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The rising cost of cycling — when will this crisis stop!?

The cost of living is being felt everywhere, but is inflation the sole reason for super high bikes and components?

Cycling has always been a relatively costly sport, but recently it has seemingly become more ridiculous than ever. In the UK, inflation remains near a 40-year high; but can that justify the increase in the prices of bikes and bike components?

To answer this question, we’ve taken a look at some high-end bikes, entry-level bikes, and component prices since 2009 (which happens to be the year that I started cycling properly) to find out.

It’s not uncommon now for some of the best road bikes on the market to cost the same as a nice car, with many premium models costing in excess of £10,000. More worryingly perhaps, up until now, brands have seemingly had little trouble selling them. At the same time, entry-level bikes have evolved massively, often with price tags to match.

2023 Astana Qazaqstan Wilier action - 1.jpeg

> Is this the most expensive road bike you can possibly build yourself?

The Bicycle Association actually found that the average price of bikes being sold has risen a rather staggering 26% since 2019; but as we'll see in a minute, prices were on the rise well before the pandemic, so despite manufacturers' best efforts it can't be fully blamed.

Specialized S-Works Tarmac

S-Works SL7

First up we'll take a look at the Specialized S-Works Tarmac, the bike of choice for many men’s and women’s World Tour teams. 

The S-Works, being at the top of Specialized range, has never been a cheap bike. Back in 2009, when the Tarmac was in its SL3 iteration, it was priced at a fairly hefty RRP of £5,499.

2022 S-Works Tarmac jamie's bike

Since then, the average inflation has been around 4% and given this percentage increase we would expect the Tarmac in its latest iteration (the SL7) to garner a price tag of around £8,800.

> 2023 cycling tech predictions — Specialized Tarmac SL8, futuristic bike computers, electronic Campagnolo Ekar, another Hour Record? + more of our top cycling prophecies for next year

In reality though, this is not the case. It actually now comes with a five-figure price tag of £11,500, gaining £1,000 in the last year alone! Who knows how much an SL8 could be priced at, but we wouldn’t mind betting that it will be a fair chunk more than the outgoing version.

2022 Spesh Tarmac Price change

The top end has been always been expensive, but not quite this unobtainable for many. 

Trek Madone

Mads Pedersen Trek Madone Gold SRAM 8

This isn’t just a dig at Specialized though, as lots of other brands are well and truly on the bandwagon. Next let's take a look at the prices of the Trek Madone, a long-standing bike in the US brand's range.

In 2009 a range-topping Madone 6.9 would’ve cost you £5,000, but will now set you back an eye-watering £13,800 for the latest SLR model. Sticking just with the rate of inflation, the price would still been four figures, costing around £8,000. 

2022 Trek Madone Price change

A lot of the blame for these dramatic price increases gets put firmly on the pandemic. Combine that with a boom in bike sales and you get a lot of demand and not much supply, which certainly does have an impact on rising prices. However, as you can see from Trek’s price increases long before Covid, we find that slightly hard to stomach. 

> Trek Madone SLR - The most aero bike in the Tour de France?

Unfortunately, we're not in a position to say whether the latest Madone SLR is worth all that money, as we're still waiting on one to arrive at the office for review. One thing for sure, is that the hole doesn't come cheap...

Mads Pedersen Trek Madone Gold SRAM 7

We’ve trawled through tons of brands and models and in general, always find the same story. We challenge you to find us a bike that has only increased at the rate of inflation since 2009, so let us know in the comments section below if you find one.

Lower end bikes

So we’ve ascertained that brand's flagship models appear to have received a premium tax, but what about less premium models? These are, after all, the bikes being bought by people new to the sport and perhaps more reluctant to drop the big bucks.

2009 Giant Defy 2

The first road bike that I could properly call my own, like many people my age, was a Giant Defy 2 just like the one pictured above. Let's look at how the price of that has changed over the last decade or so...

Giant Defy 2

2022 Giant Defy advanced 2

> How to buy your first road bike — everything you need to know

In 2009 the Defy 2 was certainly deemed a decent entry-level bike, with a price tag of around £800. Using the same calculations as previously, it should now cost around £1,300 due to inflation.

In actual fact, the Giant Defy Advanced 2 (2022) is now priced at over £2,000 – an RRP of £2,299 to be precise. Can this go on or is cycling pricing itself out of its own market? Golf is certainly starting to look like a much more competitive alternative (I don't like golf though). 

