Counting the Cost

Cycling provides all the big lessons in life: humility, pride, greed, discipline, grappling with ego, and learning what your will is and when to apply it and how to apply it.

—John Weissenrider

It has been said often, to the point of being cliché that if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well.  Perhaps it is also worthy to consider it this way, when we take on a commitment, it merits doing with all your will and all the might that lies within. For the most part I believe we do this.  For example, when we look at commitments to profession, we consider the obligations involved. When we look at having children and a family, we regard the time it will take and weigh within the balance its value. When we look at little things like what we eat, we take into account fine details. However, all too often and interestingly, this same truth does not necessarily hold true for cycling, something held so near and dear to us.

One reason I believe we become removed from a true consideration of the discipline of cycling is partly due to something inherent to the bike itself, we generally start when we are children. When I started cycling more than 30 years ago, I thought so very little about it. It seemed so natural to ride. I knew nothing else; after all, I was just 8 years old at the time. It was love at first ride—and every—ride. Then as I grew up, I thought no more about it. It was my freedom and it gave me a sense of the world around me. Everything about the bike was given to me, so expense meant nothing. But, just a few years later this would all change.

As a college freshman, now riding a Peugeot which I hand picked, I then bought a few items at a time, being constrained by the budget of a college freshman. Then a new wife, new family, and the price I could afford at this time meant pursuing good deals, slightly used items and basement deals on the side that fueled my infatuation. And the fact remains that I never really considered the cost of my pursuit nor the sacrifice of being a cyclist. I bought only based on the cost, and only cheap.  My clothing at the time was to be abhorred, my shoes were disgusting, my helmet simply atrocious. I had no sense of style not to mention dedication to the sport, and admittedly, most of my riding compatriots were the same. But this one thing was true, we sometimes would witness an occasional rider who rode among us that instantly drew some respect; simply by the gear he chose, it stated without hesitation that he was a cyclist. They were committed cyclists and we would joke amongst ourselves and ask ‘how much that must have run him?’

Then I bought my first Giordana bib shorts, and instantly recognized that there really was something different about them. After my first century in them, and no ‘monkey butt’, I swore I was never going back. Then my first Assos jersey, then my first good helmet and similarly my experience was equally impressive of the simplicity for which it flawlessly performed the task it was designed for. I then stepped up a level w/the grouppo, moving from downtube shifting to an STi grouppo, which seemed like a leap of faith. Despite my hesitations, I was impressed with the new grouppo’s function. I regretted not getting it sooner. Each time then that I donned that jersey, each time I threw a leg over the bike and slipped through the gears I was reminded why I bought the ‘better’ quality item.

One would think I would have matured by this time, and that this experience would bring about an appreciation for the discipline of cycling for which I admired. But it did not. I was still yet at a neophyte’s level. I still had no sense of sacrifice. For me, the sport was like a girl I had once dated—and liked—but never would fully commit to. I was holding back for some reason. I truly believe we appreciate a little more those items in our lives that we sacrifice for and entirely commit to. Each time we use those items, we remember their value to us. And because for years I would scout out ‘good deals’ and would only bargain for goodies, I lacked an appreciation for the true value of something I held dearly. Cycling was the girlfriend waiting for me to grow up.

Then just a couple of years ago, I had a total mindset change. This was prompted after something I took notice of, and it hit me with the subtlety of a gorilla wielding sledge-hammer across my forehead. I commute nearly every day and as you know, gas a couple of years ago was very expensive. The price of gas was nearly $4 per gallon. Commuting by bike was becoming quite popular as a very economic way to go back and forth to work, and because of that ‘cost savings’ I saved perhaps a few hundred dollars that summer, no doubt.  Nearly everyday as I conducted business, people would say ‘boy, you sure must save a lot riding by bike’. I responded affirmatively, that indeed it did. Then it hit me, is that why I ride?  Am I a cyclist to only save money? Is that the purpose of cycling? I ride all the time and nearly everyday, but commuting simply brought this out for me, should it even save me money?

Then I started thinking, and I started to ask myself very fundamental questions. Have I counted the cost of my discipleship to cycling? Do I sacrifice? Do I return to cycling the respect it deserves or is it a cheap date I am on? I asked myself, have I truly counted what must be forfeited for the love of my life, or have I only calculated in the arbitrary value of dollars what a price tag reads? I found this to hold a critical difference. I was then logically led to ask what I would do if cycling asked of me far more to ride than even driving a car, what if it was 10 times as expensive? Would I still be a cyclist?

Well, answering in the affirmative, I then had to make a change in my attitude and my entire frame of mind. I had to stop dealing with cycling like I had in the past and I had to throw out my cheap date attitude. I started truly pouring myself out when it was about the bike, thus recognizing the true value it holds in my life. I stopped looking at the price of everything I bought and I began simply working to the ends of obtaining what I need to cycle. I buy the best I can because my girl deserves it.

