We hear it all the time: too many bikes we feature on BikeRadar are overpriced, and bikes are getting too expensive.
Following the release of several five-figure mountain bikes, such as the $11,099 Pivot Mach 5.5 with Live Valve, it seems hard to argue against this view. But that’s exactly what I intend to do.
- Opinion: you could buy a car for that much! (but it would probably suck)
- We’ve designed the mountain bike of the future
Why do bikes appear to be getting pricier?
It’s true, there are more options than ever in the money-no-object category, and the most expensive bikes tend to take the limelight. Bike launches, press releases and pro racers all preferentially showcase the most expensive bikes and equipment.
And yet, quietly, bikes at more reasonable price points are gradually getting better and better. So much so that if you were to compare a top-end, drool-worthy superbike from a few years ago to a modestly-priced modern bike, I reckon you’d have more fun on the latter.
Here’s one example: the Specialized Enduro
The Specialized Enduro has been a top contender in the long-travel category ever since it was launched in 2000.
In 2013, the cheapest model, the Comp, cost £2,600, while in 2019 that model costs £3,150. Now £3,150 is more than £2,600 (I checked), but accounting for inflation, the 2013 bike would cost over £2,900 in today’s money. So in real terms, the price is hardly in a different league.
The 2013 bike was well ahead of its time. It was one of the first properly versatile long-travel 29ers and arguably shaped the genre. But by modern standards, it was terrible. I know this because I owned one.
The 90mm stem and 750mm bars needed to be upgraded immediately to avoid hopeless handling. The 2×10 drivetrain was easily jammed, the Formula C1 brakes were so bad that I gratefully upgraded to a set of notoriously dodgy Avid Elixirs. The skinny tyres on narrow rims felt vague when pushed and there was no dropper post.
In contrast, I’ve recently tested the 2019 Enduro Comp and think it’s better in every way.
It has a well-proportioned cockpit, with wide bars and a short stem from stock. The 1×12 drivetrain offers plenty of range, while the narrow-wide chainring keeps the chain on-track reliably.
Girthy tyres on wide rims offer better grip, it has decent brakes and a dropper post. You also get a better shock and a far superior RockShox Lyrik fork.
Even more importantly, the bottom bracket is lower, the head angle slacker and the reach longer. Because everyone is making their bikes longer, lower and slacker, this may sound like fashion-led tinkering, but it adds up to a bike that is significantly calmer in the rough and more predictable when cornering hard.
A steeper seat-tube angle and greater gearing range mean climbing is easier too.
The fact that Specialized has made progress in the last five years shouldn’t be surprising, but is at least worth acknowledging. And I’d go further. For my money, the 2019 Enduro Comp is a better bike than the considerably more expensive S-Works model from 2013.
The 2019 Comp has, in my opinion, far better geometry, suspension, wheels and tyres than the S-works model form 2013. It also costs less than half the price even before accounting for inflation.
Okay, but £3,150 is still a lot of money. What about cheaper bikes?
You could also point to the 2019 YT Capra Al. At £2,299 / $2,499 it’s considerably cheaper than the Specialized Enduro Comp, yet has arguably better componentry.
Of course YT is a direct-sales brand, so you can’t try it for size in your local bike shop. But it’s undeniably a whole lot of bike for the money.
Cheaper still, the £999 Calibre Bossnut EVO is probably the best sub-£1,000 mountain bike ever. While the geometry isn’t as stretched-out as more expensive modern bikes, the numbers wouldn’t look out of place on a top-end trail bike from a few years ago.
You also get wide rims, a sorted cockpit and a 1×11 drivetrain: all of which would have been state of the art features until recently. According to its tester, Guy Kesteven, “nothing else I’ve ridden comes close for under £1,000”.
How are bikes getting cheaper?
Bikes are improving not because of better materials or fancy technology, but because of better design.
A slacker head angle, longer top tube or a shorter stem make a huge difference to how a bike handles (usually for the better), but needn’t increase the price.
Good design is not a direct cost — it’s independent of the number of bikes sold and so does not necessarily increase the price of each bike — unlike, say, frame material, which directly affects the cost price and therefore the sale price of each bike.
Of course, companies will charge more for innovative technology at first, but this usually trickles down to cheaper price-points within a few years, especially if other brands catch up.
For example, SRAM XX1 was the first truly single-ring-ready mountain bike groupset. By ditching the front derailleur it offered more intuitive shifting, a tidier cockpit, less weight and greatly improved chain security thanks to its narrow-wide chainring, all while providing enough gearing range for most situations. Problem was, it retailed from £1,109 / $1,449 when it was released in 2013.
In 2018. you can buy a whole bike, which comes equipped with a 1×11 drivetrain and all of the above benefits, for not much more than half that. The Voodoo Bizango, for example, costs £650 and boasts 1×11 gearing.
Okay, the Bizango’s NX gearing has slightly less range than XX1 (11-42t instead of 10-42t), it’s also heavier and the shifting feel is less crisp. But considering it’s half the price of the first 1×11 drivetrain (and it comes with a free bike) it’s fair to call it better value.
Direct-sales brands such as YT Industries, Canyon and Bird deserve some credit here too. Not only does the no-middle-man sales model make their bikes cheaper, but it also puts pressure on conventional brands to compete.
The bottom line is that while you can spend more on a mountain bike than ever, you need to spend less than ever to get the same performance.
Whatever your budget, you can get a better bike for your money now than in the past. While the most expensive technology gets all the attention, it’s when technology makes affordable bikes better that it really benefits consumers.
Do you agree? Are bikes getting better for the cash? Let us know in the comments below.