Am I in danger of becoming a bike snob?

I’ve always prided myself as running London Cyclist as a blog for the casual cyclist. However, when a friend of mine recently asked me for advice on buying a new bike, I was worried I may be turning in to a bit of a bike snob.

He picked out a hybrid bike for around £200. The bike would be used for short trips around London and the rare longer trip out in to the outskirts of London. I strongly advised him to spend more. We’ve all heard stories of “Bike Shaped Objects” and I feared that the cheap bike would put him off cycling with too many issues.

In the end I relented – any bike is better than no bike. I should know – my unhealthy bike addiction started with a truly horrible mountain bike. Heavy and cumbersome I used to ride, at the time in Greece, to my friends house. We would race along the road and fall over way too often. I’ve not improved much on the balance front since, but my bikes have certainly got a little better.

My current ride, an old Raleigh Ti frame kitted out with fairly standard components feels a lot faster. Comparatively to “back in the old days” I feel as though I’m gliding across the road. Perhaps having this new experience and realising the joy a better bike provides it has become harder to utter the sentence “cycling is great with any bike”.

Whilst my bike has improved my kit has largely remained the same. A standard pair of shoes combined with jeans and a t-shirt. Hardly the Lycra warrior image that some newspapers paint.

I’ll just need to keep reminding myself that it’s not about the bike you ride, but the enjoyment and freedoms any bike can provide. During my current trip to Guatemala I’m sure I’ll be humbled once more, when my feet start pedalling a rusty old bike and I’m exploring the country in my favourite way.

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30 Responses to Am I in danger of becoming a bike snob?

  1. John Somers 22/02/2012 at 4:22 pm #

    Boy this article gave me a chuckle and a reminder that I’m not the only one that sometimes has these moments of self doubt!

    OK to be honest when people do ask us about bikes you do tend to try and give them the best advice you can benefiting form your own experiences – both good and bad, which does tend to make you feel like a bike “snob”.

    It is rather difficult getting your head around someone’s budget of <£250 when your own stable of bikes might be valued at £700+ but as you so rightly said "any bike is better than no bike" – the only caveat that I try to use in this pricing budgetary conflict is to try to suggest enough scope in the bike that if someone may purchase is that it will do what they want "plus a little bit" in case they really take up cycling.

    The one thing that I do recommend that new cyclists should invest in, is a good easy to use bike repair manual (especially on these bargain basement bikes) so that they can carry out at the very least routine maintenance – clean and lube drive train etc 'cause this will increase the life span of even cheap components (such as this one which I recommend to people –

    • Andreas 22/02/2012 at 5:44 pm #

      Exactly – I know they are more likely to continue cycling if they invest in a slightly better bike (£400-£500 is a safe bet). One of those times when spending a little more will give back in many ways.

      • Phil Russell 28/02/2012 at 3:07 am #

        Andreas——might be better they get the cheapo bike-looking thing first….if they’re new to cycling, they’ll be new to bike-security, so when it’s nicked they’ve only lost £200 rather than £500. Yours sincerely, glass-half-empty!

  2. Shades 22/02/2012 at 5:14 pm #

    Some bike shops cultivate the ‘bike snob’ image. I recall being in one shop and either was unaware of some bike knowledge and/or asked for something cheap; leaving feeling like they were looking down there noses at me. Didn’t go back.
    It’s hard to ignore the bike snob feeling sometimes, especially when the ‘muppets’ with no helmet, no lights, wrecked looking bike just ignore the traffic lights, mount the pavement, weave across the pedestrian crossing and end up ahead of you. You’re left knowing exactly why motorists get angry with cyclists.

    • Andreas 22/02/2012 at 5:46 pm #

      Thankfully there’s plenty of other bike shops out there that are far more appreciative of your custom!

  3. Matt Taber 22/02/2012 at 7:55 pm #

    I have the same discussion a lot. The way I try and explain it to people is that in my experience, if you spent less than GBP250 on a bike, you won’t enjoy riding and you won’t ride much so you’ll have wasted GBP250. Whereas if you spend closer to GBP500-700 then you’ll enjoy riding, you’ll ride more and it will cost you less per mile!!

  4. Marc Beek 22/02/2012 at 8:03 pm #

    I own a bike with an original newprice of £15.000 just to proof that driving a bike isn’t the poor mens transport. (By the way, I bought the bike seccond hand after the first owner used it during the olympics).

  5. Marc Beek 22/02/2012 at 8:10 pm #

    And. Don’t buy a cheap bike, buy a sturdy bike (the still moving old seccond hand ones are often better then the new cheap ones, feel the sideway movement in the crank for wear and tear before buying).