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  1. Timothy Day

    Nicely said. We’ve been car free for almost 3 years and spending more time (and money) on our bikes than ever. Riding everyday breeds an intimate sensitivity to our equipment, which makes the perfect functioning bits seem priceless and all the more appreciated. That being said, why I still have a floor pump that annoys the beejeesus out of me is a complete mystery.

  2. Jonny

    Good article, i commute 2-3 days a week and i believe i do it because it’s more accepted by the people around me for the reasons you mentioned. If i was to come home and ride 40 easy miles 2-3 times a week on top of the local club rides, i would be a ‘dead beat dad’.
    I have always viewed cycling more as a mistress than a girlfriend.

  3. joecyclocross

    I certainly agree that the cost should be secondary to the experience.As a bike shop owner (as well as long time racer) I am constantly dismayed that everyone seems to be looking for a deal.I understand that the Internet shops have given people this mindset but I’m still amazed when they come through the door looking for support on their online purchases.If the ultimate cost is the disappearance of the LBS then the price is too high.

  4. James

    I feel for Joecyclocross. I once owned a bike shop and had to deal with the same issues but with catalog bike shops (Performance and Nashbar). I had customers come in and try on shoes, check out cyclo computers and examine look pedals only to return weeks later with all of the same stuff purchased through a catalog! The pisser was that when the stuff didn’t work they wanted me to fix it for free. Those idiots never understood why i told it would cost 4 times the normal cost for them!

    As coincidence would have it, I eneded up sitting next to the owner of Performance on a flight from Reno to Chicago once. When he introduced himmself and told me what he did for a living my response was that I hated his guts (with a smile)! Taken aback he asked why. When I said that I owned a bike shop it all became clear. He was, actually, a very nice guy and we talked during the whole trip!

    Today I’m just a rider like everyone else. I commute to work 4 days a week because at work I sit on my ass for 8 hours and it’s the only exercise I get (and I’m still too fucking fat!). I will always love riding my bike despite how much it rains or the idiots who turn right in front of me on the road. My bike is more my loving wife than a girlfriend or paramour!

  5. cyclemaniac

    Wow, thought provoking article. I believe that what I do is what defines me and what I do is cycle. The cost for me is time, time away from family, time away from home projects, time away from all the things I should be doing rather than selfishly riding my bike. Is that time spent wrongly displaced ? Is the cost too high ? I only know that my life without bi-pedular locomotion would be less rich than it is, my physical condition would not be as good and a positive outlet would be missing, leaving a gapeing hole in my sole…….

  6. Author

    thanks fella’s for your additional good insight. I appreciate all.

    @Jo: I feel for Joe-LBS too. Some cyclists do not understand something outside of this ‘cost’ of cycling and that is of ‘relationship’. I have the coolest buddy w/a LBS, and he is struggling big time in the economy. Fact is, no matter how much I throw at him, he needs that x1000 or more regularly to make it feasible. Personally, in my business, if someone goes elsewhere for their commodity, thats not business I want, but the reality for the small LBS sometimes they grab all they can. Its a pickle for all LBS, and I recognize that.

    @James, thats a cool jet ride, I would have liked to sit in on that one too.

    @cyclemaniac, I appreciate it more than you may know. There are so many things that cost us indeed. But what our passion costs, as you well mention, is also that which defines us, and as jonny said, one must take care of the mistress.

  7. Lachlan

    two thoughts:

    1) $$COST-as a non car owner for many years, I’m quite happy that my state of the art bike is still a third of the cost of the BMWs many a colleague drives. : )

    2) FAMILY COST – as fairly new dad, I do find it essentially impossible to hold down a professional career and ride more than a couple of hours a week without being a truly negligent parent! (unless you really outsource all the household chores and child-care!) The bike will have to hold off a bit until the kids are older : o )

  8. James (again)

    I always thought that the perfect business would be to do only bike repairs. The overhead would be small in that you only need lots of little things like bearings, cables, lubes, etc. Most serious riders probably have the bulk of the tools one requires. The key thing would be a good location. A couple of people could probably make a pretty decent living just performing bike repairs!

  9. dacrizzow

    i was a broke musician at one point but gear price was never an issue. if i could afford it or not might have been but never that something was “overpriced”. as i’ve grown i’ve learned that you truly do get what you pay for. sometimes the cheap comes out very expensive.we all have responsibilities and obligations but what biking gives to me and what i end up paying i call a deal.

  10. slappy

    xtra cycle, big dummy, utility hauling bike will blow the mind of any family who can handle it. turns the car into the monster you never want to touch. i love mine so much i rode it across the country. probably won’t do that again, (i’ll take my niner) but man o man the utilitarian aspects of the bicycle that the rest of the world knew/knows so well, are slowly coming to light in this country, while the rest of the world attempts to mimic the ‘merican car culture.. ah crap

  11. Author

    @slappy: you nailed something I have been thinking on quite a lot lately…and your absolutely right on.

