Joel Reichenberger: Weighing the costs

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

— A debate has raged in my mind since the day I first arrived in the Yampa Valley and saw expensive mountain bikes strapped to the top of every Subaru.

Does it really make sense to spend between $1,000 and $4,000 on a mountain bike, or is the $100 clunker from Wal-Mart going to get me just as far?

Am I really getting, on the low end, $900 worth of more bike?

About two years before moving to Steamboat, I picked up a Huffy 21-speed for $100 from a K-Mart that was going out of business near my Kansas City-area apartment complex.

Mostly, it just rusted on the porch, but I didn't realize how truly insufficient it was until I foolishly paid movers to haul it over the mountains to my new home in Routt County.

It took only a few months (seeing what real mountain bikes looked like) and a few rides (realizing about halfway down a large hill that I had zilch for brakes) to come to terms with the fact I needed a new set of wheels.

So, I forked over for a low-end but luxurious-to-me Gary Fisher from Steamboat Ski and Bike Kare.

Sadly, having now tried both the ends of the price spectrum, I am no closer to closing the debate.

In the one year I've owned it, my new bike has suffered a pair of catastrophic breakdowns.

I noticed a 1-inch crack in the frame after wheeling it out for the first time this spring. How my decidedly tame riding led to that crack, I'll never know, but the good guys at Ski and Bike Kare didn't hesitate to send it off to be replaced via warranty.

A problem apparently arose when Gary Fisher initially denied the claim. It took them two months to come around and ship me a new bike.

It was hardly time to cruise, though. A few weeks later, having knocked out little more than a few rides around downtown, the pedals simply stopped turning. The derailer was irrecoverably wrecked and the chain hopelessly twisted.

"I was wondering what happened," the bike tech said after polishing off $80 in repairs. "It looks like you hit something hard. Really hard. Do you have an angry ex-girlfriend in town or something?"

I'm afraid the explanation isn't that simple.

The only idea I have is that maybe something got bent when I loaded the bike into the back of my Ford Escape. It doesn't make much sense - the thing looked like it had been hit by a hammer - but it's all the explanation I've got.

Sadly, it doesn't do much for the debate.

On one hand, outside the two-month wait after the cracked fame, the service I received at Ski and Bike Kare was excellent.

Rolling a damaged nine-month-old bicycle up the counter at K-Mart likely would have sent the staff into hysterical laughter.

On the other hand, had I only invested $100 into the whole bike, I wouldn't feel nearly as guilty about my desire to cut the thing to pieces, melt it into a ball and throw it into the bottom of a lake.

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