Source of objective road bike advice?

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Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby __PG__ » Wed Jan 18, 2012 8:55 pm

So I'm beginning the process of buying a new road bike for the first time in over a decade. My budget is under 3K and I'm looking at a full carbon frame with Ultegra (or SRAM equivalent). My current bike is a custom steel frame from Cecil Walker with (very old) Ultegra STi.

However I'm finding that there is a real dearth of objective information.

For example, my background is in Mechanical Engineering and I've worked for a few years in the automotive industry. When you have inside experience of how cars are made, you know that French cars are cheap, fun and full of 'character' which means they are completely unreliable. Most faults in modern cars are related to electronics. You learn which 'prestige' cars are just rebadged Volkswagens. And only idiots (or 'enthusiasts') buy Alfa Romeos.

Or if one learns a lot about the menswear, you learn that companies such as Isaia and D'Avenza make some of the best suits in the world, and Boss is mostly cheap fused rubbish. Or when it comes to shoes, Crockett and Jones and Carmina are probably the best shoes in the world for the price, whereas you can pay double the amount in David Jones for a shoe that has inferior construction and leather quality.

Are there bike mechanics or bike shop owners lurking in the forums who are willing to steer me towards the Subarus, Crockett and Jones and Isaias of the bicycle world and away from the Renault, Armani and Dolce and Gabbana equivalents?

I don't care about branding. I don't care about fashion, or which bike has flashy looking stickers. I want intrinsic quality.

I understand at that price range, all the frames are mass-produced by robots in Taiwanese factories. Many come out of the same factory and are just re-badged.

In amongst all the marketing hype and million-dollar advertising campaigns, where are the hidden gems of the high performance road bike world?

Thanks in advance :)
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by BNA » Wed Jan 18, 2012 9:40 pm

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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby Dac » Wed Jan 18, 2012 9:40 pm

Fascinating post, looking forward to the replies

personally I find the most useful info on Weight Weenies http://weightweenies.starbike.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=3. They're a tough crowd and don't suffer fools or shills

warning though, after a while you might find that $1,000 brake calipers start to make sensehttp://www.poshbikes.com/product.php?id=79
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby briztoon » Thu Jan 19, 2012 1:41 am

Interesting that you're after quality eg. Ultegra group set, and ask for the SRAM equivalent, but not Campagnolos.

Which state/city are you in? Many of the 2011 run out bargins have sold out, or are down to limited sizes. Well except for Scott bikes up here in Brisbane, looks like there are still plenty of CR1's and Addicts for sale around the $2k mark, though they're all have Shimano 105 on them. Maybe you can ask what price for one with Ultegra on it.

I can't help you with which frames are better than others, but I would suspect at that price point most of the name brands frames would be of similar quality. Basically you find most brands "entry level" carbon frames at this price point. It would come down to which bike YOU feel rides better than the others.

You could start your search on bike exchange to see if there are any bargins left in your area.

The other option is if you are mechanically inclined, buy a frame and build up the bike yourself. I believe a few members here will say a Dengfu frame is just as good as a name brand frame.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby ausrandoman » Thu Jan 19, 2012 5:40 am

I have never encountered an entirely objective evaluation of a bicycle. One can obtain measurements of specific components but reviewers of complete bikes usually add a lot of subjective padding or exaggerate the significance of the measurements. When people say they can feel [insert any parameter] you know straight away that what follows is going to be subjective.

Amost all the bikes people talk about on BNA are a luxury. An objective definition of luxury is simple but objective evaluations of luxury goods are hard to find :lol: One thing's for sure: we engineers are a hard sell!

As Dac says, the Weight Weenies hive mind is fairly reliable but they have a narrow focus and deep pockets.

I was in your shoes last year. I read lots of reviews of components to get some idea of reliability and to find specifications. Armed with this information, I then bought components and a frame and built my own bike. I'm still happy with the result. And, yes, it is a luxury.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby toolonglegs » Thu Jan 19, 2012 6:13 am

I drive a Renault and have an Armani suit so can't really give advice.
Suffice to say both are still serving me well.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby stevecassidy » Thu Jan 19, 2012 6:37 am

I'm in the same position, similar budget, though perhaps not trying to be as objective as you (I don't need a new bike, I want one that makes me feel good but that will be a workhorse for the next few years at least).

