You could buy a car for that (...but would you want to?)
You probably could buy a car for the price of a solid, mid-priced $1500-$2000 bike. But if you’re shopping for a bike as car replacement, chances are you already know cars really cost a lot more than bicycles, and you’re looking for some value that a car can’t provide. And you may be reeling slightly from the idea that a $2000 bike is considered “mid-priced”. Fair enough. Let’s talk a little bit about how much bike your money buys in the real world.
Can you get a bike for under $300?
Maybe, but I wouldn’t recommend it. At that price range, you’d be looking at an internet bike or a bike from a mass merchant. At Cosmic Bikes we’ve serviced quite a few such bikes, and know first-hand that they are made with bottom of the line (and sometimes sub-standard) components and materials, and are not likely to give you enjoyment or long lasting satisfaction.
If that is all you’re able to budget for a bike, we recommend you look for a good quality used bike from a reputable source (someone you know, or a local shop that specializes in refurbishing used bikes).
Your best bet in this price range is a single speed “fixie” bike. Ideal for the minimalist urban commuter, light, fast, uncluttered and easily thrown over the shoulder for the fourth-floor walk-up. One gear means less maintenance. If you install a light fender set, skip a rack and carry a messenger backpack instead, you'll have the quintessential no-frills personal transportation bike.
Because single-speeds are simpler than geared bikes, in this range you’ll be able to get decent quality frame materials, pretty good wheels, and possibly even sealed cartridge bearings. You’ll likely find a fairly lightweight bike with a good set of tires, and even perks like a nice paint job.
Although it’s possible (though not as easy as it used to be) to get a hybrid or city bike at this price, you’re likely to end up with one that’s heavier than it needs to be, will lower quality components.
In this price range you can find a wide assortment of quality hybrid, comfort and city bikes of various configurations.
Hybrid bikes will usually offer a range of gears that make them suitable for all urban riding situations, and versatile enough for recreational use and even light touring. Most hybrids today include disc brakes for dependable stopping under all weather conditions, and tires that have some level of puncture resistance. Some hybrid may come with commuting accessories such as fenders, kickstands and racks. More on hybrids here.
Roll Bicycles fall into this price range, and —thought they are essentially nice quality hybrid bikes— they give you options to customize your bike based on you riding style, and offer a choice of six beautiful colors.
City bikes, perfected for daily urban use by millions of European bike commuters, offer simple, weather-protected gearing and braking mechanisms and durable, often heavy construction. They are made to be ridden in ordinary street clothes, in a very upright, dignified position, allowing for good view of the road. These bikes usually include commuting essentials, such as fenders, chain guards, racks, locking devices, dynamo lights and bells. If you are not too concerned about speed, a basic bike of this sort will carry you dependably over just about any distance in the city.
In this price bracket, you’ll be able to find a decent quality entry-level folding bike, such as Tern or Dahon, with 7-8 speeds, rack and fenders.
You will find plenty of options and assortment here, and bikes in this price range will have equipment and features that make them suitable for adventure, trail and distance riding.
Gravel & touring bikes. You should expect to spend a minimum of about $1000 for a gravel bike, and upwards of $1500 for a touring bike. Bikes in these categories are designed for long-distance travel, but also lend themselves well to longer commutes, giving the rider a more athletic and efficient riding position and multiple hand positions thanks to the drop bars. Though not as light as performance road bikes, they are built for fast-paced riding, and are sturdy enough to carry significant loads. They are durable and versatile, with wider frame clearances to accept a wide variety of urban tires, and eyelets for easy installation of fenders and racks. They typically come with stockier wheelsets that can withstand the beating they'll get on potholes.
Off-road bikes. For many riders, there is no bike as comfortable as a mountain bike. The smaller wheels and tighter main triangle of these bikes give the rider increased control in stop-and-go city traffic. Hardtail (front suspension only) mountain bikes make great, tough, bouncy urban vehicles, though you may want to change out the knobby tires for a smoother tread. It you don't actually ride off-road too much, throw on some fenders and a rack. You can also lock out the front suspension if you want a little more control on a city street.
This is the “sweet spot” range where you can pretty much get the bike of your dreams without going nuts. We’re aware that for many people spending $2500 on a bike is going nuts, but —trust us— there are much more expensive bikes out there. If this is how much you can budget on your bike purchase, you can pretty much go with a bike in any category that appeals to you. You’ll get a quality, lightweight frame with upper-end, precision components, and have a bike that is a joy to ride. A couple options available in this price range that you might not have thought of:
Brompton Folding Bikes. If ordinary bikes give you freedom to move around the city with ease and sidestep traffic woes, Bromptons give you wings. For the urban commuter, they are the pinnacle of versatility, allowing you to combine biking with transit, taxi cabs, and giving you access to storage and security options unavailable to standard bikes. Because they are easy to store at home or at the office, and to take in and out of buildings, they never need to be locked outside. They fit a wide variety of riders, and can be shared by members of the same household, or loaned to out-of-town visitors. And that's just for local commuting. For the traveler with a Brompton, the world is your oyster. $1600-$1900 will buy a a nicely appointed Brompton.
Custom Builds. You can work with your local shop to build one-of-a-kind bike that suits your specific riding and lifestyle needs. Within that budget, your shop can source a quality frame, hand-build you a wheelset, and put together a component package that’s dialed in for how you want to use your bike.
Even if that initial price was in fact the same as buying an automobile, car ownership would quickly outpace the bike over time in operating, maintenance and licensing costs. And a $2000 car is sure to need some maintenance fairly quickly down the road, whereas —with basic annual maintenance— a $2000 bicycle will continue to pay you back year after year with improved health, self-sufficiency and sheer enjoyment.