Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Bicycles and Gear: Give Cheap a Chance?

Growing up, I had a friend who was extremely frugal. She was and still is the sort who takes unopened ketchup or mustard packets left on a restaurant table so that she doesn't have to buy them for her needs at home. Even today, despite having a job that provides income to sustain her lifestyle, she sees no reason to go out and buy a bag of sugar when there are packets readily available during a meal out that can be collected for later use. I will never forget one outing during which I had ordered a cup of hot tea. The server had brought two tea bags and a couple packages of honey, and when I only used one tea bag and none of the honey she quickly inquired, "Can I take that... if you aren't going to use it?" She doesn't view it as stealing, but rather just taking what someone may have used while consuming a meal -- a means of conserving monetary funds. I suppose whether this is theft or not is somewhat debatable, but it's merely a representation of one of her habits to keep expenditures to a minimum and one illustration of her thrifty life choices.
Admittedly, I am almost the opposite of this. Well, perhaps the opposite isn't entirely accurate. I don't think I'm unnecessarily wasteful, but I don't feel the need to take unopened packets of various condiments home with me when patronizing restaurants, and I tend to live more by the saying you get what you pay for when it comes to acquiring goods for personal use or my home - even if it means having less things.

For example, I don't find most furniture manufactured in recent years to be of high quality, so if I have the option, I'd rather find a second hand item that has made it through several decades (or even centuries) than spend on a fiberboard or plastic piece that will likely end up in a landfill much sooner than furniture should. Life has taught me that thinking I'm getting a deal on something because it's new but cheap usually results in disappointment with broken or unusable items.

When it comes to bike parts and cycling gear, I tried less expensive options when I first started out and found that I simply didn't like what I came across, and so a kind of habit developed (unconsciously, really) that caused me to seek out more expensive items, believing that if I spent more I would get a higher quality, longer lasting, more usable product. Generally, that thought has held true. Which is not to say that every product that costs more is or has been of higher quality or functions better, but simply that I have found that being willing to spend a little more and perhaps have fewer of an item allows me to obtain more comfortable cycling shorts or a longer-lasting bike part.

I am by no means a snob (bike or otherwise), but I suddenly was jolted into awareness of my unconscious behavior when I realized I was mentally protesting a particular garment for cycling simply because it was 1) less expensive than other items I'd typically buy, and 2) it was being sold by a discount cycling outlet type of store that carries off-brands.

Oh my word... I am a snob, I thought. How else could I explain my reasoning for not wanting to try a product simply because it's less expensive? Maybe it wasn't quite snobbish, but I definitely didn't have any valid reason to not give the item a try.

I started thinking about other areas of life and bargains I have found on items. Several of my favorite pieces have been the least expensive items I've purchased and even favorite dining spots are often not the fanciest, most costly places. Basically, I reminded myself that just because something is less costly or appears on the surface to be less-than-desirable doesn't necessarily make it useless, bad, or inferior.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I decided to purchase said item and give it a try.

The funny thing is, it turned out to be a remarkably usable product that has functioned better than some items on which I've spent three to four times its price. Since then, I've had a couple of other this-shouldn't-be-this-inexpensive type of purchases that have panned out well, and even though I do think that there are times when spending more can save a headache in the long run, I was reminded that just as an item can be expensive and useless or of low quality, it is also possible that an item can be inexpensive and still quite wonderful and usable.

I am grateful that when I initially started to cycle in adulthood that I didn't run out and buy the most expensive things I could find, but on the other hand, once I knew what I liked and didn't, I know I started to accept that I would need to spend more on the items I wanted for my bike or for gear. Somehow that realization seemed to get warped into an idea that spending more was the only way to find good items, which I know is not true. Yet, that thought process seemed to prevail until I came to understand that I was unintentionally but quite routinely avoiding certain items simply because they appeared to be too inexpensive, even if I thought they could work.

What are your thoughts on less expensive parts and goods for cycling? Is cheap worth trying when it comes to parts, bicycles or other gear, or do you believe that spending more will always provide a better product? Are there certain items you spend more on and refuse to compromise on your preferences, or are you willing to give an off- or generic-brand an opportunity to prove its worth? Have you bought anything expensive that you wish you would've passed on buying after using it, and/or have you bought anything less costly that you found to be a remarkable item for its price? Feel free to share your experiences.


  1. Generally speaking, I don't have much issue with "cheap", although I have found that lately I have turned to "quality/expensive" but second hand to get my "cheap" fix. For me, I think where the cheap has come in, is the "house brand" stuff at some bike retailers. I have found that their house brands are often made in the same places that more expensive parts/accessories are.

    1. You are definitely not against cheap... but, I also think you've discovered that getting something of quality is sometimes the better way to go. Plus, there's nothing wrong with well-maintained second hand stuff. :)

  2. I don't intend to buy expensive things, but I have found that when it comes to cycling specific things, the good stuff tends to be pricey. I have some Ortlieb panniers, for instance, that I swear by. I've carried a laptop through a monsoon in them and arrived home with not a drop of water inside. Likewise with lights. I tried a lower priced headlight for a while, but the beam patter and brightness just weren't what I needed. I ended up with a Cygolight that costs a good bit. My main commuter has a dynamo hub, which is even pricier, but totally worth it to not have to worry about charging batteries.

