What makes a quality bicycle?

How to recognize a bicycle which will bring you joy for more many, many years? In short, there are two aspects. The frame quality and the components.

Let’s start with the most difficult one: the frame. With some important exceptions, most bicycles nowadays are made out of aluminium tubes, so ‘aluminium frame’ is not any quality lable by itself. It is tempting to think that a frame is simply a collection of metal tubes welded together. Until that cheaper frame breaks at a moment you really wish it didn’t. Perhaps the alloy was a bit cheaper. Perhaps the welder in China was bit cheaper. Or perhaps the frame had not received the (time-consuming and therefore expensive) heat treatment after being welded?

  • Sport cyclists will also be familiar with the term ‘stiffness’. In short: stiffer frames will absorb less energy when you are pedaling, which means you will ride faster. They will also be more stable (read: safer) at high speeds.
  • Finally, a bicycle is not made of ordinary aluminium tubes. So-called ‘butted’ or ‘double butted’ tubes are thinner in the middle, where they are less likely to brake. This makes the frame lighter, while keeping strength.

The second aspect making a bike to what it is, are all other parts on the bike: the wheels, the drivetrain, the brakes, and so on. The difference in quality (and price) between the cheapest ones and the high-end ones is enormous. The cheap ones usually work quite well during the first couple of kilometers.

Example:

  • The price of a normal quality tire ranges from 20 to 50 euro. Some manufacturers will use tyres of 10 euro. As there are two tires, that’s an easy way to save 60 or 80 euro. Until you get your first flat during the first weeks already. That’s 25 euro lost at the bike store, plus all the inconvenience. And you’ll then still have the same tire which easily punctures, and is worn out after 2000 km. A good quality tire will serve you 5000 to 10 000 km, and if inflated well, flat tires are very exceptional.
  • There is also a connection between frame and component quality: for example if the mounting points on the frame for the disc brakes are not made perfectly straight, there is no way getting even the most expensive brakes to work as they should. If you want to save on something, it is generally better to invest in the frame and save on components (which can be upgraded later).