Bikes are more expensive than they used to be, but is that inflation and economics, or evil corporations gouging us for cash? Let’s crunch the numbers and find out…

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Are we all being ripped off? Do mountain bikes cost too much money? Are big brands creaming high profits off the top? Or is this just the price of our sport in an era of high inflation?

These are questions all of us have probably asked recently, as the price of practically everything has gone through the roof. But rather than get carried away on a wave of emotions, I want to try and answer these questions objectively, and figure out if the big brands are making obscene profits, or whether the prices we’re paying can actually be justified.

Scott Lumen

The Scott Lumen eRide 900 SL was one of the most expensive bikes ever at launch, it cost £14,699

To help me in that task, we’re in a unique position here at MBR as I can look through a near 30-year archive of magazines, including – for certain dates – comprehensive listings for every bike on sale. We can literally chart the price of the best mountain bikes over the last three decades to try and figure out what they used to cost, and what we actually got for the money.

The inflation story

The first thing to say though is that inflation makes this process really, really hard. Obviously we can’t just compare a bike from 2014 and 2024 on price in pounds alone and expect to come away with an accurate answer because the purchasing power of our money has changed. Without getting too techie about it – let me put my old financial journo hat back on for a minute – inflation is the increase in prices over time. In theory your wages or salary or savings should increase in line with that and nullify it, although whether that actually happens is a debate for another day. And another website!

Alan Muldoon riding the Canyon Spectral:ON CF 9 electric mountain bike

Add :On to a Canyon – or most e-bikes in fact, and you’ll add some £1,500-£2,000 to the price

E-bikes, rip-off or ripping?

Let’s talk about e-bikes first then, I don’t think we need to look too hard to prove e-bikes cost more money than regular bikes. Pull up Canyon’s site and you’ll see their most affordable Spectral:On – the brand’s bread and butter trail e-bike – starts from £4,799, while the non-motorised Spectral is £3,299.

Same story with Merida, the eOne-Sixty 10k enduro bike is £10,500, while the regular pedal powered One-Sixty 10k is a mere £9,000 – it’s pretty much the same bike, but one has a motor in it.

Canyon Neuron:ON CF9

Motor, battery, display and all the gubbins adds up to £2,000 to the price of a bike

We could go on, suffice to say it’s largely the same story across all brands; you have to spend something like £1,500 to £2,000 more for an e-bike than you do an analogue model. Which pays for the motor, battery, display, all the connections and extra mounting and reinforcements to the frame, as well as the additional warranty costs to cover all that extra complexity.

To me that sounds like a reasonable figure to pay, I know you can get a cheap frame from China for $800, and a budget motor and battery for about the same, and build up your own bike. But it’s not slick, it’s not as nicely integrated, it might catch on fire, and honestly it doesn’t actually save you much money.

YT Decoy CF Pro Race

The Decoy’s barely changed in five years, but the price has gone up… inflation or unfair pricing?

The Decoy scale

Let’s look at the price of e-bikes over time then. The YT Decoy is a great case study, it came out in 2019 and apart from a few tweaks it’s not changed much in the five years since. It is practically the same frame, and while its changed motor, the brand has always stuck with Shimano’s top performing unit.

YT Decoy CF Pro Race

The YT Decoy was brilliant from the off, with sublime suspension and great geometry

Five years ago the top end CF Pro Race model cost £5,999, while today the best-specced Decoy is the Core 5 at £7,999. Factor in inflation through the Bank of England’s calculator (which is a really neat tool, btw) and really it should cost £7,401.73.

That’s not all either, in the beginning, that Decoy came with carbon E*Thirteen E*Spec Race wheels, while the new bike gets Crankbrothers Synthesis Alloy wheels, which are a huge markdown in terms of cost. Sounds like YT is well and truly ripping us off then, to the tune of £600 plus the price of a set of carbon wheels.

YT Decoy Core MX 4

The new YT Decoy’s extra battery capacity makes it a better bike than the old model though

It’s not that simple though, because YT has an almost permanent sale running, at the moment you can get the Decoy Core 5 for just £6,999, which means that in real terms the price has gone down.

YT Decoy Core MX 4

YT has taken away the carbon wheels from its top-end Decoy, but it’s added something far more useful – that 720Wh battery

Is it cheating to factor that in? Maybe, but there’s also another point to consider – after riding the original and the newbie I’d happily state the 2024 Decoy is a much better bike all round, those alloy wheels perhaps notwithstanding. The old bike from 2019 had a smaller 540Wh battery and a Fox Factory 36 fork, while the new bike gets a 720Wh battery and a chunky Fox Factory 38… I know which one I’d rather be riding.

A decade of inflation

OK, let’s roll the clock back even further, and check out the Specialized Stumpjumper from 2012. Going back this far makes it really difficult to compare the spec of bikes as things like 36mm stanchion shocks, internal routed dropper posts, 29in wheels or even single-ring drivetrains hadn’t become mainstream yet. (Yes, I’m pretty sure they had appeared on some out-there bikes and in garden shed designs, but they weren’t commonplace.)

