Friday Group Ride #348

Friday Group Ride #348

In large part, I sell bikes for a living, as do many of my friends. They might be reps, shop owners, fitters, manufacturer’s reps, marketing people, all of them basically aimed at selling bikes. And so I talk a lot about what people want, why they want it, how best to get it to them, etc. There is a lot of wisdom among my friends and colleagues, much of it received, which gets me to wondering.

I suspect a new bike represents one of the most freighted decisions a cyclist can make, unless he or she has the income to suck up fresh wheels like a Roomba cleaning Cheerios. Why do regular people really buy new bikes?

Yeah, yeah, there are a million reasons, including but not limited to: new technology, new riding styles, new friends, new fitness, simple lust, boredom, hoarding, etc. But what are the main reasons?

At this point in my cycling life, a new bike has to offer me a lot. It either has to offer me a better way to ride than one of the bikes I already have, or live in a genre that I don’t have access to yet. Or it has to look great.

Think about it. You walk through the door of your LBS to buy, say, a road bike. What is important about a road bike to you? Do you test ride and pick the one that handles the best? Do buy based on color? Part spec? I know that each of those is important, but in what priority?

For me, handling is most important, but if it comes in colors I don’t like, then I probably keep looking. I tend not to let part spec bother me, because I know I can change those things easily. Whether or not I like the salesperson, the shop or the brand factors in, too, but I can’t say how without betraying a whole ton of biases with little grounding in reality. It shouldn’t be complicated, but it is.

This week’s Group Ride asks, what are you looking for in a new bike? What are your priorities? And do you find them often met? Or do you feel like the right bike is always out there, like a great white whale, showing it’s plume in the far off ocean, but never submitting itself for capture?

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  1. Jonathan

    I’m looking for a bike to do it all. USA made would be nice, small business would be nice. I really like the T5 Gravel, Lynskey GR 250 and the Open U.P. Any suggestions.

  2. Kimball

    As far as a do it all bike I have a Niner RLT that I find just about perfect. Fast group rides with 28mm tires, eyelets for winter fenders, room for 40mm tires when the surfaces tend more toward gravel. With my Sugino OX901 ultra compact crank with 46/30 chain-rings and Sram 11-32 wifi cassette I have close ratios for fast road cruising, but plenty of low gear for the steep off road stuff where you need to stay seated to not spin out. The new carbon framed version is tempting me to trade up though.

    At some point I would like something similar, but in titanium and with couplers so I can break it down for travel, but waiting in hope that someone figures out how to break a frame down with full hydro disk brakes.

    1. Jonathan

      That Niner RLT is a solid bike. It’s about 5th on my list and the only steel bike I like. Based on what you said, you seem to enjoy it. How does it handle the off road stuff? Never road a steel bike is it as comfortable as they say? I guess I’m assuming it’s the steel model.

  3. Alan

    So many wonderful bikes, it’s hard to choose. I have a team sponsored by our LBS, so I get whatever makes me smile and that I can afford.

    Ah there it is! Affordability and feel.

    And nice looking though my older Niner is pretty funny colored (Kermit the frog green).

  4. AG

    I think if I was shopping for a new bike the most important element would have to be the frame: its geometry, build quality, brand and model history or reputation, and finally the way it looks (in that order). I have passed up buying a bike because of an ugly paint scheme even though it seemed like a really good frame. You gotta like looking at the new bike just the same as riding it, right? Components can be replaced, but I do find that I really don’t want to replace major items like cranks and drivetrain. I guess I would feel I made the wrong choice if I needed to do that. I will easily compromise on seats, seatposts, handlebars and wheels.

    1. Shawn

      Interesting. That’s pretty much the opposite of what I value. The wheels, components, and human interface (seat, pedals and the peices that fit the cockpit to the rider) are most important to me.

      Other than material and geometry (and there’s surprisinly little geometry variation in non-custom bike frames across brands) probably the least important thing to me for performance and comfort is the frame, other than full suspension mtbs.