2022 Giant Defy 2 Price change

These increases haven’t just been seen with bikes, so let’s have a look at some groupsets for some more pricey equipment. 

SRAM Red

2021 SRAM Red eTap AXS rear derailleur 36T - 5.jpeg

First, let’s take a look at SRAM red. When the first generation was released in 2008 (shown below) it would have set you back £1,399, and should now be priced at around £2,200 due to inflation.

> Head to head: Shimano Dura-Ace R9150 Di2 v SRAM Red eTap AXS

2009 SRAM Black RED groupset first gen

With nearly the same percentage increase at the Trek Madone, the latest generation of SRAM red eTAP AXS will actually set you back £3,349.

2022 Sram Red groupset price change

> Is a new SRAM groupset on the way?

We’re worried to see what the new rumoured Red groupset will cost in 2023.

So, top end groupsets seem to have gone the same way as high end bikes (i.e upwards...A LOT), but what about lower-end equipment?

Shimano 105

Shimano 105 R7100 hero June 2022

> 5 things we hate about Shimano 105 Di2

Shimano’s 'privateer' groupset 105 has certainly changed over the years, but still claims to offer top-tier performance for the masses.

Back in 2009 and sitting firmly under the £500 mark, Shimano 105 5600 (shown below) had an RRP of £459.95. Since then, 105 has of course gone fully electronic and rim brakes have been chucked in the bin, bringing electronic shifting to Shimano's third-tier groupset.

2009 Shimano 105 5600 groupset release pic

> Shimano 105 R7100 Di2 Groupset review

Shimano 105 R7100 Di2 raised plenty of eyebrows and emptied plenty of wallets when it was released with a price tag of £1,730. The world’s most popular groupset might not be the everyman’s groupset anymore!

2022 Shimano 105 groupset price change

Comparing this to the price that 105 would now cost due to inflation alone and there's nearly a £1,000 difference between the predicted price of £733 and the actual RRP of £1,730. 105 was doing so well until 2022!

Alas, our cries may have been heard. Just this week we reported that a mechanical, 12-speed 105 could be in the works which will hopefully have a much more affordable price tag.

Other kit

2022 ASSOS Mille GTC BS Hero

We haven’t got any pretty graphs when it comes to clothing, as it’s much harder to find prices of now-defunct items. Brands also rarely keep a range going for over a decade without doing something drastically different. 

What we can say is that it appears to be the same story yet again. In recent years we’ve had not just some, but regularly test clothing such as bib shorts over £200, and jerseys costing nearly the same.

dhb Classic Thermal Bib Tights - riding.jpg

dhb, just like back in 2009, is a prime example of excellent value cycle clothing; but I remember paying around £30 for my thermal bib tights not oh-so-long ago. A quick gander on the Wiggle website indicates that a set of thermal longs are now more likely to cost you in the region of £60 at RRP, around double what they were in 2009.

What’s next?

2023 tech trends YT Thumb

Looking at these examples, it would definitely appear that cyclists are getting worse value for money than we were in 2009; and as we've had it pointed out to us, there are a host of reasons beyond the industry's control that could have contributed to that, with Brexit cited as a big reason for extra price rises on top of inflationary ones here in the UK. Even so, what do we think is likely to happen to the cost of cycling in 2023? 

The post-pandemic demand for two wheels has certainly slowed, so we would hope to see bike prices finally stagnate. We also predict that the final fall-out from the supply distribution of the pandemic could be over-supply with bike manufacturers, with Giant already saying it has a surplus. This means that we could expect to see bikes on sale whilst they try and get rid of stock, bringing the prices down from those over-inflated RRPs. We can hope anyway!

2022 predicted bike and ebike sales

That being said, the demand for e-bikes is only going to get bigger, so expect this to be an area that bucks the trend. 

In the meantime, we're a big fan of sourcing second-hand bikes, especially if you're prepared to do your own maintenance and get them running as good as new again. This is not only great for your wallet but also has positive environmental repercussions. 

Have you felt the strain of the increasing cost of cycling? Tell us your examples in the comments section below.

In the original version of this article, we incorrectly stated that Merida reported a surplus of inventory. We can clarify that a Merida executive denied this is the case, also telling Channel NewsAsia that Merida has not sought to delay payments to its suppliers. 

Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the road.cc team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...