2012 Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Evo

The 2012 Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Evo was a great bike, check out the 1×11 drivetrain, the first time we’d seen one

So although the Stumpjumper Expert Evo has changed plenty over time, I still think it’s a good comparison because then, as now, it was a bike geared for trail riders who want to shred. It was and is the model Specialized points to as a bike that covers the middle ground.

OK, so the 2012 Stumpy cost £3,800 – today the full price has jumped up to £5,750. But Andrew Bailey (the BoE guv’nor) reckons the bike should be something like £5,262.65, which suggests Specialized has inflated the price by some £500 here.

Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Expert

Today’s Specialized Stumpjumper Evo Expert is better in every way from the 2012 bike, but it’s also more expensive

Again though, things are never as simple as they seem. We’re not really comparing apples with apples, because the vintage Stumpy really only had half a carbon frame, opting for an alloy back end to keep costs down, while the modern Expert Evo gets a full carbon frame. Is that worth an extra £500 to riders?

What I do know is that categorically, 100%, the new bike is better to ride. I would bet my mortgage on it, the 5.04% rate notwithstanding. I mean, let me just run my eyes over the old spec for you – it came with Fox’s Float RP23 suspension, 32mm stanchion forks, a SRAM 2×10 drivetrain and 26in wheels! It also had a 67.5º head angle and a wheelbase of 1,125mm in size large. Who would or could actually ride that bike?! I’d probably die. And while geometry and sizing evolution doesn’t directly cost extra, bigger forks, wheels, and shocks do. In pure materials alone.

Issue 1 of mbr on the right, and our 25th year anniversary issue in 2022… the cover price had also been bumped up by inflation

The dawn of time

Now I’ve got one more bike to use as an example, and for this we have to go back to a time before the internet became mainstream. No YouTube! If you’re under 30 you’re probably wondering how people communicated, entertained each other or even survived.

Magazines, that’s how. Non-streaming static screenshots glued together, that could still store and display information. This here is a real magazine from 2004, inside we reviewed the best trail bikes of 2004, most of which don’t exist anymore.

The Stage Evo Pro is the natural successor to the famous Fives of the noughties, and it’s actually pretty well priced even allowing for inflation in the Orange sale right now

But some do, specifically the Orange Five Pro, £2,387 in 2004, which should be £4,124 in 2023 allowing for inflation. And while the Five Pro was actually dropped last year, it’s a close enough approximation of the 2023 Stage Evo Pro, which retailed at £4,600, or £3,680 on sale now. So, it’s the same story as the Decoy, a little over at full price, a little under when it’s on sale.

That’s it then, bike companies are chucking £500 onto the top line of their higher end bikes and raking in the profit. That’s one conclusion from this trawl through time. The other is that inflation has hit bike prices more than the average rate, and as such mountain bikes cost relatively more than, say bananas, iPhones or crude oil. This is a much more likely explanation because all the bikes I looked at – and I looked at a lot more than I’ve talked about here – had increased similarly in price.

Nukeproof Carbon Megawatt

Nukeproof.. gone but not forgotten. The Megawatt was an astonishingly good bike, and epitomised the pressure Nukeproof put on established brands

We’ve never had it so good

And the prices could be so much higher. Since 2012 we’ve had the disrupting influence of direct-sales brands, cutting out the middleman to slash prices by around 30%. And this healthy competition has forced many traditional dealer brands to get more competitive, whether by reducing dealer margins, or going direct to dealers and eliminating local distributors.

Bike brands have also had to massively expand their model line-ups, which typically adds to retail prices. In 2012 most brands had one wheel size, three frame sizes options, and no e-bikes. Now they regularly offer two wheel size options, five frame sizes, and both electric and analogue versions of the same model, or type of model. More choice always has a cost implication.

What about the budget end of the spectrum?

There’s no arguing that the glass ceiling when it comes to bike prices has been shattered into a million pieces in the last few years, but if we look at entry-level bread and butter trail bikes, the gateway to proper mountain biking hasn’t moved that far. In 2011 we tested six entry-level full-suspension trail bikes. They all cost between £1,200 and £1,300, came with aluminium frames, hydraulic disc brakes, and air forks and shocks. They also had 26in wheels, sketchy geometry, triple chainsets and no dropper posts.

Polygon Siskiu T7

The Polygon Siskiu T7 prives it’s not just the top-end bikes that are doing great things for consumers

Now you can walk into a Go Outdoors store and buy our best budget full-suspension bike – the Polygon Siskiu T7 – for £1,750 and get either 29in or 27.5in wheels, modern geometry, a single-ring drivetrain, four-piston brakes, and a dropper post. That’s considerably more than £400 in performance upgrades. But there’s even a Polygon Siskiu for less than £1,000 that’s still better than any of those bikes we tested in 2011, yet it’s actually cheaper.

Where we as consumers will always have to pay a premium, is at the high-end, and to get our hands on the latest stuff. If you simply must have that just-released model with cutting-edge parts, you’ll have to dig deep. But if you’re happy with the essentials, or something a little more proven, then we’re in a much more powerful position as a consumer in 2024 than we were in the late 1900s (a term my kids now use to make me feel really old).