  5. Nik

    The most important thing is that the bike allows me to use the tires and gearing that I want. Don’t bother calling it a “gravel bike” if it can’t use 40mm tires. Give me the choice of using a 2x drivetrail, don’t force me to use 1x.
    The other important thing is: don’t use weird non-standard stuff that I won’t be able to replace if it breaks 5 years from now. Specialized is particularly obnoxious in this regard with their ridiculous 135mm SCS rear hubs that I’m now stuck with, but Specialized has already abandoned. And they’re doing it again with the “suspension fork” on the new Roubaix.
    Finally, at 6’5″, I need a sufficiently large frame.

    Color ? Don’t care.
    Geometry/handling ? Don’t care.

  6. Lyford

    A wise person once gave me good advice about how to think of a new piece of gear: Does it help you do something you can’t do now? Or does is it just a different way to do something you already do?

    By that standard, the “can’t do now” at the top of my list is riding comfortably in wet weather and on bad roads. A gravel bike with full fenders would get me out on those marginal days. Handling is important, especialy stability on rough descents. It should feel good out of the saddle. And it shouldn’t beat me to death.

    Next on the list would be a full-suspension mountain bike that climbs well. I don’t have anything that’s good for our rocks and roots.

    Sure, I’d like a nicer pure road bike, but I have no illusions that it’d make me faster. The one I have is fine.

    Color? You can get used to almost anything, but it’s nice to find something you like. Black is boring.

  7. SHG in Austin

    I’m getting older. I’ve had as many as 8 bikes hanging in the garage at one time. Over the last year I’ve begun winnowing the stable down. I just bought what will very probably be the last bike I buy in my life, a moots Routt 45. I bought this bike because it has LARGE tires to soak up bumps my older body no longer enjoys, it has disc brakes to stop me in the rain that I like to ride in and it’s very comfortable Ti frame that handles more like a lexus than a ferrari. The parts were picked so that I could get up the fiercely steep hills near where I live without killing myself or having to stand all the way.

    So goodbye to the cervelos, the cannondales, and the race bred custom Spooky. I’m off the the land of the soft tires and stoppers that work and a comfortable seat.

  8. Michael

    I buy a bike when I realize I have some significant sector of cycling I cannot access. I call up my friend and talk about what I want and he builds it and then I pay for it and I ride it and ride it for decades. Color? I am color-blind, so he chooses color for me. Parts? He knows more than I, although he is always willing to listen if I have some ideas of what I want. Sometimes he even allows me to have those parts! Frame geometry and metal and brazing vs welding? Come on – he’s a professional, and I am not. What I will say is that the bikes are always perfect and ride better than I could have imagined. When riding, the wheels are always where I think I want them, no matter how wrong I am in my thinking. So in the end, my priorities are for a bike I can forget about, one that simply disappears under me under whatever the conditions are. I haven’t bought a bike in a bike store since 1972, so don’t know that part of shopping (I buy plenty at my LBS, just not the bike). If I am going to ride the bike for many years, I don’t worry if the initial cost is a little higher. Sort of like my 25-year-old car I bought new – I know its history and can trust it.

  9. Pat O'Brien

    Everything about a new bike starts at the frame. I want to know what it is made from and where. I am retired so price is a factor, and that has led me to steel frames, exclusively. So, my last new bike was for a paved road only bike, but with enough comfort for the lousy paved roads we all encounter too much theses days. So geometry and cockpit fit was very important. I consulted with my LBS, picked a SOMA ES frame based on reviews, geometry, and experience with a SAGA I already owned. Then my shop built it up exactly the way I wanted it. Cost? Just over $2K with a 105 compact crankset drivetrain, 105 hubs, Mavic rims, and a 11×34 cassette and SOMA or Salsa components to complete the bike. Custom? No. Just the way I wanted it, hell yes. No factory bike can do that, and I know who built it.