    So, yeah, I have a few less expensive things, but I find that my pricier items work just right and don't need to be replaced. I try not to be a snob about it though. If less expensive stuff works for other people, good for them. And, heck, one of my bikes has an old milk crate zip tied to the rack. What can I say: it works.

    1. This has also been my experience, and I think it's why I've unintentionally shunned inexpensive items at times because I just assume it will be the case with everything. I think it also depends on what it is... when it's something that keeps the bike operational, I want to know that it's going to function when/how it's needed and I'm probably less likely to take a chance. It is nice to know though that occasionally there are items that don't cost a fortune and can still function well.

  3. Having purchased inexpensive lights and later an expensive one, Yes, I think good lights are worth their price tag. However, quality lights have come down in price in recent years so I'm not comparing apples to apples, I suppose. If I was to buy another light, I would still purchase my current brand which has lasted through our winter weather this year.

    Mirrors are a different matter. For many years I used Rhode Gear bar end brand. The quality is great, but I got tired of awkward hurtful hands because the metal portion of mirror was wrapped over the hand grips, connected by Velcro. And if the bike fell (it always happens) then the mirror might shatter or bend. Years ago I switched to using an inexpensive Bell brand mirror that connects by a simple thumb screw to metal portion of mountain bar grip, or stem. This type of mirror also connects to mustache bars. Point being, with multiple places to attach this type of mirror, it has never let me down. I find them occasionally at Ace Hardware for 7.00. I buy two at a time.

    I think Blackburn aluminum racks are quite a good buy. I'm not convinced that steel racks are any better and they are certainly heavier.

    For integral bike parts like freewheels, chains, cranks,etc. I always defer to my mechanic at LBS and request decent middle of the road quality. I wont compromise for cheap parts when it comes to the drive train or wheels.

    I have learned to buy better tires also. Love the Panaracer Paselas and anything schwalbe.

    For garments, I love lightweight t-shirts and yoga pants mainly because I detest lycra and thick padded shorts have never worked for me. If I commute to work I usually use regular shorts because I'm not pedaling more than 5 miles.

    1. Lights have changed a lot through the years when it comes to cost. I don't mind my (non-dynamo) light that's been connected to a few different bikes. It's actually pretty powerful and illuminates quite well given it's fairly inexpensive price tag. I'm actually in the middle of research for changing out to a dynamo set up on one of the bikes, but I always have the debate with myself as to whether I will regret the expense or not since the battery operated light works quite well.

      Absolutely agree about integral bike parts for the drivetrain and wheels... very important to have things that work well and won't leave you stranded.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    2. Oh yeah, I forgot about things like mirrors and racks. In my experience, you are right on target about them. I use a Mirracle mirror that was maybe $12 and a Blackburn rack that was a lot less expensive than the high-end stuff. Both work very well.

      Maybe the expensive stuff sticks in my mind because I often bought it after being dissatisfied with less expensive options. In every case, I had to talk myself over the price hurdle before I bought the pricier items: "They want how much for a bag?!"

    3. Good point, Kendra. Perhaps the expensive items are the ones that stick in our minds for the very reason that it took a bit more to get them and then when the product/item doesn't work to our hopes, it's quite disappointing.

  4. Sometimes I find good quality cheap(er) stuff which is not the latest fashion. Cycling is like everything else, very market and sales driven, so a willingness to be not fashionable enables saving money. Also, knowing that durability vs. light weight is a constant engineering trade-off, and that the fashion continues to dictate that light weight must be better, focusing on durability can also yield savings. Knowing that late-80s mountain bike parts were somewhat heavier and often more durable than later successor parts, not on purpose, but because manufacturers were dialing in the price vs. safety vs. durability equation and tended to err on the side of safety/durability, until they didn't, and that they made many errors along the way that should be avoided in the bike swap bin. My two late-80s/early 90s steel mountain bikes, both purchased with low or no previous usage for $100, have eventually had parts wear out after I put thousands of miles on them, but still hold up very well. But they won't win any fashion contests. Light technology is great, now, but I'm still wary of the super-bright cheap lights for their reliability and battery pack safety and reliability. I still think the best bet is to grab an expensive, really good light on closeout (Niterider Trinewt at $89 is my best example), but it feels like cheap lights that are also reliable enough are near to hand. I bought a Blitzu taillight because it seemed like it might finally be that, then discovered that the rubber charge port cover was both ill-fitting and tore off the first time I used it, which shows that paying extra for attention to detail and customer focus is probably still worth it in terms of saving hassles and inconvenient-to-dangerous failures in usage.

    1. You are so right. Just because something is new doesn't mean it's better (which is true in many areas of life). It can also be challenging at times to avoid the garbage that is sometimes made today. I'd personally rather not have throw away items, but finding those well-thought-out and quality items is sometimes an obstacle all its own today.


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