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The fourteen reasons why mountain bikes are so expensive:
- Expense of the Frame
- High Price of a Disc Brake
- Innovation in the Tires and Wheels
- Opting for a Better Handlebar
- Adjustable Settings on a Suspension Fork
- Expense of a Premium Drivetrain
- The Labor Costs
- Rapid Evolution of the Mountain Biking Industry
- Limited Producers of Mountain Bike Components
- Increased Demand
- Brand Name
- Willingness of People to Pay
- The Marketing Impact Loop
- The Cost of Safety
If I go out to purchase a mountain bike, I will find bikes starting at 500$ and going all the way over 15000$ (Source), almost as much as a second-hand car.
Since they do not come with a warranty, I will end up spending more on maintenance, upgrades, and modifications after purchase.
However, my love for the sport and all that it offers – beautiful landscapes, adventure, the thrill of mastering a difficult trail, and fitness – means I will still end up buying it, and so will a lot more people.
Although, does that mean the high price is justified?
Why are Mountain Bikes So Expensive?
The prices of mountain bikes vary according to brand, size, style, and most importantly, the quality of the components.
Since they are specifically designed for use on rough terrains such as that of a mountain (inclined slopes, ledges, and rocks), it needs to be sturdy enough to withstand all the beating. This sturdiness comes from the quality of components used.
High-quality components are the major distinguishing factor between a 500$ bike and a 13000$ one, but other variables such as market forces also come into play.
To delve into further detail, the 14 reasons why mountain bikes are so expensive include the following.
14 Reasons Why Mountain Bikes Are So Expensive
1. The Expense of the Frame
The frame – the foundation of the bike – is the most expensive component in itself.
While the raw materials may be cheap, the cumulative design, engineering, and precision with which it is crafted raise the price of a mountain bike.
Frames can be made up of aluminum, galvanized steel, titanium, carbon fibers, or other metal alloys, but you want your frame to be sturdy, yet light. Aluminum and carbon fibers meet these two requirements.
While aluminum is cheaper and more common, it has a low shock absorption quality and is not resistant to pressure, shock, and rough weather.
Carbon fibers, on the other hand, are highly protective as they absorb road shock. Additionally, carbon fibers are the lightest option. They weigh less than 1 or 2 pounds, lowering the overall bike weight to less than 25 pounds.
However, that comes at a cost of around 3000$.
Is it worth it?
Lightweight size is something most mountain bikers wouldn’t mind splurging on – the lighter the weight, the more seamless the pedaling, especially uphill, making the experience much more fun.
If I am investing in something as expensive as a mountain bike, I wouldn’t mind paying a bit extra to ensure my pedal power is adequately translated into speed.
Here is a table demonstrating the approximate cost of the different types of mountain bike frames on offer:
|Type of Mountain Bike Frame Material||Approximate Cost|
2. High Price of a Disc Brake
One of the most important elements of any vehicle; it is also a primary reason why mountain bikes are so expensive.
Since mountain bikes are used on a diverse range of terrain, I would like the brakes of my bike to adapt to all conditions. It should provide a smooth stop in all kinds of trails and weather conditions.
Its inadequacy can cause a life-threatening accident, which is why manufacturers do not cheap out on this.
While caliper brakes were the standard for years, their braking power is poor during wet conditions.
Hydraulic disc brakes are a state-of-the-art revolution that permits you to go faster because you can rely on them to cause a hard stop.
They are excellent in all kinds of weather conditions, allow better control, require little maintenance, and as they are found in the middle of the wheel, their efficiency is not affected by mud or such on the rim. This reliability and safety, however, comes with a big buck.
3. Innovation in the Tires and Wheels
As with the rest of the bike, there has also been development in these components which have racked up the price of a mountain bike.
Premium bikes now come with tubeless tires, which eliminate the annoying hassle of a flat tire. The worst thing that can happen to me when I am in the zone is getting a flat.
With lower rolling resistance, the seamless ride offered with this innovation is expensive.
Additionally, carbon wheels (costing around 2000$) with a higher thread per inch count is a coveted feature for many mountain bikers.
While the carbon sheds off considerable weight, making even average bikes fast, the high thread count in the rubber absorbs road stresses more efficiently by offering better grip, further lowering the rolling resistance.
