Frills or Basics?

Phil Wood Crankset
In the comments of recent posts there has been some interesting discussion about spending money on bicycles and accessories. I am not going to delve into some of the more existential issues raised, but one theme I found funny was the difference in our willingness to spend money on bikes versus accessories. Some are willing to spend a hefty sum on a bicycle, but don't really go for fancy components or accessories beyond the basics. Others would never spend more than several hundred dollars on a bike, but are perfectly happy to pay for component upgrades and fancy luggage.

My personal bias falls toward the former. If I have a set budget and I am building up a bicycle from scratch, I am liable to spring for the nicest frame I can manage and then settle for inexpensive components until I can afford better ones. Or else just buy the frame alone, then wait another year while I save up for the rest. And while I know that components can influence ride quality as much as the frame, I just can't help but place more importance on the latter. The frame is the key in defining the bike for me, while  components can always be replaced if need be. But I realise that not everyone feels that way. In Boston I sometimes see things like a Surly frame with Phil Wood hubs, or a Linus bike with a limited edition Brooks saddle and grips, and it's always mystified me - those things cost more than the rest of the bike! One woman's told me that she finds it more interesting to spend money on components and accessories, because there is a great deal of choice and it feels playful. A frame, on the other hand, is "just there" - kind of a boring part of the bike unless one is especially interested in geometry and frame design. Okay, I sort of understand that take on it. But I definitely can't relate!

Do you tend to splurge on the frills or the basics? Or do you opt for the sensible middle-ground?


  1. Components trump the frame for me. An appropriate frame is important, but what's hung on them usually get more careful consideration. But hey, I'm a mechanic - it's not just an irrational obsession, it's my job.


  2. Ah. So you'd cringe if I, say, put a $100 wheelset on a classic English lightweight frame? : )

  3. I'm both. I want a good frame AND good components and accessories. But if pressed, I would have to say I lean towards option two. I'm probably in the minority here, but I'm not someone who wakes up in the morning dying to get on my bike. Once I'm on it, I'm pretty happy, but my natural inclination is to be lazy. So call me shallow, but I need some visual stimulus to get me excited about riding -- a beautiful saddle, cool bike-specific bags, comfy grips, shiny fenders... It's like this: suppose you have two Ford XYZ-cars in front of you. They're technically the exact same model (frame and engine) but one is candy apple red, has a cool spoiler, awesome rims and a sunroof. Which car are you going to be excited to jump into? That's me and bikes in a nutshell. I need a bike that makes me want to ride it -- and for me, that's 99% component/accessories.

  4. Components are more important to me, simply because I'm a poor university student. I've had the same frame for years, and I upgrade the parts as I can afford them/as I come across them/am able to trade for them. My frame is fine, but I can't afford to blow $1000 at once for a frame, especially when my budget one fits me so perfectly and has taken me so far.

  5. Hi! I wish I'd had more money for a frame - my bike is SUPER cute, but doesn't handle very well and I know it's somewhat cheap and flimsy. This doesn't stop me from loving it to death and lavishing it with Bike Shinies all the time.

    Mine was a budget choice - I had the money to spend on goodies, or a frame, but not both, and I really wanted a bike that looked super-sweet. Also I've really only just started riding regularly, so I'm still working out what I want in a bike - I don't really know yet.

    All the goodies (brooks saddle, sweet panniers, etc) will be transferred to a lusher and yummier smooth-riding custom frame when I'm an experienced enough rider to make a call on what I want in a "perfect" ride :) Until then, I'm planning on shouting Rosie a cute pair of Brooks grips to match her sweet little saddle next time I have a little bit of spare cash :)

  6. The idea of getting the best frame possible and upgrading the components as one can has a long history. In my experience, it's the direction I would take: a new frame is a big deal, and a big outlay of money for many of us. I've been riding my good bike for over ten years, the only original components left are the Nitto handlebars and stem and the Campagnolo brake levers and front derailleur.

    The lessons I have learned along the way! Such as, for daily use, bottle generators just don't cut it, get the Schmidt hub!

    So now I have good, durable components to mount on a new frame when that time comes. Saving slowly, so slowly, for a Tournesol frame by Hampsten.

  7. Back in the day when I first joined a cycle club I was just a lad and money was very tight. I am sure that scenario is still familiar today! The accepted wisdom from experienced riders was to spend your money on a quality frame (eg Reynolds 531 back then) and kit it out initially with whatever components you could afford.
    You could then upgrade the components over time as and when the cash became available. The rationale was that the frame is the heart of the bike and the most expensive single item. Unless you stuff it under a bus, a good frame will last for many years. A good frame will still ride and handle well until the parts are upgraded whereas a gas pipe frame is still a gas pipe frame even if kitted out with top line parts.
    Over the years I have built a number of bicycles on that principle and never had any regrets.

