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"Small differences, looming large" and the perceived increasing cost of MTB

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5/20/2014 1:53 PM
Edited Date/Time: 5/20/2014 1:55 PM

I read an interesting piece from Seth Godin recently that applies to the mountain bike industry very well:

Small differences, looming large

"As we get more technologically advanced, more civilized and more refined, differences get smaller.

The Nikon SLR was in a different universe than the Instamatic. Just about anyone could instantly see the differences between pictures taken with these cameras. Taking pictures for online use with the Sony RX1 and the 80% less Canon pocket camera--not so much.

The rough peasant wine available on your table at a local restaurant was a totally different experience than a vintage Burgundy. Thirty years after that vacation, it's pretty tough (in a blind tasting) to tell the difference between a bottle that costs ten dollars at the local store and one that costs $200...

The speed difference between a Mac IIfx and a Commodore 64 was no contest. One was for professionals, one was a game for kids. Today, there's no dramatic functional difference for most users between the speed of the cheap Android tablet and the Mac Pro.

But of course, for those that care, the difference matters more than ever. For those that care, the premium available to be paid for a better camera, wine or computer is actually far greater than it ever was before.

As the differences get smaller, the purely functional reasons for premium goods fade away, and instead they are purchased for the reason we've always purchased luxury goods: because of how they make us feel, not because of what they actually do. The fur coat is not warmer than the down jacket, it's merely harder to acquire."
- Seth Godin

I think Seth raises a few great points. Is the functional difference between a Shimano Deore disc brake and an XTR, for example, that big for most riders? Now think back to the brakes from 5-10 years ago - does the difference seem as big?

Not long ago pro-level components weren't available to the masses, which I believe is a big part of the reason why the best bikes now cost thousands more. In most cases a buyer with a big budget can build himself a bike on par with what what many of the World's best riders use. This wasn't really possible a few years ago.

While the premium bits will always cost an arm and a leg more, it's great to know that there are still thousands of products that will do the job well for a fraction of the cost. We often get caught up in the latest and greatest components, but it's good to take a reality check sometimes. Has MTB really gotten that much more expensive, or are we just focused on relatively minute details that drive up costs thousands more?


5/20/2014 2:50 PM

The difference between carbon and aluminum rims is a great example of this. Carbon rims barely lighter, yet cost 10-20x what an Al rim costs? Why do people pay for that?

If I have to ask- maybe I don't get it?


5/21/2014 11:25 AM

That is a great article and brings up excellent points. In fact, I'm glad this topic came up because it seems the bike world is the only consumer segment where it is kosher to bash a company/product for offering something you want but can't afford. Santa Cruz, Specialized, and SRAM have all released high-end products in the last two years that everyone wanted, few could afford, and they received a lot of heat on forums and websites for their prices. Each of those companies offers comparable products at much lower pricepoints, but they still received heat over their new high-end products. That does not make sense to me. When did we as mountain bikers become so entitled for high-end, lastest-and-greatest products that we verbally discredit a company/product because of the high-end pricepoint?

There are a lot of exotic, high-end car manufactures out there that make vehicles that most of us drool over and very few of us can afford, but car enthusiasts do not speak negatively of the car or company that makes them just because they are out of reach. In fact, I have never read a comment on the release of a new high-end car where someone said "too expensive," but have have many times with mountain bike products. Why is that? Could it be that high-end mountain bike products are technically still obtainable, just more than we want to spend, whereas high-end cars are generally more than what we can spend? Even if that is the case, why say anything? Isn't saying nothing and not buying it a more powerful statement than just saying to the world "too expensive" on a forum?


5/21/2014 11:51 AM

i've always drooled over the high-end bikes and parts and what nicholast said rings true - the flagship products and bikes are exactly that...exotic and expensive. i always get excited about the release of new, high-end pieces because it means the technology will trickle down to a price range for the bulk of the market in a year or two. or you can wait a year and buy the flagship products on closeout or at a discount.

even though the high end bike prices have soared past the $10k range, it seems like a $2500 bike now will perform a lot better and be more durable than a bike in the same price range 5 or 10 years ago.


