Marc Divall has a surprising piece of advice for those who want a top bike experience. Before selecting the Shimano components or the best gear wheel, he says, "The biggest piece of advice is to just have fun, or you will burn out very quickly. Don't get into equipment too much. Those little things will obviously help you, but don't get obsessed about it."
But he does say that a bike, road or mountain, that works correctly with the right stuff, will cause you to enjoy riding a lot more, and help you ride faster.
Divall is a bike tech at Contender Bike Shop in Salt Lake, which has just been named the nation's top pro bike shop by Bike Retailer Magazine. Divall has worked on bikes for Dave Zabriski, George Hincapie, Bob Roll and many of the top Utah riders. He sees a lot of weekend road racers who lust for a set of $5,000 Kevlar lightweight wheels, but he advises thinking about such a purchase first.
"You can get a decent set of wheels for under $1,000, and you can go pretty far on a set of wheels for a whole lot less," Divall says.
He explains that a good road rider may notice a difference between a set of $5,000 and $500 wheels in a century, but not unless the rider is at a level where they can really use that caliber of wheel.
"The lighter wheel makes the effort of turning the bike a lot less, because the aerodynamics and bearings convert into less effort in moving the bike forward. But you can do well on a set of wheels that cost considerably less.," Divall repeats.
While a lightweight frame, wheels and quality components are the top three factors in an elegant bike, there is something even more important for a good ride or a good race: proper fit.
"Better athletes who are just getting into serious racing, and lower amateur racers often neglect this. Those who are just starting to race should know that a professional bike fit can help their results more than they could imagine. If your bike doesn't fit properly, you won't be able to use your great bike and its components for your full benefit," Divall says.
At Contender, which caters to racers, fitting is done by a physical therapist, which is also true of other good bike shops. The fitting will cost between $100-150, and take about one hour. More thorough fits involve stretch and flexibility testing. For regular recreational riders who don't need such thorough work, many bike shop employees are trained in the complex art of bike fitting.
"I would suggest this for those who just enjoy riding or use their bikes for transportation, even if they don't race. Like most good shops, we do a free fitting when someone buys a bike from us. We will even do a more involved fitting for $50-$100 if you don't purchase your bike from us," Divall says.
Many mountain bike riders just get on a bike and try to ride, without understanding that it needs a fit as much as a road bike, not only for handling and aerodynamics, but for power transfer. A bad fit will place abnormal stress on the rider's hips and knees, as well as the wrists and back. If you hurt after a hard mountain bike ride, your bike's fit may be the problem---and it may be doing damage to your spine and joints as well.
Divall also has other advice for two-wheelers: "Racers know to get a tune up for their bike at the beginning of the season, but not everyone else does. Preventative maintenance is important, so is keeping the bike lubed and maintained. Everyone should know how to lube a bike and change a flat tire."
A good tune-up usually costs about $50. The shop should clean the bike, true the wheels, adjust the braking and shifting. "I would absolutely advise people to have that done," says Divall.
Now, the final question: how much should a rider pay for a decent bike? Divall says that a bike costing between $1,500 to $2,500 should be good enough for a good quality bike to race on or use for transportation for a casual rider.
"You're not going to have the high quality lightweight components, so you'll have more weight, but you'll definitely be able to compete in your category if you race," he said.
And one last piece of advice: work out! Divall says that the Tour riders work out with weights, and you will be a lot better racer if you do the same. You can't ride yourself into shape for racing. He says that leg presses, squats and core exercises will make anyone a better racer.