  8. I have to plead guilty to wanting to put fancy and gorgeous things all over my bike too, though so far I have only gotten a skirtguard. I would really like a Brooks saddle and handgrips as well as fancy tyres with reflective walls, but I can't get them for size 28" wheels, so that slows me down. I am lucky in that my bike was salvaged from the garage and is a classic old loop frame and cost nothing so that lets me splurge on other things for it, right?

  9. I used to think like V, but what peopel say here really makes sence. Especially if some "bike bling" really make you want to ride. It is not wise to spend a lot of money on a frame before you are sure about the size and shape that is right for you. And you could be lucky to find a great light vintage and save some money.. Just got two NOS Bromptons and are already planning the 8 speed hubs and stuff. Some peopel spend money on comfortable and nice shoes. Some go for the great look and "not so bad" comfort of shoes. I guess that we are not all able to feel exactelig the same things when riding. Lenght of crank arms was discussed in an earlyer post. Just now I ride one bike w two different lenght crank arms becouse I can not feel it and the look is important on this bike. One is 170, one is 175. Different skills, different weight strenght and riding style can play a big part in how we feel on a certain bike.

  10. Wheels, then frame/components. Wheels:speakers::frame:amp - and there are a lot of perfectly good frames out there. Component selection can make a big difference as regards ergonomics/comfort/fit (I'm thinking bars, saddle and pedals). The last thing I spend money on is derailleurs - that problem has been basically solved for 40 years (Suntour vGT).

    Full disclosure: I have Phil hubs on a Surly LHT. It's a freewheel rear hub - I ran out of money - but I'm glad I did it. It's changed a bit since, but this'll give you an idea:

  11. To me it depends on the frame. I have 2 hand made frames (ANT and a Assenmacher), on those two, I like to get the best parts I can afford and to have it my personal theme. On production bikes I tend to leave it all alone and keep it the was it was intended.

  12. When buying either parts or frames, I find it important to be aware of and accept the motivation for my choices. It is possible to justify an expensive choice for any number of 'practical' reasons. If I want an expensive part because it looks good, I don't try and justify it by thinking I need it for some other real or imagined reason. If I can afford it and want it because it's attractive, that's how it's justified.

    In the case of a frame, I'm sure everyone would agree that it doesn't make sense to change that part. If the frame is inexpensive, I'd stay away from expensive component choices if the increased expense is based mostly on cosmetic reasons.

    Pretty parts are nice, but not so pretty that they are look busy or precious. Heaven forbid one is accused of being 'a poser' because of the precious component choices.

  13. To date, I am working on my most intricate build yet, a fast steel road bike.
    So, I sold a really nice complete bike and acquired a vintage frame that I had been admiring for months (this was back in may). Then I had it powdercoated, much controversy there between my mechanic and me as he thought I should preserve the integrity of this beautiful vintage frame I spent a lot for. For me, I loved the details, the maker and the type if steel, but not the color, and felt uninterested in resale value.
    I am currently saving up for the groupset and wheelset which will total approximately $1700. (Rock bottom) and then I have to get everything else, stem, bars, seatpost, saddle, pedals and tires. In the end I hope to have a really beautiful, light and responsive steel pace line road bike!
    Maybe by the first of the year!!
    That said, I'll probably spend $40. on bottle cages and a under saddle bag and that's all the luggage!

  14. Lets face it Velouria, we're all bike junkies.Some of us are on frame cocaine others mainline on components. I've been building bikes for almost 40 years. bars covered with leather,custom leather seat bags and Simichrome polish by the pound. My next foray into this addiction is to make my own frame. Then I will have entered the true opium den of cycling.


  15. You called me out! :) I have a new Linus Mixte 8 and I have spent more on the accessories (dynamo hub lights (E3 Pro); Brooks saddle and mudflaps both hand carved by Kara Ginther; Panaracer cream/white tires; dress guards, panniers and saddle bags, and as soon as Brooks starts distributing their new short version slender grips I will buy those too. What happened with me is that I bought the bike quickly without knowing anything about them. I was about to buy a Raleigh step-through then I stumbled upon your blog and started to learn more about Mixte's. I bought the Linus before I even understood what a lugged frame was or why it was important. At the time I couldn't understand why anyone would spend more than $800 on a frame unless they were concerned about speed. Since I had the Linus in layaway I had 3 months to search the internet and discover all kinds of things that I wanted for Lucille. I did it all a little backwards I guess. I should have done more research up front. I knew I wanted an upright handlebar, easy to maintain bike, and one that wasn't too heavy. Beyond that it was all greek to me. Yes, my next bike if there is one, will be a better quality frame, but for now Lucille is everything I want in a bike. To your point, my LBS said they have never seen a Linus look so good. Now I know why that is.