5/21/2014 12:31 PM

i feel like the high end prices are justified (even if I don't like them). MTB products are one of the few things you buy knowing it'll be abused and probably neglected but we still expect it to perform flawlessly. I mean look at our bikes.. they're the definition of moving parts which we all know are the first things to normally fail. These companies create some pretty remarkable machines. A midrange bike now is leaps and bounds better than a high end bike from only a few years back. I do find myself on a pedestal sometimes though when i see a build kit for a mid-range bike w/o a dropper post. I think to myself "what the hell was the product manager thinking? How can you ride w/o a dropper" then I recall we didn't "need" these a few years back and if my memory serves me right we still had a kick ass time riding bikes. However now w/ droppers it's that much more fun.


I'm Slow

5/21/2014 2:47 PM
Edited Date/Time: 2/28/2017 7:59 AM



5/21/2014 3:56 PM

Why buy a Carbon wheel set for nearly $3,000 when I can buy an alloy one that is only 100 grams more in weight? Well, imagining that I have that kind of money, I would buy the carbon wheel set because, first; it is 100 grams lighter and should be as strong or stronger than a wheel set that is a pound or more heavier, second; carbon reduces fatigue, third; but most of all so that I can say to myself, "Oh man I love how cool my bike is." I just also am willing to say that when I look at my current ride, even though it has heavy and inexpensive alloy rims and five year old geometry.

Also, when I talk to people who don't participate in the sport and I tell them the value of my bike, they are usually surprised at the "high price." They are used to seeing a bike that costs $200, not $2,000. I think that those of us in the sport have a similar reaction to the price of new, high end bikes. We think, "well I love my bike, I haven't reached it's potential yet, and it only cost me two thousand, five hundred hard earned dollars to get. The latest and greatest can't really be four times better! Maybe a little better, and probably just lighter and fancier, but certainly it doesn't warrant four times the money!" Then those of us who feel like the Internet is our channel to release our anger log on, and rant for all the world to read.

And maybe the complaining is just a part of the growing pains of the sport. Either way, I will continue to obsess over stats and figures and marketing witchcraft that comes with the latest and greatest. I will continue to dream about owning the latest and greatest someday. And I will continue to ride whatever bike I have, and I will love doing so regardless of the price of any of it.


5/21/2014 4:11 PM

shimano slx and sram X9 work just fine for me, I'm glad new and improved every year, with a little patience you can reap the high tech benefits...


5/21/2014 6:17 PM


aside from modern X9/SLX being less expensive than m950 was a decade ago, its also about 1000x better performing.


5/21/2014 6:58 PM

I've recently started making far more money than I did when I bought my first mountain bike. A lot more. I challenge that the internet ranters would find it hard to resist buying said "overpriced" bikes and components if their fortunes changed...
Bottom line, we love our sport. That is why we are on this and other sites in the first place. Better is better. Speed costs money, now the question you have to ask yourself is; "How fast do you wanna go?"


5/22/2014 12:25 AM

The People that become immersed in the MTB scene, over the course of time, seem to lose the sticker shock of high end mtb parts.
Similar to how the average Joe, who is not very Deep into the mtb scene, is pretty much knocked over when I tell him my mountain bike cost $ 3000 .


5/22/2014 12:58 AM

Companies better start showing timed evidence to back up there claims that a more expensive product is better...


5/22/2014 6:43 AM

it's just funny when you ride faster (this does NOT happen all the time) than a guy that has a bike worth three times yours.


5/22/2014 7:43 AM
Edited Date/Time: 5/22/2014 7:45 AM

Companies better start showing timed evidence to back up the[ir] claims that a more expensive product is better...

Or what, you're not going to buy their high-end products? Good, that seems like a wise buying strategy; don't pay extra for anything you don't see the value in. But that statement is also evidence of my complaints about us bike consumers; if you don't trust that high-end components are better or are worth their value, don't buy them, but why complain about it?

