A bicycle with disk wheel on the left and a bicycle saddle on the right separated by a pile of 100 dollar notes.

Not as s3xy as carbon wheels – consumer perceived value in cycling

Consumer perceived value (CPV) is one of the most widely researched themes in marketing and economics. CPV is the subjective worth that customer places on a good or service. It’s complex, being influenced by several factors such as cultural, social and psychological values. Some factors include perceived scarcity, potential return on investment and more intangible values like status and personal image.

CPV crops up in all sorts of places such as vehicle choice, property prices and, unsurprisingly, in the cycling world. The perceived value of cycling equipment is affected by things like brand, claimed aerodynamic benefit and the status it confers in the Saturday bunch ride.

I often come across the negative side of perceived value in my work. I’ve met clients who will happily spend thousands of dollars on new deep dish carbon wheels or tens of thousands dollars on a new bike but will baulk at paying hundreds of dollars on a new saddle, new handlebars or replacement cranks… despite the fact that doing so will improve their function on the bike.

In this article we’re going to explore the often under rated value of items that are important to bike fit. They might not be as s3xy as new carbon wheels but there is a very good chance that they would have a greater impact on comfort and performance.

Saddles

A client came in recently with debilitating saddle discomfort. She booked a BB interface session and, as part of the service, tried multiple saddles. As we worked through the process my client identified a “7/10” saddle. Not a bad rating, and definitely better than her current saddle, but I wasn’t satisfied. We kept looking.

That’s when we tried a saddle that’s new to my saddle library – the Infinity E2. The client’s immediate response was : “Oh that’s a 10/10! It’s like sitting on a pillow!” Excellent, we had found “the one“… until I mentioned the price. At that point, we went back to “7/10”.

I’m the first to admit that the Infinity bike seat is expensive. It’s $650… and that’s a lot of money in anyone’s book.

Now despite what cynics might think, I direct people to the equipment that is right for them, not the equipment with the highest profit margin. In fact my biggest selling saddle range at the moment is Ninety K. These are very reasonably priced (averaging $150) but seem to work for a lot of people. But if the best saddle (from a fit perspective) happens to be also the most expensive one, it would be remiss of me not to encourage my clients to buy that saddle.

An assortment of NinetyK saddles.

NinetyK saddles are reasonably priced and proving popular amongst my clients.

So what is the value of a saddle? Many are willing to spend a lot of money on equipment that might save them 40 seconds in a time trial or 200g in weight. However, if saddle discomfort stops you training as much as you want or puts you off the bike with saddle sores, then buying an expensive saddle that allows you to train consistently will have a bigger performance effect than, say, aerodynamic wheels or a lighter bike frame.

When considering the value of equipment for a performance point of view, you have to take into account ALL of the things that go into making you faster.
When considering it from a recreational point of view, well that’s easier. Judge equipment on how it affects your enjoyment on the bike. You might just do better to spend $650 on a saddle and forego the s3xy carbon wheels.

Handlebars

These days it’s getting to be more difficult and expensive to change stem length or handlebar width. Some of this is due to the move to carbon bars. A large part is due to the manufacturer’s move to proprietary integrated bar and stem combos.

With an “old school” front end, you can replace handlebars with decent alloy handlebars for less than $150 and stems for around $80. There wasn’t a huge outlay to adjust your front end. These days it can be really expensive to change integrated front ends. And that’s assuming it’s even possible.

Top down picture of integrated handlebar.

Looks good and can do wonderful things for the aerodynamics but if they don't fit you...

Some people are lucky and can adapt to what came on their bike. A significant portion of people aren’t so lucky. They can suffer from a range of problems such as numb hands, neck pain or shoulder injuries. With the front end fixed, many riders move their saddle fore/aft to adjust the reach to the bars. This can compromise a riders’ power production or cause discomfort. In the worst case scenario, it can lead to injuries. The mantra that my clients often hear me repeat is “set up the engine room first and then we’ll address the front end”.

Similar to saddles, many cyclists don’t have a high perceived value for the handlebars. Or the value is placed on form rather than function. That is, a sleek, s3xy, aerodynamic appearance takes precedence over something that fits and is comfortable.

I implore you, if you are thinking of buying a bike with an integrated front end, please confirm that different stem length and handlebar width combinations are available! If not, you’d better hope that what the bike comes with works for you. And if they are available, factor this into the price of the bike purchase.

For further reading on handlebars, see my articles on Finding your optimal drop handlebars, The skinny on handlebar width and Getting the drop on handlebar shape.

Cranks

The last component I’ll discuss in this article are cranks.

Pretty much everyone rides with whatever length crank came on their bike. (I have long been guilty of this myself.) This approach works for the vast majority of people. However for some people, a change in crank length will make a huge difference to their comfort and/or efficiency. These include those who need to decrease hip flexion angle at the top of the pedal stroke and those who’s leg length is shorter or longer than average for someone of their height.

The advantage of the set up in my fit studio is that we can quickly and easily trial different crank lengths. Changing crank length on a bike is not so easy. It requires replacing the crank set and they are expensive.

Adjustable length crakset.

It's quick and easy to adjust crank lenght on the fit bike.

The benefit derived from using the correct crank length is well known. (See, for example the work of Jim Martin.) Despite that being the case, it’s still rare that I recommend a change in crank length to a client. But where it is indicated, the return on money spent is likely higher than the return you’d get from spending more money on more prestigious cycling equipment.

Perceived value

None of the items that I’ve discussed – saddles, handlebars and cranks – are going to attract attention at the café. Your status in the bunch is not suddenly going to increase when you ‘upgrade’. But you might just find that it’s some of the best return on expenditure you can get in the cycling world..

When considering cycling equipment, your perceived value should be set by what will most impact your riding comfort, enjoyment and performance on the bike.