Buying a Bike in the Modern Day

It used to be, if you wanted a bike, you went to Canadian Tire (being a Canadian and all) and bought a bike. You sat on a few, you had an idea what you wanted (if you were eleven you HAD to have a BMX, or a ten-speed, depending on what generation you were). It was heavy, made of steel, and probably cost about a hundred bucks. Two
hundred if you were really throwing the anchor out.

Those days are gone. I mean, for kids, maybe still there, but for an adult?

My now-old bike was my pride and joy. Still is. I take pride in how beat-up and well-worn it is. It is a 2003 Devinci Stockholm Hybrid. It’s got basement level MTB componentry (Shimano Alivio, specifically), a lot of chips, and 700x28c tires. It cost me about seven-hundred and fifty bucks, new, in 2003, and now sits with about thirty-five, maybe forty thousand kilometres on it. Yes, you read that right. All I’ve replaced in those miles and years is tires, tubes, brakes, and chains. Otherwise, with some cleaning and maintenance, it’s been flawless for me. But it’s well-worn, and wearing out.

And, I know better what I need in a bike, too. For one thing, I need to be able to switch my riding position. The mountain bike handlebars aren’t going to cut it anymore.

So, I’m bike shopping. And my budget has definitely gone further upstream. The ballpark I’m looking in is $800-$1200, and I’ll go higher for the right bike (not much higher. That way leads to madness).

After a couple of weeks of researching, I’ve narrowed my search to a particular style of bike: Cyclocross. This’ll give me the durability for commuting, but still the lightness, and road-speed of a serious roadbike, for training and running with friends who are serious road-riders.

What I’m looking for is a ballpark of $800-$1200, aluminum frame, and at least a combination of Sora/Tiagra components. My preference is for aluminum frame, carbon fork, and Tiagra/105 components, OR SRAM components (Probably SRAM Rival).

Within the cyclocross style, there’s a number of contenders, and a number that are just out. Either too low in componentry, or too high in price. What I’m left with is:

  • Norco CCX2
  • Scott CX Comp
  • Giant TCX
  • Opus Sequence
  • Devinci Tosca SL1
  • KHS CX-100
  • Marin Lombard
  • Marin Cortina
  • Specialized TriCross

    Right off the bat, I’ve pretty much eliminated the Devinci Tosca SL1, Marin Cortina, and KHS CX-100. The Devinci and Marin are a class higher, and a class more expensive. Unless I can get a smoking deal on last years model, they’re about $500 too expensive for my blood (about $1650 each). The KHS is off the list simply because I haven’t been able to find one to test-ride, and the specification vs price isn’t so spectacular I desperately want to go looking.

    The Scott CX Comp wasn’t on the list until I got a test-ride. Despite the MTB-oriented frame (the others are road-bike frames) it’s incredibly light, fast, and maneuverable. It has two downsides. First and foremost, the price. List is currently $1550. However, last years model is marked down to $1449, and has been offered to me in writing by one of my local stores for $1275. that puts it very high on my sliding scale for cost, but it’s a hefty discount on a fantastic bike I shouldn’t be able to afford at all. While it’s at the top of my self-imposed price range ($800-$1200) and a little over, it’s a fantastic bike, at a great price, and it’s close enough to my range that I have to at least consider it. That said, the price doesn’t tell all. It doesn’t come with pedals included. So, I’m not going to buy a bike like that and put cheap, plastic pedals on. That means I need to budget another $130 or so for Hybrid Clipless pedals. That puts the price back up to around $1400, and makes it… difficult… to justify again.

    The Opus Sequence is a bike that I’ve a] not ridden yet, and b] made me fall in love with the style when I saw it. The reason I’ve not ridden it yet is that the frame on the model I saw was too small for me (54cm). That said, I may go test-ride the 54cm anyway, and my big problem has been too long a frame (my Devinci is a 58cm top tube). A “measured short” 54mm top tube may actually fit me very well. And I can get the Sequence in last years model for $899 (marked down from $1199). If I can find a 2012, I might even consider paying full price for it, for the right size (and maybe with some freebies thrown in). The real problem with the Sequence is the SORA componentry, however, it’s SORA 3400 parts, not the lower-end 2300/STI set. Within that, I’ve found that the thumb-shift (down, not up) is much more difficult on the SORA design, than the Tiagra shifters. My preference is definitely for the Tiagra’s (or SRAM Rival).