  10. Jeff

    I just got the green light last night for a fresh bike. My challenge is having a high budget but shy of top tier, so whatever I get will be a feature trade off. My best solution will probably be just walking into the three nearest shops and asking what they can do for me under my budget and pick the build I prefer.

  11. hoshie99

    It’s hard; yes the perfect bike is ellusive. My priority is a new custom steel frame road bike which is already on order It will be fit to me, with modern components and room for 28 tires. Hopefully the design will meet a lot of my riding now and in the future. Was looking for a good combination of performance, aesthetics, and design that would fit my riding plans balanced by a reasonable budget.

    I did consider discs vs rim, mechanical vs electronic, and of course Shimano vs Campagnolo and found am choosing more traditional options which will work well for this bike’s purpose and the terrain where I live.

    Pretty simple.


  12. Dave

    I have 2 road bikes, one ti and one steel, and an aluminum cross bike that enable me to do 90% of what I want now. The road bikes are forever bikes that I’ve repainted and rebuilt a few times since acquiring them.

    I’m considering a fat bike to ride snowmobile trails in the long Maine winter.

  13. mechaNICK

    A new bike must serve a different function than those I already have. If it is the same type as something I already own it must be significantly better at that type is riding than the existing bike (which is subsequently sold). A potential new bike must be something I plan to ride at least 30 times in the next year. So, as fun as lift-assisted mountain biking is, I cannot afford the lift tickets to justify purchasing a long-travel mtb. I usually keep my bikes for some time, so reliability of construction and standards are both important. I don’t want a broken frame nor do I want a useless frame when some proprietary part is no longer serviceable. Geometry matters a lot. If the geometry or type of riding is unknown to me a thorough demo/test ride is crucial. Spec is probably the least important, as I probably will upgrade some parts, but it has to be in the ballpark.

    I work in the industry so a detailed set of rules is necessary – if I chased every bike that interests me I couldn’t pay my mortgage!

  14. dG

    Starting from the principle that fit, tho crucial and uncompromising, is the primary consideration, frame and wheels are the second dynamic set in the roster of “must new bike”. Money being no object I’d zero in on a Firefly, Seven w isp, or one of thone newly-created bikes from the south, what’s its name, Handmade In America or something. For wheels, HED Ardennes, wide and light and indestructible. I can compromise on parts, yes, cause parts die and break and perish and won’t dent my tenuous relationship with the bank. Proof of such is my winter bike, a super-capable Caad10 set up with open pro wheels and Microshift drivetrain. $150 for levers, fd, Rd. It communicates its precise shifts in loud, mechanically sounding clicks, don’t miss the shifts and I’m afraid to say looks damn good. Plus, on my unrelenting pursuit of the most utilitarian vessel of speed and handling bliss, I keep coming back to aluminum beasts that provide the most for the buck. Still, I sense a Firefly in my future. I just do.

  15. Chuck

    Two things I’m looking for whenever I get around to buying a new bike: (1) technology and (2) soul/character. If I was buying today, I’d want a frame made specifically for disc brakes and wireless shifting. And a frame that’s either a legit “storied” brand and/or not one you’re likely to find on your Sunday coffee ride.

  16. TomInAlbany

    I’m in the market for a do-it-all ride that will be mostly a commute with some longer, fun rides thrown in. Some may be off-road but, likely I won’t live there – or may be I will. Just don’t know yet.

    What I’m looking for is a good quality build in a light-ish weight frame that will survive another 15 years with just basic parts replacement. It must be serviceable at a shop I like in Albany, NY area as well. I’ve considered carbon but have never ridden one. And, I hate black bikes.

