The Outsider: Bikes and the Law of Diminishing Returns

A few weeks ago in this column I wrote “An Idiot’s Guide to mountain bike purchase,” explaining the ins and outs of purchasing bikes on the second hand market for those folks who don’t have the capital to walk into a shop and buy a bike straight off
the shelf.

This week, I’m doing the complete opposite.

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Even amongst the mostly financially deprived Whistler ski bum population, there are people who are willing to pay good money for the best products. It may be because they chose mountain biking over having kids and taking beach holidays, or maybe they simply work their asses off banging nails and sitting in front of LCD screens all day — probably a bit of both.

If you are ready to spend money on a new bike with higher value than most of the cars in Whistler, then you’re not going to make that purchase without first doing some research. Online reviews, spec sheets and photos/videos of World Cup racers demonstrating how much better they ride than you is all well and good, but the most important thing is to see how a new bike feels. And the only way to feel a bike isn’t simply throwing a leg over it and riding it around the car park in front of the bike shop, it’s by getting that new whip out on trails.

A bunch of bike shops offer high-end demo rentals in the Whistler, for example Fanatykco stock the best Specialized and Norco bikes, Arbutus Routes have a full line of the exotic (and very expensive) Yetis. But shops need to stick to their contracted brands. If you want to properly test a full range of frame geometries and styles, your best bet is to attend a demo event. Enter Outerbike Whistler.

Riding on the coattails of Outerbike Moab, a now semi-annual demo event in the Moab desert in Utah, this past weekend was the first time Outerbike had set foot in Canada. Some big-name brands were there like Norco, Kona and Rocky Mountain, but I was more curious about the smaller operations such as Transition and the Durango Bike Company, as well as brands like Ibis who strictly manufacturer trail bikes and encourage customization.

There are two rules when it comes to buying mountain bikes. One is “you get what you pay for,” which applies more so to the less expensive end of the spectrum. For example, if you spend $1,000 on a second-hand bike, you’d be getting more value for your money than buying four poorly manufactured bikes from Canadian Tire at $250 each.

The other rule is the Law of Diminishing Returns, which applies to pretty much everything material; cars, homes, even dish soap. This law states that as you go up exponentially in price, the tangible return on that investment gets more and more marginal.

For example, the difference between $500 and a $1,500 bike is substantially more than a $6,000 versus a $10,000 bike. With that in mind, how did these carbon-framed, race-ready, abhorrently expensive bikes fair against my rank-and-file $1,500 Norco Shinobi?

To be fair, riding the full carbon Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition ($6,699) made me feel like an Enduro World Series racer, even if I wasn’t travelling as fast. The precise (and adjustable!) geometry was perfect for gliding over roots and accelerating through rock gardens, both uphill and downhill. The Ibis Mojo HD ($7,600 and up) showed what was possible with its new wider 741 carbon rims, allowing me unprecedented traction and stability during cornering on the rocky and off-camber trails we have here in Whistler.

Whether or not bikes like this are “worth the money” depends a bit on your perspective. If you’re in the Outerbike attendees’ median income range of $97,000 USD per year, then absolutely. If you’re like me and would have to sell off the rest of your assets to even afford the pro deal, then probably not. In any case, a ticket to Outerbike lets you try the most beautifully engineered mountain bikes in the industry.

No doubt jumping back on my aluminum Shinobi will feel a tad disappointing.

Vince Shuley fell in love with a few different bikes at Outerbike. For questions, comments or suggestions to The Outsider email vshuley@whistlerquestion.com or Twitter @vinceshuley.

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