3 Cycling Tips That Will Save You Money

Do You Want To Ride? Save Money? Or Both?

Just switched the seatpost and saddle on my bike, again… I have a few seatposts and many saddles that I have accumulated over time in a spare parts container . A rough estimate tells me that there’s easily close to a thousand dollars in seatposts and saddles in that container. Had I known better, I would not have bought so many of the same parts. Sometimes trial and error is part of our learning process, and I have learned much about cycling and cycling gear since I first started. I would like to share with you 3 cycling tips that will save you money.

#1) It All Starts With Fit

The bike shop is going to steer them towards merchandise that they want to move but isn’t necessarily in the new cyclist’s best interest to purchase.

In my experience, many cycling “newbies” that walk into a bike shop for the first time get “sold”. The bike shop is going to steer them towards merchandise that they want to move but isn’t necessarily in the new cyclist’s best interest to purchase. So they walk out of there with the wrong frame size, or even the wrong frame type (comfort, endurance, racing, etc.) for their intended riding, current fitness, or development stage. I have seen people walk out of a bike shop with a brand-new racing-geometry bike to which an incredibly long steerer extender has been attached to make it more comfortable. I have seen new cyclists buy expensive “carbon bikes” because they are supposedly “better”, but these same folks haven’t got a clue as to “why” carbon is actually better (if at all), nor do they have the knowledge and experience to determine for themselves how such material impacts their rides. The same can be said about wheels, tires, and pretty much anything and everything that you can attach to a bicycle.

…none of it matters if you are not properly fitted to your bike.

The problem is, none of it matters if you are not properly fitted to your bike. When such is the case (bad fit) what I have found is that most people start to “compensate”. By this I mean that they purchase components to try to band-aid a problem without addressing the fundamental root cause. If they experience shoulder pain or hand-numbness they go out and buy incredibly expensive handlebar tape, or gel inserts, or padded gloves. If they experience discomfort in their rear end they start a never-ending search for the perfect saddle… or bibs. Then they go online and write about how such and such a product was some sort of revelation to them.

Most likely, their shoulder and hand numbness was the result of an improperly balanced position on the bike relative to the bottom bracket, saddle height and fore/aft position, and handlebar reach. Perhaps their position is too aggressive for their current level of flexibility and strength. They should not be resting their upper body weight on the handlebars. The search for the perfect saddle is similar to Juan Ponce de León’s quest for the fountain of youth.

The search for the perfect saddle is similar to Juan Ponce de Leon’s quest for the fountain of youth.

Fitting Points

1) Match sit bones to saddle width.
2) Determine the saddle’s “sweet spot” and plant sit bones on that sweet spot.
3) Start with a level saddle before fiddling with tilt adjustments.
4) The saddle fore/aft position must place most of the rider’s body weight balanced over the bottom bracket (unless riding a TT bike).
5) The saddle height must be such that the rider does not experience front knee pain (in which case your saddle is too low) or back knee pain (in which case your saddle is too high).
6) Small adjustments must be made as the rider’s body strength and flexibility changes. Fit is an ongoing process that stabilizes as it reaches a limit, but it never ends.

No amount of saddle or bib padding is going to make up for an improper fit.

No amount of saddle or bib padding is going to make up for an improper fit. All you’ll get from attempting to band-aid an improper fit are injuries, frustration, and unreached potential.  Bibs selling for over $200-$300 and more promising to solve your comfort issues on the bike make very optimistic marketing claims at best. While I don’t have a problem with good craftsmanship, a quality that some of the more expensive bibs and saddles deliver better than others, I disagree that the solution to the problem lies in purchasing those overpriced products. The solution to the problem lies at the root: get your fit right, and make small adjustments over time as needed.

#2) Pay Attention To Your Body, Not The Decals On Your Bike

The biggest factor in what type of bicycle you should be riding should be you. What is your current and target fitness/flexibility level? What are your intended cycling activities or events? Just as it would be sub-optimal to race criteriums on a beach cruiser, so it is to ride a bicycle that does not match where you are as a cyclist RIGHT NOW.