  16. I'm not cost-constrained (if you own a car and keep it in good repair, you're not cost-constrained :-), but I am a sort of retro-grouch reluctant upgrader, with the extra problem that I need strong parts, and I want the bike to work. As a general rule, I try to measure what I need, and buy that, and if that breaks, upgrade. The exception to that rule is comfort, and gross efficiency (and safety) -- so saddle is Brooks Flyer, handlebars are carefully chosen (after costly and tedious experiments), and tires are Schwalbe in the summer, Nokian in the winter. But breakage-induced upgrading lead me to a Big Dummy frame (trashed front shock on my Xtracycle conversion), Phil Wood BB (trashed a few cheaper BBs), and Rohloff IGH (trashed an SRAM 9, couldn't keep a Shimano 8 from unscrewing itself). On the other hand, a Shimano hub dynamo is plenty good; nobody has showed me power numbers demonstrating that a Schmidt would be enough better to matter.

    I play with building my own lights; at this point I think it may be a case of the Ikea Effect, but I have a really kick-ass standlight on one bike (switches batteries on and off, none of this "capacitor" crap).

  17. "In Boston I sometimes see things like a Surly frame with Phil Wood hubs, or a Linus bike with a limited edition Brooks saddle and grips, and it's always mystified me - those things cost more than the rest of the bike!"

    Wait, why would this mystify you? Didn't you put a Brooks saddle on your first Motobecane mixte? I've known many who do some very serious loaded riding with their Surly's and don't want their hubs/wheels to fail. Are these basics or frills?

  18. The frame, the wheels, and the tires are top priority in my book. Everything else, except perhaps the saddle, is just icing on the cake.

    Although I must admit I'm a sucker for polished aluminum parts.


  19. For me, how much I'm willing to spend depends on the bike itself. Right now I don't feel I know enough about my preferences to justify spending a lot of money on a frame. But, I probably will someday. Like V, I would fit it with the level of quality components that I could afford at the time, knowing I can upgrade later. Meanwhile, I have a small collection of vintage bikes of decent quality. They haven't needed much, and the few things I've bought have been durable and decent quality, but not particularly fancy. I daydream of fancy group sets, but don't really have a frame that needs it. On the other hand, I very much respect the idea of buying a decent (but not expensive) frame (such as Surly) that you really like, and fitting it with high-quality components. You can buy the stuff as you are able, and have a lot of fun as you go. Riding your bike with new shinies is a little like riding a new bike - an experience you can stretch out over time and have over and over again.

  20. This is a very appropriate topic for me right now. I am scheming a new bike and debating between 2 different frames. One I can get for much cheaper, the other (the one I really want) costs a bit more.

    As for components - I definitely tend towards the functional. Where I really get all wound up though is when it comes to racks and fenders and bags and all those super fun things. On my LHT I have added all kinds of fun stuff but haven't changed a thing with actual components - just doesn't seem worth it.

    I was able to go see the bikes built for Oregon Manifest last night. Talk about transpo bike bling! Dang! Pretty impressive stuff all around. One of the coolest was the front rack on the Ahearne entry. He buil all kinds of little slots for things (lock, coffe cup, etc..), including some little speakers and an iPod hook up. And then these folks from California had a bike with hemp fenders and panniers. It took the guy 2 weeks just to make the fenders!

    We are bike junkies indeed...

  21. I'm an artist so it's about the beauty (and ride!) of the frame first. Then beautiful leather and styling (fenders, pedals, racks). As I learn more about how components work, then I appreciate them more.

  22. I go back and forth. Eventually, I wind up with quality. Except sometimes the quality ISN'T, which explains the Campagnolo Super Record front derailleur in a cupboard. Still, someday those Campy tubular rims will go on a bike I ride.

    I tend towards Velouria's viewpoint via having ignored it too many times. The frame is the foundation which you joyously put cooler components on or wish you'd spent $200 more on. A good frame is a family heirloom.

  23. Emile, that made me laugh..."the true opium den of cycling." Every once in a while I peruse various amateur frame builder's blogs, from which I come to the conclusion: pro frame builders deserve every penny they charge! The number of areas where a frame could go wrong is formidable.

    I don't get out much, so I don't know how new this is to most; seems as though a phrase that's popular now is "first world problems". While I tend to being unreflective there are times when I fret over my fender lines, wonder if I should go to aero levers to tidy up the front end, lust for a frame with thinner tubing so I can "plane" better (thanks for putting that idea in my head Jan!)when it hits me:

    Given what the vast majority of people in the world are going through, aren't I so very fortunate as to have these problems amongst my worries!