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41 comments

Avatar
Recoveryride replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
1 like

It's the old saying: 'Strong [or in this case, durable]. Light. Cheap. Pick two.' 

There are an increasing number of cheap(er) wheels being made that, on paper at least, seem very hard to differentiate from much more expensive rivals. One would hope that the more expensive models will be more robust and last longer.

Avatar
kil0ran | 1 year ago
2 likes

If you're willing to BYO (build your own) it's still possible to get an affordable bike. Go with Tiagra - or even Claris - and source parts secondhand. The secondhand market is absolutely saturated at the moment. Know which brands spec the same frame from Claris to Dura-Ace, have a decent set of easily convertible wheels and you can build a high-end bike for low-end money. 

Ultimately, if you're willing/able to do the spannering yourself and prepared to shop around for used/discounted parts you can end up with something built exactly to your spec and which is unique, if that matters to you. For example, I built an XC bike recently with a brand new 853 steel frame & Deore 5100 for just over £1k. My current road bike (ally Domane, Ultegra/105 with mid-range Fulcrum wheels) cost £850 and I've still got the complete Claris group and stock wheels/tyres I took off ready to stick on a pub bike if I want.

Avatar
lesterama replied to kil0ran | 1 year ago
3 likes

I recently bought a lightly-used Lemond with 105 10-speed and Bontrager bits for £150!

Avatar
Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
0 likes

Quote:

Back in 2009 and sitting firmly under the £500 mark, Shimano 105 5600 (shown below) had an RRP of £459.95. Since then, 105 has of course gone fully electronic and rim brakes have been chucked in the bin, bringing electronic shifting to Shimano's third-tier groupset. Shimano 105 R7100 Di2 raised plenty of eyebrows and emptied plenty of wallets when it was released with a price tag of £1,730. The world’s most popular groupset might not be the everyman’s groupset anymore!

Bit of a daft comparison, R7000 105 (11 speed mechanical with rim brakes) is £599 RRP (when if it had gone up in line with inflation it would be £671) and Wiggle and Chain Reaction both have it on offer at £299 at the moment. Not many things I can think of that are currently available for around 65% of their 2009 price...

Avatar
Rich_cb | 1 year ago
2 likes
Avatar
wtjs | 1 year ago
1 like

A lot of manufactured outrage! It's still perfectly possible to buy good new kit which is better than comparable items were 20-30 years ago at prices which are probably lower in real terms. Of course, if you want to move up from steel/ alu then it's going to cost more, as is moving from excellent Sora 9-speed to 12 speed electronic. Only 3 months ago I bought an excellent folder for £450 with hydraulic discs and 9-speed which is excellent, apart from the fact you can't get tyres for it. Get cheap clothing and lights from Aldi- that's really good as well. It's not a crisis, apart from the collapsing economy due to Brexit/ Tories  and the £billions lost by Truss and Kwarteng with their 'pay the rich more and it will trickle down to the peasants' lunacy. The relentlessly falling £ will make things more expensive over the years, but the crises facing the world do not involve bikes!

Avatar
Rik Mayals unde... | 1 year ago
2 likes

I was reading a review last night on a new Assos winter top, £610!!!

I know Assos has never been cheap, but that is extracting the piss big time.

Avatar
mark1a | 1 year ago
0 likes

The y axes on those graphs look a little creatively scaled. 

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theslowcyclistxx | 1 year ago
0 likes

It is an interesting statistic, but I have just bought a new Marin gestalt x10 for 900£ and a few pairs of bibs below 10£ a pair. Both the bike and bibs are excellent- so maybe this is just the high end stuff getter more expensive! Also,crc has the excellent 105 group set for 360€ - I have never seen even the older versions being cheaper than this, and that is without taking inflation into account.

Avatar
IanEdward | 1 year ago
4 likes

They'll just charge what the market can bear. Now they've seen what people are willing to pay for electronic gears and disc brakes it would appear that the sky is the limit!

Meanwhile you can still buy high end aluminium wheels for £350, 105 mechanical rim brake groupsets for £300, good framesets for upwards of £750...

You can probably still build a very nice fast bike for £2k if you wanted but no whirring gearshifts and no disc brakes...

Avatar
Andski808 replied to IanEdward | 1 year ago
2 likes

The likes of YTers Trace Velo and Harry Mac show that you can do exactly that - using Chinese brands.

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