You won’t be able to change that beach cruiser into a racer even if you put carbon/aero-wheels on it.

For the majority of us, throwing cash at cycling is not the highest of our priorities. Compromises must be made. Sometimes is it best to buy a bicycle that can “grow” with us in our cycling adaptations, but within reason. You won’t be able to change that beach cruiser into a racer even if you put carbon/aero-wheels on it. Other times it is best to get the bike that will serve your needs now and upgrade to a more appropriate model later on as those needs change.

If you feel peer pressure because of the brand names on your cycling equipment, you are riding with the wrong crowd.

It makes no sense to buy a USD $5000+ “entry-level” bicycle as most of those “marginal gains” you paid a dear premium on will go unused/unnoticed for a long time… Yet, I see them all the time: club riders on very expensive bicycles with the highest-end aero-wheels going for 10-20 mile rides at 15-18 mph. I see them riding very light bicycles costing thousands of dollars when they could do better by losing some weight themselves.  More power to them.

There is, however, an alternate path for budget-conscious cyclists that want to maximize their return on their cycling expenditures. Forget what your bicycle displays on its downtube or wheelset or other components. If you feel peer pressure because of the brand names on your cycling equipment, you are riding with the wrong crowd.

My Dilemma

Regarding my latest change, I went from a carbon seatpost to an aluminum one. I perform maintenance on my bike often, which requires using a non-carbon seatpost to safely clamp the bike to my stand.  Switching back-and-forth between the aluminum and carbon seatpost was getting to be a bit of a chore.  A slight adjustment in tire pressure and I couldn’t tell the difference between the two.

I also replaced my popular-brand saddle with a no-name “cheapie” one. I had noticed up to 10-20% per-leg power output differences which I thought were due to muscle imbalances. When I installed the cheap saddle, which is about the same style (cutout, length, width), those output differences went away. Both saddles were installed exactly in the same position (fore/aft, tilt, and height).  I concluded that there was something about the more expensive saddle that my rear end didn’t like.  As a result, my power platform (my sit bones) was unbalanced: I was favoring one side more than the other.  My problem was that I wanted the more expensive saddle to work; it did not. On the other hand, the cheaper saddle fit my needs perfectly.  And it is just as comfortable as the more expensive one on all the routes that I ride.

#3) Choose Function Over Style

Some riders prefer to spend $500 on a cycling kit. There is probably some kit out there that provides the same function/utility at a fraction of that cost, yet these riders will refuse to get the less expensive kit. In some cases different brands sell the same item, made in the same factory. Consumers are funny that way. Branding is a big price differentiation factor even if the items considered are essentially the same.

Consumers are funny that way. Branding is a big price differentiation factor even if the items considered are essentially the same.

The market drives pricing. The reason cycling seems to be as expensive as it is is because people are willing to pay those prices. We need to acknowledge that pricing policies represent significant barriers of entry to many potential cyclists. While it is true that everyone should spend their money as they see fit, I propose that through our cycling purchasing habits we could also be supporting pricing policies that keep many people away from cycling. How exactly is that a problem? That means less cyclists, less support for cycling infrastructure, less safety, and believe it or not, higher prices! Look at golf as an example.

We need to acknowledge that pricing policies represent significant barriers of entry to many potential cyclists.

Understand that higher-priced equipment does not necessarily mean better equipment…

There is lack of information and plenty of misinformation on low-budget cycling alternatives. Many will remain passionate about burning away their cash on cycling equipment. Online forum wars will continue, and cycling snobs will continue to try to assert their status through their gear. Nevertheless, I will politely state that unless you are a professional racer your benefits relative to your costs on higher-priced equipment will be minimal. Understand that higher-priced equipment does not necessarily mean better equipment, and even if it is better, how much better? Is a $5000 bike five times better than a $1000 one? Are you be better off by purchasing the $1000 bike while investing the other $4000 in what matters most: your engine?

Closing

I would like to share the following article from Bicycling.com that I read recently. Mr. Adene’s views on the cost of equipment is very enlightening. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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