  24. I think it depends on what you already have. If you have nothing, it is better to start with a cheap frame and buy components as you have money. Then, when you have a bike with good components as you save for a better frame to put them on. If you already have a well functioning bike, then storing a frame while you save up for the right parts makes more sense.

  25. I recently bought a used Sam Hillborne frame which was a splurge for me and had a shop build it up up with sensibly priced, good quality components. The midrange Shimano drivetrain component seem to be excellent, Hard to justify spending more for ... what?
    I did have some nice wheels built though.
    Works great for me.


  26. In your Brooks/Linus example, since the butt is the primary contact point of the bike I can see it residing in both the Nice Accessory and Essential categories. It's a tangible quelque chose de luxe on a basic backdrop.
    Maybe you're too young to know this but there was a time when people were judged based upon their shoes, not their dress so much. Also not so much their cars as the way the occupant was dressed.
    What's my point? There really isn't one.
    Anyway, frills can be married to functionality in an integrated fashion if good design is appliied. Ahem, Oregon Manifest.

  27. Order of importance: Frame(correct sizing), stem and bars (correct for size and rider weight, matched to frame), Wheels (correct for duty), Crank (correct for chain ring span), headset (durability), bottom bracket (correct for crank and chainline), then everything else.
    Get the best frame, stem and bars that match up that you can afford. The cost of upgrading a frame is a total rebuild; The cost of upgrading anything else is replacement. Used hubs are great for saving money on wheels if they are polish-able, the spoke holes are in good shape and bearings replaceable. Used components with a lot of life in them are good for getting the bike up and running.
    BB and HS installs (recommend facing the BB if it isn't already) cost enough that chintzing on those components will cost you in the long run, so new quality investments are worth it.

  28. Thing I forgot: if it fits properly and is compliant/rigid enough for the rider, that's the most important thing.
    If the rider gets stronger and handling skills improve, then a "better" frame may be in order, but let's face it: most bikes like Linus I see ridden at 8 mph only demand cush, not performance.
    What increases performance in the cute category is accessories! The frame is just a bauble to hang cute stuff on here.

  29. Erin B suggests a good point; that the solution is not formulaic, but personally situational. My earlier comment was formulaic of a clean-sheet design and plan. But that's a rare situation, and her approach is better.

  30. I want a good frame, whether it's mass-market or crafted, and then I'll put good components on it. Wheels especially; they make more difference than anything else, as others have pointed out above. In any case I prefer an understated look--no bling, please. That's just me, though.

    My main ride:

    Backup bike:

    One 45 years old, the other three years old, both set up with either good used or cheap new components.

    Happily ride them around 600 miles a month (total, not each; the vintage bike gets 85% of the miles). People find them handsome enough, to judge from their comments on the streets.

  31. Function, function,function is first and foremost with me. I let the money follow the function ,and/or quality, cost be damned.

    No used car dealer style blinged out pimp mobiles for me..........

  32. Your blog is my new encyclopedic reference for all things two-wheeled.
    As a Sunday-Greenway-Rider, I will probably not get to the degree of discernment exhibited by your blog and your readership, but I love all the information. Thanks for the fine site.

  33. "Wait, why would this mystify you? Didn't you put a Brooks saddle on your first Motobecane mixte? I've known many who do some very serious loaded riding with their Surly's and don't want their hubs/wheels to fail. Are these basics or frills?"

    I don't think it's a frill to buy a comfortable leather saddle for a bike, regardless of whether the bike itself is expensive or not. But some limited edition saddles cost north of $300. Now, I personally would rather buy the plain $100 version and spend that extra $200 on a better frame, which is the sort of thing I meant.

    As for hubs/wheels failing... Come on, there are perfectly good "workhorse" hubs out there that are not Phil Wood, I mean it's not really a choice between Phil Wood and failure, is it?

  34. "I mean it's not really a choice between Phil Wood and failure, is it?" It is!!! *grin* But not wheel/hub failure. I've wanted a set of Phils since I 1st laid eyes on them somewhere in Canada, 1974. The guy who had them was riding west to the Spokane World's Fair (Spoke-on to Spokane, he called it) and I was riding a Raleigh Record east to Boston. If I hadn't put a set of those hubs on this bike, I would have regretted it every time I hopped on - thus - emotional failure.

    The quality level of even mid-range parts and frames is so high nowadays that you may as well do whatever makes you happiest, be that lugwork, wheelsets... I'm in favor of fun on bikes.

  35. It's a learning experience for me. The more I ride, the more I find things that are uncomfortable and need to be changed. I adore my frame and won't get another one so it's new parts, new parts, new parts.

    I think one thing that kinda bothers me is that some of the most comfortable or practical fixes are not lovely. I've just recently put magnetic lighting on my oldest son's bike. Ugly. Works wonderfully though. Sometimes I feel like I'm giving in to function over form.

