How to buy the right bike on a budget in Steamboat |

How to buy the right bike on a budget in Steamboat

A guideline about how to survive in the land of $4,000 bikes

The Specialized Hard Rock Sport, yellow, is one of the most affordable mountain bikes in Steamboat Springs at $390 at Ski Haus. But, small price tags come with many concessions, including a lack of disc brakes, cheaper components and a heavier frame.

— Whether it's that road bike that looks as much likes a spaceship as a bicycle or the shiny mountain bike in the window with a price tag that might seem more appropriate for a car, getting into cycling can be intimidating for the beginner.

Contrary to what an evening at a Town Challenge mountain bike race might make one think, however, there are ways into the cycling market for rookies that won't require a home-equity loan. It requires trading away features and performance — and surely the right to a premium tie-up spot this summer in front of Sunpie's — but finding the right bike for a beginner is about knowing what one wants and knowing what to look for.

Trade-off payoff

One of the cheapest options from any area bike shop is the Hard Rock Sport mountain bike, made by Specialized and available for $390 from Ski Haus. The Hard Rock has many of the features one might expect in wheels and handlebars. It even comes with a seat. The low price comes at the expense of the bike's brakes, however. They're still there, but they're rim brakes, meaning the pads grab the outside rim of the wheel to stop. Spending a little more money gets a rider disc brakes, which grab a small disc near the wheels' hub to make for more efficient, safer stopping.

The Specialized Rockhopper Comp Disc is a significant upgrade in price at $770, but it means a lighter frame and better components, including disc brakes.

"That's where I would encourage people to start," Ski Haus' Todd Givnish said. "The (Hard Rock) might be OK for someone just seeing whether or not they like to mountain bike, or for someone who was just going to go around town. But someone getting on trails a little bit will have a much nicer time on a slightly better bike."

The Trek 820, available from $329 at Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare, meanwhile, is an example of another common trade-off in lower-priced bikes. It features 21 speeds instead of the more common 27.

Recommended Stories For You

It's not a huge difference. There still are enough speeds for slow grinds up hills and fast sprints down them, but it's a difference more experience riders would notice.

"It's going to be a great bike for someone who wants to go down the bike path, dirt roads and light trail riding," Ski & Bike Kare owner Harry Martin said. "You could do some of the easier loops on Emerald."

Downgraded components are common in less expensive bikes, whether it's the brakes, the number of available gears or the frame itself. Those deficiencies not only affect the bike every day it's ridden, but also likely will lead to a short life span and more repairs.

"It's going to be a little heavier, and you won't have as low a gear range, and the components aren't designed to go bombing down to the gondola run after run," Martin said.

Making do

It's been a crazy couple of years in the world of mountain bike development, and Givnish at Ski Haus doesn't expect that to change.

"We've seen the 2011 models already," he said Friday. "It's amazing what the companies are doing now."

It's a pattern of development that has rendered models obsolete even just a few years after their introduction. But "obsolete" in the biking world doesn't mean dangerous, and it certainly doesn't mean unridable.

One example of that is the Specialized FSR XC at Ski Haus. It's a dual suspension bike, making it preferable for most mountain bike trails, and is available for $1,550. A new version of the same bike starts at $2,200.

The fast rate of technological development in bikes offers opportunities beyond picking up a new version of last year's wonder. It also means that those riders whose interest is piqued by each new development are likely to trade in well-ridden but often not fossilized bikes. Several shops in town take trade-ins and keep a used inventory. Wheels, in western Steamboat, stocks high-end, edge-of-the-envelope brands such as Yeti.

Owner Chris Johns said hardtails at his shop start at about $700, and more money means better parts and lighter frames. But he also keeps plenty of used bikes around.

"We have some used that, for about $500, you can get into a bike," Johns said. "A lot of times, you can end up with a better quality bike from someone that traded it in. A lot of these bike people are bike geeks. They dote over them, so maybe the next person that walks in ends up with a decent bike."

He said he offers used bikes for as little as $100 and as much as $2,000.

Still, Johns recommends being wary of the cheap and the used.

"With a better-quality bike, you'll pay less in repairs," he said. "Sometimes, it's like living in a trailer compared to a nice, quality home. A lot of times, in the long run, you'll get a lot more if you spend a little more initially."

Cheap tricks

■ Buy used. Many local bike shops have some used bikes traded in by more serious riders. Sometimes that means hunks of junk that have been ridden to the edge of their useful lives. Other times it means a 2-year-old model that was painstakingly cared for.

■ Think old. Many local shops still have some of last year’s bikes in stock, and at a nice discount. It may mean missing out on the newest bells and whistles (though bells can be purchased separately, if that’s your thing) but it might offer a sense of reliability not found in someone’s hand-me-down.

■ Go hybrid. While there may be few cheap options for mountain bikes, there are almost none for road bikes. Expect to spend at least $700 for a true funny-helmet-worthy road bike. A cheaper option is a hybrid bike. The frame of hybrids share more in common with mountain bikes, but the tires are narrow. It’s not as fast as a true roadie, but the tires alone make it a big step up.

■ Keep it clean. By cutting the price corner, you’re undoubtedly going with lower-quality bike parts. You can make them last a lot longer by staying ahead of the maintenance curve.

What to watch for

■ In mountain bikes, first look for fit. Find something comfortable that fits your size. The cheaper the bike, the fewer options that will exist in terms of available sizes. The same goes for used and older-model bikes. If you’re just slipping a toe into the biking waters, you won’t do yourself any favors by buying an ill-fitting bike that will cause (excessive) pain and discomfort.

■ Components are key. Decide what you can and can’t live without. At the low end of the market, you’ll have to give up something. It may be a few extra gears, or it may be the style and quality of brakes and gear shifting apparatus. Considering the steep nature of some of the terrain around Steamboat, perhaps brakes are one area to avoid skimping. That means disc brakes instead of rim brakes.

■ Stick to hardtails. Steamboat’s more dedicated riders have the latest dual-suspension bikes, but hardtail bikes, which just have shocks in the front, are cheaper. A good hardtail is frequently a better buy than a comparably priced, super-low-end dual-suspension bike.

Used bike tips

■ Check the drive train and the gears. They can wear out quickly and are expensive to replace.

■ Make sure the suspension isn’t leaking oil.