|*Image can be found here and downloaded as wallpaper.|
The comments after each post offer additional feedback and information to ponder, but I think what has struck me most is the idea that expensive = quality while inexpensive = garbage. I do realize there is good reason for this belief as it is based on something that you and I call reality. It simply costs more to build a quality product than it does to build one of inferior structure.
A lot goes into choice of tubing. Then there are those who lug bikes, which requires another addition to price. Paint choice. Drive train. For heaven's sake, even a crank can make quite an impact to what a consumer pays for a bicycle. These choices all have direct influence on the costs involved in a product. However, the materials themselves are just one piece of the puzzle.
When evaluating a bicycle, the maker - the person who physically welds the frame - is also a factor. Many mass-produced frames are made in factories overseas and are never - or minimally - touched by human hands. Some are hand-brazed; some are welded by machine. In my view, there are potential negatives for both a handmade product and one constructed by machine. Whereas a machine is not subject to human error and is more likely to produce a more consistent product, a machine is also incapable of recognizing small differences that a human is more likely to spot.
Then, there are factors such as experience. It's just a reality that the more exposure and time an individual has with a given subject matter, the easier it is for the person to recognize potential problems.
In my early days as a recruiter, I often let both good and bad candidates slip right by me because I hadn't enough time in the field to understand signs and signals. I had solid innate instincts, which was a great starting skill, but it couldn't prepare me in the ways that "practicing" would do. The longer I spent screening candidates for positions, the quicker I started recognizing potential red flags. Which isn't to say that no one ever got by me, nor that I never passed up a perfectly good choice, but I started to recognize probability of success the more time I spent interviewing people.
The same could be said for frame builders. Having a natural gift is a great start, but the more time a builder has, the more likely it is that s/he will produce a quality product. Beyond the physical building process itself, there are other attributes that I have no doubt begin to take shape, particularly when it comes to customizing geometry or creating a standard that works for most people. Perhaps this is why we start to see some builders who specialize in women's geometry, who build specifically for brevets, racing-specific, or builders who specialize in frames for tall/short people.
As with many aspects of life, not everything is black and white. The many shades of grey that flow between two extremes offer a lot to the mix. Do only the most expensive bicycles provide a quality product? Do all inexpensive bicycles exhibit qualities of an inadequate or poor choice?
It becomes fairly easy to swing ones opinion in either direction depending on what we hear or read. I could point out multiple links online to individuals who have had his/her Surly frame break at various points in its life and for varying reasons. By doing so, I may lead some to believe that all Surly frames will end up in a landfill sooner or later (*Note: I'm not picking on Surly - we could easily fill-in-the-blank with any number of manufacturers. We've owned 4 Surly's in our home at various times and have enjoyed each of them).
I could just as easily point out the number of many satisfied Surly owners who have never had a single issue with his/her frame. These individuals will praise the quality/value and state that there is no reason to purchase anything more expensive. Does it then automatically mean that every Surly or mass-produced frame is of quality that will last a lifetime?
Sometimes the price of a frame is influenced by aesthetics. For some manufacturers, the number of frames made are used as a means to play with supply and demand, which is also likely to have an affect on price.
I believe that there are benefits to spending less on a bicycle. I also believe these benefits are particularly present when a person is just starting to ride. It is incredibly difficult to know what one needs and how one will ride in early stages. Goodness knows that over time I have changed dramatically in the way I ride and what I ride. In truth, I couldn't have known from the start what would be in front of me. Spending thousands on a bike frame early on would likely have been in complete vain.
Still, others will point out that had I owned such a bicycle early on, perhaps the need to adjust and change what I rode may have been unnecessary. If the quality and geometry had been present with my early choice, perhaps I'd be riding the same today.
I tend to disagree with this latter possibility, as I needed time to figure out what I like and dislike about the way a bicycle rides and feels; and for me specifically, I hadn't the desire to ride in the manner I do today when my adult cycling began. However, there could be some truth to the idea that spending to obtain a quality, well-designed product initially may result in fewer bike switches down the road.
But, this brings me back to the initial thought regarding quality and price. Do they necessarily go hand-in-hand? In some respects, I do think quality necessitates a higher price tag. It is challenging, to say the least, to offer a product of substance when the ticket price is bare-bones. Yet, I don't think that spending the most automatically provides a bike of quality.
It is my belief that this is when thoughtful research, analytic-ability and personal preferences come into play. With so much information at our fingertips, it is challenging to determine B.S. or opinion from fact, as quite often these are equally presented as credible information. In addition, if you are someone like myself who enjoys absorbing and reading as much as possible about bicycles, it can provide a great wealth of knowledge. However, with that familiarity comes the nearly unavoidable confusion when conflict of source information arises.
What has been your experience with the cost vs quality conundrum? Has your experience led you to believe that there is no correlation, or have you found that paying more has afforded a more enjoyable riding experience and/or a higher quality product? Additionally, do you research companies or individuals before buying a frame or bicycle? Have you found conflicting information, and if so, are you able to separate fact from fiction?