Monday, December 13, 2010

Pedalling through bicycle brands

I've been punting around on a Shogun hybrid bike for several years now. It's sort of left-over water pipe welded into a triangular frame - the sort of thing a plumber might build. Basically I bought it on the assumption that 'twould merely be a flash-in-the-pan fitness kick that might see me staggering back up the last leg of a 10km run willing myself back into the driveway and a hot shower about once a month.

But no, this riding thing has kicked in a bit more than expected and I now find myself punting anything from 40 to 90 km on Sundays, being blown into the weeds by lycra-clad pencils riding cool-looking drop bar bikes. Even their gear changes sound good as they slide through the cogs and accelerate over the horizon. Clearly, this is not good enough, so the journey into bicycle brand evaluation has begun.

The journey so far has been akin to my home theatre shopping experience of a couple of years ago and covered in past entries. There's a bucket load of brands out there, all geared by the ubiquitous Shimano, which I've noticed also has a high profile in the fishing reel business. Basically anything with gears is in Shimano's kitbag.

You'd think that would be a leveller, but it's not. Because, like Sara Lee cakes, Shimano makes gears layer ober layer ober layer. There's all kinds of sub-brands and numbers, which make absolutely no sense to the uninitiated - like audio visual cable specs only ten times worse.

Some bike brands appear in every decent store - Giant, Trek, Cannondale - while others seem to have limited distribution. Perhaps the limit is their price, which is often akin to an amount you'd pay for a small Korean car. Then within brands, there is a plethora of models, with apparently exponential price increases for very little gain. You're starting to get the picture, I know naff-all about what I'm looking at.

So, in the absence of real knowledge, I inevitably end up looking for a 'reputable' brand. But is this the right approach? The guru websites that cover bikes place 'fit' as the most important purchase criterion i.e. whether the combination of frame, handlebars, seat, gearing etc. suit your body and purpose. So you'd think brand should not be a driver, other than it might suggest the bike might cover a few thousand kilometres before disintegrating under you.

But brand does matter and I think I've discovered the reason. Again, it comes down to the primal emotional drivers that determine brand success: When you're dressed in lycra it's distressing for the peletons of riders flying past to see that your undercarriage is not only rudely exposed by the lycra, but is also reflects blissful acceptance of sub-par performance. So how much do I have to pay to avoid that? Thanks. I'll take one of those.

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