for sub-$500. The key is to buy high-quality used/rebuilt. Here in Cleveland we have two places that will help you do just that: an awesome non-profit called Ohio City Bike Co-op (http://www.ohiocitycycles.org/), which will also teach you bike maintenance and handling skills if you are inclined; and a “breathe new life into quality used frames” retail store Blazing Saddle Cycle (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Blazing-Saddle-Cycle/145915202131369). The two of them together helped me put together my bike, and I often leave my expensive bike in the basement in favor of this one. I have to imagine that other cities has similar shops.

  • Bill Allen

    Matching a bicycle to the task is something to consider. You may not always need a full size bicycle. I have a Mini Cooper and I keep a HASA folding bicycle in it. Use it for building to building transport where I work. Very reasonably priced (~$300 USD and up) depending on the features. The British Brompton folding bicycle is a legend but tends to be pricey (~$2K). In a way, folding bikes are theft-proof as they are probably not worth anyone’s time to steal. Do a little reasearch and you may find them to be lot’s of fun to ride if what you ask them to do is not a long haul ride. Would love to see a review of some on this site. Cheers!

    • Steve Stearns

      I had a Dahon Jetstream that cost around $700 new. I just didn’t like the “feel” of the frame while riding it. It is a good bicycle, but wasn’t right for me. I sold it to a neighbor who loves it because he can store it in his trunk of his car. When considering a bicycle do an extended test ride. The retailed I am working with let me take the bicycle for a full weekend and provided me a bicycle rack to use, no deposit, nothing. That retailer has earned my repeat business.

  • Cayman

    I want to keep the bike I love, but have moved into an apartment and want to minimise its footprint. I’m happy to pop the pedals off each time, but where can I source one of those swivelling gizmos for the handelbars?

    • sachi wilson

      Cayman. why don’t you look at a bike rack that rests against the wall? I had a couple bikes in an apartment years ago, and hung them on a rack that leaned on the wall. It worked a treat, and also provided a certain decorative element for my bicycle-happy friends, 🙂 Would that not work for you?

      • Cayman

        I actually have a Top Peak Dual Touch storage pole, but have been told that a bike visible in the apartment is too much like student living. I was hoping to get my Charge Plug skinny enough to fit under my side of the bed. If I owned the apartment I would create a false ceiling on pulleys with a hidden LED strip to make the edge of the ceiling glow. So, back to getting my lovely Charge Plug skinny enough to store under the bed. Or, I wonder about building a sideboard with an empty space behind where I could hide my bike.

  • Sachi Wilson

    I think it is VERY true that it’s worth it to get the bike you want. A good bike – specifically, one with a good frame – can last just about forever. I have a stable full of 1970s-1980s bikes with good steel frames that I’ve ridden for thousands on thousands of miles. I’ve replaced worn out parts here and there, and upgraded components when new stuff was beneficial (indexed shifting in particular!), but the bikes are every bit as good and competent as they were when new.

    My recommendation is to find a shop that knows how to fit you to a bike, and get one with a GOOD steel frame. Good steel frames are responsive and ride like a dream, and are not all that expensive either! Put the right parts on the frame, and you’ll have a bike to last you for your entire life.

  • globalguy

    Quick (and serious) question: How many bikes do you have to own simultaneously for it to be a fetish?

  • Caryn

    I’m not sure where you live, but I live in DC and my friends who have bought expensive bikes have been victims of multiple bike thefts (even when taking precautions with the type of locking systems they use). One friend has even given up and decided just to stick to bike share. I have a beat up hybrid that I bought for $150 that I still have. If I had a more expensive bike, depending on where I locked it up, I would be worried about whether it would be stolen and in some cases, it would probably prevent me from riding my bike out of worry about where I would leave it. So, when buying the bike one wants, one needs to consider where they live and where they will be riding it and locking it up, and whether the bike one wants is the bike one wants to be stolen.

    • i currently live a little north of nyc (where i’ll be moving back to soon). most of my commuting was done in nyc in fact–done on somewhat high end road bike. i made a couple modifications to the bike, such as bolt on wheels versus quick release. i use a fairly cheap u-lock, not even bothering to lock front wheel. the main thing i suspect kept my bike from theft was that i consistently locked my bike in the most horribly conspicuous spots i could find–on street islands, directly on corners on street signs, etc. nyc has the highest police-to-citizen ratio of any major city, so my reasoning was put the bike in a place where one of those many police could see a crime in progress (they really are everywhere…the police that is). it worked for many years, knock on wood. of course, i NEVER left my bike out overnight and took indoors whenever possible.

  • Steve Stearns

    I personally think price or cost is all relative to each individual consumer. I spent $2,300 on my Trek Ion CX Pro (2012), because it is the best bicycle that “fit” my personal needs. Therefore, $1,488 seems like a real value for what the ThinBike offers. I thought David Friedlander’s original review of the ThinBike was very insightful and I learned some new things about the ThinBike, as well as this current article. I can’t wait to see the ThinBike in person. With a design background, I can see the thoughtfulness that went into the design and construction of the ThinBike.

    Each individual needs to assess their real needs (not wants) and budget and then make an informed decision that is best for them. I also think if one has the talent and can recycle an older existing bicycle, update (as needed), then that’s great. One less unused bicycle in a landfill or rusting away in a basement, garage, or backyard, and someone gets what they need at their affordable price point.

    Bicycles aren’t cheap today, but then again nothing is. Bicycle technology has advanced and changed at lot in the last 30+ years. The tech of the ThinBike is not your standard fare, with the rotating handlebars, the carbon belt drive, the folding peddles, the rear seat post LEDs, the disc brake, and the finely designed frame.

    I always think you get what you pay for. I prefer to purchase quality once and enjoy it (whatever the “it” is) for a long time.

  • sourgrapes22

    There’s a lot of bike theft in my city. A more expensive bike would just me more anxiety. Some cities/jobs do require cars however. It would be great if you could review some of the tiny cars out there, if for no other reason than to show car manufacturers that interest is growing.

  • omordah on etsy

    I agree one should buy the bike that suits them. Personally, I’m no “racer” but, I am a bit small, 5′ 2″. I can usually get away with an average size, but the weight is a huge issue for me. Lugging it in and out, and for those times when I bring it along via (uggg, dare I say car?!). I love riding a bike, but if it is heavy, that will cause me to think twice. 30+ lbs’ of weight may not seem like much to some, but for me its too much.
    Unfortunately, I am also not wealthy, and my TOP amount of money to purchase a bike could not be over 2-300 and even that is hard. So finding a decent bike is not easy. I have been eyeing a diamondback, but that even feels heavy…. what’s a girl to do?