MTB vs moto prices: rip-off?

Hey Lee,
I like MTBiking and moto like you, and certainly favour MTB. The question I always have is the prices of MTB. A motor bike is not much dearer than a top of the line MTB. I thought motorbike has a lot more technology and R&D costs associate with it. Are MTB companies just ripping us off?

Hey Chay,

Yeah, it’s remarkable isn’t it.

Entry/mid level trail bikes
Honda CRF230F – $3,600
Specialized Enduro SL Comp – $3,200

High end trail bikes
Honda CRF250X – $6,600
Specialized S Works Enduro SL – $7,700 (Wow.)

If you consider overall utility and braaapability, the KTM with the license plate wins hands-down.

If you’re going to rip people off, the bike industry — with its low margins and high competition — is the wrong place to try. There are reasons for this craziness:

Numbers. Honda makes a lot more CRF250Rs than Intense makes M3s. The numbers and dollars in the moto industry dwarf those in MTB by a factor of 100 or more (that’s a guess). Parts are made and purchased in quantity, and that means lower relative prices for motos.

Trickness. Remember that a $7,000 mountain bike is as trick as it gets. There are no upgrades for an S Works Enduro SL. A stock 250 is bad ass, but it is mass produced. By the time you max it out -— engine, suspension, wheels, etc. — it can cost $20k.

But still, per pound, motos are a much better deal!

Fools like us. We pay $5,000 for mountain bikes. We are the market, and we’re bearing that price.

Thank goodness. If Honda had decided to market its DH race bike, it could have sold as many as it wanted for $10k. And if that happened, the product managers at the other bike companies would have said “Sweet!” and offered $10k bikes of their own. If the market bears it, why not?

Hey kids, get your Lee Likes Bikes Special Edition Demo 11 (it goes to 11) — just $9,999!


— Lee

One last thought: Stock bikes and motos are very capable, and very few people can ride them to their potential. My guess is that more people feel like they can wring out MTBs than motos, and that fuels the market for higher end specs on bikes.

I’m always trying to optimize my bikes, but I don’t need more power from my 450!

11 replies
  1. Daniel says:

    R&D is much more expensive on mountain bikes, just look at the number of bike frame designs on the market. The basic design on motos is pretty consistent in the industry, and new inovations are pretty minimal. Also look at labor: if you look at a moto’s welds they are pretty sloppy in comparison to the perfect welds on a mountain bike. The real rip off is in mountain bike components…$50 for a rotor that was punched out of steel sheet, it cost them less than $5 to make, for labor and materials. Oh well I guess it is still healthier and cheaper than other vices.


  2. Colin Godby says:

    It is also important to consider the level of optimization. Many parts on motos are cast and/or not fully optimised because weight is not the end all-be all. Just throw a little more power at a heavy moto and boom, same power to weight. However, given the limited (and in most cases measly) power that an average human develops around 1.25 hp +/-, it is much more important to shave the weight however possible. Components are developed for weight, strength and stiffness in a lot of cases at the expense of cost. Motos on the other hand, not always the case.

    Secondly, the production level point that Lee makes is just as valid. In many cases, you can nearly halve the price of a component if you just double the number that you produce. Therefore, if we get more people to MTB, we will have higher production volumes and thus cheaper bikes!

  3. leelikesbikes says:

    Great point about the level of optimization. If a moto was as combed-through as an MTB, imagine how much it would cost.

  4. bas says:

    Guess it’s the old cheap-light-strong triangle (where you only get to pick two):
    – in the case of bikes, you want light and strong, so you don’t get to pick cheap.
    – in the case of motos ‘extra’-light is not that big a deal, so you can pick cheap and strong.

  5. Eric says:

    As a long time moto guy (25+ yrs) and now reasonably long time MTBer (15ish yrs) I have often wondered about this. I even got myself put in exile from a LBS at the start of my MTB journey with questioning the price on a Klein and stating that I could go go buy a motorcycle for that amount. No one at that shop would talk to me for months after that, still makes me laugh.

    Do have to say that the perception that weight is not important on moto’s is flat wrong, sorry. Every year grams are shaved in the quest for more performance. And they are “combed over” probably more than a MTB just due to the fact the Moto Manf. have the resources to do it. There is pretty good reason that most of the performance moto’s (street and dirt) look similar and that is because that’s is the design that has been tested and hammered to become the best. Stinks for alternatives but then aside from a lemon here or there the bikes perform to high standards which is not necessarily so of some alternative MTB designs.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love MTBing but I also love moto too.
    Sorry for the novel.

  6. Danger Dave says:

    R&D is much more expensive on mountain bikes, just look at the number of bike frame designs on the market.??????

    Just look at what happened to Cannondale it pretty much destroyed them trying to get into the Moto world. Sorry but you don’t have a clue what you are talking about.

    I’ve accepted the price of Mountain biking but we are all being reamed compared to what Moto’s cost.

  7. Daniel says:

    Of course Cannondale was almost destroyed getting into Moto:
    1. They were starting at the ground up, so they had to develope an engine, suspension, frame, everything (just look at how much custom motorcycles cost and they already have a platform & an engine).
    2. The motorcycle industry is already extremely compeditive, so the return on investment does not support a start-up company, which in Cannondale’s case they were when entering the moto industry.
    3. In order to be successful in a compeditive market, you either have to make something a lot cheaper or a lot better.
    The development of EFI for Moto’s will be a significant R&D cost, but in the long run, the MTB industry will still have a higher R&D as a % of the total unit cost, simply because MTB companies re-design their frames every couple of years.

  8. Chay says:

    MTBiking is getting more and more popular. With single tracks / pump tracks/ jump spots going up all over the place. Let’s hope one day MTB will become a main stream sport, and “Quality” MTBs will be cheap!

    Lee, another question (may be it is related!)….do you think MTB industry just getting way too many boutique brands poping up left, right and centre? And in the end, the market will correct itselfs and the main brands will stay as no one can compete with them in terms of buying power, manufacturing capability and low cost structure?
    Or is there always a market for boutique brands?

  9. leelikesbikes says:

    I think there will always be a market for boutique brands, which is great. Companies come and go with trends, technologies and market forces. I think there’s a natural expansion/contraction, with the good companies surviving and growing.

    Santa Cruz and Intense are great examples.

  10. Eric says:

    I think something worth mentioning is with MTB’s the high(er) priced stuff is usually associated with the boutique brands and I think alot of folks appreciate the skill and art that goes into building a frame. And because of that they don’t mind paying a premium price.
    This is more similar to custom harleys and sportbikes like Bimota and MV Augusta not dirt bikes.

    FWIW, looking at the C-Dale fiasco from the moto side, they were overpriced, heavy, broke down alot and used questionable design elements (reversed head and intake system). There was not anything positive that made them stand out against the Big 4 and Euro bikes except that they were built in the USA.

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