I have always been of the opinion that when you try a new hobby, you shouldn’t spend too much on it until it becomes more of a love than a way to spend time. Cycling is just such a hobby. It has quite a steep barrier to entry in that you need a bike. It also has a range of media around it all trying to convince you that you need to spend a fortune on bikes and kit in order to get the best out of it.
It isn’t true.
You can certainly spend a lot of money on cycling. But as a beginner, you won’t derive any real benefit from that extra investment. In my opinion, it is better to start at entry level and then upgrade as you go along. Upgrades are useful motivational tools and work exceptionally well as rewards for achievements.
That’s where starting cheap helps. If you jump in with a £5k S-Works and wear nothing but Assos gear, where and how do you reward yourself for achieving that KOM or losing weight? Where do you go from there?
So while it is definitely nice to ride a carbon fibre bike with loads of upgrades and clad yourself in silky smooth kit, it isn’t necessary in order to enjoy cycling as a hobby. Don’t let the media fool you into thinking it is.
Buying cheap bikes
There are a couple of things to bear in mind when buying a cheaper bike.
- It’s better to buyer a higher spec alloy bike than cheap carbon fibre
- Timing is everything
- The difference between groupset levels isn’t as much as you might think
- Even steel bikes can be comfortable and a pleasure to ride
- Brand names aren’t everything
- Frame first components after
It’s better to buyer a higher spec alloy bike than a cheap carbon fibre
As Cannondale have proven with the CAAD12, metal still has a lot to offer road bikes. Carbon fibre may be the go-to material for many manufacturers but it isn’t your only option. Carbon fibre bikes are more expensive to manufacture than alloy or steel. So for a given price, a carbon frame will have more component compromises than a steel or aluminium one.
My first road bike was an aluminium Cannondale Synapse and I loved it. I would certainly have another one.
Timing is everything
Retail is all over the place at the minute. Gone are seasonal sales and here are sales whenever a given brand feels like it. Fortunately, bike sales are generally around the same time. When the next season’s bikes are released. If you’re patient and don’t have to have the latest bike, wait until the next year’s models are released and wait for discounts.
You can save anything between 10-50% on the price of a new bike if you’re content to wait until the sales. A good time to buy a bike is between September and January. While not the best time to ride one, it is certainly the best time to buy one as retailers need the space for the next year’s model.
The difference between groupset levels isn’t as much as you might think
The experience and performance different between Shimano 105 and Ultegra is tiny. It is slightly more pronounced when you get to Dura Ace, but that’s for later. The same for SRAM and Campagnolo. A SRAM Force groupset works almost as efficiently and feels almost as silky as SRAM Red.
Certainly as a beginner, you will not notice the difference between groupset levels side from the price. Shift between manufacturers however and all that changes.
Even steel bikes can be comfortable and a pleasure to ride
Steel is having something of a renaissance right now. Just look at these frames from Belgian manufacturer Jaeger. Lust just isn’t enough of a word. There are plenty of British steel manufacturers too. Each bike has its own characteristics and are testament to the fact that carbon fibre, while good, isn’t the only material a great bike can be made of.
Brand names aren’t everything
Like any aspect of life, brands dominate the market. They would like you to believe that they offer the only sensible choice in their industry and that by not choosing them you’re compromising quality and the experience. While they do offer a certain cache, unbranded or not so high profile branded kit also have a lot to offer. Take Wiggle’s DHB for instance. It’s cheap but is very good.
Frame first components after
When buying a bike, always consider the frame first and foremost. It is the foundation of the bike and will have the most influence over your cycling experience. You can upgrade wheels, pedals, bars and saddles later. The frame isn’t so easy. When shopping for a bike, buy the best possible frame you can even if it means compromises elsewhere. If you have a good foundation you can upgrade as budget allows.
It is possible to spend thousands of pounds on a bike and we all do it at some point. Yet as a new cyclist, you really won’t get the benefit from that. It is far better to spend less, get used to a bike, learn your preferred style, position and all those little things you will learn. Then, once you know what kind of cyclist you are, you can buy the bike that perfectly suits that style.
Always mould a bike around you, not the other way round!