I’ve written about cheap bikes before several times, but today I want to talk about why it makes no sense to build bikes down to a price which compromises quality.
One of the reasons I love companies such as Riese & Muller is because they build the bikes they themselves want to ride. They use the best components they can find that will create the best bike possible, and whatever that amounts to, that’s the price you pay. That’s not to say you can’t make quality bikes for an affordable amount, but what people consider affordable needs to change.
For example, my Dutch bike from Batavus cost me about £600. For that amount of money, you get a workhorse of a bike that you can ride every day, and you don’t have to worry about it. Barely any maintenance is required and it’s the perfect short distance commuter for a flat area. You can get bikes that look similar for around half the price, and they come with derailleurs, lower quality metal components that will rust quickly, and things like tyres will be cheaper and more puncture prone.
You will be a slave to your local bike shop if you buy one of those type of imitation Dutch bikes, and you won’t enjoy your riding as much either. In the grand scheme of things, that extra £300 is not much, and most likely you will save yourself at least that amount because you probably won’t get punctures and you won’t need to replace drivetrain parts. I certainly haven’t done any maintenance on my Batavus in the 2 years I’ve owned it, and I’m not expecting to do much any time soon.
But beyond just the financial and ownership aspects, simply put, cheap bikes are not sustainable. The bike industry, and society would be so much better off if we increase the minimum cost of a bike significantly. You could still sell single speed bikes for less, because they’re so simple. But other types of bikes should really start at around that £600 mark if we’re going to have a sustainable cycling system.
It would also be very helpful for shops to have less cheap bikes coming back for parts and service. We have lost a lot of bike shops in the last several years and more quality bikes going out the door will help give these businesses a bit of extra breathing room to cope with the increased demand we need to see. It would also allow time to scale bike retail up to the kind of levels we see in The Netherlands and Denmark.
Eventually, we’ll get to where the Dutch are now. Average bike sale prices in The Netherlands are about 3 times higher than countries like the UK, and that’s no coincidence. It’s a result of treating bicycles as vehicles. The more respect is shown for cycling, the more money people spend on bikes. That’s the future we want, but we have to start by cutting out the unsustainable junk.