They are optimal for all kinds of terrain and trail and allow much more seamless cornering.
These innovations, as expected, are significantly more costly than their outdated counterparts.
4. Opting for a Better Handlebar
Many mountain bikers sideline the importance of a handlebar since it is immovable.
However, it suffers extensive wear and tear due to friction, which is why the material of a handlebar is of utmost importance. Like every other component of a mountain bike, carbon fibers take the lead here, and similar to the above situations, that elevates the cost of a bike.
Carbon handlebars offer higher longevity which is key because if I am splurging on a mountain bike, I would like it to last longer.
Its lightweight nature offers a more relaxed riding experience, which is something worth investing in.
While aluminum does not do that, titanium is one other option. It is a heavy material (thereby more expensive) but resultantly, its shock and vibration absorbance translate into a comfortable ride.
5. Adjustable Settings of the Suspension Fork
Responsible for absorbing the shocks as you ride, premium quality suspension forks offer uninterrupted long rides which is something every mountain biker desires.
While the type of frame, size of the front wheel, and axle determine the type of suspension fork to opt for, high-end ones have custom modifications.
This increased control over the quality of ride and higher stability, coupled with low weight, costs you around 1000$.
These modern suspension components are the reason why mountain biking no longer means heavy muscle power. There is a good reason why it is said that a suspension fork defines a mountain bike.
With these adjustable settings, even a 100-mile ride no longer feels daunting, making it something undesirable to cheap out on.
6. The Expense of a Premium Drivetrain
In layman terms, a drivetrain comprises all that propel your bike to move at different speeds. This includes pedals, cassettes (cogs linked to the rear wheel to notify the number of gears), derailleurs (navigates the chain between the cogs), cranks, and chin-rings.
Most of these products are obtained from SRAM and Shimano, and with higher range products come higher efficiency and durability, and lower weight.
The transition between gears needs to be seamless without any time lag, as it can cost a seasoned mountain biker a competition and a novice their life at an accident or rough corner.
Therefore, this advanced technology is not something manufacturers can pass upon.
7. The Labor Cost
Around 1500 people are hired to manufacture 15000 frames per year for high-end brands of mountain bikes. (Source)
Materials such as carbon and aluminum need to be treated in their raw form, mixing many components, and eventually molding them into frames. Highly trained operators are hired to do so, whose salaries make up a large chunk of the eventual cost of production.
Each carbon frame is built by hand, with surgical precision.
In a car, the distance between your hands and the wheel at the rear is high, but the sensitivity to minute play in suspension in a bike warrants higher precision.
The complex technology involved in doing this is an additional bill.
Other areas of expertise include prototyping, data testing, validation, and testing of the bike itself – all of which require their unique personnel who need to be paid.
8. Rapid Evolution of the Mountain Biking Industry
A premium mountain bike may indeed cost as much as a used car but if you compare the biking industry to the car one, there has been tremendous growth here.
The suspension parts of a car have stayed unchanged for years, while the style of the body changes every three years and the engine after every decade.
This is not the case with mountain bikes.
The innovation in the biking industry presents faster, more durable, and lighter products each year. As they impress consumers, new investments flood the manufacturers, facilitating even more growth and development.
As stronger and better parts develop, the prices of mountain bikes soar. All its components change every year.
While that is a great thing, each new development pushes up the costs.
Since the biking industry is competing against itself and not with anyone else, much like the iPhones, this comes at a cost to the pockets.
The high-end products from a couple of years ago are cheaper than an entry-level mountain bike you will find now.
9. Limited Production of Mountain Bike Components
It is a fundamental economic principle that when there is limited competition, there is no incentive to lower the price of the product.
They don’t need to lower their prices to appease the customers, because there is no other option out there. The same applies to the mountain biking industry.
All the leaders of this industry purchase their drivetrain from two companies: SRAM and Shimano.
They make the rules, owing to the lack of an alternative.
If a brand wishes to purchase a derailleur or shifter, they need to get the whole system. Like Apple products form an ecosystem of their own, the same applies here as these two brands crowd out any third-party brands.
These are expensive products whose cost eventually trickles down to the consumer.