In touring the local shops, it's somewhat hard to find anything but the major brands, Giant, Trek are everywhere and most shops seem to recommend them. They'll often have another brand which they might talk about as an alternative but it's hard to get a really balanced opinion. However there have been a couple of places that didn't push them so hard. One wasn't a Giant dealer and I had a good discussion about the benefits of Merida and Lightspeed frames, another did Giant and many other brands and again I had a good discussion about options.

Some of the brands seem to have a two tier frame quality which switches over around the $3k mark, the more 'advanced' frame is available with 105 for just below $3k while the more 'basic' frame might have Ultegra for a similar price. Merida seems to do this with Scultura (cheaper, older design) and Reacto (new, aero, sexy). With Giant it's Defy (cheaper) vs TCR. Sometimes the cheaper one seems like better value but you hear tales of low end vs high end carbon and wonder if it really makes a difference.

I don't know if there's an answer to your question, where the real value for money is. I guess from my tour of the shops I'm happiest with the place that holds a wider range of bikes being able to give more balanced advice. In the end it's going to come down to riding a few bikes in the price range and making a subjective decision about how it makes me feel. Around that price range I think there's probably not too much poor value. The more hyped bikes tend to be much more expensive, a Bianchi or Colnago carbon Ultegra bike might be a lot better than the Merida or Giant but it's way above my budget so not even in consideration.

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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby Rockford » Thu Jan 19, 2012 7:07 am

Why not go with a bespoke design? Baum, Lynskey et al There was a thread not long ago asking about hand made bikes in Oz with quite a few recommendations. That way you can spec the tubing, style, geometry of the bike.
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Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby toolonglegs » Thu Jan 19, 2012 7:36 am

I think they 3k max budget rules out any of them.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby avroncotton » Thu Jan 19, 2012 8:02 am

I decided not to go for carbon, when I buy a bike I keep it for a while, and I have heard about carbon deteriorating or softening over a number of years. I have already decided that my next frame will be titanium. Lots of pluses in my book, however you still have to consider the design and construction.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby simonsausage » Thu Jan 19, 2012 8:54 am

My advice, for what its worth, is to forget about the Ultegra. Shifters and derailleurs won't make you go any faster.
105 or even, dare I say it, Tiagra work very well and are equally reliable. (same prob goes for the Campag or Sram equivallent).
Buy a bike with a good frame, mid range gropuset and upgrade the wheels. Bike companies tend to put pretty average wheels on most new bikes
and upgrading wheels will actually make a real difference to speed, handling, road feel etc.
I tend to buy second hand because you get so much more bang for your buck. 3 grand will buy an excellent used bike that you can then get serviced,
if you feel the need.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby im_no_pro » Thu Jan 19, 2012 9:20 am

Rockford wrote:Why not go with a bespoke design? Baum, Lynskey et al There was a thread not long ago asking about hand made bikes in Oz with quite a few recommendations. That way you can spec the tubing, style, geometry of the bike.


+1 to this, particularly Baum. But as TLL pointed out, there goes your budget :(
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby rkelsen » Thu Jan 19, 2012 9:38 am

Hey PG,

At $2,500 to $3,000, I don't think you'll be disappointed with whatever you buy. At that level, most of the carbon frames on the market are made in one of 3 factories in China or Taiwan.

The advice I have is as follows:

If you want quality and durability, forget SRAM. Do some research and you will see that it is cheaply made. Their groupsets are cobbled together from the cheapest parts they can find. Pros who are sponsored by SRAM (and forced to use it) often swap out critical components like the chain, cassette and FD for Shimano bits.

If you're happy sticking with Shimano, then that's your choice, but personally I'd at least give Campagnolo a look in. It's the only brand which doesn't manufacture groupsets in China. Quoting someone else from here: "Shimano wears out, Campagnolo wears in."

The only other advice I have is to test ride many bikes. You'll know when you're on the right one.

I will agree that it is very hard to find objective advice, since everyone has different requirements. A K-mart bike might be perfect for someone, but useless for someone else. There are simply too many variables in the equation. There is no such thing as a bike which is all things to all men.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby simonn » Thu Jan 19, 2012 9:51 am

IANAME (I Am Not A Materials Engineer)...