  36. Bike junkies. I drank the Kool-Aid when it really was . . . Kool-Aid!

    From my first bike up thru middle school, my steeds were hand-me-downs of unknown make. Late grade school, I had a cool frame that, in my memory, was the first MTB by decades. Odd, 24” wheel size. No fenders and a sawed off half rack in the back. Bars swept wide but short back. The experience was of (near) religious freedom. The religion OF freedom delivered by bike/on bike.

    My first “proper” bike was an all-Reynolds Gitane TdF with silk tubulars. Around midnight of the first day I owned it, a city policeman pulled me over for “speeding” over the 25mph limit on our “main drag” of town. As there were no other cars, he made me sweat (because I had an enormous blond afro of which he didn’t exactly approve) before turning me loose with a laugh. The fact that I had no lights nor helmet never came up.

    The lesson of that bike, which I still have and love, is that the frame can be mystical because it delivers the experience. The first real money goes here. As Steve A. said above: a good frame is a family heirloom.

    Components are important, but come next. We buy the best we can/could afford while we dream/dreamt of the best we can’t.

    But there is still a clear hierarchy consistent with importance to the direct experience. Wheels, including good tires, which begin with: Hubs -- Phil, when I can. New bearing cartridges before needed in lesser sealed units. VO prototypes, currently in use, too. Careful greasing and adjustments of any loose ball & cone, i.e. Record, C-Record, Zeus.

    Your comment about “is it Phil or Failure” gets back to the 1/8” vs 3/32” chain. BUT, with wheels, the rotating weight and bearings have a HUGE impact on the ride. After the frame, wheels get the next major $$. After wheels, it is only about the comfort/bling balance.

    Saddle -- Avocet, then Brooks. Different Brooks. Lately Flyer Specials.

    Pedals -- as my feet don’t like just any thing. I’ve never made the move to clip-less, and have wide feet. I want great bearings, a bit of platform, Power-Grips when possible.

    Brakes -- because I’ve had accidents in my life that were due to poor stopping power. I weigh more now than I did then. Best pads I can find, ever since better pads first hit the market. Latest builds? All about long-reach Tektro dual-pivot. Kool-Stop pads. I don’t scrimp on stopping power (without cantilever bosses, anyway).

    While I still have yet to get into fenders much, I agree that RACKS are significant. While I have VO and Nitto, the Blackburn(s) still remain my baseline favorites. Rock solid, look right. I have a Nitto Campee rear for my prize (very vintage) frame soon to arrive. Seems a bit much. I may retreat to Blackburn.

    Derailleurs – ‘cause they can be so sexy. Especially the rear. I have Duopar, Campy NR and Rally (1st AND 3rd), Zeus, Cyclone GT and others from the best of the friction era. For bling, I have two 1st Gen C-Record. RDs are mostly about bling. Wonderful bling!

    Cranksets -- I have old-fashioned taste, but I like what I like. Campy, Stronglight, TA. Pretty much in that order. If I had the $$ in hand, I’d be pre-ordering a Phil crankset now. Talk about amazing bling!

    Seatpost - can be whatever luck delivers for a reasonable price.
    Stem – same attitude. Correct size/length is important, of course -- for everything.
    Bars -- need a nice bend and width. Hunt for a deal.

    So, I guess I’m a conservative junkie. Quality of frame. Best wheels possible. Comfort. Bling that is bling to me. What I directly experience. If others are able to see it? Cool. If not, I consider it a secret of my religious order.


  37. I personally like to buy a bicycle that I don't really need to buy any accessories for. A complete package. A bicycle that is so simply so utilitarian that it fits all my needs. I like a bicycle that I don't have to worry about at all. The bikes I currently own are more or less bombproof - I care not about things working or cleaning the drivetrain since everything is sealed and protected. I do this because I need a machine that takes me everywhere I want to go without fail. In the last year the only thing I had to do to my bikes is change a chain that almost snapped (on side of a link did) and patch a tube (which I considered a real annoyance). To me if you need to buy accessories it means that the bike is lacking.

  38. Granted, I've only been riding seriously for a little under a year now, but I don't notice vast differences between frames. Yeah, I notice if the frame is too large for me (I'm short, can't ride most other people's bikes), and its shape, but more refined measurements of quality are beyond me. Perhaps in the future, when I decide to get another bike, I might put more thought into the frame. But all of the small step-throughs I've tried are pretty interchangeable.

    However, there is a HUGE difference between my stock saddle and the more expensive saddle I upgraded to (not Brooks). Changing from knobby tires to smooth, also a huge difference. My rack and basket were worth every penny. None of the components I bought were especially expensive, but all together they were about 2/3 the price of the bike itself. But at least this way, I know I got the seat/basket/tires I want and I can move those components onto my next bike if I want. I think the Ikea Effect (thanks for that link!) has something to do with it, too. I'm already thinking that my next bike will be a build-up, I just love putting things together so much.