10. Increased Demand
Another economic principle states that if the demand for a product is high, the demand and supply forces of the market raise the price of the product and that is what happened to mountain bikes.
While it is still a niche, the number of people interested in this hobby has grown tremendously. (Source)
The number of reasons why this has happened lately is multifold.
For some, the COVID pandemic served as a wake-up call to obtain a new hobby, and for others, YouTubers who present the daredevil and adventurous nature of this sport seemed exciting.
Additionally, many barriers to this sport have now been removed.
Improvements in suspension systems, gears, and frame design have not only made rougher terrains accessible, but it has also destroyed the idea that only fit and buff people can do mountain biking. Now that bikes are lightweight and only a little force is required on the pedal, anyone can do this.
11. The Brand Name
If I were to know absolutely nothing about mountain bikes, a safe bet would be to purchase one from leading brands such as Specialized and Trek.
Since they have been in the market for so long, they ought to know what they are doing. This is the state of a lot of consumers and this trust is often reason enough to pay the extra dollar.
Some manufacturers have exceeded 50 years in the industry, having invested millions of dollars in research and development over the durability, speed, precision, and weight of the bike.
Resultantly, purchasing any product from them gives consumers a certain peace of mind that the manufacturer has done most of the work for them, and the brands know that they can charge for this effect, which is exactly what ends up happening.
12. The Willingness of People to Pay
If the buyer is willing to pay a high price, why would the seller sell out on a lower one?
If lowering the price a little would massively increase the volume sold and the manufacturer can handle that surge in volume, they might consider lowering it but since mountain biking only appeals to a niche audience, lowering the price would not massively increase the demand.
Mountain biking is not something that excites everyone.
It is a hobby exclusive to a group of people who understand the value of premium products and are willing to give whatever it takes to obtain the sturdiest, fastest, and most comfortable product.
Its recreational value is enhanced because it is not supposed to be ridden everywhere.
Additionally, it has high customer value i.e. how much a customer thinks a product or service is worth compared to other options, which is why there is no reason for manufacturers to lower the price.
13. The Marketing Impact Loop
Besides the market forces, the promotional campaign of a new bike plays a huge role in the price of the bike.
Think of it this way: If a popular brand invests in strong advertising and promotion efforts, it is bound to have a wider reach.
Many consumers will believe in the excellence of the product, purchase it, have a great experience, and become loyal followers of the brand.
When that same brand releases its new lineup, these newly attained customers are likely to invest in this product that they trust.
This positive feedback loop, that comes with raising public awareness of the brand, will bring in more money to the brand, to be eventually spent on stronger marketing campaigns that will repeat this cycle.
This marketing impact loop is a significant reason why the prices of premium brands, with widespread promotional strategies, offer expensive mountain bikes.
14. The Cost of Safety
It is no secret that mountain biking is a dangerous sport.
If I am riding mostly at high speeds on dangerous terrain, which is often unexplored, I am extremely prone to unexpected obstacles.
I don’t know what is out there and that is largely the thrill of mountain biking. Therefore, I must be prepared for this, with the best equipment possible. Failure to do so can quite literally cost me my life.
This is the mindset of mountain bike manufacturers when they craft one.
They need durable products that can take a beating, and that comes at a price. Not only are the components carefully curated, but they are also assembled by highly trained operators with surgical precision because they understand the delicacy of the circumstances.
While cheap products may be relaxing on the pocket, for the time being, it is highly dangerous to venture out with them.
I cannot risk breaking my handlebar, frame, or wheels mid-ride, which is why the higher price of mountain bikes is often justified.
The Bottom Line
While it is an undisputed reality that mountain bikes are expensive, there is a good reason behind why that is so.
Besides the costs involved in crafting the product and the market forces that determine the price, it is also the cost of safety.
With this high price come state-of-the-art products that offer low weight, durability, speed, safety, and reliability, among other features that ensure maximal pleasure.
However, it is unrealistic to assume everyone can afford this. There are many affordable aluminum alternates out there starting at 800$ that are perfectly remarkable to start with.
If that does not work with you, options such as buying a used version of a high-end mountain bike off Craigslist or eBay or assembling one yourself exist as well. Either way, pick a bike that is acceptable on rough terrain and meets both your needs and your pocket.