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Would you spend $35,000 on a bike?

Plenty of people do, and here's why

  • bicycle

When most non-cyclists think that spending $500 on a bicycle is outrageous, avid cyclists are willing to spend thousands on theirs.

In fact, many consider $5,000 a starting point for a high-performance machine. In the world of relative perceived value, that sum can easily get you a decent used city car.

Multiply that amount by seven and you can get yourself a $35,000 marvel of speed on two wheels. And I don?t mean a Ducati 1199 Panigale R, but a bicycle.

Why would anyone even entertain the idea of a $35,000 bicycle? There is no way that it is seven times faster than a $5,000 one ? never mind the notion that it would be as fast as the 195-hp Italian superbike. After all, the engine does not even come with it and it is pretty fair to say that the cardiovascular and fitness level of the rider does not depend on the bike he or she is riding.

And while a $5,000 bicycle will certainly create a tremendous difference when it comes to ride characteristics compared to a $1,000 one ? lighter, more responsive, more comfortable ? the marginal improvement in performance diminishes quite rapidly as price increases.

As it is often the case with most product categories, from watches to purses and suits, beyond a certain price level, actual product performance is not the sole consideration. Non-functional aspects come into play.

Think of it in automotive terms.

Is a $110,000 545HP Nissan GT-R faster than a $41,000 332HP 370Z from the same maker? No doubt. In fact, the GT-R owner will be driving what is undoubtedly one of the fastest road-legal sports cars there is, save a few supercars.

But then, why would anyone spend almost triple the amount on a 570HP Ferrari 458 Italia? After all, both the GT-R and the 458 Italia are within eight seconds of each other on the N?rburgring Nordschleife. And at 7:24 minutes, the Nissan is actually faster than the Ferrari.

Beyond performance, it is about exclusivity and prestige. I am fairly certain that the Ferrari owner did not spend much time considering the attributes of the Nissan. One is about basic function ? performance in that case ? the other about desire and differentiation.

The options lists for those two cars tell that story: one can hardly spend more than $7,000 in options with the GT-R, whereas it is reported that some 458 Italia owners have been selecting upwards of $150,000 worth of options ? with some carbon components costing as much as a little car. Most of those options probably making for little performance improvement, but certainly a great deal of exclusivity and uniqueness.

At this point in the analogy, the bicycle ? costing probably around $15,000, is as fast as it will ever be, and it carries a good amount of exclusivity and prestige. One can wonder what the rationale for spending more than double that amount is.

The 458 Italia actually is a good example to attempt to provide some elements of response. Eric Clapton reportedly spent almost $5,000,000 on his; that?s quite a bit more than the $275,000 MSRP. The two letters ?EC? in the name of the Ferrari SP12EC that Clapton took delivery of last year are his initials. His ?special? 458 Italia is a one-off vehicle built around the standard chassis of the 458 by Ferrari?s Special Project division and themed as homage to his beloved BB512i.

Beyond a bespoke car, for Clapton, it was about the actual process of designing HIS very own Ferrari. How good of an experience? ?Unbelievable: One of the most satisfying things I?ve ever done? he said. For him, this experience of ?taking part of the making? might actually be as valuable as the ?driving of it?. One thing is certain though: the overall bespoke package was worth to him, not twice (as it is the case in our bicycle example), but almost 20 times the price tag of the stock car.

Whether that is a sports car or a bicycle, different offerings fulfill different needs. Beyond the actual price, it is about perceived value: while some won?t see the value in a $1,000 bicycle, others will see it in a $35,000 one.

In the end, spending $275,000 on a sports car, never mind $5M on a bespoke one, is beyond reach for most people, and so it is not surprising to see that many will consider a nice bicycle a rather inexpensive substitute to deal with a mid-life crisis – and a healthy one at that.

Julien Papon is the president and founder of Vitess Bicycle Corp. His column appears every two weeks during the summer.

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