Reasonably priced bike gear

Cycling is expensive. Any activity that requires equipment is going to involve some expense, and cycling’s equipment requirements are fractal in nature. You don’t just get a bike, you get clothing. You don’t just get clothing, you get warm-weather clothing, and foul-weather clothing, and cold-weather clothing. You get tools, and not just tools, but tools you carry on the bike and tools you use at home. And so on.

As with most things, you reach a point of diminishing returns in terms of price:performance as you spend more and more money on bike stuff. Where that point lands is an interesting question. There are some good deals out there.

I am in the USA and writing this mostly for a U.S. audience. I’m a roadie so that’s what I know.

Bikes

There are often closeouts on last year’s model of bike, and there are some ebay vendors that seem to specialize in this: here’s one. They have a top-end 2021 model listed for less than half its original retail price (but still very expensive).

The difference between this year’s model and last is usually trivial or nonexistent. Every few years, manufacturers will roll out new versions of their models, but these are not generally earthshaking changes.

Note that when buying a bike this way, it still needs a fair amount of setup work, some of which might not be obvious. You’ll either need to be a competent bike mechanic or hire one to set it up, which will offset some of the discount. Shipping will also be a chunk of change.

There are a number of direct-to-consumer bike brands now. I haven’t ridden any of these, but they’ve been favorably reviewed.

As of this writing, a Trek Domane SL5 is listing for $3500, compared to $2000 for a Canyon Endurace CF7 or $1800 for a Fezzari Empire Sport (on sale right now). These are all carbon-framed endurance bikes equipped with Shimano 105 (11-speed)—very respectable, especially for a cycling newcomer. There may be differences in “finishing kit”—saddle, handlebars, etc—and tires that change the balance somewhat.

There are benefits to buying a bike from a local bike shop. They normally throw in a tune-up for free, and will often let you substitute parts to make the bike suit you better for cost. And that’s something you should be prepared for: the stem might be the wrong length, the handlebars the wrong width, the saddle might just be wrong. And there is a benefit in having a relationship with a local bike shop. But damn, that’s a big price difference to overcome. You can pay retail for new saddle, stem, and bars and still come out way ahead. As with a remaindered bike, it would probably be a good idea for cycling newcomers to pay a shop to set up their consumer-direct bike, even though those consumer-direct brands do a better job of shipping the bikes in a ready-to-ride condition.

Clothes

Cycling kit can be ludicrously expensive. The brand that seems to be at the top of the heap, Assos, has a jacket they charge $700 for. Most of us aren’t riding at a level where we can benefit from the marginal performance improvements at those high prices. Here’s some recommendations:

  • The Black Bibs. Basic designs. Three grades of bib shorts: I’ve got the cheapest ($40) and the most expensive ($80). The expensive ones aren’t as nice as my (much more expensive) Castellis, but they’re absolutely good enough for most riding.
  • Wiggle’s house brand DHB. Wiggle is a UK sporting-goods vendor. They’ve got a few tiers of clothing products that span a wider price range than The Black Bibs. With the post-pandemic bike bust, they’ve been having financial difficulties, and I read that they might be suspending sales outside the UK, but for now, they still seem to sell internationally.
  • Galibier. A small UK-based brand. I’ve gotten quite a bit of foul-weather gear from them. Good quality, reasonable prices.
  • NeoPro. Another inexpensive U.S. brand. As far as I can tell, these guys have one tier of product in everything, and their pricing looks to be in the midrange compared to The Black Bibs. I have not bought from them.

I don’t have any recommendations for shoes. I’ve got one pair of Pearl Izumi cleats that fit me fine, and another from the same brand that I can’t get comfortable in (and would like to sell, if you’re interested). Fit is so contingent on the individual.

Accessories

There are a lot of expensive accessory brands and some reasonably priced accessory brands, but I’m not aware of any distinct bargains. Cheap tools are never a bargain in my experience.

I’ve always had good luck with pumps and tools from Lezyne, and tools from Pedro’s—Pedro’s makes the best tire levers.

If you are jumping into cycling, you should budget for some of this stuff: You should carry on your bike a mini pump, a couple of tubes, a set of tire levers, and a multi-tool. And have some place to store all this stuff—in your jersey pockets, a seat bag, etc. At home, you probably want at least a floor pump. A set of hex wrenches and other hand tools is nice but not necessary. Wera makes excellent tools and their Tool Check Plus is a nice compact home toolkit that’s a good value.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *