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Cheap or expensive bike: What is better for me?

the inside of a bicycle shop.

Cycling is the most beautiful thing in the world: it is fun, makes you independent of traffic and train timetables, keeps you fit – and is also cheap! Fortunately, cycling is not a question of price as you can get safe, modern and chic bikes in every bike category with a reasonable budget. Of course, you can also spend a lot of money on a bike – but you don’t have to. In this guide, we have put together for you how expensive bicycles differ from cheap bicycles and what it is worth investing more money in.

The different bike price ranges

No matter what bike category we are talking about, whether city, trekking, or mountain bike, road bike or e-bike – all bikes can be roughly divided into four classes:

  • Entry level
  • Middle class
  • Luxury class
  • High end

You decide how much money you want to spend on your new bike, of course, and for more money you will also want to get more value. Higher-quality components, better materials, less weight, better function and more stylish design are good arguments for digging deeper into your pocket.

How much money do you have to spend now to get your desired bike according to your ideas? Below we explain to you what the price depends on and what you can expect in which price category.

How much should a good bike cost me?

What does the price of a bike depend on?

First and foremost, the respective bike category and the intended use determine the price, then the quality of the components used, the frame material used and the existing equipment. As a result, the weight of the bike, usability and handling depend on those choices.

That's how much money you should plan for your bike

You can find simple city and trekking bikes from a $250, sporty mountain bikes start at a manageable $300, light road bikes start at a moderate $500 and you can get the increasingly popular e-bikes from a budget-friendly $1,100.

In our experience, these are the minimum prices that you should plan for bicycles in the respective category. Even if there are perhaps even cheaper bicycles elsewhere, you usually have to put up with a major drop in traffic safety and the required minimum quality – an unnecessary risk that you shouldn’t take in your own interest!

When to spend more money

For the minimum prices mentioned, you get the simplest equipment in the respective category, which may be sufficient for moderate demands and low requirements such as a trip to the bakery or the train station.

However, if you would like to use your bike more intensively, be on the road with a sporty attitude, or have higher demands on touring suitability, payload, weight or quality, you should choose higher-quality bikes, which of course also cost more. These additional costs generally pay off, as higher-quality components and materials usually not only work better, but are also more durable.

A good bike for little money! Is that possible?

Influence of quality on price

1. Frame

In the affordable entry-level class, you will usually find simple frames made of steel or aluminum, which are solid, but relatively heavy. High-quality aluminum frames, which are better processed and significantly lighter, can be found on bikes from the somewhat more expensive middle class. Carbon frames are also available in different quality levels, but they are mainly found in the upper middle and upper class. In the high-end area, you will find weight-optimized and particularly high-quality carbon frames and frames made of titanium, which are often used in small series and customized construction.

2. Gear Shift

Hub and derailleur gears are still the most commonly used gears on bicycles. The price of a gear depends on the number of gears, the type, the control, the material used and the resulting weight. You can learn more about bike gear ratios in our guide.

Cheap hub gears for simple city bikes are available from 3 gears, better hub gears in the city area have 7 or 8 gears. If hub gears are used in the trekking area, they are often lighter and more precise and have 8, 11 or 14 gears. Depending on the price range, the gear change can take place mechanically, or easily and comfortably – but also more expensive – with electronic control.

Derailleur gears also become lighter with increasing quality and higher prices and have more sprockets on the rear wheel. Simple and inexpensive derailleur gears have 7 or 8 sprockets on the rear wheel, better gears have 9 or 10 sprockets, top gears have 11 or even 12 sprockets. In combination with the crank and the chainrings, the total weight of the drive and the total number of available gears are the consequence. Cheap trekking bikes, for example, have 24 gears with a 3×8-speed gearshift, but it is relatively heavy and has many gear overlaps.

This is contrasted by the latest development in the mountain bike sector: The current 1×12-speed gearbox from Sram sets new standards in terms of weight and precision – with 12 real gears. In the case of derailleur gears, the ease of use can also be increased further by using electronics, which of course is also reflected in a higher price due to the more complex technology.

In the road bike sector, the weight is often looked at precisely, which is why the light and stiff carbon is often used here at a higher price. High-quality alternative products, such as the Pinion gearbox, can also be found on their top-class trekking and mountain bikes thanks to their exclusive status and special function.

3. Brake System

Good brakes are vital and also have a direct impact on the quality of a bike. The classic cable brake is cheap and proven, but has weaknesses in operating power and performance in wet weather. The slightly more expensive hydraulic rim brake makes it better, which is easier to operate and more finely dosed, but still shows slight weaknesses in wet braking behavior. The disc brake solves the problem of poor wet braking behavior and can also score points in the hydraulic variant with low operating force and good meterability – the mechanical disc brake, on the other hand, buys its price advantage again with higher operating force. In addition to the type of brake, there are other price differences due to the material used, brake disc size, levers, etc.

4. Fork

The fork contributes directly to the overall weight and ride comfort of the bike, the material and build quality have an impact on quality and price.

The cheapest rigid forks are made of simple steel, which makes them sturdy but relatively heavy. Aluminum forks are significantly lighter, but like their steel counterparts, they cannot offer a particularly high level of riding comfort. The carbon fork combines low weight and riding comfort, whereby the carbon fork with aluminum shaft and the full carbon fork can be distinguished qualitatively.

Different criteria apply to suspension forks: Depending on the intended use, the suspension travel, adjustability, fork leg diameter and weight are decisive quality features.

5. Wheels

The type of wheel contributes significantly to the weight and handling of the wheel. The rotating masses in particular determine the riding characteristics of your bike, whether it is light, sporty or sluggish.

The stability of the wheels is the first development goal, followed by the weight and other features such as material, bearing standard, hub, spoke and body quality.

The respective bicycle category decides on the focus of the alignment: Good wheels on trekking bikes are characterized by high stability and payload, on road bikes, wheels with increasing quality are lighter and more aerodynamic, which is mainly achieved through the use of better materials.

6. Attachments

The quality of the attachments also determines the overall quality of the bike. Lighting system, saddle, handles, handlebars, stem and seat posts bear with their properties affect the price. The category and the orientation are decisive here: Attachments to city bikes are designed less for weight, but more for comfort, with mountain bikes, with increasing quality, more value is placed on the stability of the attachments with the lowest possible weight. Higher-quality lighting systems are characterized by extended functions, such as parking lights at the front and rear, brake lights and higher luminosity of the headlamp.

Price-performance ratio

Be honest: We are sure that you do not always want the “cheapest” solution. A higher price is usually reflected in better quality, which ultimately results in more riding  pleasure. If riders would only ever choose the cheapest car, the streets would be full of crap … but the current street scene shows something else: quite a bit middle class and upper class. Those who travel a lot or have to transport something want more comfort, better and more durable materials and long-lasting quality – and are also willing to pay more money for it. 

So you often have the choice between a low price and basic quality, with a good price / performance ratio up to the upper price range for high demands, even for bicycles of all categories.

Is the price a sign of quality?

Of course, the price alone is not the only and sufficient quality feature. The price is rather a consequence of the choice of the materials used, the function and the usability. The gears and brakes are good examples of this: brakes and gears can be as cheap as they are expensive models, but with increasing prices you get a lower overall weight, higher quality materials, better function and ergonomics, easier usability and more technically complex solutions such as the electronic gears or hydraulic brakes.

Cheap or worth the price?

Cheap or expensive refers to the bike category and depends on your personal feeling and the available budget, you cannot say that bikes over $1000 are always “expensive”.

In the full suspension mountain bike area the current purchase prices of $1200 are very cheap, whereas in the city bike area $1200 can be considered expensive. The purpose and frequency of use should be reflected in the price of the respective bike category, so that you can enjoy your bike for a long time.

Add-on parts in comparison

Gears

The art of choosing the right gear is knowing what you need – and what you don’t.

The city bike, which is occasionally used in flat terrain for trips to the weekly market, does not require a Shimano Deore XT with 30 gears – a solid 7-speed Nexus gearshift would be a good choice here. A trekking bike, on the other hand, that you would like to ride with luggage on extensive bike tours would probably be a little overwhelmed with a 7-speed gear hub – a high-quality derailleur gear would be ideal here.

It always makes sense to choose the higher-quality variant, the more often and extensively you use your bike and if you want to ride in different areas with a varying altitude profile. Especially with high mileage, higher quality pays off due to the longer service life of the components and the constant shifting precision.

Wheels

Inexpensive wheels are usually solid, but heavy and technically simple. Wheels on sporty bikes belong to tuning part number 1 and are high on the wish list of many cyclists. No other component can influence the character of a bike as strongly and has as much potential in terms of weight and performance as a high-quality wheelset.

In the city and trekking area, weight is not absolutely crucial; reliable function under all conditions and a high possible payload are often required. Higher quality wheels usually have better bearings, lighter rims and a more stable structure.

For racing cyclists, the weight of the wheels is one of the most important quality features, for this there are even restrictions on the max. payload accepted. Aerodynamics also play a major role, which can be improved with high-profile rims. In order not to lose sight of the weight when using a large amount of material, the material must become higher quality – and therefore more expensive. The carbon content of the wheelset usually increases in proportion to the price.

The balance between stability and weight has to be done by mountain bike wheels: on trails and in rough off-road use, stability is essential for riding safety, at the same time the bike should remain light and have a playful handling. High-quality system wheelsets made of aluminum and / or carbon meet these criteria – of course at a corresponding price.

No matter what requirements you place on a wheelset, with the desire for less weight, more stability or better aerodynamics, the use of more expensive material or more complex production is required.

A good set of wheels also includes good tires: In city and trekking areas, higher quality tires are characterized by better puncture protection, good internal damping and reliable grip. In the racing bike sector, weight and rolling resistance are the focus of development for high-quality tires. Mountain bike tires must again meet several criteria at the same time: good grip, low weight and reliable puncture protection are usually all met with high-quality tires.

Is an expensive suspension worth it?

