Riddle Me This: When Is a Bag Like a Bike?

Birkin bag
$12,000 Hermes bag
SuperSix pic
$13,000 Cannondale SuperSix Evo Black

 $13,000 Cannondale SuperSix Evo Black

When was the last time someone asked you how much does your bike cost and then gasped when you told them. “That much?! Why, I can buy a used car for the same money!” implying that you must be bonkers to spend a seemingly princely sum for “just” a bicycle. You can prattle on about your super high tech carbon frame, the high tech shifters, the ultralight wheels, but what they can’t get past is the extravagance of the price. What is a reasonable amount to spend on a good bike these days? It’s pretty difficult to get out of bike shop for less than a couple grand for a decent road bike and spending four or five thousand for a higher end rig wouldn’t be surprising. Spending north of $5,000 is when even avid cyclists start to question their sanity, yet you’ll see bikes between $10,000 and $15,000 from big names such as Specialized, Cannondale, and Trek, and these aren’t even custom bikes! It’s easy to lose perspective after you fall head-over-heels into cycling. Getting a second mortgage to buy a new bike starts to sound like a sane decision. Um, it’s not, right? A $10,000 bike seems beyond extravagance and enters the realm of excrescent indulgence. Lifestyles of the rich and famous? Hardly. More like fueling an uncontrolled addiction. Yet I find myself fantasizing about the $13,000 Cannondale SuperSix Evo Black…

Dealing with an obsession with unattainable superbikes wasn’t helped by reading the March 18 New Yorker, in which an article in the “Talk of the Town” section recounts a modern day true story of a 31-year old advertising manager who purchased a $12,000 Hermes Birkin bag. What’s a Birkin bag you ask? You obviously don’t read Vogue! Here‘s a short and sweet summary. This guy wasn’t a man of means; according to the article he earned “in the mid-five figures.” In other words, that Birkin bag purchase represented about a fifth of his annual pretax income. He had been saving to buy a Birkin bag, which can vary in price from $9,000 to $150,000 according to Wikipedia, for eight years. It’s so expensive that he has to keep his eye on it all the time to prevent it from being filched. His friends come by to have their picture taken with his purse. Wow.

Now, does this all seem uncomfortably familiar? Would I spend $10,000 on a bag? $1,000? $500? I did once buy a Rapha backpack for less than $200, and that’s sort of like a man bag, right? Not having swallowed the bag Kool-Aid, I don’t regularly walk into Hermes stores to ogle the wares. Two hundred dollars could probably buy you a “bike” at WalMart or Costco these days and for most people that seems like a perfectly fine sum to spend. [Update: bikes at Costco cost–gasp–$300.] But rather than being perplexed or astonished by his decision–as most readers would, I imagine–I completely identified with it. Once you fall into cycling it’s all too easy to start spending more money for lighter/better/faster/cooler. We know how much pleasure we derive from cycling and spending more money to make that time even more pleasurable is a no-brainer. Plus, like the young man in the article we get a certain pride of ownership at having a better bike. Slowly but surely spending $13,000 for a SuperSix Evo Black ceases to be insanity and we’re plotting how to round up the cash to do the deal. Yeah, an inexpensive purse from Macy’s will allow you to tote all your stuff around, but a Birkin bag is well beyond mere functionality. As much as we would like to fool ourselves that a $10,000 carbon bike with electronic shifting is going to rock our world, a sensibly priced steel or aluminum bike with good ol’ Shimano 105 for less than $1,800 is going to be plenty of fun to ride. So, why do I keep looking at that Cannondale?? I’ll echo the words of the bag man: “Don’t get me wrong: I do not think this is worth $12,000. But I think he [his boyfriend] understands that it is worth it to me.”