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Depreciation, Your Bike, and How to Win

By Bruce Lin

People who aren’t immersed in the world of cycling are often surprised by just how expensive bikes are. It’s not uncommon for high-end bikes to cost several thousand dollars, with some super-bikes exceeding the $10,000 mark. These days there are plenty of people out there riding a bike that costs more than the car they drive. As bike prices continue to creep higher, so too does the cost of depreciation. Consumers have to expect their bikes to lose significant value the moment they ride it.

No one likes to see their money disappear. Taking proper care of your bike can help it hold value, but the bike market is constantly changing and there are some things that are out of your control. The Pro’s Closet holds a unique position in the cycling industry. As the leaders in buying and selling used bikes, we have carefully studied the used market, tracked trends and patterns, and accumulated a mountain of data that we can use to help us understand bike depreciation and make productive buying and selling decisions.

Here are five common traits we’ve noticed for bikes that hold value well. Using this information when making your next purchase could help you resist the gut-wrenching effects of depreciation in the future.

Strong Brands

What’s in a name? Well, consumers are often willing to pay more for a product, just because of brand recognition, even if the level of quality is no different from a competitor. Purchasing from a strong brand is the most obvious thing that ensures your bike will hold its value. Our selection of pre-owned bikes spans a huge range of brands, and there are plenty of desirable brands to choose from. But if you’re interested in the cream of the crop, there are three brands that stand out when it comes time to sell:

  • Yeti
  • Santa Cruz
  • Specialized

Yeti and Santa Cruz beat out many larger brands, which may be surprising since both companies sell primarily mountain bikes. But they consistently make bikes that are of high quality, desirable, and perhaps most importantly, backed by a strong brand image. Their reputation is unparalleled, leading to intense customer loyalty.

Specialized also manages to stand apart from its rivals thanks to its plethora of high-end bike options. These bikes have great success in pro races, building a solid reputation that makes Specialized a go-to brand for many serious and aspiring riders.

Mass Appeal

Niche bikes are cool. Some of the most amazing bikes that come through our shop are tailored for a unique type of riding. While this sort specificity is easy to appreciate, for the majority of consumers it’s hard to justify spending money on.

Generally, the more proprietary, niche, or specific a bike is in its purpose, the more likely it is to depreciate faster. This is partially linked to brand recognition too. A bike from a smaller, more niche brand likely won’t hold its value as well as a bike built by a brand with wider appeal.

Consider an example of two different gravel bikes. The Santa Cruz Stigmata is a cyclocross/gravel bike designed to excel at a wide range of riding styles, with geometry and components that make it suited for everything from pure cyclocross to gravel events like Lost and Found or Grinduro. Compare that to a boutique steel gravel bike, custom-made for a specific rider by a small builder, with mountain bike tires and extreme geometry that works well on singletrack and when loaded for touring. In this case, the Stigmata will be easier to sell and will have better resale value because it suits a wider pool of riders.

Don't let this stop you from getting the perfect bike for your needs, but if you're the type of person who likes to regularly upgrade to something new and different, be prepared to take a hit on resale value.

Current Technology

Cycling is amazing because bike technology changes and evolves at breakneck speed. Bikes get incrementally better every year. As every advertisement will tell you, they are now lighter, faster, stiffer, and more aerodynamic than ever. The downside, however, is that constant progress can make otherwise nice bikes feel dated very quickly. This is often reflected in how bikes depreciate faster as they age. If a new standard takes over the industry, any bikes still utilizing the older standard face accelerated depreciation.

The rapid advancement and growth of 27.5” and 29” mountain bike wheels is a great example of new technology clashing with the old. Within only a few years, almost no brands were producing 26”-wheeled cross-country, trail, or enduro bikes. The value of 26” bikes dropped sharply. This is one of the most extreme examples, but there are plenty of other standards and technologies displacing older ones like disc brakes, thru-axles, Boost axle spacing, progressive geometry, and electronic drivetrains.

The best way to stay ahead of technological progress is to always be on the most current and updated bike you can afford. With convenient options like our Guaranteed Buyback program, it’s easy to stay ahead of changing standards and tech. 

Unfortunately, the average cyclist can't always be buying and selling bikes every year or two. When you are buying a pre-owned bike, think about your priorities: Do you want a capable bike that's more affordable up front because it has older technology? Or, do you want to limit depreciation and keep up with modern standards that might make upgrades easier to find? 

It is tricky to balance those two opposing factors. Here's a general overview of industry standards — which are current, which are likely in the future, and which are generally outdated to help you shop smarter.

Current Standards for New Drop-Bar Bikes (road, gravel, cyclocross): Hydraulic disc brakes, 11-speed drivetrain, thru-axle wheels, frame, and fork. 

