Thursday, February 8, 2024

The unneccessarily high prices of bike components

The older I get, and the less ambitious my riding becomes, the more I ponder what it is the bicycle industry actually thinks they're trying to sell me.

Today's example: Handlebars.

A good handlebar is sturdy, durable and comfortable. Unless you're a racer, weight ought to be farther down on the priority list (though I know that an awful lot of non-racers are still weight weenies, I just don't understand why).

Here are three examples of very nice upright handlebars that are ideal for commuting and touring.

Nitto makes incredible products that undergo rigorous product testing. I have a pair of Nitto North Road bars on my All-Rounder, and I bought them while I still worked at Citybikes. I was able to get a pair of "scratch and dent" bars on a discount from a dealer rep, or otherwise I wouldn't have sprung for them. I wanted a more swept-back reach and those gave me exactly that. The original North Road bar came in your choice of aluminum alloy (expensive) or CrMO (slightly less expensive). I chose the steel bar and have been happy ever since.

Nitto also makes bars for Rivendell, according to their suggestions. Here's an example currently available online. I believe Rivendell sells this new for around $200.

When I was retrofitting the Peugeot, I wanted a similarly designed bar but didn't want to spend a lot of money on what would be a secondary bike. So I sprang for twenty-five bucks plus shipping for an Elson Touring bar. It's basically a cheap copy of the North Road in steel, similar enough in shape and reach to the North Road to make me happy, and it works just fine.

The last example I'll share is one I've used on many bikes, including my Rivendell when I first built it up: Wald Model 8095 is a simple, cheap touring bar that's made in the USA and is durable enough for years of daily commuting (which is what I did with mine for over a decade before finding the North Roads on discount). I still love this bar. It puts my hands in a comfortable position that's kind to my wrists, and on the right stem it can ease the strain on my back. I still recommend this bar to anyone looking to convert from drops to uprights. It's a very affordable way to convert your bike and see what you think of riding more upright without spending a fortune.

Each of these handlebars will make a fine upright position on a bike.

And while the Wald bar CAN break, I've seen only one of these break in thirty years of turning wrenches. And I still use one now, on my singlespeed bike. I know that the likelihood of breaking in anything other than decades of wear and tear and a crash is incredibly low if installed correctly.

Nitto makes an amazing handlebar, and a strong one. The likelihood of breaking from daily wear and tear is even lower than on the Wald bar. But the difference isn't great enough in my book to justify the difference in price. And I'm certain that it isn't the only reason a rider will choose a Japanese-made Nitto bar over an American-made Wald bar.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that cache is part of the equation here. Nitto got more famous in the Amnerican market when Rivendell hyped it in their catalogs, and Rivendell bikes grew in fame and cache among a certain segment of the bicycle market. And that, I think, is why many buyers don't mind the great difference in price between the two.

The third bar, the Elson, is a newcomer to the market, presumably made in China (judging by the price) and sold with a "cool" model name to highlight the appropriateness of the model among the stylish tourist set. It leans a lot harder towards the Wald end of the scale, but it's made of steel and I'm comfortable using it on my bike.

Consider all the ways in which Rivendell's marketing has influenced the bike market over the last three decades, and you'll see leather (and imitation leather) saddles, upright touring bars, baskets and canvas saddlebags, and all the rest on many models of "city" and "touring" bikes across the pricing spectrum.

Now that I'm out of the industry and can 't afford even discounted nicer parts, I'm content to look for more affordable parts and older technologies that work quite well on my bike.

If you want to buy the Nitto bar because you specifically dig Nitto products, by all means dive in and enjoy yourself. But if you want to build up a perfectly good, sturdy bike for your daily commutes and weekend adventures that won't break your bank, plenty of more affordable options are out there. In the end, you really only have to impress yourself.

Happy riding.

(Below: a tallbike with an upright handlebar. You could do a lot worse.)


Unknown said...

I've used a mix of componentry on my bikes over the years. During my broke dirtbag days it was definitely the cheapest thing possible, but over the last decade or so I've definitely gone a bit more upmarket. I do like Nitto, but I do blanch a bit at some of the pricing. One thing that is good about buying stuff like Nitto is that, as long as you don't break/damage the component, if you move on, the value still holds so you can recoup some of the loss of purchase.

I used to have Nitto bars on several bikes, but now I've got Soma on the Bantam, as their 3 Speed Mustache bars can hold grips and upright levers without modifications or compromises. Soma seems positioned between Wald and Nitto in pricing/quality (though more to the Nitto end). Another brand that's got decently priced handlebars is Velo Orange. I got their "Left Bank" bars on the Raleigh Superbe. I wanted something similar to Nitto Boscos, but shorter and not as expensive. They look great, work good, and at about $40, they didn't break the bank!


anniebikes said...

I'm fortunate to get discounts because I work in the bike industry, but before that I scored an arc bar from Dimensions for 20.00. I see they are still that price. I like aluminum to lighten my hefty bikes, especially my Rachel where I've needed to lift the bike vertically on Amtrak. I'm with Shawn on Soma bars, nice selection if looking for a particular style. For retail online shopping I've discovered Modern Bike is easy to order, good selection, and prompt delivery.