The new status symbol for ardent pedal-pushers: a five-figure ride. Just ask some well-to-do cycling aficionados. "It's like buying an expensive...
PORTLAND, Ore. — The new status symbol for ardent pedal-pushers: a five-figure ride.
Just ask some well-to-do cycling aficionados.
“It’s like buying an expensive sports car,” lawyer George Schreck said of his $10,000-plus handmade Calfee Dragonfly road racer. “You don’t need it. … It’s a toy.”
A very pricey toy that Schreck conceded doesn’t improve his racing results. But hey, it sure looks good.
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Schreck is among a growing legion of cycling enthusiasts shelling out top dollar for the latest in two-wheeled eye candy. Price ceilings have risen in recent years with the introduction of ever-more lightweight, sophisticated and aesthetically pleasing cycling components. In turn, many of the high-end bikes have become collector’s items, objects more to lust over than to use for any practical purpose.
River City Bicycles co-owner Mark Ontiveros referred to such creations as “rideable art.”
“When we go down to our basements or our garages, it makes us as happy as some of the finest art in the world,” Ontiveros said. “It’s just beauty. And that’s why they sell.”
The latest masterpiece on display at the River City shop in southeast Portland: a limited-edition, sports-car-inspired Colnago for Ferrari. Production of the red-and-black road racer, hand built in Italy, was limited to 60. The price: $15,000.
“Some people would call it hard to justify,” David Guettler, River City’s other owner, said of the expense. “But as a bike nut, I don’t find it hard to justify at all.”
Um … no thanks
Never mind that a perfectly fine, solid racing bicycle — minus the Colnago brand name etched on its downtube — can be had for one-fifth the price, Guettler said.
Not much about the Colnago for Ferrari could be called affordable. The wheels alone sell for $4,000. The pedals: $200 to $300. Maybe, Guettler said, you could get one of the wheel spokes for a couple of bucks.
Avid racers, unless they’re subsidized by sponsors, generally eschew such high-priced bikes.
“It’d be a waste,” said Brad Ross, an Oregon Bicycle Racing Association board member. “You might as well get a bike that just performs really well, isn’t super fancy and gets the job done. Because you’re going to keep it for a year … then throw it away and get a new one.”
And a higher price doesn’t necessarily translate into faster race times, Guettler said.
“You would be splitting hairs between a bicycle that cost this much and one that cost half as much,” he said of the Colnago for Ferrari’s sticker price.
The Colnago, Guettler said, “is for someone who appreciates the aesthetics of bicycles and takes a lot of pride in what they’re riding.”
An uphill climb
It seems there are a few of those around. River City rings up one to two bicycles a month in the $10,000-and-up price range. It’s not uncommon at other area shops, either.
“Ten years ago, $3,000 was a lot of money,” said Demetri Macrigeanis, owner of Veloce Bicycles.
Now, Macrigeanis said, high-quality, high-end racing bikes start at $3,000. The majority of bicycle makers these days offer products with five-figure price tags, he said. His shop doesn’t rely on sales of such bikes, which have included a $12,900 custom-made Independent Fabrication XS — “as in way too much,” Macrigeanis said of the model name’s last two letters.
His average sales price is closer to $2,000 but rising, thanks to the handful of $10,000-plus sales sprinkled in each year.
With the dollar continuing to weaken against currencies in Europe and Asia, where most bicycles are manufactured, Macrigeanis said he predicts top-tier prices will continue to creep higher.
Keeping up with Lance
Blame seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong for the high-priced bike movement. As Armstrong’s victories piled up from 1999 to 2005, so did demand from affluent cycling enthusiasts determined to buy replicas of his tour-winning machine, or something comparable, no matter the price.
In addition to boosting the sport’s overall popularity, one of the most enduring of the so-called Lance effects “was to get the people who already rode a high-priced bike to buy a higher-priced bike,” said Jay Townley, a partner in a Wisconsin-based marketing and research firm who studies cycling trends.
Hence, the proliferation in recent years of custom-bike builders, perhaps as many as 190 worldwide, Townley said, that cater to the cycling market’s upper crust.
“The people driving this high-end business aren’t your typical bike commuter,” Townley said. “They aren’t helping the environment or saving money by buying these high-priced bikes. They’re doing it because it’s a fashion statement for them within their circle of friends and acquaintances who happen to be other bikeys.”
A bike vice
Schreck, the Portland attorney, described bike buying as his one “big vice.” A month ago, he added an Italian-made Wilier time-trial bicycle to his collection, which now numbers 16. The frame alone was $4,500. Fully built, the price nearly doubled.
Schreck said he’s eyed the $15,000 Colnago but is reluctant to take it out for a test ride.
“It is a beautiful bike,” he said. “But there are certain things you don’t want to get on because you’re afraid you’ll like it too much and want to buy it.”