When we talk of components, we’re typically talking about the drivetrain, brakes, and hubs. The drivetrain consists of the bottom bracket, chain, front and rear derailers, and shifters.
There are several manufacturers of components worldwide and all have a range that is called “crappy.” They all have a range called “expensive” too, and a few have a range called “mid-level,” or “somewhere- in-between”. Most new bikes come with crappy or mid-level components and only really expensive bikes come with expensive components.
As a note here, most of this conversation is really about derailers as they wear out and so many get replaced. Wheels and hubs also figure heavily into this discussion as they do get replaced often. Brakes are less often upgraded as they’re pretty basic. For shifters, see my note below. You will see a lot of bicycles with replacement derailers, wheels, and so on, for sale.
So why even bring this up? Well for roadbikes, a lot of the componentry from the bike boom era was really pretty crappy. And for atb’s of all years, most of it is pretty cheap as well. It tends to be true–to a point–that higher quality bikes tended to have higher quality componentry to begin with.
It really doesn’t make any difference what level of components a bike initially has– as long as the frame fits you well. Other than a few exceptions, almost any bike can have its wheels, hubs, bb, cranks and rings, derailers, brakes–all of it–upgraded to better stuff, and often for less than what a used, high-end bike would cost. Don’t pass a decent, good fitting bike up because it has a plastic derailer or crappy wheels; just figure the upgrades into the cost of the bike. If the bike is ridable as is, upgrades can be done over time, after you become familiar with the bike, and can properly assess its needs.
But it’s easy to go too far the other way as well. Most bicycles and bicyclists aren’t going to benefit much by purchasing a high-end, carbon and titanium derailer that costs 200 bucks. Chances are that there is a basic models for $30 to $50 that will serve your purposes just fine. So don’t pay a premium for a bicycle equipped with expensive components unless there’s a reason, like rarity or collectableness. For everyday riding, most riders don’t need them.
In the end, a $100 bike with $400 worth of components probably isn’t worth $500. It’s like taking a $1000 used car, installing $2000 worth of stereo and trying to resell it for $3000. In the end you have a $1000 car. The seller of the bike would be better off pulling the expensive stuff, replacing it with more modest parts, offering and selling the bike at a more reasonable price, and ebaying the expensive parts. Don’t get sucked into someone else’s poor judgment.
How do we determine what is cheap and what are expensive components? Well, it’s tough. There’s so many manufacturers with so many different models and they use the same names over and over.
This is pretty common in all businesses; how many times has an auto manufacturer recycled a model name to lend credibility to a lesser model. Or they simply rebadge a model under a different make or marque? Lincoln Continentals of the 2000s sure aren’t the same as Continentals of the 1960s. In the 60′s they were the cars of presidents. In the 2000′s? Well, they’re not quite the same.
Bicycle component manufacturers are no different; last years top model name may be attached to this years mid-level model’s name, and in a couple of years it may be the bottom of the line, because the manufacturer knows that customers still identify that name with quality. So you will see a model name used for many years, but unfortunately the quality of the newer components are not as likely to be the same as the older versions.
One thing that experience has taught me is that a seller with expensive components will usually brag about it. “Like Dood, check out this Vintage Campy derailer!”
“Dood–that derailer was Campy’s bottom of the line in 1985 and 25 years later it’s still a piece of crap!”
Because it can be confusing, consider Google as your friend. Look at some bikes, talk to the sellers and ask before you go, take some notes and compare. You’ll pick up on the quality shuffle that the manufacturers play.
So in the end is all of this important? Yes, for two reasons. One, because the quality of components can drive or determine the price of a bike–not because brand x shifts better than brand y. A cheap bike with high quality components is still a cheap bike.
If it’s cheap enough buy it and use the parts on your “good” bike (I do this regularly–I’ve bought many bikes just for the seats. A $100 Brooks saddle on a $25 roadbike is a deal). But to pay top dollar for a cheap bike just because it has expensive derailers isn’t a deal. A decent bike with decent components is often all you need anyway. Later as your riding skills and needs mature you can upgrade.
The second reason it’s important is that poor quality components can be a real detriment to enjoyable riding. Having something not work properly or even break, stranding you somewhere out of cell phone range will put you off riding pretty quickly.
So it’s important to recognize quality; both inferior and good. A decent bike with basic (or even crappy) components can be a really great buy, as long as you know what you’re buying. Just figure on replacing some items sooner–and figure that cost into the price of the bike.
A note on shifters and a warning, just in case you were wondering why I haven’t mentioned them–cheap shifters break. Some shifters are no longer available (a lot of 6 and 7 speed trigger type shifters aren’t available any longer) and generic replacements have to be used. You may lose the indexed shifting feature when doing this. If you find a bike with a broken shifter, call around to see what the local bike shop will charge to repair it. It can turn what looks like a good deal into a really bad deal–really quick. My advice is don’t buy a bike with a broken or wrong shifting action (won’t go into all gears, won’t stay in gear, etc) until you’ve priced a replacement and labor from a bike shop.
And one more thought then you can go, don’t make the mistake of putting high-end parts on a bike that you probably will outgrow and sell. You won’t ride it long enough to appreciate your investment and you won’t get your money back when you sell.
Now go do your homework.