  6. Iain 22/02/2012 at 8:18 pm #

    My hybrid was in the £300 range, and it does the job, clocking up silly mileages (It’s done around 10k miles in a little over a year) Yes it’s not the best bike out there, but it does the job. Indeed the fact that it’s destroyed three rear wheels on my commute shows the pounding it takes from the “perfect” roads (well, if there were potholes and defects the councils would have repeaired them as theyve all been reported…) The local bike shop, fix it up when i brake it and havefitted solid axle hubs when they can to prolong the life of it, keeping that bike going is important to me [every day it’s off the road is £20 on trains…] and I keep going back to the lbs for bits and advice, and I get them to do the work so it’s done right although that’s as much down to my laziness than anything! I’ve just got a nice road bike (nicely reduced to £500 as the shop owner’s retiring) and I’m debating giving it the occassional run to work (if the weather’s nice – it’s not going out in the rain!) but I don’t want to bludgen it to death. Oh and the other thing to note is, I fequently keep up with and pass roadies on my commute with a bike with much greater weight and rolling resistance. I’ve only done a few miles on the road bike, but it’s a flying machine! So if you want to get fast, train on something heavier cos when you get back on the race bike you’ve way more power and it takes less effort!

    • Will 23/02/2012 at 11:21 am #

      Don’t worry too much about using the road bike – they are not a flimsy as they appear. I’ve got a CAAD9 which gets used everywhere and in all weathers and has never missed a beat. In 5000 miles, the only parts it has needs are a set of brake pads (£20), a bottom bracket bearing (£20) and a couple of inner tubes. It’s not even buckled a wheel despite being used in London daily!

  7. Paul 22/02/2012 at 8:19 pm #

    A few years ago I decided to try cycling to work I spent £150 on a new bike. I enjoyed it but it didn’t fill me confidence, it rattled and clicked its way up the cycle paths it didn’t feel great so the number of times I cycled dropped.

    I’ve just signed up to the Ride2work scheme and bought a bike for £620 (which is still pretty cheap as bikes go) but the difference is amazing. My new steed glides along roads and cycle paths, I now find myself watching cycling on TV and am looking at signing up to some sportives, it really has ignited a passion. It might just be that having a shoddy bike has made me appreciate the new bike more but I really wish I’d spent more to begin with.

    On my old bike I felt like a guy on a bike but my new bike makes me feel like a cyclist.

  8. Amanda O'Dell 22/02/2012 at 8:48 pm #

    My bike was about £170, and it’s been doing my 12 mile round-trip commute since September with no real problems. It’s got me to the point that I now really enjoy cycling and want to do more, and I’m shopping for something more like £600+, but at the point I bought it that seemed like a huge amount for something I wasn’t sure I’d use and was worried about having stolen (again!). I did though try to get something decent second hand from somewhere that does good reconditioning, figuring that old and solid was better than cheap and flimsy, even if it meant a bit on the weight front. I’ve actually had the opposite problem recently – when I’ve been into Evans looking at what’s available, the minute I say I’ll be commuting I’m offered bikes that don’t go about £300 in a ladies frame, and have instead spent quite a lot of time trawling through websites trying to find a wsd road bike that I can have a rack & mudguards attached to. It’s a very confusing thing trying to explain to a salesman that I actually want to spend more!!

  9. Adam 22/02/2012 at 9:06 pm #

    I work in a couple of shops and usually suggest as a guide that if you’re wanting a new bike then to try and spend £300 or over. Below that price the components are less reliable and you’ll probably end up spending more getting it fixed in the first couple of years, meaning you’ve spent the same or even more overall and gone through the hassle of less reliable components failing. If your budget is below £300 try and buy second hand from a reputable source, if possible a shop that has properly serviced and repaired it and offers some sort of guarantee.

    Stay well away from the supermarket £100-ish bikes, unless you want to be put of cycling forever.

  10. PeterK 23/02/2012 at 7:35 am #

    The truly nasty ones are in the £100 range especially when they put in suspension and disc brakes (or what looks like them!)
    It would be good to have a manufacturer make a solid cheap bike which just worked

  11. Will 23/02/2012 at 11:33 am #

    It’s not bike-snobbery, it’s frustration at how people refuse to see bikes as something of value. The same people who will happily spend £10 per day on tubes, or £50 per month on a gym, seem to think a bike costing more than £100 is expensive.

    My bike cost £1000, which some of my friends think is ridiculous. It’s carried me 5000 miles so far with negligible costs and has paid for itself several times over along the way which in my book makes it cheap even at that price – and that’s before we get in to the time, convenience and fitness benefits.

  12. Kate 23/02/2012 at 9:47 pm #

    A year ago I bought my first bike not really knowing how much I would use it. The thought of commuting In London was a little scary and I didn’t think I would stick with it!