In general, bicycle brands just do some QA on a frame, forks and maybe the bars, and decide on the build kit (i.e. the rest of the componentry and wheels). Bikes are generally assembled by the retailer (or you).

The advantage you get from a major brand from an LBS is warranty claims are potentially easier and you'll probably get the odd gratis tweek 'n' tune. There is a correlation between cost and level of QA, apparently e.g. why a Pinny is more expensive than a Giant.

That's it really. All the moving parts are made mostly by Shimano, then Campy and SRAM and then bits and bobs by FSA, microshift, tektro etc. Wheels, pretty much the same thing, add Mavic in there somewhere.

IOW, it's not really like a car. Bicycles are very simple. Very little bespoke anything except frame and forks (and even then...).

The gems are things like the non-name frame off ebay which happens to be perfect (although that would be luck, but it would more than likely come from the same factory as a major brand or two or three just with little or no QA), a Van Nicolas Euros with Veloce groupo and silghtly upgraded wheels in the bargain bin, a Boardman Comp CX with 20% discount ;).
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby sogood » Thu Jan 19, 2012 10:07 am

Interesting set of criteria but perfectly understandable.

With a $3k cap, I'd say go with Giant/Trek if you want a factory bike without a badge inflated price, or go with quality, unbadged OEM CF frame from Taiwan on eBay and build the rest of the bike yourself. Fact is, Taiwan (and slowly moving to mainland China) is the centre of world CF bike manufacturing and you'll find value there.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby ausrandoman » Thu Jan 19, 2012 10:13 am

__PG__ wrote:In amongst all the marketing hype and million-dollar advertising campaigns, where are the hidden gems of the high performance road bike world?


They are for sale second hand. Over the years, I have had several second hand bikes and been very happy them.

If I couldn't find anything I liked on the used market at your price point, I would get an Azzurri Forza with Ultegra Di2. Your tastes might be different :)
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby Nate » Thu Jan 19, 2012 10:19 am

"French cars are cheap, fun and full of 'character' which means they are completely unreliable."
And you're looking for objective advice?

It'll be probably close to possible to get the info you're after i'm guessing
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby AndrewBurns » Thu Jan 19, 2012 10:35 am

I'm an engineer too and was recently looking for my first road bike but didn't want to pay for branding or local markup (it's fine buying local if you need after-sale support but I don't intend to ever take my bike to an LBS for adjustments etc). So I bought a chinese clean-skin frame direct from the factory and the groupset etc from various cheap UK retailers. You can see some pics of my bike here: viewtopic.php?f=9&t=45986&start=75

Frame is an FM-039 from Hongfu, they have a few different models and shipping was very fast. I also got the headset, stem and bars from there.
Groupset and wheels are from ribble, they seem to do Campy groupsets for cheaper than Shimano so that's what I went for but they sell all Campy, shimano and SRAM groupos.

People will tell you that the chinese frames are a bit of an unknown in terms of longevity and quality control however from my experience the frame is very good quality. The no-name frames tend to err on the side of caution in regards to strength which means they weigh a few hundred grams more than brand name carbon frames but I've seen no evidence that they don't last as long or fail more than commercial frames and trust me I've looked. My bike has done around 500km now and I've not had any trouble with it, the ride is smooth, the bike is stiff and responsive. If you're happy with making it yourself (it's really not that big of a deal) and you have some technical knowledge then this is the way I'd go.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby __PG__ » Thu Jan 19, 2012 10:37 am

briztoon wrote:Interesting that you're after quality eg. Ultegra group set, and ask for the SRAM equivalent, but not Campagnolos.

I briefly rode a Wilier with either Veloce or Centaur back in 2007 and thought the shifters were absolute garbage. Not only from an ergonomic viewpoint, but also from the sloppyness in the mechanism and the fragility of the shifter. Now, perhaps higher-end Campagnolo is superior (I've heard top-end Campagnolo is superior to the lower-range equipment)...but is it worth the extra $$$?

Ultegra sells for just under $1000 these days. Centaur is at a similar price, Athena is a bit more, Chorus is a lot more. Is it 'better'? I had a riding friend in Australia who switched to Campag (high-end) and used to rave about it, until he moved to Europe. After riding during a few European winters, he moved back to Dura-Ace, because he said that 'Shimano just works'.

