Earlier in the week, when I was cogitating on what I wanted to ask you this week, I thought maybe I’d talk about bikes you wished you’d had, the ones that got away, or weren’t attainable at the point you would have wanted to attain them. My own entry in this category was going to be a BMX freestyle bike a friend of mine had. It was chromed, feather-light, and it really begged to be endo’d and tail-whipped. Envy is a bad look, I realize, but when it comes to a bike like that, what can you do?
Then I got to thinking what a bike like that would cost now, notwithstanding the fact that bikes like that simply aren’t made anymore. It would be $2000 to start probably. Nice things cost money.
In 1985, though, it probably cost $350. Maybe less.
I have worked in the industry a fair time now. I’ve seen what things cost at the manufacturer’s level. I know what shipping costs. I understand how distribution works and why it adds the costs it does. I don’t see many (maybe a few) companies who are charging significantly more than their costs would suggest they should.
So what’s happened?
In part, the industry of the 1980s was wedded to the idea, at least in the U.S., that most people buying a bike were hobbyists. They weren’t “serious” riders, however you want to define that. And so, what was made here and/or imported were entry-level bikes. This created the false impression that bikes were relatively cheap. Actually, what was available were cheap bikes.
At some point in the late ’80s the bike buying public started to tip over from hobbyist to enthusiast (more nebulous terms, but stick with me). We got obsessed with weight. We began to race more, and yearn for more and better, and the industry responded with better and better products. Costs went up. So when we compare what the nicest ride cost in 1980 to what it costs in 2021, we are not comparing apples to apples. We are comparing apples to foie gras.
Don’t eat foie gras, by the way. It’s bad for you, and it’s bad for the goose. Yes. I know it’s delicious.
Okay. So if we accept that bike prices remain in line with manufacturing and distribution costs (accepting that efficiencies are always still available), and that the major differential between then and now is in the quality of the products the marketplace is demanding, what do we think about the value of the bikes on the market now?
It’s only fair to mention inflation, too. As Padraig pointed out to me helpfully as we talked about this very issue, a jar of peanut butter used to cost $0.79 and now it’s $6.99. And the peanut butter weighs exactly the same as it ever did. What do they take us for, fools?
This week’s TCIF asks, are bikes too expensive? Are riders, by and large, being sold nicer bikes than they need? Or is our perception of value simply skewed by false memories of what a bike was in the ’70s and ’80s?
Listen, we can’t squander our food budget on throwback BMX parts eBay’d out of mid-Western basements unless you support TCI. Just think of all those mag wheels gathering dust in Peoria.