    It could also be possible that the Linus owner has owned the saddle for years and cycles it between different bikes. Although that would be way too much work for me.

  39. Yes, there are good hubs besides Phils out there! My Miche track hubs have gone over 30,000 miles with NO maintenance so far. There are plenty of others. The dirty little secret is that ANY middle- to high-end cartridge bearing hub will be pretty damn good if not great. Most of them are, in fact, made by the same company--Joytech--and rebaged for their resellers.

    Campy hubs, though loose ball, are said to last very well, but will need occasional attention. Old Sturmey Archer internal gear hubs have lasted decades with little maintenance. Any old Suntour stuff will be smooth and durable. (Sanshin made their hubs, so high-end Sanshin stuff will be as good.)

    Bike stuff has been under constant refinement for 120 years, cartridge bearings for a century. Most of it's decent, much of it is great. There is crap out there, but good stuff is not rare or esoteric.

  40. As long a the bike and its components are not bound to fall apart (and I have never experienced it even with the cheapest bikes, nor do I know anyone to whom it ever happened), I could not care less.

    - First, bike theft is too rampant in Montreal to invest anything beyond basics in the bike itself.

    - Second, I am the stylish one, not the bike. When I step off of it, all the niceties stay on it. So I only really invest in what will follow me, i.e. the bike bags, baskets and my (regular) clothes.
    Cycle Chic manifesto rules #6 (Allowing my bike to upstage me is unacceptable) and #7 (I will endeavour to ensure that the total value of my clothes always exceeds that of my bicycle).

    - Third, comfort is key. Therefore I am well willing to shell out some dough on what will spare my body and make my ride more comfortable: nice saddle, nice grips, comfy tires.
    But the rest, really, why offer it up to thieves?

  41. First off, let's check ourselves for a second - Linus and Surly are pretty decent quality bikes. No, they're not handbuilt, fully lugged euro imports, but they're not wal-mart mountain bikes either. If cared for, there's no reason those frames won't last quite a long time.

    That said, I can see your point there - I have a vintage peugeot road bike that I picked up for $45 on craigslist. I use it for commuting/errands. The saddle it came with was not useable, so I picked up a cheap one at the bike shop. I don't particularly like it, but I don't know if I can bring myself to stick a $100 saddle on a $45 bike.

    I think the issue isn't as simple as frame vs. components. A lot (most?) people buying bikes these days don't have the know-how to build something up themselves (or to know what to get to have a shop build it for them), so I would guess that most people buy a "complete package" - the frame and whatever comes with it - and expect that to work for them.

    On the face of it, buying a good frame and upgrading the components seems like the common-sense approach. But to me, on a geared bike the components really impact my enjoyment of the ride. I can have the nicest frame in the world, but it's worthless to me if I can't shift reliably. So I think there's a balance in there somewhere.

    As I've gotten older though, I've learned that I should really just save until I can afford to buy what I really want. Otherwise, I just end up paying for it twice.

  42. Neither -- buy it cheap and keep it original, 's my motto. Not really interested in anything less than 30 years old, or more than $200. The investment is all in the time/sweat of restoration.

  43. It depends on the bike. Sometimes the frame is the heart of the build, other times something else really defines its character.

    Wheels, rear wheels in particular are important to me. First off, because of my sasquatch-like stature, I break flimsy wheels, but the back wheel is the prime Matt-to-pavement connection (unless I do something really wrong, in which case the Matt-to-pavement connection becomes direct, and usually painful) and therefore affects handling, road feel and reliability. I haven't had a bike in ten years that kept its stock rear wheel (sometimes it kept the front), I've built them all myself, which has been the best way to get what I needed on a budget.

    My current ride is especially rear-wheel-centric, as it's got an internal 8-speed, which moves the physical, visual and emotional center of gravity right to that hub. I recently rebuilt the hub into a heavier-duty rim (after crimping the stock double-wall, have I mentioned I break stuff?) and it's been brilliant. I've changed a lot of other parts from stock as well, but it's all about the hoops.

  44. In my teens, I went over the Canadian Cascades on a used Nishiki 10speed. As soon as I got out of the house I bought my first touring bike. To me, the bike frame is as much as I can afford, but having a rear rack and a Brooks saddle are non-negotiables.

    I just bought a Pedersen which is wonderful for my chronic pain. It came with a Nexus hub which is the one upgrade I would have had on my list. I don't need a new saddle, for once, but I need to install the new rack (tubus fly is the only one that works). I have a cute Design House Carrie basket, and different bags. I am a sucker for bags, but pretty much keep to stock components.