I understand that Campagnolo may be better from the point that it is fully servicable and can be rebuilt relatively easy, but my Shimano groupset is nudging 17 years old and it still working well. The shifters still work, the rear derailleur is about the give up the ghost (the pivot hinges are worn and there is a lot of play in the mechanism) but overall I've been very happy with the longevity of it.

Especially as the bike was left outside in an undercover bike shelter at my old work during an English winter. Whilst the bike frame developed a bit of rust (and the chain disintegrated) the components themselves were no worse for wear.

ausrandom wrote:Amost all the bikes people talk about on BNA are a luxury. An objective definition of luxury is simple but objective evaluations of luxury goods are hard to find :lol: One thing's for sure: we engineers are a hard sell!


As alluded to in the initial post, previous encounters with 'luxury' items has me running to the hills. 'Luxury' IMO is just a euphemism for 'standard stuff with a huge mark-up to create artificial scarcity to promote perceptions of exclusivity amongst consumers'.

Rockford wrote:Why not go with a bespoke design? Baum, Lynskey et al There was a thread not long ago asking about hand made bikes in Oz with quite a few recommendations. That way you can spec the tubing, style, geometry of the bike.


Tempting but at this stage of my life (wife, mortgage, two young kids) blowing 5+ on a bike is a bit of an extravagance. Carbon still gives the best 'bang for your buck'.

Although its interesting to put things back in a historical perspective. My custom steel bike in 1994 cost $2,200. That's pretty much equivalent to a 5K-ish custom titanium bike today. When you look at some of the specials on now (e.g. Oppy C6 with Ultegra for 2K, 2011 Wilier Izoard XP for just a little bit more) you can see how much more affordable high-performance bikes have become. Back in 1994 carbon bikes cost $5,000.

stevecassidy wrote:In touring the local shops, it's somewhat hard to find anything but the major brands, Giant, Trek are everywhere and most shops seem to recommend them. They'll often have another brand which they might talk about as an alternative but it's hard to get a really balanced opinion.


In the case of Wilier (which is now heavily discounted) I get the feeling the bike shops don't actually want to sell it to me. They'd rather put me on another brand which will give them a bigger margin.

simonsausage wrote:My advice, for what its worth, is to forget about the Ultegra. Shifters and derailleurs won't make you go any faster.
105 or even, dare I say it, Tiagra work very well and are equally reliable. (same prob goes for the Campag or Sram equivallent).
Buy a bike with a good frame, mid range gropuset and upgrade the wheels. Bike companies tend to put pretty average wheels on most new bikes
and upgrading wheels will actually make a real difference to speed, handling, road feel etc.

105 or Tiagra may shift as well straight out of the box, but what about in 2-5-10 years time? I agree shifters and derailleurs don't make you go faster, but they affect the bike's reliability and ease of use. I had the choice when I bought my current bike to buy a flashier aluminium frame with 105, or a steel frame with Ultegra. I swapped 'speed' for reliability and longevity.

Re : cheap DIY carbon frames from China. Had never heard of this option (or even considered it) until I read these forums. Will consider it. My dad when he retired spent about $7,000 on a Litespeed titanium touring frame and he built the bike himself using Deore XT parts.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby __PG__ » Thu Jan 19, 2012 10:43 am

Re : objective advice. This is the sort of data I'm talking about (from an automotive perspective).

In 2007 The Age published some AC Nielsen data about new car faults (this was manufacturers data). Drive.com link to industry AC Nielsen data

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Additionally, when the new Volkswagen Mark VI was released, the head of the company basically admitted that the Mark V was a lemon
(Drive.com story) because it was too complex and too difficult to manufacture.

Likewise in the US and UK there are loads of Top Gear, JD Power and associated quality surveys which give an indication as what it is like to buy and own the car, as opposed to just thrashing it around the block for an afternoon and writing about it on a motoring magazine.

If you go to the JD Power website there is loads of information about cars, boats, consumer electronics etc. But nothing about bikes.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby __PG__ » Thu Jan 19, 2012 10:50 am

simonn wrote:That's it really. All the moving parts are made mostly by Shimano, then Campy and SRAM and then bits and bobs by FSA, microshift, tektro etc. Wheels, pretty much the same thing, add Mavic in there somewhere.

