Bike and component prices are getting more expensive than ever. Prices have lowered a bit recently, but the trend is up. In an age where manufacturing getting easier than ever, how has this happened? It’s not just priced: the bike was a utilitarian thing in the past, produced to be used forever, but now, they are becoming irrelevant in a decade, or less.
Fiat Panda UK price, including all taxes.
Sometimes less is more. I like bike computers, to some degree. About 10 years ago, I decided to get into photography hobby and collected the best equipment my budget permits. Yes; big DSLR’s. I was walking with a huge backpack with at least 15+ kg of equipment stuffed in it. One day, I bought a second-hand Sony NEX, the first generation, because it was very cheap. Later on, it became the only camera I use. Why? Because it was light, easy to use, and convenient enough to carry all the time. This was the time I started enjoying taking pictures, rather then chasing the best equipment I can get. Realizing I have zero skill in photography, I quit it altogether.
I used to love cars. This changed to hate after 2000s, as cities get crowded – lots of traffic, no parking spaces, and rude and stupid drivers made driving a challenge, rather than a joyful experience. We, humans, are incapable, we cannot survive the cold without clothes, we cannot feed ourselves without a huge food industry, and we cannot form packs, herds, etc (social
trek madone pricegroups) that are %100 beneficial. Our only useful skill is adaptation. Humanity is evolving, sometimes in a bad way. For the first time in history, the USA recorded lower IQ scores amongst students than the previous generation. Generation Z is much poorer than the previous generation. We are facing a big crisis in almost anything. People are more polarised, depressed, and helpless than ever. It’s also true that this is something supposed to happen from time to time, a cyclic phenomenon we can see in history before the big change. But most people cannot adapt. In fact, they seem to be doing it all wrong. I’ve come across a theory that spending on luxury, travel, and art rises with big crisis times, and I can tell from my own experience. Is it the right thing to do? No. I think all people should keep their mood high, especially during a crisis, by doing stuff that boosts their morale. If you’re thinking about a bike touring for example, this is the best time. Buying a new bike for that? That’s ok too: but not a custom titanium frame with XTR Di2, and all the boutique stuff.
Good bikes were newer and cheap. But a good quality bike costs almost half the price of an entry-level car? This is insane. Even mediocre bikes are going way too expensive. Most people think it’s because of Covid. Or, Russia-Ukraine war. Or, inflation. Yes, these are the contributing factors, but that does not explain ridiculous prices: we had the Bay of Pigs crisis, still, a Bianchi with a Campagnolo groupset was not as expensive as a car, right? In fact, car manufacturers use the same materials and techniques, so that doesn’t explain why bike prices are going insane levels.
According to Rachel Bachman, a Wall Street Journal reporter, high-end bike prices have gone up 75% in the last decade!
The real reason for expensive bikes: profit maximization at Machievallian degree
Bike manufacturers are being sneaky, especially in the last 2 decades.
Let’s talk about cars a bit: a Porsche Macan, which entered production in 2014, is actually based on Audi Q5 from 2008. It does have a VW engine, modified with some Porsche touches. It has better materials then a VW Tiguan, but probably on par with Audi, or a tad better. So, what makes it 3 times more expensive than a VW Tiguan? Well, Porsche 911, of course. The legacy, status symbol and the huge price tags of special 911 models. You know, Porsche is expensive. When they release an SUV, you know it’s not gonna be cheap. You get used to the fact that it is expensive, so this justifies the price of Macan, which has an older platform from Audi, and engines from VW. But without the Porsche 911, that wouldn’t be possible.
Another thing that people count on is, motorsports: they watch a rallye, and believe that car is very high-performance, durable, etc – actually, rally cars, or racing cars are totally unrelated to production models.
Bike industry doing the same thing now, first over-emphasizing “biking legends”, and using these images as a proxy to glorify their brands.
Lots of ordinary people fell for this. As if 45-year-old guy who is new to the sport will become a world champion. Social media, bike computers or apps like Strava over-emphasize “metrics”. We all fell to this metrics trap – because it’s scientific. There is no denying it.