    So I paid just £130 online for a hybrid (although I’ve probably spent that much again in pimping it up like Marathon Plus tyres, nice saddle, Ergon grips etc, – stuff that I probably would have bought regardless of the value of the bike).

    It’s done me proud. A year on and I’ve done almost 3000 miles – I commute on it every day, rain or shine, and hardly ever use public transport anymore.

    But having used it that much, I’ve now got enough experience to know what kind of bike I really need and I’m in no doubt that the £1000 I’m spending on it will be worth every penny.

    If someone asked me what to get as their first bike I would say to spend as much as they can afford or feel comfortable spending. For some, it may end up sitting in a damp shed rusting away instead of being ridden! If you do end up using it loads then you will have the confidence to know what your ‘grown-up’ bike should be 🙂

  13. Tom 24/02/2012 at 9:51 am #

    A friend of mine is a true bike snob, he looks down on anyone who cycles in anything other than full lycra, and is truly distressed at my refusal to buy cycling socks or cleats.

    He took it rather personally when I suggested to him that he looked a bit of a dick in team replica kit when he’d just cycled to the pub for a couple of pints.

  14. Gerry 24/02/2012 at 10:43 am #

    For years I rode a nine-hundred gears, 1/4″ tyre, titanium this, cleat that, knife edge saddle, mixing up Shimano, Campagnolo, Cinnelli, hand made frame, blah.

    The best thing I ever did was grow up, shove it in the loft (in case I ever did decide do the Arctic to Antarctic ride to save something) and buy an ordinary looking off the shelf nine speed internal hub (I wanted the Shimano 7 speed but it was out of stock) 38mm 700c (with a chain so strong it makes me swoon) – it’s so good and so fast for town riding – embarrassingly easier to ride, I arrive jump off ready to whatever I’ve come for as I don’t look like I’ve just got off a bike.

    With the arrival of a local Boris clutch I’m beginning to wonder if I need to own a bike at all

    • Phil Russell 28/02/2012 at 3:26 am #

      Gerry—–how peculiar. Most folks with classy fast lightweight bikes appreciate them. Did the narrow racing saddle, aerodynamic riding-position, and shorter frame-geometry (bumpy ride) not suit you?

  15. Paul 24/02/2012 at 11:02 am #

    Yes, I’m a bike snob and proud of it. As a non car owning cyclist i get extremely frustrated and not a little pi**ed off with those band of moronic pedal pushers – I will not dignify them by calling them cyclists – who ride clapped out machines (usually cheap ugly ones) and whose brakes are more often than not cut off at the cables; who have no lights; ride on pavements and through red lights; ears plugged with headphones listening to whatever crap passes for music and thus having little idea or awareness of their immediate environment, least of all their safety. I could go on, but my issue is that as a committed cyclist and respectful road user I get lumped together with this group of highway highjackers when ever criticism of cyclists is made. I am a snob also when it comes to patronising those people who will cheerfully spend £20,000 on a car but wither when they learn you spent £900 on road bike. Trying to tell them that as a opposed to car ownership, owning a bike is essentially a one off purchase with relatively little ongoing costs and added health benefits is, to be frank, a complete waste of my breath and time. Am I bike snob? Too damn right!!

  16. Jozudave 24/02/2012 at 11:04 am #

    My bike cost arond £500 which seemed a lot when I bought it, but even having 50 quid a month taken from my wages by my employer to pay it off seems like an absolute bargain compared to the £120 a month for a tube pass!!!

    I totally agree that people should be encourage to invest in a decent bike. It makes you want to cycle rather than just seeing it as a way to get from A to B. Getting on my extremely light single speed is a different world to getting on a heavy, possible second hand, beast.

  17. Bella 24/02/2012 at 11:14 am #

    I commute around 24k a day on a Decathlon road bike that cost me £300 – it’s a superb price for the price and I’m surprised I don’t see more people on these bikes. It’s really light weight, fast, has good quality parts and requires minimal maintenance. Maybe to bike snobs it’s a branding issue; the equivalent of being the kid at school with hi-tec trainers.

    While I agree with the sentiment of spending what you can afford on a bike, balanced against the risk of theft in London I think I’d also rather have the peace of mind that I can relax when I’m not on my bike.

  18. Barton 24/02/2012 at 2:09 pm #

    When my beloved Schwinn hybrid (25 years old, and still in meticulous condition) was stolen last year from work, I couldn’t afford to replace it with an expensive bike, even a moderately expensive bike – and there was currently nothing in the second hand market that fit my needs. So I ended up buying a just-above-entry level Trek hybrid for about $425 (GBP200 at the time) Of course, it felt fine in my test rides and okay for the first week.