  45. Flash parts on mundane frames are like a big wing and $3,000 in wheels and tires on your Civic, fun, cool looking and a statement most people understand. But it sort of loses it's appeal when you park it next to somebodies serious autocrosser or drag car.

    I am totally in the camp that says spend 90% of your bike money on the best frame and wheels and build the rest out of the used bin at the LBS if you have to. It's also surprising to me how often you can buy last years hot parts used or on close out. Those are the parts everyone who takes the "Bling is Best" approach are going to take off their Cannondales when they need a new "Bike Shiny" (I love that term)anyway.

    Most of my bikes get built up over a year or two as I upgrade stuff as I can. I get excited about a particular frame and go from there. I can't seem to get as worked up over building a bike around a certain bunch of parts.


  46. I've only had money for one or the other, so I've gone with frame. If that feels great, I'm good to grab the bike and go. My road bike cost me $525 on sale. A few months later, I test drove a $2,500 bike, and the difference in components was immediately noticeable. So was my backache after only 5 minutes of riding. It will be nice to get to a place where I can splurge on the bike bling, though!

  47. I think “Frills or Basics” must be genetic... A friend incessantly buys faster video cards, more silent fans, or a stronger power supply or a bigger tower, etc. for his PC. He can't help himself, he has to tinker with the thing and he does the same with his bicycle ; I think he bought at least four sets of wheels and three dérailleurs, as he always finds “better” components than the ones he has... Consequently, his PC and his bike are often “under repair” and he doesn't use them. Me, I buy a MacBook (and you can't really modify anything to it) and use it.

    To answer your question: I don't modify anything or add anything to my bicycle except front/rear lights as required by law (of the minimalist Blackburn Click type).

  48. None of my bicycles were super expensive when new, and they were new a long time ago. I purchased them used, typically for $25 or so, and changed handlebars, seats, pedals, chainwheels....even laced a set of wheels with Campy rims once, to suit my own tastes. I didn't usually give a lot of thought to the "prestige" of parts, just selected good quality parts to make the bikes work better and be more comfortable. Two of my bikes, a 1988 Fuji Tahoe mountain bike, and a Puch Odyssey, have Brooks saddles, which make it possible to ride either bike long distances in extreme comfort. I didn't select the Brooks because they "matched" anything else on the bikes, but because they performed their task in a manner noticeably better than everything else I could find. However, the Campy rims, while good, don't "feel" any better than Araya or Sun rims acquired later on some of the other bikes.
    I do enjoy tinkering with bikes,computers (in fact built this computer), cars, motorcycles and other things, so if I can make a change which results in an improvement which I can feel, it's a good thing. However, my stuff tends to not be disabled for any significant length of time.

  49. "(...) so if I can make a change which results in an improvement which I can feel (...)"
    — Ron 521 @ 7:23

    That's a very interesting remark. My friend said the same thing to me. He doesn't understand why I don't see immediately what can be improved either in our PCs or bicycles. Maybe he doesn't feel the bike (or the PC) is “really his own” unless he modifies it. I have to say that I'm not technically savvy and he is, though.

  50. I'm mostly with you.

    However I did put a brooks saddle on my fgiant halfway folder and it seriously made the bike SO much better and more comfortable. Before the saddle switch I felt like I was on a so so bike. After the switch I felt like it was a really nice bike. I could have gone for a more pricey frame like a brompton- but as you know- I would have been tempted to build that up way too $$- and the halfway was an affordable bike and the brooks saddle while pricey in it's own right ( plus saddle bag it was about 1/3 of the bike cost) the bike became much more usable and still WELL under a brompton....

    so I can see the grips and saddle with the linus bike... I guess the main thing is finding the balance. the bike frame that works- plus whatever extras that work....

  51. I certainly used to obsess about these things in my early days and went through numerous frames, parts, assemblies, disassemblies, and owning and riding several bikes. Many of my choices were purely aesthetic. It was fun. Mostly, I think beyond a certain level everything becomes a frill. A decent frame is not hard to acquire. Most components will last decades. Proper fit seems key. And of course many folks find great deals on quality items like Phil Wood hubs or Brooks saddles and add them to their existing bike b/c it makes them happy. I've done this as well. These days I've downgraded/settled/chose? one simple bike purchased from my LBS equipped with an assortment of mid range components. Adding a good saddle for comfort was one change, finding the right handlebar/stem arrangement was another. Without a car, this bike has to do everything including satisfying my constant need for speed :) As I ponder it, though, putting the best quality hubs I can afford will be my last change. Smooth and beautiful running bearings trump all else. Is this a frill? Probably. We all have our fascinations -- be it lugs, bearings, colors, add ons, isn't this why you call your blog Lovely Bicycle?

