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You think spending $1,000 on a bicycle is a splurge?
But 10 Franklins will only get you a low-grade aluminum frame that rattles your insides, heavy components that weigh you down and cheapo wheels that fall apart after a few thousand miles.
Plunk down about $30,000. Sure, it might seem absurd to spend as much on a human-powered two-wheeler as you would on a car -- a
Mustang GT, even. What could possibly make it worth your money to invest so much in a custom bike?
Quite a bit, actually.
A KGS custom bicycle, made with a Serotta carbon-fiber frame, can cost as much as a car, and it looks almost as fast.
Kevin Saunders, owner of
in San Antonio, Texas, and a former full-time racer on the road and track, says buying a stock bike is like purchasing a commodity. The difference between off-the-rack bikes is negligible, he says. But a well-built custom cycle is worlds apart.
"What you get is the enjoyment of riding something that has been designed to your taste and body type," says Jose Maldonado, general manager of
, a Philadelphia-based cycling and multisport authority that recently designed a $25,000 bike for a picky Ironman triathlete. Saunders takes it further: "You can be enthralled with the possibility of getting the very best in the world of something."
In those terms, dropping $30,000 on a bike might make more sense than laying out close to $2 million on a
Anyway, you might fit the demographics of
clientele in Sacramento, California: 35 to 70 years old, a serious person, an avid cyclist who does 100-mile rides known as "centuries" regularly.
According to owner Steve Rex, who sells bikes upwards of $10,000, top-of-the-line customization ensures that you get a perfect fit, and a great design based on your fit and how you use the bike. A fitter will analyze how you pedal, measure your capacity and flexibility, and create the most powerful and aerodynamic cycle they're capable of.
Saunders says he has sold five of his Tier 3 bicycles, which cost as much as $30,000, over the past two years. They are one-of-a-kind machines built to the dimensional requirements of the rider.
"People are incredibly adaptive," says Saunders, "and bikes are usually built with this in mind." The cycling industry, he says, is modeled on the idea that avid cyclists will come back and spend money on accessories, tune-ups, clothing and the like. When you buy a high-end custom bike, though, the philosophy is reversed. You spend money upfront, leading to more enjoyment and time working out. "If you train 500 hours a year over the course of the typical 20-year life span of the bike, you'll learn that it practically costs you nothing," he says.
Divide $30,000 by 20 years, and you get $1,500 a year, or $125 a month. A good gym membership.
Once you come to terms with Saunders' rationale, you'll be flooded with an array of options. First, you'll need to choose a frame. Saunders' top-of-the-line bikes feature
frames made from aerospace-grade carbon fiber. The whole bike weighs only 12 pounds, less than Lance Armstrong's Tour de France racer. Stock bikes that cost $1,000 weigh closer to 20 pounds.
Next, you'll have to make choices about components, which combine the best durability with the lowest weight, Rex says.
Saunders has ordered $1,600 brake calipers from Germany, completely constructed of carbon fiber, weighing a quarter of the best mainstream high-end versions.
Wheels are the most critical. Maldonado says they "show the most instant gratification" in terms of aerodynamics. Saunders spent as much as $15,000 for a set of wheels weighing 750 grams. For the best of the best, you have to be willing to wait awhile, sometimes as long as a year.
Finally, you'll get to make decisions about the finish. The motif can be whatever you want it to be. Rex Cycles has painted Our Lady of Guadelupe on a bike for a client, while KGS used 11 coats of paint to portray the Lion Rampant insignia for a Scottish enthusiast. What you get is truly a work of art.
"Building a custom bike is like going to Detroit to design a one-of-a-kind Corvette," he says.
That $30,000 bike doesn't seem so crazy anymore.
Nate Herpich is a freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn, N.Y. He has also written for the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor and Sports Illustrated.com.