The super bike: is it worth it?
With road bikes ranging from £100 to £10,000 and largely looking the same, it’s hard to justify the added expense for a ‘superbike’. So, what exactly does that extra few thousand pounds get you? We turn to bike hoarder and endurance rider Laura Scott for the answer…
Like most cyclists I know, I take Velominati Rule #12 pretty seriously. ‘While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is ‘n+1’, where ‘n’ is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as ‘s-1’, where ‘s’ is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.’
“When it comes to my personal formula, I own five bikes at the moment, with a sixth on its way. They range in value from about £500-£8,500. To give this some context, I didn’t just wake up one morning and go on a bike-buying binge. It’s crept up on me as my miles have crept up.
“On the lower end of my collection is a Bianchi Pista fixed gear, which is my everyday bike; the one I’m happy to lock up around town. I once rode this bike to Brighton, but realised I needed gears around halfway up Ditchling Beacon. Enter the next bike up.
“Then I started racing endurance and needed a ride with a more comfortable geometry… so I got another bike. Then I decided I wanted to start doing more adventure gravel riding… And before I knew it there were five bikes in my tiny London flat.
“But, what is the difference between a £500 and an £8,500 bike, and is it worth it? If we start with the frame of a high-end bike, you start to realise that not all materials are created equal – and that would include the composites within materials. There is a massive variety, so it’s not just the case of selecting the most expensive material, it’s all about engineers selecting the appropriate material for the experience the manufacturers are trying to achieve.
“In the case of my £8,500 bike, the S-Works Diverge, it was designed with set targets to meet in terms of stiffness, compliance, aerodynamics and so on. To meet these targets, the appropriate materials are selected. So, the stiffer the material, the more expensive it is and the lighter the bike will be, thus making it faster.
“In the case of the lower-end products, the performance targets will be largely the same, but to achieve these targets and meet a lower price point, they have to use a lower-cost material. The bike is still designed to meet the experience of the rider, but with a slightly lower stiffness-to-weight ratio.
“So that’s the frame covered. Then you get into the components, which is where the BIG differences are felt. Top-end bikes like my S-Works have electric gears which allow for smoother, faster, more consistent, more comfortable shifting, which is something performance athletes demand. Once it’s set up to shift perfectly, that’s what it continues to do for mile after mile. After breaking my wrist and collarbone and dislocating my shoulder, I find electronic gearing makes it easier for me to shift gears on long rides when my injuries fatigue.
“Most superbikes also have disk brakes, which offer consistent all-weather braking and power modulation.
The wheel difference
“Wheels will make the biggest performance difference after the frame due to weight and aerodynamics. On a bike like my S-Works, the wheels are of really high quality – the Roval CLX 32 Disc retail at £1,700, which is more than the price of my first bike, in fact.
“Now let’s talk about the feel between a £500 bike and a super machine. For me, it comes down to the stiffness to weight ratio as mentioned above. This means your bike will feel lighter and you’ll feel (and quite often be) faster with less effort. Step away from the science and there’s also the fact that the whole experience feels, frankly, phenomenal.
“When you’re paying for a more expensive bike, you’re paying for better materials and components, with those two things equating to a bike that is faster, more comfortable and with better handling. How much you should pay is entirely up to you, but beware of the slippery slope that is ‘n+1’.”