  52. I just wanna know where you can get a pair of those toe clips those are wicked awesome lookin

  53. The frame is the heart and soul of a bike - everything else you can change at will later on.


  54. I have a Windsor bike from bikes direct, so nothing fancy. But I've managed to get some pricier components like a brooks saddle, nitto mustache bars, tires, etc. I guess at the time I felt like I couldn't afford to put down a lump sum on a bike and buying accessories a la carte doesn't hurt my wallet. I know it's silly because what I have spent on extras could have gone towards getting a better bike. The changes I made were for comfort number 1, looks a distant 2nd.

    Then again, I mostly ride to commute so I wanted something that I would be okay with losing if it got stolen. Even with the components, I think a better bike would have cost me more and I'd fret about thieves. I want to be able to go to the movies and not have a heart attack about the 2 grand locked up to a bike rack, you know?

  55. These different approaches don't have to break down to expensive bikes versus inexpensive bikes, right? It does require that one be intentional about what we do and not just look back and decide that we must be in one camp or another because we spent more on the parts or the frame or whatever. If you can spend a little or a lot the choice is still the same and we'll have a bike that pleases us more if we decide what is important and stick to "The Plan".

    I REALLY dig nicely made classic steel frames but I have to watch my coins, if I go crazy buying something too expensive the bike (or car or house or...)just wont get finished or I'll spend so much that I wince every time I look at the silly thing. The wisely built $400 bike is going to make us happier than a $3,000 machine that got out of hand.


  56. Well, Surly's are not cheap outside the US. I see no reason why someone would not buy a nice brooks saddle for their linus or whatever. I bought an expensiveish brooks for my vintage raleigh! Why wouldn't one put nice components on their bike if they like the bike?
    However, mid range components do the same job, and bike coops have loads of parts. I do understand that the $$ parts would be better suited to a finer bicycle, but we all have different priorities. One thing to consider is that nicer frames cost a great deal of money. Money we often do not have. At least for me, it is more psychologically manageable to save up for a nice brooks saddle etc than to put out a great deal of money on a frame. I don't have a stable enough income to make payments on a custom frame or special frame either. I truly would like to have a really nice frame! My surly lht cost more than a rivendell in the end, but in order to get it to Canada would have cost a great deal of money and there are no dealers up here that I could use my eco rebate on.
    I envy your ability to get nice bikes, but even with scrimping and saving there is no way I could do it.

  57. MelissatheRagamuffinSeptember 27, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    Surlys aren't especially cheap in the US. I happen to think 1100 is a lot to spend on a bike - especially when they're so easily stolen. I bought my LHT in May, I changed the handlebars which meant changing the brake levers. I put 38mm Bontrager tires. I added a Brooks saddle. I started with the B17, but switched to a Flyer after my accident. I had to swap out the pretty shiney silver pedals that I started out with for black ones with slip guards on it after the theft of my mountain bike, so I can still ride in the rain. Those are the only major component changes I made to the Surly because I'm satisfied with the other components the bike came with. I never cease to be impressed by how smoothly Miss Surly shifts compared to say my mountain bike. I didn't think I'd like the bar-end shifters at first, but I love them now.
    In the spring I MIGHT switch back to drop handle bars. In my dizziest day dreams I'll be in a position to just buy another Surly and just set it up differently.

    I did tell an online friend of mine who said that a Surly is too expensive for her that what I'd do in her position is buy a vintage steelframe bike and then add components as she is able. How amazingly well my Surly came through the accident has made a steel frame enthusiast out of me. The only thing that HAD to be done to make the bike rideable again was to retrue the wheels. Unfortunately, it's not quite so easy to retrue a human body.

  58. I think that a Brooks saddle on a Linus frame makes perfect sense, but a limited-edition one might be considered a little overboard (on the other hand, it'll probably last awhile and may be put on a different build at some point).

  59. My road frame is of unknown origin, but is lugged, seems to be made from reasonably light and strong tubing and most importantly is the right size for me (smallish and hard to come by unless I got something more modern.
    I had it powdercoated, and set to collecting the best bargain parts from swap meets I could put on it (NOS Campy set of brakes/pads for AUD$40! Near new Hollowtech cranks and BB AUD$40). All this mismatched Shimano, Campy and old SunTour makes for a bit of a frankenstein.
    For me it was practical good quality parts on a budget, and less aesthetic. , the thing rides like a dream - just wants to go!
    I'm also unsure it is worth spending more on all my dream components (quality and aesthetics) for a bike that was found home spraypainted different colours on the side of the road and left as rubbish.
    The components can change but It just wouldn't be the my bike without this particular frame. So whatever it is, a properly sized frame for me is key. My components can always get swapped to on another bike or upgrades can be sought :)


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