I just finished reading Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. Fascinating book. It has a couple of relevant points to our little venture here at November - like to Mike's recent blog about bikes we didn't choose. I felt pretty confident in our thin-slicing (using a phrase from the book) of frames to consider or hit with a "no thanks." And just like the art critics at the Getty who knew something was wrong with the kouros, we would identify different fail points for different frames - one might be "that supplier is going to be an issue" while another bight be "that rear triangle makes absolutely no sense to me."
None of which has too much to do with my topic today, which is investment. Racing cyclists invest a ridiculous amount of time preparing themselves for the season. Broad brush the thing and say that the average racer puts in 8 hours a week, or 400 hours a year. That same racer might do twenty races in a year, each lasting an average of call it 90 minutes. 370 hours of training (subtract the 30 hours of racing from the 400 hours of total yearly work) for 30 hours of racing. So you're training about 12.5 hours for each hour of racing. If you're a union plumber, that's about $400 worth of training per hour of racing. And you thought entry fees were high? This doesn't even include the food, drinks you wouldn't consume if you weren't training, and the trainer you wouldn't own if not to train indoors, and the coaching you might pay for, and the books you might have bought, etc. Hardly cheap.
Last year, the "time crunched" plans were all the rage. I think that for a lot of people these are the only viable alternative. 8 hours a week seems absolutely luxurious to a lot of people I know (my partner, for instance). Presumably, for these people, training time comes at an even heavier premium because there's so much else going on. And of course for the people who are banging it out for 15 to 20 hours a week of training, the overall cost of training is high as well.
All of this makes the investment spend to have all of your gear together for the year make more sense. A lot of teams have semi-annual or so buys from the sponsor shop. As long as the savings are good, it costs a lot less to buy too much than it does to run out during the season. These days, when a tube costs $9 at retail, it makes a lot of sense to be swimming in tubes when you're buying them for $3 on team night. Tires, chains, cassettes, cables, cleats, bar tape... Every consumable is just hideously more expensive when bought "on demand" than "on plan."
An even more insidious cost is not being able to race because you don't have some piece of equipment. There are only so many chances to race each year, losing them hurts. This was the genesis behind our Crash PREplacement policy. Buy your second frame well before you need it, and be ready to race right away when you need it. Same position, no adjustment, just get out and race. And you avoid the cost of running around and paying whatever you need to for whatever's available.
Having a few tools and knowing how to use them is also an excellent investement. I know a lot of guys who are taxed to do anything beyond changing flats - and even that's a stretch for some of them. You don't need a whole huge shop-ready tool kit. A Topeak Alien tool (the best mini-tool ever, bar none), a bb wrench, a pedal wrench, a cassette removal tool and chain whip, and a large adjustable wrench can get you through about 95% of bike maintenance. You could easily build a bike with nothing more than these tools. Good mechanics are worth their weight in gold, but are often completely slammed during the season. If you can keep your bike going, barring the big incident, you'll save a lot of time in the long run.