Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The unbearable price of bicycle components

Where my bikes live: I wonder how much time they spend attached to the repair stand compared with on the road.

There's something very odd about the economy of bicycle maintenance. Buy a rear derailleur, some tires and a wheel and suddenly you might as well have bought an entire bicycle, for all the money you've spent. I'm not exaggerating here for the sake of effect. A wheel, some tires and a rear derailleur literally end up costing the same as an entire medium range bicycle.
One reason for this is that the spare parts on offer at bicycle shops are often very high end. This certainly goes for wheels. Being high end does not imply that these components are incredibly rugged, but rather that they weigh next to nothing, which I hear is important for people who use their bicycles as toys as opposed to using them for transport.
But the real reason for this insanity, I think, is that the shop doesn't really pay that much for anything they put into the store. What they pay for is rent, advertisement, labour, storage and so on. As far as the shop is concerned, it doesn't make much of a difference if they sell a cog wheel or an entire bicycle, the cost involved in getting the item to the customer is shockingly similar anyway.
I worked with the Salvation Army for a while and was flabbergasted to be told that they had a hard time competing with normal outlets in terms of price at their thrift store.
"But you don't pay for the clothes that come in!" I, and everybody else who was let in on this, would whine.
"Well, you know," the Salvation Army folks would mutter, "neither do the other stores. Not really. And they have the benefit of being really big, with a streamlined infrastructure behind them."
Now we don't really make any stuff in the Western world anymore and getting stuff from Asia costs nothing. But labour costs here are so high that repairing something, even repairing it yourself, becomes more expensive than just buying something new.
This said, knowing how to fix your bike is still a wonderful thing. And some parts can be sourced from other old klunkers lying around. I've also wondered if it would be possible to make some kind of co-op where we could import bicycle components ourselves. This would involve combining friendship with money, which I don't really believe in, but if it worked, it would be wonderful.


Hudson Gardner said...

My bike only has one gear, which I doubt would cut it for the terrain you ride in, but for city stuff it's great. It's not low maintenance, it's no maintenance :)

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Northmark said...

Hudson! Yes, I have become very enthusiastic about single speed myself! And just to get really nerdy: single speed does open up for the possibility of a symmetrically dished rear wheel, which would be strong enough to support significant loads.

coastkid said...

you could get a hub gear too and have a symmetrically built wheel and gears too! but cost!,im more intrested in spending alot of maoney if the part is going to last years making it cheaper long term than how lightwieght it is,i like the idea of a coaster hub single speed,no cables etc..,dynohub on front for free lighting ,that would be nice