Why Are Mountain Bikes So Expensive vs Cheaper Bikes

Mountain bike prices vary from store brands to professional grade.

One of the most common questions is “Why are mountain bikes so expensive?”.  Mountain bikes that you pick up a bike shop are specially designed and manufactured. What exactly comes on a mountain bike that racks up the dollars?

The Frame

The frame is the foundation of your bike.  It is the most important part of your bike because if it’s not right, the bike is just going to sit there.

It’s been estimate that raw materials for a frame is only $5 or 6.  then why exactly are frames so expensive?  Why is a Trek Session C 29 Frameset $4,400.00?

The reason for this is not raw parts, but lab, design, and engineering.  Many of these new light weight bike frames weigh only 1-2 pounds.  The whole bike fully equipped may weight under 15 pounds.  For comparison, the average steel-toed work boot weighs around 5 lbs so it weighs the same as 3 boots (not pairs).  That’s ridiculously light.

To get these lightweight but strong frames, there is a lot of engineering and testing to find out what spots material can be shaved off from and what spots need more material for structural integrity.

So the reason frames can get pricey is that you are paying for research and experience, with a premium on lightweight.  Remember these are prices that pros pay so their audience isn’t the average Joe.

More Advanced Parts Than Years Ago

Nearly everything has changed on mountain bikes from years ago.  And by years, I’m talking only 10 years which isn’t really all that long ago.

Tires have changed in size and materials notably in the past 10 years.  The common wheel size has changed from 26 inch to 27.5 or 29 inches.  These larger wheels can roll over objects easier and get better traction.  Tires are also going flat a lot less often.  If you look at mountain biking events now and years ago, at a given event now flat tires at 1/10 of how often they used to happen.  All thanks to tubeless tire design.

While caliper brakes were the standard for years, disc brakes are far more common on higher quality mountain bikes now.  Disc brakes have a number of advantages over earlier brake types.  For one, the brake is in the middle of the wheel so there’s no mud or such on the rim to affect braking.  This also means disc brakes are safer and more reliable.  However, they require a hub built to accept the disc so it’s a little more specialized.

Modern mountain bikes also have more advanced suspension systems.  With the new suspension systems not only is the ride much smoother, but it’s also safer as you have better control.  The actual riding experience is just far more enjoyable.

Advanced Designs

Like was touched on in the frame section, modern mountain bikes have so much more time spent in research and development than the bikes of years ago.  Once upon a time, 10 pound frames were common and today you can get frames under 2 pounds that are much stronger.

Anytime you have more R&D time for a low number of manufactured bikes, the research price is going to be very visible in how much the components or the entire bike costs.

The Bike Stores Carry Professional Bikes

What may not be obvious is that when you go into a local bike store that has all of these expensive mountain bikes for sale, you are not looking at the variety of bikes you may find at Walmart.

What you will find, are bikes that are professional-grade.  By that, I mean these are quite likely the exact same bikes that the professionals use.  You are looking at the top-end bikes many times.

It’s like going to a Porsche dealership.  You are not looking at the common vehicles.  You are looking at the specialized, smaller-quantity cars.

Having said that, you can also pickup a Haro Flightline Two 27.5 for under $500 if you’re still getting your feet wet in mountain biking and you want to start out with a more reasonably priced bike.  The key is to get a bike you will enjoy.  Ideally if you can pick either cross country or trail riding to start with, you can pick a quality bike that will hold up to years of use.

Many Middle Men

The more people employed between the manufacturer of the mountain bike and yourself, the more you are going to pay.  It’s just simple math.

If you buy from any middle man, you can expect a significant markup.  As much as I like the local bike stores and I absolutely want them to stay around, when you’re talking a good 30% savings ordering direct it’s hard to ignore.

Economies of Scale

With anything manufacturer in low quantity, the per-item price goes up.  This is a principle that has been around forever and Henry Ford knew it when he created the mass-production assembly line.  Higher quantity lowers price.  Lower quantity raises prices.

So when you only have a certain number of people willing to pay $2k for a frame or $6k for a new bike, then prices are naturally going to sit high.

People Will Pay The Higher Prices

If customers are willing to pay a high price for a given product, then manufacturers are naturally going to sell it for a higher price.

The only exception is if the selling volume would greatly increase with lowering the price a little and the bike manufacturer could handle the volume.  When you’re talking selling a $3000 frame for $2500, it’s not too likely that many more people would go for it.

Many people not willing to pay those high prices wait to buy the parts second-hand for 1/2 the price.  So just looking at purchasing history I don’t see prices changing that soon.  Especially when the bike manufacturers spend thousands on R&D.

Pick a Bike You Can Live With

The most important thing is to pick a bike and price range that you can live with.  You want to get a bike that meets your needs but you also want to be ok with riding it over rough terrain and using it as a mountain bike.  You want to enjoy it and have a lot of great memories and that’s really what all of this is about.  I have also put together an article on XC vs trail bikes you may want to look at to help decide what type your first bike will be.

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