Top-end bikes cost a lot of money – as they should, given that they're supposed to represent the pinnacle of performance. However, whereas many companies' flagship models were once saddled with aspirational but still somewhat attainable price tags, these days it's shockingly common to see a price of more than US$10,000 for what's considered a premier machine, even from a mainstream label. Is it no longer reasonable to expect that average enthusiasts should have ready access to the same top-shelf gear as paid professionals?
One can easily make the argument that top-end gear is better than ever. DH-capable enduro rigs can be as light as dedicated cross-country hardtails from just a few years ago and yet are far more versatile. You can now get carbon fiber road bikes that are not only more aerodynamic than purpose-built time trial machines of yesteryear but also nearly as light as dedicated stage racers. Carbon fiber wheels slice through the air like never before and yet are still stable when that wind decides to change direction on you.
All of these things take money to develop and any company that invests the resources to do so should be able to recoup that investment. And as performance levels increase to truly incredible heights, it legitimately costs more to eke out those ever more elusive bits of remaining potential.
That said, I can't shake the feeling that everyday riders are slowly being priced out of the sport we all love so dearly. Do those top-end prices actually reflect proportional increases in delivered performance?
The answer, of course, is no. No one can make the argument that a very expensive bike is twice as good as one that costs half as much and it's unquestionably a matter of diminishing returns with increasing prices. I get it that retail prices aren't necessarily dictated by development and material costs - supply and demand, and all that. But given the stratospheric costs at the top end of the market, that means what once were considered "mid-range" prices have gone up, too.
Flagship suspension forks are now regularly over US$1,000. Cassettes can cost more than US$400. And carbon road wheels are more often than not upwards of US$2,000 – even when they're little more than rebadged pick-and-choose commodity items sourced in Asia. And while we're at it, how is it that top-end mountain and road bikes have similar retail costs but differ wildly in their complexity?
It's hard not to notice how some companies at least seem to have quite a bit of money on hand, too. Take inventory of brands that are now not only sponsoring World Tour race teams, for example, but sometimes more than one – and occasionally in a title role. Sponsoring a team these days doesn't just entail sending over a few custom painted bikes like back in the day. Now we're talking hundreds of bikes and frames, often accompanied by millions in cash.
For sure, companies aren't generating the lion's share of annual profits from the small volume of ultra-high-end bikes sold. That said, that money isn't coming from lottery winnings, either.
Others seem to have noticed, too, and I've seen a growing backlash in response to this pricing trend: prospective buyers who are more willing than ever to pass over a major label in favor of going factory-direct (since few companies actually manufacture their own stuff); upstart no-frills labels that promise comparable levels of performance but at far more reasonable prices; and riders showing up on exotic steeds to group rides only to be greeted by visible scorn rather than envy.
I don't claim to know the answer to this question but I do know that something doesn't feel right.
What do you think? Sound off below.