When buying a bicycle, it is very common to get lost in all the features and descriptions of the bike. You’ve been there; you went into a bicycle shop and started to walk the lanes until one of bikes caught your eye and a smiling fellow approached you saying, “Excellent choice”. Then he continued, “This year they came out with the BBright that makes the bike 17% stiffer than last year’s bikes”. “Really? “- you would ask. “Yes, this baby also has a tapered head set, asymmetrical design and if you buy it now you will also get 2 years of free maintenance.” It must be a great deal – you think to yourself. I am not saying it is not, however you must understand that most of the features that the bike manufacturers are bragging about have minimal to no impact on an average rider.
This article, will give you my views on what is really important and what is just marketing hype.
Let’s start with the frame. In order to design a good bicycle frame, you need a large amount of research and development money. You need expensive engineers, great testing facilities and a team of professional riders to test the frames in races. It is obvious that only large scale companies have the resources to deliver true innovations to the market. Smaller scale companies sometimes introduce new ideas, however, in most cases they just imitate the big guys. The third tier is the Asia manufacturers who just copy without really understanding bicycle design. So don’t expect to get the same results from lower tier brands as from Trek Madone. If the sales person is trying to sell you a bike with an unknown name, and you can afford a brand name, do not get tempted to buy a cheaper one as the frame is the most important component of the bike. The eBay market is also flooded with imitation frames that look 100% the same as the real thing but they are not made the same and will not perform the same. So buy your frame only from an authorized dealer.
1. Asymmetric design was one of the features introduced by Pinarello few years ago. The reasoning behind it is that the bicycle is not symmetrical due to the fact the there is a drive train on one side so the forces are not evenly distributed between the left and the right side of the frame. The asymmetrical frame presumably compensates for that. Real live evaluation: If you are competing at the Tour De France and looking to squeeze every milliwatt from your frame, maybe it will help. For average enthusiasts, I doubt you can feel the difference.
2. Tapered fork follows the idea that a larger diameter tube means a stiffer tube. True, but will the average rider feel the difference – not in my opinion.
3. BBright™ new standard for Cervelo Bottom Bracket uses an oversized 30mm axle and allows for oversized frame tubes. This design allows frame, bottom bracket and crank designers to improve their components and they claim they have created a bicycle which provides better pedaling stiffness with lower weight. But if you go to the Trek website you will find the same claim over BB90 adopted by Trek. The lack of any empirical comparison results leads me to the same conclusion. Marketing bull…
4. Frame tubes shape: Each manufacturer will try to convince you that his frame tubing shape provides the ultimate properties to the frame. Some have round tubing, some have odd shaped tubing and some have Squoval tubing. My bike has curved tubing. There are no standardized measurement to compare claimed frame features so don’t believe the marketing pitch. Try it yourself and see if you like how the bike rides.
5. Bike weight: If you are rich you might want to ignore my advice, but, if you want to get the best value, take this into consideration. For someone like me who is 155lbs, riding on a 15lb bike vs. an 18lb bike will only have a 1.7% change in my overall weight (rider and the bike). If you think 1.7% makes any difference – you are wrong. I gain and lose 3 pounds between morning and evening. If money is no issue – go for the lighter bike. If you want value, anything less than 18lbs is great.
6. Stiffness: We need to divide this into Torsional and vertical stiffness as both have a completely different meaning and importance. Torsional stiffness is a key feature to a bike’s performance. You want your bike to be as stiff as possible so as not to waste your energy on flexing the carbon under the pedaling loads. Vertical stiffness is something you don’t want. You actually want the bike to be compliant to absorb road bumps and to provide a comfortable ride. That’s great, so try asking the sales person: “What is the stiffness rating of this frame?” The sales person will look at you like you had just came from Mars. There is no standard to measure frame stiffness and each manufacturer can claim anything they want. The takeaway for you is – buy reputable brands, they are all good. Don’t choose one bike over another because of the stiffness marking pitch. Try it and decide if it feels right for you. Remember one very important thing – vertical compliance is greatly affected by your wheelst and tire pressure so there are more variables to it than just the frame. It’s the overall package.
7. Carbon type: Oh, this is a good one. What is better? Trek’s OCLV or Pinarello’s 60HM1K Torayca® or maybe Specialized FACT carbon? Exactly. There is no comparison. Again and again each manufacturer claim they are the best. What you need to know is that all major brands use good enough carbon for their bikes. The name means nothing. In 2011 Trek moved from self glorified OCLV to less expensive TCT carbon in the Madone 5 series, but they still say their 2011 bikes are better than 2010.
8. Women’s Specific Design (WSD): Women geometry is different from a man. However, don’t think that WSD will fit you better than man’s bike. Try them both and see which one is the right choice for you. You can read all about WSD here.
9. Aerodynamics of the bike seems to be important. However, it only plays a significant role if you compete in time trails. The difference in aerodynamics between the modern frames is so insignificant to your overall body drag that I would recommend you to competently ignore this factor unless you are trying to squeeze another second on your next time trail.
10. Wheels weight is another gimmick that people pay a fortune for. There is absolutely no reason to pay an additional $500-2,000 to shave off 1-2lb on your wheels. The climbing advantage is ridiculous; there is no advantage in constant speeds. The only tiny, tiny advantage is during accelerations. Oh, I forgot. You wallet will be much lighter. There are smarter ways to lose important rotational weight. Read all about it here. The things you need to look for in the wheels are good hubs and the quality of the ride.
11. Components: Choosing the right components is critically important. I am not talking about the weight but the quality of your components. If anyone who wants to ride more than once a week, Ultegra or Rival group-set is a must. If you made a mistake and decide to upgrade later, the replacement of the whole group-set can be very costly. It is important to choose the right gearing ratio for your needs. Please read all about it here.
13. Internal routing: Has a slight aerodynamic advantage. However, it is mostly a beautification thing.
Summary: By now you are probably saying to yourself, ‘Great, so how do I buy a good bike?’ It is simple – start by going after big brand names with good components. Look for the one that looks great to you and you will be happy to run into it in your garage. The one that will make you want to ride it. Make sure it’s the right size and fit for you. Take a test ride and if you love it – go for it. Most of the bikes on the market are great. The most important thing is to fall in love with your bike and ride it. Don’t get tangled up in the useless technicalities. If you need my recommendations – look in bicycle reviews section; it pretty much speaks for itself.