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Buying a Road Bike

Bicycles are used for as many purposes as there is imagination and covering all bases is impossible. This information is meant for anyone who wants to explore their athleticism on a road bike. That requires sporting goods equipment weighing 21 pounds or less. But read on if that doesn’t do it for you, as this is really simple stuff and the buying information applies to riders of all intent.
Sub 21 pound road bikes sell for $1500 and up to $5000 and double that or more for custom made.
Custom is more about passion, exclusivity and bragging rights than increased performance.  There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s not what helps a developing rider get better. Only those with money to burn or passionate determination should consider taking what is an expensive leap of faith.
pixelBuilt up frames with recognizable brand names is the real deal. They come in a wide array of sizes that can easily be tweaked by a bike shop to meet individual needs.  Adjusting the bars, stem and seat achieves a virtual custom fit.  
pixelThe absolute value for those used to the best in sporting goods equipment is any $3000 bike equipped with top tier Campagnolo Record or Shimano Dura Ace components.  For an individual to buy the same parts and hang them on an equivalent frame costs at least $1000 more as manufacturers buy tons of groups at a fraction of retail and pass the savings along.  
pixelThe hardware the pros race works with precision unknown to lower tier parts groups.  In a non-racing everyday situation the immediate benefit for the focused rider is nailing every shift.   Smoothly maintaining momentum while conserving energy is the essence of successful riding.  Also, racing equipment used recreationally lasts for years with minimal problems and with periodic maintenance it works as well as new.   
pixelHey, the pros ride this stuff 15K training miles or more in a season and then race it in all kinds of weather over seemingly impossible distances.  No recreational cyclist makes those demands and none can begin to approximate the power the pros put to the pedals. For those devoting time to cycling the initial expense is well worthwhile.
pixelFYI on the lowest end of the new spectrum is a $600 Trek road bike with a flame paint job that by itself costs $600 to special order.  Truth is these bikes work okay for an occasional spin.  That said some gears can’t be accessed without undue strain, if at all.  And that’s no matter how carefully the bike’s assembled. Frame flex and far less precisely made components make all sorts of noises under pressure and its diminished performance gets in the way.  Don’t sell yourself short by shopping with an inferiority complex.
pixelInstead think like a duffer taking up golf and shop with a mindset that envisions a day when you’re going to be good enough for the equipment to matter. Then stepping up to a better bike may not exactly be the waste your less than perfect fitness convinces you it will be and the too truthful salesperson doesn’t try hard enough to overcome.
pixelBack to $1500 which buys a lot of bike and is the entry level for a developing rider of any stripe who wants an honest chance at becoming proficient on a bike. While there appears to be a welter of choices it’s actually quite simple.  Lightweight frames of aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber and combinations thereof, are made by dozens of companies most of which are not household names so buyer beware when it comes to guarantees.  
pixelMost stand by their product but some take longer than others.  You may not even have to ask as most shops tell you the unvarnished truth beforehand because they too are frustrated by lengthy warranty waits and want to avoid unhappy customers in what is a feel good business.
pixelAll of the frame materials in current favor are more than strong enough for the use intended.  Still, guarantees are important as frames can crack or break, especially when heavier riders chunk them over rough roads. Lifetime frame guarantees are very cool and I know that first hand as Fuji delivered twice on that promise when their titanium frames developed cracks.
pixelRide characteristics vary by material but take that with a grain of salt as decent riders learn comfort on anything and that’s where you’re headed.  Aluminum’s the cheapest to build with and what you get for $1500 but that doesn’t mean it’s inferior.  Titanium and carbon are more expensive and in theory are stronger and offer a more forgiving ride but don’t last any longer.
pixelBrands like Trek and Specialized and a host of lesser names build frames to meet several price points and then hang them with a parts group to match each price point. Cheaper parts are heavier, with less finish work and paradoxically not any more durable.  All frame manufacturers pay about the same for a complete parts kit and watch each other and the marketplace closely. From entry level to professional all offer similar dollar values.
pixelShimano and Campagnolo are it for original equipment road bike parts.  Both enjoy strong advocacy among cyclists because both work well and last. You can’t go wrong with either.  SRAM another component company with a presence in mountain bikes and hybrids is introducing a road group that promises to be excellent but so far is not original equipment on any brands.  
pixelNew is the only way to go unless you really know.  There are too many synergistic parts that cease working smoothly when mechanical and maintenance issues are left unattended.   Police auction bikes for instance are hopeless for riding but make great reefs.  Indeed, any bike that shows signs it’s been put away wet suffers from significant wear that can never be made right.
pixelBike shops are where to buy. Check the bikes on the sales floor and if they’re in mechanical disarray that’s not a good sign. Sloppy assembly is the province of big box stores but in a bike shop it’s a giant red flag. That’s generally not a concern because most shops are populated by riders and if they ride you can be sure their bikes work perfectly. Spend $1500 on a new bike and then you can insist yours work as reliably as what they ride.
pixelAnd, just so you know, bikes as a retail business is a way to make a living but it’s far more about the lifestyle than becoming wealthy. It’s small volume retail with slim to modest margins and caters to an exceptionally price resistant clientele as well as the downright poor, who by the way get treated very well in most shops. Their money spends too. All things considered it’s a great deal for the consumer as buying from people who know and love what they do is priceless.
pixelBut for those who know all this and are tempted by online pricing just remember to factor in the cost of having a competent mechanic check it over completely and make sure it’s put together properly.  That’s far more than tightening a few bolts unless you have the proper tools including a torque wrench and know how to use it properly.

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