    @dacrizzow: thanks for the comments, I agree wholeheartedly.

  12. Dan O

    Great post and responses.

    I commute a few days per week – though slack off big time December through February – then crank it up again. Overall, I ride more miles then drive, which makes it easy to justify some nice bikes. But do I commute to save money? Not really – I’d do so even it was more expensive then driving. I do so to squeeze riding time in, which is tight being Family Guy. The money savings is just an added bonus.

    Being Family Guy and the one paycheck household – money is also tight – so I do purchase some items online to save dough. Not to be cheap, but to make it happen at all. I’m currently building up a mountain bike for my 10 year old son and everything has been purchased online so far. Without some of the incredible savings found online, this project would be toast – or he’d be riding/racing a 30 pound tank.

    As an ex-bike shop guy myself (many years ago), I feel bad about this in a way. I’d hate to see the local bikes shops close, but I can’t afford what I’m looking to do at retail prices.

    Back in my dual income, no kids days – I purchased items from shops I dug on principle alone – didn’t care if it was a bit more dough. At this stage in my life, I can’t justify that on bike stuff – well, higher end bike stuff anyway. In a few years, when we again have two incomes, I’ll head down to the local shop and try to make up for it. Over the past 25+ years I’ve also contributed a fair amount of coin to local bike shops with business as well.

    Even so, I also realize we’re in a changing world – where things are manufactured and how they’re sold – not the same as 20, or even 10 years ago. Some of this change is cool, some of it is not. I think businesses, including the local bike shop will adapt. There will always be a need for the local shop, no matter how much stuff is sold online. I think some shops can adapt by selling locally and online. By the number of “real” bike shops selling on eBay, that’s already occurring.

    Interesting stuff for sure, and we’ll see what the future will bring to the bike industry. It will always remain in some shape or form.

  13. Tom V

    I found this article very interesting, thanks. I’m the college freshman you described, trying to bust into the collegiate racing scene with limited finances. Frankly, I was shocked by the prices of competitive cycling. $100 for a pair of pedals that probably cost $15 for shimano to manufacture? $100+ for a kit that requires less fabric than the average pair of underwear? I respect that nice gear is worth it, but…really? Its like bicycling exists in a separate, fantasy world. A world in which $200 is what you pay for a pair of shoes, not the money that could feed a family for weeks. Perhaps I’ve missed the message, but I don’t think the amount of cash that you spend on your gear equates to your dedication to the sport. I think cyclists should put more emphasis on their training and spirit, rather than using dollar signs to measure their sacrifice and progress as athletes.

  14. Lachlan

    Tom V… yes you missed the message.

    I’m pretty sure that no one here on this blog, of all places measured their dedication to the sport by the cash they spend. Far from it

    By my 10 grand bike is still a fraction of what people earning a tenth of my salary spend on their car… and for trips they could easily do by walking, riding or public transport.

    Motorbikes, cars, Paragliding, boating, skiing with chalets in the alps or rockies….all far far more expensive than cycling. And also pretty popular.

    Many of the greatest riders I’ve raced with rode on cheap kit. Many rode on really, really expensive kit. But whats great with cycling compared to many other technically involved sports, is that compared just to the average alcohol/drink/drugs/car/clothes etc expenses of even a normal middle inncome person, you can ride a f-ing awesome road bike for less a month.

    Pay your money and take your choice.

    For my money the decent (and even the very expensive) cycling kit gives you a HUGE return on the investment in your life, that no car, or bigger apartment, or better bottle of booze will deliver.

    And sad though it may seem, I’ve rarely met a cyclist who did’nt ride that bit further, faster and with more of the spirit you suggest, when they have a bit of new kit… from new socks and bar tape to new Edge-rimmed carbon wheel sets : O )

  15. Souleur

    Tom V: I truly appreciate your comments, and I have been there. Lachlan says it all well, and I could well enough stop there, but here is a little more.

    No doubt, I thought the same as you did as I mentioned, until recent. Perhaps its a little senility setting in or that last crash that split my helmet 5 ways last fall, but my mindset has changed with time and that may even be a good thing. I would like to think my experience has led me to better, perhaps its not, but it is what it is. I simply hope your open to this concept of the quality of our ride, the quality of our passion and that its a worthy pursuit for each of us. Your right, I have seen a good many riders that dish it out (money) and it doesn’t buy speed, its not length but they do seem to have something, appreciation for something we all have dearly in common, the ride. And if your open to this which I think you are, perhaps some years from now, like i did, I hope you think of that when your successful. When you throw down money for others think your crazy for, or lace up thoughtfully your perfect hoops or when you don a sick jersey/bib kit. In the meantime, its all about heart and showing everyone around ours is made of and striking a balance in all of this.

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