Is cycling a sport for the rich these days? Are we a cycling generation that has become more interested in buying speed than in our bodies generating speed on the bike? When it comes to casting away our cash what should we be concentrating on? We get the thoughts of Steelsprings’ Aaron Strong.
Is cycling a rich person’s sport?
I remember my first bike that I raced. It was heavy, it was slow, it was old, it was $30 . . . and I loved it. Maybe it’s my insecurities but there’s no way I’d be seen on that thing on the start line of a race now; 16 years later. I would be that sore thumb sticking out pretty bad. And my thinking has got me thinking, is it just me? Is it now no longer so simple as get a bike and go? Are we now a ‘rich man’s/rich woman’s sport’?
“I’d say that in many cases this statement is a fair evaluation and from the outside that it appears to be the case. The thing is though, it doesn’t need to be. The term cycling though is a very broad term here. I would qualify my opinion by saying that competitive road cycling does require certain minimum spending and that the cost depends on the level you are participating,” Aaron explained to us. “For instance, an absolute beginner in the younger grades doesn’t need to have the top of the line carbon bike, group set and wheels to give it a go.
“It’s all relative though isn’t it. Compare it to running cross country barefoot and cycling, while not necessarily a rich mans sport, does require some disposable income to get into, so for that reason, cycling isn’t accessible to everyone.
“The perception perhaps comes from the explosion of cycling “MAMILS” in recent years who have all the gear and no idea.”
Cycling is a funny sport that at a professional level has gone forwards and backwards but still forwards in spite of it all. The memory of Chris Boardman and his Lotus at the ’92 Olympics was a step too far for the UCI, and the reins were swiftly pulled in on such tech advancements; or have they been? Within the boundaries we’ve been given, innovation continues on and on and on; technology keeps progressing and it almost feels like a bit of a game of ‘catch up’ for the riders to keep pace with what’s out there.
So how much tech do we need to keep up at a domestic level? “A strong rider on a cheap bike will still beat a weak rider on the best bike. The gear can only do so much to improve you. The human machine accounts for most of the potential speed and the fancy gear gives you the marginal gains,” Aaron said. “Where to spend your money is the most important factor that will make you go faster. Obviously as a coach, I’d suggest you spend some money on a coach over a set of carbon wheels but my option isn’t an instant fix. In today’s society, the quick fix is usually the preferred option. Call me old fashioned.”
What to look for in the ‘quick fix’
So there is something to be gained by the ‘quick fix’, bearing in mind at all times that the purchase is only as good as the performer; the resource is only as good as the rider. Within those perimeters then what should be our priorities when it comes to equipment choices? Aaron has some good insight.
“You can save a lot of money on the bike by choosing a cheaper group set. Take the popular Shimano brand for example. At the top of the food chain you have the Dura Ace Di2, an electronic group set. These cost about as much as a warrantable car. Going down the range to cheaper options you find that the difference in performance are extremely marginal. Save money by opting for the mechanical Dura Ace and you’ll be just as competitive. Cheaper still are the Ultegra and 105 group sets. The thing with most of the groupset brands are that they filter down technology year to year. So, this year’s 105, has many of the advancements of last year’s Ultegra or the year before’s Dura Ace. The other monetary advantage of a cheaper group set is that it costs less to replace bits if they wear out,” Aaron explained.
“One of the best ways to make a cheap bike faster is to invest in a good set of race wheels. You don’t need good wheels for training but bring out the fast ones on race days and they’ll last you many seasons. The mental lift a fast set of wheels gives you adds another few % on race day too I’m sure. Consider what type of racing you do most and choose wheels that suit those aims. Many of the new fast wheels available today are made to be versatile in all conditions and types of terrain. Another sneaky tip that is useful in the current market is that there are many bargains to be found 2nd hand if you stay with rim brakes. Those with more disposable income are moving to disc brake bikes, so have unusable wheels for their new bikes.
“Other things to look into that are cheap upgrades and improve aerodynamics are to invest in a road racing Skinsuit or an Aero Helmet. These really are “marginal” gains though and you do get what you pay for in that regard with cycling.
“A big cost saving can be had by choosing an alloy frame over a carbon one. A few years ago I wouldn’t have advocated this but with some recent advances in aluminium frame building technology, I think the disadvantages of an Alloy bike are less of an issue now.
“Invest some time into making yourself a smarter training athlete and you can still be competitive at a Domestic level in NZ. Hey, I still race a 10 speed group set.”
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