IOW, it's not really like a car. Bicycles are very simple. Very little bespoke anything except frame and forks (and even then...).

I agree. When you strip it back, there are no 'mysterious energy fields' or 'mystique' behind a bike. The components work with ratchets, springs, cables and screws. As you say these are all made by a handful of manufacturers so there is little distinction between bikes.

The frame distributes power from the rider to the drivetrain, and dissipates reaction loads from the wheels back into the frame. That's all it has to do, and I suppose that is the reason why high-end bike design has all converged into a very similar looking package.

So what objective criteria would a purchase use to buy a bike? I suppose it comes down to
a) Type of carbon fibre used (determines strength and stiffness)
b) Types of manufacturing processes used (this would presumably be uniform across most of the manufacturers)
c) Geometry (determines ride/handling characteristics).
d) History of quality issues (frame/fork recalls etc.)
e) Warranty and support
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby rkelsen » Thu Jan 19, 2012 11:40 am

__PG__ wrote:I briefly rode a Wilier with either Veloce or Centaur back in 2007 and thought the shifters were absolute garbage.

And you're asking for objectivity? Grain of salt. :lol:
__PG__ wrote:Ultegra sells for just under $1000 these days. Centaur is at a similar price, Athena is a bit more, Chorus is a lot more.

Are you sure about that? http://www.ribblecycles.co.uk/gsg/road-track-bike/campagnolo-road-groupsets?sub=conf_GS_CAR&type=RIBMO&tmp=_CAR
__PG__ wrote:Back in 1994 carbon bikes cost $5,000.

Back in 1994 carbon bikes were made by Westerners in Western countries earning Western wages and they made them from Western materials.
__PG__ wrote:In the case of Wilier (which is now heavily discounted) I get the feeling the bike shops don't actually want to sell it to me. They'd rather put me on another brand which will give them a bigger margin.

Someone mentioned Trek: This is one brand to avoid, IMO. Check the specs on their bikes and you'll see that they always seem to cut corners. Eg: a bike might have a 105 "groupset" but then it'll have a Sora BB and/or Tektro brakes, and the price will be identical to a bike which has a complete 105 groupset.
__PG__ wrote:So what objective criteria would a purchase use to buy a bike?

You can't. I mean, you can objectively make a short list of the bikes you think you might like, but the final decision has to be a subjective one. Every bike on your short list might ride like rubbish, according to your backside... ;)
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby ausrandoman » Thu Jan 19, 2012 12:47 pm

Not a hope. I have never seen data similar to what you post about cars. For almost all purchasers almost all the time, the performance of a Subaru car (or nearly any other make) is independent of the purchaser* but this is far from true for bikes.

If it's reliability you want, and you want to be on the knee of the performance/price curve, just buy Shimano Ultegra and be done with it.


*With the exception of BNA regulars, all of whom are well above average.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby simonn » Thu Jan 19, 2012 1:18 pm

__PG__ wrote:Oppy C6 with Ultegra for 2K


To be objective, a friend and former very high end A grade racer ("A couple more races going his way and he may have been pro", apparently, I did not know him back then) rides one of these. He is fast. Very fast. Very fast indeed. And over very long distances.

Not bling, but who cares? You're not going to get bling for $3k - IIRC that is the average of what people spend on road bikes at LBSs in Australia.

AndrewBurns wrote:My bike has done around 500km now and I've not had any trouble with it


That is not much of a test of robustness. Not meaning to Richard swing, I'll have done almost 500km this week by Sunday (albeit on two different bikes and if all goes to plan). Not common for me, but I did this weekly distance 3 or 4 times last year.
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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby DaveOZ » Thu Jan 19, 2012 1:26 pm

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Re: Source of objective road bike advice?

Postby gururug » Thu Jan 19, 2012 1:36 pm

The reason these forums are so successful is partly due to the bias and misinformation or total lack of information that can be had in the retail bicycle sector.

Sounds like you might want to invest in a quality gruppo rival/105 min by your taste your likely a campag person.

With that budget though, you'll be left with hardly anything for the rest of the bike so you can either get a new/second hand "ford" to whack the gruppo on or just settle for a holden ( giant ).

Good luck!
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