Then, there are “superbikes”, like hypercars. These cost more than a car, you always see them in bike media with dozens of unscientific data such as “compliant”, “ride quality”, “faster”, “stiffer”, etc. This is the oldest trick in the book: make a super expensive product that is talked about, then raise prices on your other products that people actually buy.
This is not just it. The ever-changing “standards” force people to buy new things, sometimes a new bike. In the past, you have a bike with square taper bottom brackets, and 2 types of bottom brackets to buy. Now we have countless bottom bracket types. Even the crankset you bought 10 years ago from Sram or Shimano won’t fit your bottom bracket. If you buy a new carbon bike, your 10 year old crankset even won’t fit bike most probably, even if you have the correct bottom bracket. Hubs? Good luck finding a new front hub 5 years later, that will fit your 100mm wide fork.
The dark side of capitalism
Until the early 1980’s, capitalism created wealth, jobs, high living standards because of fair market conditions, freedom to enter the market, and much simpler framework: if you make a decent product with a fair price, you sell it and get rich. There were lots of companies competing each other, creating useful products for every type of customer.
There is one huge flaw of capitalism: a company should grow in order to survive. The reason is simple: if you’re big enough, things come cheaper. Need aluminum? Buy 100 tons instead of a ton, you’ll definitely get it cheaper. In fact, you can also hurt the competition by creating scarcity! Income is not just about the economy; in third-world countries, you can bribe politicians to uphold your situation, hurt, even kill competition, use public funds, etc.
Having fewer competing companies kills the markets, small companies and the customer. You get junk products for more. Fewer jobs. Less variety. Enforced “standards”. Frankly, governments do nothing about it, because big companies having huge resources, they can easily manipulate and blackmail politicians. Every government tries to capture the attention of multinational companies because they create jobs. Jobs means vote.
Then there is mergers and buyouts. 2 decades ago, many of the companies we knew transformed biking, were small, mostly privately-owned companies, and they really make useful products without forcing you to buy a completely new bike every 5 years. Big companies bought these companies and transformed their business model. If the same company owns the wheel and fork business, they can easily enforce new axle standards, right?
will bike prices decrease in 2023 ?
Bikes will get cheaper in 2023 to some extend, but we’ll never see prices getting down to pre-Covid 19 pandemic levels.
There are many reasons for this. The factors above are general factors that will make any commodity price higher, but we have also other factors.
Chinese people are getting richer. This is something we are expecting to happen. Remember; Japan was like China after WWII: they first started making low-quality but good enough, super cheap products. Then, they started making really good products at lower prices. Eventually, Japanese products became more expensive, sometimes more than EU or US counterparts. Chinese products are getting more expensive, and better in quality. The reason is, they can, and they want because the average Chinese manufacturer wants to earn more to raise their living standards.
DIY bikes – possible ?
We are living in a frustrating age. 3D printers, cheaper CNC machines for home use, mini-lathes, cheaper than ever TIG welders, and carbon fiber for the masses now made DIY bikes possible than ever.
Still, bikes have many parts, and some require more advanced machinery and advanced techniques, like cassette sprockets: cutting teeth is relatively easy, but machining spiders, or hardening metal is not a DIY job – at least you have dedication, tools, time, and money.
That doesn’t mean a maker community, which is getting more common and well-equipped, can at least produce %70 of a bike. With welding skills and quite cheap and primitive tools, it is not super hard to make steel frames and forks. Carbon fiber is even easier. I’ve seen lots of people doing their own chainrings, thanks to CNC mills cheap enough for the DIY crowd. Bottom brackets or front hubs are not so hard to make if you have a lathe. Maybe that’s why boutique items filled the market – it’s much easier than before. I believe there will be some specialized companies in the future, like making custom cassette spiders, crankset interfaces, ratchet mechanisms for the DIYers, like Colombus or Reynolds makes tubes for steel frame makers.