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Dear Frank : Velominatus Budgetatus

Budget road bikes
Frank Strack
6 May 2016

Frank Strack, founding father of the Velominati, navigates a (relatively) safe path through the marital minefield of money.

Dear Frank,

My wife has set a limit on my annual cycling spending (apparently food and clothes for the kids are more important). I’ve got my eye on a bike that exceeds this budget. What do you suggest is my best course of action? 

Liam, by email

Dear Liam

I’m on a plane to Belgium right now, preparing for a week on the cobbles in (hopefully) rotten weather. I was telling a work colleague about the trip the other day, on a mobile phone over a poor connection. He asked something that sounded like, ‘Are you taking your bike with you?’ I immediately answered, ‘Of course – I’d never go without her. Are you kidding me?’ 

He responded with, ‘I’m glad to hear that. She’ll enjoy the trip.’ Him not being a Cyclist, his willingness to anthropomorphise my bicycle brought me concern. I quickly realised what he had actually asked – whether my partner was joining me. ‘Oh, I misunderstood you. No, she’s not coming. I thought you asked if I was bringing my bike.’

Despite my adherence to Rule 11 [‘Family does not come first. The bike does’], the first thing I’ll say is that your wife sounds pretty smart. My partner is a Cyclist and between the two of us, we’re pretty hard on the pocket book. Having a budget would probably make both of us happier, but that sounds too much like ‘work’ or ‘planning’ and we’re too busy killing it on the bike all the time for that kind of nonsense.

Unhip as they may be, budgets are a reality for most of us, whether imposed by a smarter half or by nasty calls from the bank. More importantly, Rule 11 is a strategy, not a tactic; the goal is to always continue riding. Lying to your wife regarding a new bicycle could sabotage that plan, so I recommend an alternate means of acquisition.

Allow me introduce a term that was introduced by a Velominati community member, @Cyclops: ‘Velominatus Budgetatus’. Basically, this concept centres on finding a way to your dream machine while staying within your budget. It requires knowledge, patience and a willingness to grab an opportunity when it comes along.

The easiest and most rewarding way is to pick a local bike shop or two and frequent them almost exclusively. Make friends with them, and show loyalty by buying things you could get for less online. If you’re not a douchebag and can make enjoyable conversation, you’ll soon find yourself getting discounts and inside deals – maybe a rental wheelset or frame is coming up for sale and you might be offered first refusal. (I spend so much time at my local bike shops talking to the mechanics that I’m half-wondering if they’re going to introduce a cover charge to compensate for the loss of productivity of the staff while I’m there.)

The next step is to learn about all the parts that make up your dream bike. The frame, bars, stem, crankset, drivetrain, brakes, saddle: all of these elements comprise highly personal decisions and it is unlikely that a stock bike actually has all your dream parts on it. A bad saddle, by the way, is akin to that night in college you went home with a cute girl only to find out she was actually a he and when you tried to put your parts together, nothing worked out as planned.

Then there is the internet. If you’re prepared to forgo warranty and maintenance support and install the parts yourself, the web is a good means to the end of acquiring parts on the cheap. It is paramount, however, that you know what you’re buying and are prepared for the possibility you get screwed. When that happens (it will), be prepared to deal with it yourself – or bring some beer and a wad of tipping cash with you if you’re resorting to the local bike shop to help you out of your jam.

With patience and knowledge, assembling your dream bike doesn’t have to be a budget breaker, but it does require that you understand your machine, knowing what parts to buy when and where, and what is involved in building and maintaining it. And that, of course, is the most beautiful aspect of La Vie Velominatus.

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