Depending on the bike category, suspension is not always required. A simple suspension fork is often installed in the city bike area, but it is not always adjustable and brings additional weight. If your daily riding routes do not require it, wider tires that can be ridden with a lower pressure can also fulfill the comfort aspect and also save the approx. 1.5 kg of the suspension fork.

In the trekking bike area, the fork should be able to be adjusted to different surfaces and different loads so that it fulfills its purpose. High-quality forks offer these adjustment options, but depending on the time and use, they also require appropriate maintenance, which entails additional costs.

In the mountain bike sector, the quality of the suspension is one of the central quality features. For a higher price, you usually get the larger spring elements, finer adjustable suspension and damping, increased stability and a higher quality bearing. Of course, the spring elements must also be serviced here depending on the stress, which also entails additional costs.

In the city and partly also in the trekking area, thanks to comfortable tires, spring elements can be dispensed with today – this saves money and further follow-up costs. However, if you want suspension on your bike, you should choose a high-quality one so that it serves its purpose and is durable. Suspension is common on mountain bikes and shots the total price of the bike up with increasing quality.

The right frame

The frame is a central point of your bike and should of course fit you in terms of size. Simple steel and aluminum frames are solid throughout, but are relatively heavy. On cheap city and trekking bikes there is nothing to be said against such a frame if you do not have too high demands on the total weight and handling. You can recognize better aluminum frames by the increased processing quality  on the execution of the welds, as well as a lower weight.

In the road bike and mountain bike sector, aluminum is common as a frame material in the entry-level and middle class, but also varies depending on the price in terms of workmanship and weight. The level of simple carbon frames is comparable to that of good aluminum frames. From the upper middle class, the upper class and in the high-end area, carbon is the first choice for the material and is used with increasing price in a particularly high-quality and lightweight design. The exclusive titanium is used especially in road bikes in individual frame construction and in small series, but this is also reflected in the high price.

The right braking system

Brakes are subject to permanent wear and should therefore be regularly serviced and inspected. If this is the case, even the cheapest brake does not pose a safety risk.

Even today, there are still many bicycles with classic cable actuation like the V-brake on city, trekking and mountain bikes, the cantilever brake on cyclocrossers or the rim brake on road bikes. The structure and principle of operation are simple and therefore they are also pleasantly inexpensive to maintain.

Especially in the recent past, the disc brake has largely prevailed across all bicycle categories from a certain price level. The mountain bikes were the pioneers here: finally there was a brake that delivers reliable performance regardless of muddy and wet conditions, low operating forces and good dosing were a practical side effect on top.

In the meantime you will mainly find disc brakes on city and trekking bikes from the middle class, cheap models are partly still mechanically operated – but at the latest from the upper middle class the operation is hydraulic without exception. As a further mid-range solution, there is also the hydraulic rim brake in this category, which is located between the cable brake and the disc brake in terms of performance and efficiency.

In the mountain bike sector, the hydraulic disc brake is already common from the entry-level class and more and more road bikes are also being equipped with disc brakes from the middle class.

Which brake you choose, you should make dependent on the use and your riding performance: Simple V-brakes are only suitable for occasional riders without special requirements. As soon as you ride longer and longer distances and sometimes have luggage on the bike, the disc brake should be your first choice. Flawless operation under all conditions, coupled with ease of use and high stability ensures reliable safety on your tours. The money that you can save in the beginning with a smaller brake is later paid for through increased wear and poorer performance.

Our conclusion: where you can save and where it's not worth it!

With your choice of quality, you can directly influence whether your new bike costs a few hundred or several thousand dollars.

Saving on the frame primarily means moving more weight. The more often or more sporty you ride your bike, the more value you should put on a good and light frame. Light bikes are much more fun to ride than heavy bikes!

A better brake is always a good choice and if you have to rely on it once, it has already paid off. If you ride your bike regularly and take part in traffic, the first upgrade should be the brake on your bike.

When it comes to switching, it is worth carefully weighing your requirements. Saving on the gears means being on the road with fewer gears than necessary and possibly pedaling harder or more uncomfortably. This is not only little fun, it is also unnecessarily exhausting.

If a suspension is installed, it should be adjustable to your needs and accordingly high quality. If you do not need suspension, you should rather do without suspension before you ride a poorly functioning cheap suspension. You can rather invest the saved money in a wide and comfortable set of tires. For mountain bikes, the quality of the suspension is based on your riding style and your requirements: The more sporty and off-road-heavy your riding style, the higher the quality of the suspension.

The wheels must carry your bike, you and the load safely at all times. The higher the total weight of the rider and the load, the more strong the wheels have to be. If they are also light, the required quality is right. The following also applies here: With increasing load, the wheels and tires should grow in quality.

Saving on the lighting system means seeing and being seen less well. If you even want to ride your bike in the twilight or dark season, good LED lighting and parking lights are definitely worth it. Besides the brake, the most important point where you shouldn’t save.

The other attachments also contribute to the overall quality with ergonomics and weight. However, the savings potential is not very large at this point and can be improved later if necessary via the accessories trade.