    I rode the Giant TCX 2 on Saturday, and it’s a brilliant bike. It suffers the same issues as the Opus: the shifters are SORA not Tiagra or Rival, and are a more difficult reach from the drop bars. However, it has a rear derailleur in the Tiagra group, and the 2012 model is $999. For that price, I could have them pull the SORA shifters and install Tiagra’s for me, and not bump the price over $1100. For the price, unsurprisingly, the fork is aluminum, not carbon, but that’s a “like” not a must have. If, however, I can find a last-years-model TCX 1, I would get SRAM Rival for all components and a carbon fork, But I could only afford last years model, and then only by stretching the budget. As one of two ‘budget’ cyclocross bikes, however, the TCX 2 bears serious thought. It was every bit as smooth and communicative as the Scott CX Comp, but suffers from slightly lower-end components, and through that, slightly more weight, lower ergonomics and ease of use, and potentially, durability. Still, a fantastic bike, for the money.

    The other “budget” bike is the Specialized TriCross Comp. For $899, it comes in with SORA components across the board (2300 series) and, well, not much else. For the price though, again, I could upgrade the shifters to Tiagra, and still come in around a grand. It should be noted that, although I keep talking about the SORA components being lower quality, they’re still a significant step up from the Alivio components my Devinci has soldiered on with. The problem I had with the TriCross was that I couldn’t ride it. The store I went to didn’t have pedals on their built models, and didn’t want to put them on for me to test ride. Which means I’m going to ride (and potentially buy) somewhere else. Specialized has, like Devinci, a good reputation within my group of friends: @mightdogking has had a Specialized for a number of years, and it’s been good to him.

    Funnily, the brand I’m now least likely to buy, due to price, is Marin. And that’s where this whole search started. I’ve had my eye on a Marin Muirwoods 29er or Marin Point Reyes 29er for about three years. They’re both well in my budget. But they’re not the cyclocross style that I think is the winner for me. That said, I could swap the bars out (MTB style for drop) and ‘build’ a 29’er cyclocross bike. The problem is, that’d cost me more than just buying a built cyclocross.

    So, in Marin, the options are the Lombard and Cortina. The Cortina is the flagship: and again, unless it’s last years model, then there’s no way I can afford it. The Lombard, however, is again, smack in the ballpark at around $1100. It also runs a different component set: SRAM powerglide cassette with Shimano SORA on the front and rear derailleur, and SORA shifters. What you do get is a carbon fork, and more aggressively road-oriented tires and wheels. On the Cortina, what that extra money gets you is a full on SRAM setup: Rival front derailleur, Force rear derailleur, and an OpenGlide 1050 cassette, along with Rival shifters. BikePedia shows the price for the Cortina at $1849. That’s a long, long LONG way out of my ballpark.

    Finally, and so far, not listed, because again, it’s not only one that I can’t afford unless it’s last years model, but because I’ve not even seen one in-store, in person: the Trek Ion CX. Now, I’d written Trek off, as even their touring/hybrids are out of my ballpark for what I want in terms of components, but @Spoonsie says I have to look, and she knows bikes! So, I’m going to at least look for a last years model of the Ion CX. Why? Well, it’s everything the others are (or want to be). It’s got a carbon fork, SRAM Apex components, and composite bars. This years model taps in at $1600. But, from what I’ve seen if I can find last years, I can probably have it in my ballpark of $1200, maybe $1300 with hybrid clipless pedals. It’s at least worth looking at, and for.

    Finally, on paper, the Norco CCX is actually a winner. It’s the style I want, with Tiagra components across the board, and a carbon fork, for an MSRP of $1299. If I can get a deal, it’s spot on. If I can get last years, it’s the deal of the century. That is, as long as I like the ride, posture, and seating position. I’ve not actually seen on of these in person yet, either, but I am going looking for one this week.