5/22/2014 8:16 AM
Edited Date/Time: 5/22/2014 11:01 PM

For those of us who work hectic hours, surf, have families, and other things tugging at our "free" time, it can sometimes be hard to motivate and find time to get out for a long pedal or shuttle run. I've always believed that if you love your bike, you'll ride your bike. For some people that means loving how it looks and feels (including having the newest blingy bits); for others, it's the confidence that those high end parts are going to do their jobs and instill mechanical and bike-handling confidence. At the end of the day, if biking is your passion, why shouldn't you get to peek into the garage and look lovingly at a machine that brings you so much joy? Cost? Compared to "that feeling"... Screw it, it's just money.


5/22/2014 11:32 AM

Our need to constantly progress is what’s to blame, closely followed by technology at the time. We always want something better than the current. Bikes have been around long enough, where most of the major details have been figured out, so all we have left to change are the minor details. These minor changes require additional time and tooling to perform and sometimes, even new to the world techniques; all requiring more manufacturing costs. Some people value certain details more so than other and are willing to accept more cost for it.


5/22/2014 1:19 PM

enviromarco wrote:

For those of us who work hectic hours, surf, have families, and other things tugging at our "free" time, it can sometimes be ...more

this! ^

couldn't have said it better myself.

very expensive bike parts don't really bother me. I love my ride, even with its fork from 2008. that said, if I suddenly had lots of disposable income, a new Pike would be one of the first things i'd buy.


5/22/2014 1:34 PM

bikes are not more expensive, they are just better.

more expensive means that the same thing (i.e. $500 then) requires more money now (i.e. $1000 today). that is not the case. bikes are so radically better now they are not comparable to what was here in the recent past. comparing prices is meaningless.

a $4000 mountain bike 10-15 years ago is pretty equivalent in performance to a modern $500 bike now. a $4000 bike now blows the doors off that old thing with z-max tires, v-brakes, 517's, seatposts that fail, etc.

there certainly were $10k+ bikes 10 years ago, you just couldn't buy them (i.e. honda dh), or only a very few companies sold $3k+ frames (colnago, de rosa, indie fab). now every bike company sells ultra expensive bikes, so that price point its way more visible.

you could easily spend $10k on a carbon record equipped derosa 10 years ago… its just the equivalent in performance and spec to a $3k bike now.

i would argue that means the VALUE in bikes has never been higher. you certainly get a lot more for your money these days.


5/22/2014 3:59 PM
Edited Date/Time: 5/22/2014 4:00 PM

There is another side of the coin - the company side. MTB companies must create new products, technology, and improved performance that no one else can at that time. As those products will then be duplicated by other companies and completely copied in China, produced for a much lower cost, piggy-back on the previous company's marketing, and effectively undercut the originator company's market.

Specialized has it right; "Innovate or Die" ® Or perhaps, "Innovate or lose market"

So the MTB companies have to constantly create new product.

We just need to decide if that 1% in performance gain (looking at you 650B ) is worth it.


On a side note, my best upgrades in 20 years have been:
1. Lee McCormack's Mountain Bike Skills book
2. proper spring for my weight
3. great geometry
4. fitness
Unsexy, but those items created more speed for me than any part has.


5/24/2014 5:48 PM

I've been pretty outspoken about MTB-industry prices going pretty out of control, but more in terms of clothing (DH mainly) and tires than anything else. I look at the prices high quality MX/dirtbike/ATV riding gear goes for at motocross/motorcycle shops, specifically jerseys and gloves, then I look at equivalent proucts marketed at mountain bikers, and the difference in prices is just insane! At least in Richmond, $60 will buy you the best MX jersey in the entire store and a pair of gloves that match it, and chances are both products will last as long or longer than equivalent MTB stuff. The same $60, spent at a bicycle shop, will get you a decent pair of full-finger gloves and maybe the bottom 6" of a short-sleeve trail jersey, and if you want a Fox or Troy Lee DH jersey in the shop at your local ski resort, you won't be walking out with it for only $60. I understand that the bicycle industry isn't near as big as the MX/dirtbike industries, but it boggles my mind how MTB companies can justify charging 2x-3x the prices MX companies charge for effectively the same product.

Tires are another thing altogether, but because the MTB tire market is pretty small compared to other tire markets, I can somewhat understand the prices