Do Better Bikes Make Cycling More Fun?

Unless you’re a professional cyclist or potentially could become one, you probably bike because it’s fun and improves your fitness. When buying a new bicycle, most people consider how much faster different bikes could make them. I’d argue that what you should really consider boils down to:

  1. Will a new bike help me get fitter?
  2. How much more fun will cycling be with a new and better bike?

The first question is an easier one to address, so let’s touch on that first. The quality of your exercise is a result of how much time you spend biking and how intensely you exercise during that time. If a fancier bike is one you’d ride more often or more intensely, that will improve your fitness. Otherwise all bikes are essentially equal as far as exercise quality.

Now for the second question.

When deciding how much to spend on a bike, you ought to think “how much more fun will I get out of biking for each extra dollar I spend?”

This question is much harder. The answer is going to differ substantially from person to person.

For me, the fun of biking boils down to a few things:

  1. I like spending time outdoors
  2. Biking with friends is a good social activity
  3. Getting exercise feels good
  4. Competing and getting better is satisfying
  5. Moving fast feels awesome
  6. Biking is a more enjoyable form of transportation than sitting in a car

If there’s something you like about biking that you don’t find on my list, go ahead and take note of it now.

Will a fast bike make any of those things I enjoy about biking and better or worse? This is going to get a little analytical, but I think it’s a useful thought exercise.

On the worst bike and the best bike, I’m going to get the same enjoyment from being outdoors. Similarly, I’m can get exercise and spend time with friends on a good bike or on a bad bike1.

Watching yourself improve your cycling skills is satisfying. Nicer bikes go faster. Some people feel like they’re improving when they buy new bike since that cuts down their times. Competing in races and doing well in them is a lot of fun for many people. I think buying a fancier bike improves this aspect of fun the most. If you compete at high levels, several seconds may be the difference between several places in a race.

Moving fast is a thrill, and more expensive bikes do go faster. It’s worth realizing here that beyond a certain basic level of quality, nicer bikes are only a tiny bit faster in proportional terms than less-nice bikes. A bike that costs $10,000 is probably only a small fraction of 1 MPH faster than a bike that costs $2,000. That slight difference may matter in a race—but it probably won’t appreciably change the thrill you get from going fast.

Similarly, a high end bike won’t really be a much better form of transportation than a mid-range bike. A high end bike will hardly have a meaningful effect on how long it takes to get from place to place. On top of that, expensive bikes are often impractical for transportation since most people will not feel safe locking them up and leaving them unattended.

So where does this leave us? For me anyway, this seems like pretty strong reasons to limit how much you spend on a new bike. Especially if you considering getting something really expensive and high end.

If you’re deciding between something low end and closer to mid-range, there are probably good arguments that higher priced bikes are more durable and reliable. However, durability and reliability for road bikes probably peaks at fairly modest price points. I would bet on the peak in durability and reliability of road bike’s being around $1,500. And the difference in reliability between an $800 and a 1,500 road bike is probably slim.

A lot of people reading this probably think I’m failing to consider something important—the cool factor. Fancy bikes look awesome. People will compliment them.

If this is part of your motivation for spending a lot on a new bike, that’s fine. Just be honest with yourself. A desire for the “cool factor” is similar to a desire for expensive art or luxury brand names—it’s distinct from a desire for high performance.

 

Footnotes:

1I have the most fun when riding with someone of about my same ability level. If your friends are faster than you, a nicer bike might make it easier to ride with them, but the speed gains from a nicer bike probably won’t drastically change who you are fast enough to ride with. If your friends are slower than you, you may find that a nicer bike actually makes cycling slightly less fun and lowers its exercise value.