    For those who are interested, the hierarchy of parts looks (somewhat) like this:

    Lowest:
    SRAM Apex, Shimano 2300
    Medium:
    SRAM Rival, Shimano SORA
    High:
    SRAM Rival, Shimano Tiagra
    Pro:
    SRAM Force, Shimano 105

    Any knowledgeable bike-types, feel free to correct me on this one, but from what I’m seeing, this is, as they say, close enough for government work.

    One of my biggest issues with trying to buy a bike is partly illustrated above: With the vast assortment of nearly-the-same-but-not components and materials, a layperson needs to ride bikes to see what works (and fitment is still essential). But a store, even a big one, will rarely have more than one of any given bike assembled, and with four to eight sizes generally available, the chances of the store having one assembled that fits you properly border on infintisimal. And that’s if they even have ONE of the bike in stock, and/or assembled. If you add on top of that that most stores have semi-exclusive deals with manufacturers and limited space, then you’re only likely to see two, or maybe three brands at a given store.

    If, on top of that, they won’t put pedals on the bike for you to test ride it, well, what the hell are you supposed to do?

    Like I said at the beginning, these are no longer the days of the Cantire, no-name, bargain bike. Just like I wouldn’t drop money on a car without driving it, I won’t buy a bike without riding it. To carry the analogy further, I’m not sure how much I trust a shop that won’t put pedals on a bike to make a sale, to fulfill what it’s telling me with “Free lifetime” or “free two years unlimited” servicing. If they won’t spend ten minutes to help a customer make a decision by riding, before the sale, how cooperative are they going to be after they’ve got your money and you want them to make things right? Much like the car, you’re not just buying the thing: you’re buying, most likely, the follow-up service, at least for the ‘warranty’ period.

    It’s been ten years since I bike shopped. Oh, I’ve window shopped, but not with any seriousness. And that seriousness (and the obsessive nerdiness that comes with it for me) is what takes me the time when I’m buying a bike. How many people just get frustrated, and either simply don’t buy, or buy a bike that doesn’t fit them properly, just to get itover with?

    But I digress.

    Right now, without having ridden anything else, The Giant TCX, Scott Comp CX, Norco CCX, and one of the two or three levels of Specialized.

    There is another reason for the price ballpark, in case you’re wondering. It’s not just the budget (and we all have to budget). Rather, I’ve set the limit that I have because it’s the highest level I’m comfortable locking up downtown, or at work. Remember, I commute on this. I’d love to have a two-thousand dollar bike, with everything I want on it. But I’d be so paranoid that I’d never be able to rest easy leaving it the places I need to leave it. I may end up with a ‘tooling around’ bike in a few years, or even next year, but for now, there’s one bike to rule them all, and I’ve gotta be able to throw a good chain and lock combination on it, and be comfortable leaving it outside a bar for three hours.

    Because it’s not all about health. Sometimes, it’s about beer, too.

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  • 7 Responses to Buying a Bike in the Modern Day

    1. jamesonblake says:

      Wow you definitely go through quite a process to pick a bike and that is so great. I was just saying how you should now how much you want to spend and what kind of bike you want to get out of it. With all the choices out there, you are bound to find the right bike for you. The only problem I have with shopping is going over just $25 then $50 then I end up doubling my budget. There is always going to be a better bike!

    2. Reblogged this on InspiredWeightloss! and commented:
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    3. Pingback: [biking] I Swear, It’s Not An Impulse Purchase « Life, the Universe, and Everything

    4. Cycle Parts says:

      It seems you really considered your choices very thoroughly and properly. Good luck with finally finding the perfect bike for you!

    5. What did you end up buying? I am in the exact same boat as you right now in buying a cyclocross, I find myself leaning toward the Marin Lombard because of the price, disc brakes, and carbon fork. REI has it for 15% off as well.

    6. markramsden says:

      Finally settled on the Opus Stern: http://opusbike.com/en/bikes/road/cyclocross/stern

      It was more than I’d planned on spending, but the 56cm model was exactly what I was looking for, and felt fantastic.

      I rode the Norco with discs, and honestly, I didn’t like ’em. They didn’t have the feel that I like. And the cantilever brakes on thes stern are simple, and light.

      I never did find a Marin Lombard assembled and ready for me to test-ride, unfortunately.

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