How much should you spend on a bike?

People who are thinking of buying a bike often ask me how much they should spend.

Usually, the first thing that pops into my head is: "How long is a piece of string?" But I try not to voice it too often.

The most useful response is, "what kind of riding do you want to do?". Do they want to commute, to go on Sunday meanders with the spouse, hit the offroad trails, or are they thinking about serious exercise, maybe even racing?

The second question could be, "how much do you want to spend?". After all, you can buy a beach cruiser for several thousand dollars – or a baseline racer for several hundred.

Some people have an idea of what they want to achieve, like the friend of mine who bought her first bike after she'd signed up for Melbourne's 200km Bay in a Day – three months before the event. I'm sure she could have done it on a ladies' sit-up bike with a basket on the front, but she wisely went with something more competitive.

But many people are simply looking for a way into cycling, and are happy to start with bread and butter before finding their very own black caviar.

As a cyclist, I'm not much of a shopper. Due to my ridiculous height, I don't often see a bike that will fit me – a handy prophylactic against wandering into a shop with a credit card, and leaving with something spectacular.

I've bought five bikes in the past 10 years – doing my bit to keep up the statistics that Australians buy more bikes than cars per annum. I've made mistakes, made great choices, and learned a few things along the way:

Buying cheap can be expensive: My first adult bike, back in 2002, was an MTB-ish thing that cost a few hundred dollars. I was plainly too heavy for it and kept busting spokes on the back wheel. A decent replacement wheel was going to cost me a quarter of the purchase price. Instead, I sold it cheap to a (much lighter) friend and she happily used it for years as a utility bike.

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Don't knock the big brands: The replacement was a hybrid from a major CBD retailer. After a few years, the chain stay cracked – and the shop replaced the frame with a new one. A nice bit of public relations, because I've been praising that shop to people ever since.

Right for you: If you're going to get immersed, the ideal bike makes all the difference. Check out as many as you can, in as many shops as you can; read up; ask friends. My best option was to have one made for me. It wasn't cheap but I knew I wanted to get more serious. Seven years on, my bespoke steel roadie is still rolling – and fits like a glove.

Don't disregard advice: After a couple of tours on a bike that was worryingly flexy, I wanted a decent frame. The shop bloke told me I should ride a tourer with disc brakes – which meant buying new wheels, doubling my outlay (and his profits). Asking around, I found a lot of trusted opinions to back him up. On epic alpine descents, at a total weight approaching 150kg, those heat-dissipating discs have been worth every dollar spent.

So, how much for a bike? I've occasionally held the theory that if you want to do some semi-serious and hassle-free riding, and are buying from a shop, you shouldn't dip too far below $700.

But that's a random rule of thumb from someone who tends to break things. There are known brands that'll sort you out for half that price, and I know people who've been perfectly happy with the outcome. Or, you can delve into a discount department store and get something for way less, depending on your needs.

Furthermore, you don't have to be buying out of shops at all, what with the interwebs. I know a lot of cyclists who have got great deals buying second-hand, but they did know what they were looking for. And sometimes, a pre-loved bike has worn components that will soon need replacing, negating your savings.

On the other end of the equation, you can go and buy a state-of-the-art carbon dream machine with top-of-the-line componentry, worthy of the pros, if that makes you happy. It's worth noting that many of the teams in this year's Tour de France were using bikes that cost less than $10,000. How much to buy a formula one car?

That's the great thing about the people's vehicle – there is no "one style fits all". You could find your perfect steed, first time, and never desire another. You might have a harem of treadlies, love them each in their own way but never be quite satisfied. You might snap up a rare vintage frame for $20 at a garage sale, and turn it into your pride and joy.

Like cycling itself, buying bikes is often a journey as much as a destination. And the price tag will likely be forgotten when you're enjoying the ride.

How much is the most you'd spend on a bicycle? Is there a minimum price when buying new? What was your best buy so far?

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