VeloNews has been running a piece on budget, or 'skinflint', bikes from Euro- and Interbike. A great idea, I thought, and actually opened the page fearing that the path the world is surely beating to our door would be derailed by a legion of great bikes that you could race in real life without paroxysms of trepidation. Or debt. My hesitation was, to put it mildly, misplaced.
Apparently, $3k frame and fork sets are the new $1,500 complete, raceable bike. They're out there en masse, if you're into that sort of thing. A company makes a $10k frame, so their $3500 frame and fork are affordable. Another company makes a $12k complete bike, so their $7k bike becomes affordable. By comparison, I'm sure. The mindset that accepts a $5k "budget" bike ($3k frame plus other equally 'budget' parts) as tenable is enblematic of a phenomenon I call "The Problem With Mecca."
People who are used to seeing, using, and making news out of the bloodiest of bleeding edge stuff lose perspective pretty fast when it comes to what people out here in the real world are thinking and doing. Maybe some of these guys worked for DeBeers and are now going to tell us that two months salary is what you should spend on a race bike. Only, unlike a diamond, a race bike isn't forever.
I've fallen victim to this phenomenon in sailing, and it's tough to overcome. You get used to huge boats that are technological marvels and can travel at highway speeds (when staffed by a pro level crew - without which they can't leave the dock) and brook no compromise to practicality, resale value, creature comfort, or anything other than going fast. You live in Newport (sailing Mecca - and I don't want to hear any crap about Naptown, the place is worthless), you get on the good rides, you become part of the scene, and pretty soon the stuff that real people are doing, which is valid and valuable and fun and cool and pretty much everything that's good, becomes 'pretty freaking pants' by comparison. (I stole that phrase from some Brits about 10 years ago and still think it's the funniest thing ever).
Then there's the risk of trickle-down jadedness. You aren't in the bleeding edge scene, but you know enough to know what's going on there, and that it makes everything else look pretty pants. So you become dissatisfied with what you get to do. And so on down it gets passed. Pretty soon, there's no point rolling out the door with anything other than a 12 pound bike with 1000g carbon tubulars and full Di2 and if I see any metal at all I'm just going to lose my freaking mind!!! It's a pretty stupid corner that industries paint themselves into by catering exclusively to ever more rarefied users. Plus, what's next, plutonium bottom bracket cable guides to bring your bike up to weight while maintaining the ultra critical low center of gravity?
It's great that the cutting edge keeps cutting the edge. Lighter, better, laterally stiffer (okay my tongue is headed straight for my cheek) are all good things. Without the leading edge carbon bike from 20 years ago, and a bunch of steps between, there's no $785 1100g carbon really freaking sweet November Wheelhouse frame today. But just as we live by the sword of their technical advances, so they live by the sword of people coming into the sport who can't or don't see any reason to accept the developing paradigm of what passes for "budget" these days.