You may have heard of the equation N+1. It was dreamt up by the authors of the best-selling cycling book The Rules: The Ways of the Cycling Disciple to denote the seemingly innate desire in every cyclist to have just one more bike in their life than the number currently owned.
The book also notes that the equation may also be written as S-1, ‘where S would be the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.’
So how do you justify the expense of buying a new bike to your better half? And once you’ve got their blessing, what exactly is the best way to go about buying one?
Here we look at few excellent excuses to help you with the former, as well as give you few pointers about what to consider and how to go about it once you do get permission to purchase!
OK, so maybe you don’t need to get anybody’s permission to buy a new bike, but you may still need to justify the outlay to yourself. And unless you’re a wanton consumer or committed commodity fetishist, that can be even harder.
But our aim here isn’t to encourage you to buy a new bike just for the sake of it, we’re making the case that if you are a serious cyclist or serious about cycling, there are a stack of good excuses for adding one more bike to your collection.
For a start, what do you use your current bike for? If, for example, you use your expensive road bike to commute as well as for club rides or Sunday morning excursions with your mates, you may want to consider getting a dedicated commuting bike to do the heavy lifting on work days, saving your best bike for the weekend.
Why? Well, even if your best bike is fitted with mounts for mudguards and pannier racks (both pretty essential if you are commuting) stripping panniers, mudguards, and various lights or reflectors off on a Friday night only to put them all back on again on Sunday evening is a massive pain in the… well, let’s just say that we could think of better uses for our time.
The same goes for changing tyres and even pedals. When you’re in full-on weekend-warrior mode you want your bike to be wearing skinny rubber and your feet to be in cleats.
When you commute, you may want to ride on rubber that’s possibly wider and certainly sturdier, to minimize punctures and maximize comfort, while rocking shoes that won’t leave you click-clacking down the corridors at work like you’re in clogs.
So having separate bikes that are built for purpose to perform different cycling tasks is a sound and perfectly sensible reason to buy another bike. Particularly if cycling is your primary means of exercise and staying fit.
Whatever task you buy a new bike to do – whether that be to commute, have a crack at cyclocross, gravel , grinding, touring or even flinging yourself down mountains on -it means that you will be doing more cycling.
And the more cycling you do, the fitter you’ll become. Which is good, because according to more scientific studies than we could point a bicycle pump at, there is a direct correlation between fitness and happiness.
To quote just one from the University of Vermont, USA, ‘Moderate intensity aerobic exercise improves mood immediately and those improvements can last up to 12 hours.’ It’s also ideal for coping with stress, which – as a direct cause of depression, anxiety and serious physical ailments including heart disease and stroke – is one of the West’s biggest killers.
So buying a new bike can be seen as a serious investment in your health and wellbeing. It will also have the added benefit of providing you with extra motivation to get out there and ride – after all, that’s precisely how you’d get a return on that potentially substantial investment.
The other main reason to buy a new bike, is that it can actually save you money. No, really! Consider our first example. If you’re using your best bike to commute on, you’re subjecting it to more wear and tear than it was intended to cope with. If you commute to work by bike, you don’t pick the conditions to ride in, and often you’ll find them picking on you.
Riding a bike daily on wet (and, at this time of the year, gritted) roads will seriously shorten the life of its components, particularly if you aren’t cleaning it thoroughly after each ride. Most commutes also take place on urban roads, which tend to be strewn with a greater degree of debris than you’d encounter on a Sunday-morning ride in the country.
That means a greater spend on repair bills, and if the replacement parts are for a high-end bike, then expect those repair bills to also be high end. And of course, if you are commuting to work, think of all the $$$$s you’ll be saving in petrol or an overpriced train season ticket.
Of course, there are other reasons why you might also want to replace parts on your bike, whether that’s in upgrading it with lighter wheels, carbon handlebars or a more comfortable saddle.
In all honesty, though, especially with pro-level tech finding its way on to an increasing number of mass-market bikes, it’s often cheaper to buy a new bike these days than it is to upgrade the one you’re already riding. Particularly at this time of year when a lot of bike companies are dropping their bibtights in a bid to shift stock in the post-Christmas slowdown.
So get yourself online and see what your current bike might fetch you on eBay and then down to your local bike shop to see what bargains await. Who knows? You might even end up making money!
Do Your Homework
OK, so you’ve persuaded yourself and perhaps your better half that you need to give a new bike a home. Once you’ve decided what that new bike will be mainly used for – which will determine what kind of bike it is – it’s time to start thinking about price tags.
First you’ll need to settle on how much you’re prepared to fork out, then you’ll need to identify the features and what kind of ride feel you’re after, before hunting down brands and models that meet those criteria.