  17. KImball

    Jonathan, apologies for the slow response, but my Niner RLT is actually the original aluminum version. Off the pavement it is very stable while still easy to turn when you want it to; pretty much ideal on those loose, fast down-hills. Ride-wise it would never be called plush, but with 28mm tires and 80-85psi it compares well to my custom steel road bike with 25mm and 90-95psi. I’m fine on it for 8 hour days. Along with the custom steel bike I have a carbon race bike, but the RLT has gotten at least 60% of my miles since getting it 3 years ago. I’d say the only thing its missing is eyelets for a third water bottle for the long days without water stops. I’m sure the latest RLT’s with thru-axles are even better. Good luck in your search for the perfect bike!

  18. Kayce

    I have worked in the industry long enough to be kind of bored with the average super bike. Things like the Cannondale Supersix are certainly great bikes. And I do really like Cannondale a lot as a company. But it doesn’t seem to stand out in any way. I want something that is special, in whatever way it is trying to be special. That doesn’t necessarily mean rare, just top of its class. A bike like the Cervelo S3 disk really stands out to me. It is a bike that takes what many people think are disparate ideas and puts them together in a very well functioning package. Aero bikes aren’t anything new, neither are disk brakes, and Cervelos are relatively common on the high end. But that bike still stands out to me.

    I do also like the P5X though, so I might just be off my rocker.

  19. Doug P

    I’m 6’6″ so the starting point is always fit. Pretty elusive when you’re as tall as I am. Next is components. I’m a Campy zealot so comes down which group I can afford. Oh yeah, I’m old so comfort (28mm) tires are required.

  20. Geoffrey Knobl

    What’s most important? As with anything I purchase I usually look at how well something lasts. A car? Consumer Reports tells me which ones are most/least likely to break down and where. With a bike, that task becomes harder to judge since there is no real CR for them. WRT biking, I’m not a regular guy but someone who knows about and rides bike way more than the “regular” person. But for a person who bikes pretty regularly, I suspect I am a regular person. So, I feel I can answer your question.

    So, first, reliability or fragility. Second, price. I’m not rich or even well off as aparently many who visit this site or contribute are. When you make 50-some k a year before taxes, your wife works day care with a degree in that field, her income doesn’t help much so the total take home pay is only low 30-some at best. No, I don’t have much extra to spend on non-necessities. But biking, I have decided, is the majority of what keeps me healthy. So, I sacrifice, and my family certainly does, so I can have a ride. I got tired of having bikes that while cheaper but by no means cheap, would break on me with little provocation. A couple foot fall from a bike stand, a stiff wind blowing the thing over in a tilted driveway or even a sudden uphill acceleration standing up in the saddle have all resulted in my frame becoming unusable. They were aluminum. No more. I wanted steel or titanium. The last, I found out, was out of my price range, adding some $1000 to my total. So, steel it was. And my price range kept most handmade bikes out of reach. I wanted to stay within the 3k-4k range for everything total. This was about what I paid for my first real road bike, a Klein, back when I was single.

    Next, I wanted stability in the downhill corners. That meant searching those manus that had frames known for this. After this, I wanted local or at least U.S. manus. Now I was down to a handful. Of the local ones, within about a three state region around Virginia, I had a few nibbles but no one who seemed that interested in building a frame. In short, most were flaky or overloaded with work.

    And I wanted a bike that would work for commuting to work a few miles a day, so would put up with occasional loads from panniers. I simply couldn’t afford purchasing two bikes. Also, it would be on country roads when I went out for fun so it had to handle ruts, potholes and the occasional patch of graveled road.

    I wanted to know from my friends and acquaintances, what bikes they thought I should look at. I wanted a good paint job but figured that would be found within the two manus I was down to. And, yes, they all had nice options. So, when word of mouth came back highly in favor of one manu and specifically one model from them, even though they weren’t local, I decided to see if they could satisfy my requests. In fact, they could, plus have the bike bought through a local bike shop. The LBS handled the build up.

    What did I get? I Gunnar Sport n metallic purple with a few options, such as an curved steel fork for comfort. I hope this lasts for a long time ’cause unless I win the lottery, which I don’t play, I won’t be getting one for a decade if ever. It’s been almost a year and we still have a blown up credit card because of this.

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