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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The top end has been always been expensive, but not quite this unobtainable for many.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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...
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).
These increases haven’t just been seen with bikes, so let’s have a look at some groupsets for some more pricey equipment.
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.
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.
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’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.
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!
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.
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, 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.
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!
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...