To get a sense of what ride feel you’re after, ask yourself what type of riding you’ll be demanding from the bike and then listing the main strengths you’d expect it to have. There’s no point buying an out-and-out racer, for example, if you’re going to be taking up audaxing and need a ride that’s big on comfort.
At this point, it’s worth pulling back and getting a bit of an overview of how the bike industry works, as it’ll make your quest for a genuine bargain that much more informed. When a particular model proves successful, a bike brand will tend to recycle its design year after year, only making minor tweaks to parts or offering it in a shiny new colourway.
Then, every few years they’ll properly overhaul the design with big frame changes and significant component upgrades. So do your homework. Last season’s model might be a genuine bargain because the retailer is desperate to shift older stock, but it might not be if the model in question has recently had a dramatic redesign and the model you’re pondering is now seriously outdated. As a rule of thumb, we’d also suggest you swerve models that are more than a few seasons old.
Once you do start finding bikes that fit your criteria, ask yourself what modifications are going to be necessary to make them work for you. As we’ve already pointed out, component swaps can be an expensive business, while altering the fit by adding headset spacers for a longer/shorter stem, or improving comfort by swapping the saddle, can radically affect a bike’s character.
So if you find the list of things that you’d want to change about a potential purchase getting ever longer, have another look in the racks to see if there’s one in there that better suits your needs off the peg.
Don’t just buy something because it’s ‘sort of alright’ or because it seems to offer great value for money. With so much choice in the bike market, you can afford to set the bar high. After all, why buy a bike that makes you ache when you ride it when you could have one you’ll be aching to ride?
For obvious reasons, it’s also always worth arranging for a test ride of any bike you’re thinking about buying, particularly to check for size and fit. Don’t just take it for a spin around the local car park, either. You can book a test ride at most bike shops, with the likes of Evans simply requiring photo ID and a refundable deposit, for a ride that typically lasts 30 minutes.
If you require longer, then many bike manufacturers also offer demo days at parks and other venues around the country – search online for dates of demo days or contact the manufacturer directly.
These are definitely worth enquiring about if you’re considering buying a bike from an online-only retailer, where any great savings you make buying a bike can be lost modifying it to fit.
Although some online retailers – Canyon and Ribble, for example – do offer a 30-day demo period after purchase, allowing you to return the bike for a full refund or to be swapped for a different size. Unless, of course, you’ve already ragged the hell out of it!
It’s worth taking more than one bike for a test ride and looking at a range of brands. Sure, you may be a Giant-kinda-guy, but don’t rule out trying out something by the likes of Whyte, Kinesis or Dolan, for example.
You may end up concluding that you’re still head cheerleader for the Giant Bicycles Appreciation Society or you may discover a whole new world of cycling comfort and delight. Either way, it’s a win-win.
Once you’re in a shop, don’t be shy about asking for help. Talking about bicycles can be an overly technical subject and some people get understandably intimidated when know-it-alls start banging on about their 52/36 chainrings or the stiffness of their monocoques.
Our advice is: if you don’t know the answer to a question, then ask. And if the answer you start to get is still unintelligible, don’t nod your head and pretend to understand what’s going on, instead ask for the information to be given in simpler terms.
You can even load your request with a bit of self-deprecating humor to deal with any social awkwardness. Try saying something like, ‘You’ll have to excuse me but I’m not very bright. Would you mind just going over that again, please?’
Staff in bike shops are often very well trained or at least highly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the bikes they sell and only too happy to share their wisdom. If nothing else, they can be particularly helpful in making sure you end up on the right size of bike as frame measurement is by no means a standardized system.
They also, for the most part, give salespeople a good name as they tend to be more concerned with making sure customers end up with a bike they’ll love riding rather than simply nailing a sale. That said, don’t be pressurized into – or talk yourself into – paying for features you don’t really need.
Remind yourself what the cycling-specific task this bicycle will be performing. If it doesn’t really need electronic shifting, hydraulic disc brakes, or a carbon wheelset, then don’t buy them.
Also don’t be shy about negotiating a better deal for yourself. While you’re unlikely to get a discount on the bike itself, particularly if it’s a current-year model, you might get a free accessory such as a set of pedals or a saddlebag thrown in for free if you ask nicely enough.
Alternatively, try haggling for a discount on a higher-priced accessory (such as lights, a GPS or a helmet) as part of the deal. Many bike shops will also throw in a free first service on any bike you buy from them, too, so be sure to ask about that.
After all, it’s in their interest to keep you coming back. In fact, finding a fabulous bike shop and building a relationship with the people who work there – people who can then offer you everything from free advice, to maintenance clinics and bike fits – is almost as rewarding as the search for N+1 in the first place.