Then And Now

Today I rode the re-cockpitted Normcore Nostalgia Bike in semi-dirtbag mode:

I include the “semi” qualifier because clipless pedals really aren’t dirtbag. Also, I was wearing special underwears. (It was my first ride in this particular pair, but so far I’d recommend them.) And of course I was wearing a fancy wool jersey, shown here in more appropriate lighting:

I’ve mentioned the anti-cotton fear campaign, but what’s far more tragic is the manner in which the Lycra Industrial Complex has reduced the wool jersey to some sort of retro affectation only suitable for special events like L’Eroica. On the contrary, I’ve come to realize there is probably no better cycling garment than a wool jersey; not only is it comfortable and stylish, but it largely obviates the need for silly and extraneous garments like vests or “gilets” or whatever people are calling them nowadays. And before the Vest Freds get all defensive, please note I’m not talking about proper vests like you wear when it’s really cold, I’m talking about those silly tissue paper vests you put on when it’s ever-so-slightly too chilly for just a jersey. And fine, I suppose you might want a tissue paper vest when coming off that mountain pass, but I’ll just stick a newspaper down the front of my wool jersey, thankyouverymuch.

Speaking of retro affectations that are in fact indispensable, I was always a resolute non-glove-wearer (in summer, that is), but now I wear these on almost every ride:

The added grip and sweat absorption is welcome, they’re nice to look at unlike modern cycling gloves which are without exception really ugly, and most importantly, as someone whose bikes are generally all filthy, it means I can actually finish a ride without having grimy palms.

That’s right, I’m one clean dirtbag.

Anyway, speaking of old stuff and new stuff, cyclists love to argue about whether things are getting better or worse. Some riders revel in electronic drivetrains and carbon and disc brakes and endless refinements, while others pine for the reliability and simplicity of the bikes and components of yesteryear. While I tend to lean in the latter direction, this is of course entirely subjective, and all bikes have their merits, whether old or new. Nevertheless, no matter how you feel about new bike technology, a common refrain is that cycling is also getting more expensive in the process, and that it’s “pricing people out.” But is it true? From time to time I like to look at bike prices over time, and since I’ve been geeking out over the Normcore Nostalgia Bike (NNB) I’m going to revisit the subject int his context.

The NNB is a good subject for this analysis since it was right in the meaty part of Trek’s lineup and I’m fairly sure it was their best-selling road bike. Here it was when it was new in 1989 and retailed for, I believe, $648:

I’m not 100% sure on that price, and though I had one myself back in the 20th century, I bought it used in the ’90s so it was already old. But $648 sounds about right.

According to an online inflation calculator, $648 then is $1,547 today. (Thanks, Biden!) For that money, the nearest equivalent in the Trek lineup is this aluminum Domane-whatever:

Given this, if you’re in the market for a really boring road bike, it seems to me you get more or less the same bike for your money then as you do now, relatively speaking. Sure, in 1989 you got 105 and today you get Sora, but I’d argue that’s meaningless–especially when you consider that, regardless of model, you get more “features” now than you did then. I mean if you’re a jorts-wearing dirtbag like me you may not want those features, but if you’re a typical person searching for a really boring road bike you’re going to expect if not require stuff like disc brakes, integrated shifting, ugly-ass shaped tubing, and so forth, and there’s no question newer bikes are more refined. And yet they haven’t really increased in price if you account for inflation.

Of course the question remains: will a 2022 Domane-whatever look as classy as this in 33 years?

Okay, fine, “classy” may be a little too charitable. Still, the fact remains that, with the possible exception of the 126mm rear spacing (which, despite it being glued aluminum, you could probably get away with spreading a bit), keeping this thing going with fresh parts more or less indefinitely is a simple proposition. You could modernize it with integrated shifters and dual pivot brakes and wider gearing, or you could keep it “classic,” either way.

As for the Domane, we’ll have to see how a bike like that will age. Unlike the 1200, you can’t really turn to the used market for budget components since it’s not compatible with a lot of those components. (For example there are decades’ worth of used wheels you could use on the 1200; this is not the case with the Domane.) Nevertheless, odds are it will be similarly straightforward to keep the Domane rolling, and like any bike it’s really a matter of it having an owner who cares about it enough to maintain it. No matter what a bike is made of or how much it costs, ultimately its lifespan is determined by its owner’s attention span. People replace bikes because they get bored of them, not because they need new ones.

Really, the biggest difference between now and then is that back then a moderately-priced road bike was still made by hand in the United States. For all their ubiquity, those bonded Treks were built in Wisconsin using what was actually a pretty sophisticated framebuilding technique. Today you’d have one guy with elaborate tattoos building these frames one at a time in his garage and charging $5,000 apiece.

Until that happens, feel free to make me an offer. $5,000 seems reasonable, but I’m open to $4,500.

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