    But good God! 750 miles in (4 weeks later) it was a piece of poo. The chain was already stretched out, and the gears chewed up (no, I am really not that hard on bikes, and this was ridden along dedicated pavements and cycle lanes, no off-roading), So, after putting down another $250 to get everything to actually work “properly” I knew I should have just paid more for a better quality bike.

    Which all leads to a friend asking what type of bike she should buy, as she preps to join me next year for a 8-day bike tour. So of course I steered her to a bike that cost three times as much as mine did. Thus, bike snob by experience.

  19. Dr C. 24/02/2012 at 3:18 pm #

    I do often find it difficult to give people new to cycling advice on buying bikes because of my own standards. I forget that upgrading that old single pivot/steel rim to a drum dynamo hub combo doesn’t mean as much to normal folk, or that some people might not care if the bike they depend on to get them to work uses dérailleur gears and battery lights. If we do return to a mass cycling culture, one thing us existing cyclists need to accept is that most people will see their bikes as tools, and as long as they manage the basic function required of them, a crappy bike will be perfectly acceptable to most.

  20. Les 25/02/2012 at 12:02 am #

    Before I bought my MTB last October I was advised that the very minimum I should spend was £350. I spent a bit more and got a Carrera bike, then added Crud catchers, a Garmin, some lights and most importantly a decent lock. Also replaced the chain for a SRAM. Since then I’ve bought a few tools, cleaning kit and spares like inner tubes and valve caps.
    I have to agree with an earlier post that the difference between a bike that cost less than £200 and one costing £500 + is the sheer enjoyment when you ride it. It’s the quality of the frame and the better equipment fitted.

  21. I don’t think it’s a question of snobbery but false economy and that opinion is based on personal experience. For us to cycle to work/college in Cambridge is a 5 mile trip each way so when my son started 6th form college he was entitled to a bus pass. I negotiated with the council to provide us with the value of the bus pass instead so that we could buy a new bike for him. After months of excrutiating nit-picking it was finally agreed. It was a tragic shambles as it was stipulated that we had to spend a certain amount on helmet (never worn), ghastly waterproofs (never worn) and black panniers (never used) – we are talking Teenage Boy here! But hey! He still cycles – now confidently and competently in London. The amount left to spend on a bike was £150 and had to be spent in the shop of the council’s choice. In my opinion, there are no quality bikes in that shop and the choice was between 2 bikes, both of which were rubbish for a regular cyclist covering our sort of distances. Needless to say, my burly rugby-playing son during high jinks at college had wrecked his bike within 3 months.
    In contrast, my own Dutch Sparta, a 7 speed hybrid/upright has been an absolute workhorse for me for virtually 2 years. It cost just under £500 to buy (which seemed frighteningly expensive at the time), needed a new back wheel after 9 years and I comfortably do 60 miles or more every week, all year round.
    My daughter’s authentic traditional Dutch upright (no gears but great street cred) is another workhorse which has proved much better value at £160 new than the crappy one we had to buy for my son.
    It isn’t snobbery, it’s just that if we cycle all the time, we recognise false economy when we see it.

  22. Just seen my typo:- my Dutch Sparta is virtually 12 years old, not 2!

  23. Wallenstein3d 29/02/2012 at 10:25 am #

    After stumbling across this blog (and a couple of others) I finally rescued my old mountain bike from the garden shed this winter. It’s 18 years old now and weighs a ton, but I also figured that “any bike is better than no bike”. I ended up spending £90 on a full service plus new shifters and new tyres (after 18 years these probably needed doing even without several winters in the shed) but I figured it was worth it to see whether I enjoy cycling as much as I used to (so far so good!). I did feel a bit intimidated on a Sunday morning ride last week, as all the other cyclists around seemed to have £800+ road bikes, but my finances won’t stretch that far just yet!

    I’ve added a couple of Polaris rear lights and a Knog Gekko front light (after reading reviews on this blog) and it’s enough to get me to the pub and back plus the odd weekend ride, but the feeling of being back on two wheels is brilliant.

    If it gets to the point where I’m doing 50-60 miles a week I’d consider upgrading but I reckon there must be loads of people who have old bikes languishing in garages and sheds, and £50 plus some elbow grease would probably get them back on the road. Much better to get people out there first and then afterwards encourage them to invest in a decent bike, rather than insisting on £500 minimum spend upfront so they can do “proper cycling”.

    Anways, here she is in all her (slightly rusty) glory: – does the job for now, but won’t win any bragging rights with the lycra warriors 🙂

  24. Matt 09/03/2012 at 2:25 pm #

    From a commuter’s perspective it is an investment:

    My bike (Specialized cross trail) ~£500

    Commute to work four times/ week at ~£5/day is a saving of ~£960/year.

    Return on investment ~6 months so now I’m just making money! I’d be happy drop a grand next time, although my bike does everything I need it to so won’t be investing for a while.

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