Likely Future Standards for New Road Bikes: 12-speed drivetrains, proliferation of electronic and/or wireless electronic drivetrains at all price points.

Old Standards for Road Bikes: Rim brakes, 10-speed drivetrains, disc brakes combined with quick-release axles.

Current Standards for New Mountain Bikes: 27.5" or 29" wheels, Boost hub/wheel spacing, wide rims (30mm or more), tubeless tires, 11- or 12-speed single-chainring drivetrains.

Likely Future Standards for New Mountain Bikes: 12-speed drivetrains, more electronic and/or wireless electronic drivetrains, electronic suspension components like Fox Live Valve.

Old Standards for Mountain Bikes: Rim brakes, quick-release axles, triple-chainring drivetrains, 10-speed drivetrains, non-tubeless tires, non-Boost spacing wheels/frame/fork.

Frame Material

Mosaic bike frames

A consistent trend we’ve seen is how frame material factors into depreciation. Certain frame materials are commonly used on high-end bikes, which naturally depreciate less than lower-end bikes. When it comes to holding value there is a clear hierarchy: 

  • Titanium
  • High-end Carbon / High-end Steel
  • Budget Carbon / Budget Steel / Aluminum

Titanium is the top choice if you want a bike that will stand the test of time. It’s expensive and harder to work with than steel. Budget or entry-level bikes with titanium frames basically don’t exist. It also has a reputation for exceptional durability and corrosion resistance, which improves consumer confidence when buying second-hand. We’ve seen even vintage titanium bikes can resist depreciation surprisingly well.

High-end carbon and boutique steel bikes follow closely behind. Consider that Yeti, Santa Cruz, and Specialized all have different carbon levels. The high-end Turq (Yeti), CC (Santa Cruz), and S-Works FACT 11r (Specialized) frame options will depreciate much less than lower level carbon frames that use more fillers to lower cost at the expense of weight. The up-front cost will be much higher, but these no-compromise frames hold their value better.

With carbon, it’s worth noting that the condition of the frame will have a huge effect on bike value. Broken carbon is an issue that’s common enough to make many secondhand buyers wary. This is why every bike that comes through our shop must undergo a full inspection by a professional mechanic before it can be sold. This ensures every frame meets our standards and is safe to ride. Fortunately, there are several companies that specialize in carbon fiber repair, and while it won't look like new after they patch up damage, it should be structurally sound.

In general, aluminum sits lower on the hierarchy as it’s the common choice for budget and entry-level bikes, which all struggle to hold value. There are a few exceptions where certain special models are desirable, but more often than not, aluminum bikes will see the greatest amount of depreciation in their lifetimes. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with aluminum bikes. They are robust, affordable, and make a great entry point for budget racers and newer riders.

The Value of Upgrades

Carbon bike wheels

People often ask us how upgrades will affect the value of a bike. It may disappoint you to hear that, in our experience, most upgrades don’t actually increase a bike’s value. This is especially true for touch-points like handlebars and saddles, and other fit-specific components like stems, seatposts, and cranks. Most upgrades are dictated by personal taste, so what you love might not appeal to your prospective buyer. Often, the best way to preserve a bike's resale value is to keep it as stock as possible.

However, there are three major exceptions:

  • Wheels
  • Power meters
  • Suspension

Wheels are the upgrade that will make the biggest difference in a bike’s performance and its value. Sometimes high-end wheels cost as much as the frame. A bike with nice carbon wheels will often fetch significantly more than the same bike with budget wheels.

We’ve also seen power meters hold value well, so they are often worth keeping on the bike. This mostly applies to high-performance road, gravel, and XC bikes that will attract competitive racers who want data to train effectively.

For mountain bikes, good suspension can completely change the ride feel and capabilities of a bike. High-end options like Fox Factory and RockShox Ultimate suspension components can greatly change a buyer’s perception of a bike's quality, especially if it has been recently serviced.

Takeaways

So, if you want a bike that will depreciate the least amount possible, you’ll need to buy the most-popular, current-model-year, titanium Yeti, Santa Cruz, or Specialized, outfitted with carbon wheels, a power meter, and top-of-the-line suspension. Well, you can’t. None of those brands make titanium bikes. Plus, something that tricked-out would be extremely expensive. Maybe you can't afford all of those high-end details, but you can pick and choose a few key features that you want to help your next purchase hold its value as long as possible.

But then again, bikes are meant to be fun, and you don’t need to dismiss a bike you might love simply because it doesn’t satisfy the above recommendations. Sometimes the coolest bikes are the ones you shouldn’t have bought.