The short answer is, that it really depends. There are some people who just want the best bike possible. There are others who need certain performance qualities out of their bikes. There are also people who have outgrown less expensive bikes and want to have something nicer. They have realized the limitations of their bike and see the value in something more expensive. It could also be any combination of these three groups.
As bikes go up in price, there is a noticeable difference in ride quality and performance. As with anything, though, returns start to diminish as you approach the upper price points. These differences are most noticeable as you jump from lower price points to mid-level. For example, a sub $1000 bike with rim brakes, basic components, and cheap tires is going to feel clunky, sluggish, and might not stand the test of time. A $2000 bike with better components like hydraulic disk brakes and a lightweight carbon frame will feel all-around better than the latter. The hydraulic brakes will be easier to handle and provide more stopping power, the carbon frame will be lighter and more responsive, and the upgraded drivetrain will shift smoothly compared to the sub $1000 bike.
People spend a lot of money on bikes depending on their needs. If it is just a bike to get around town, there isn’t a real need for spending thousands of dollars. Unless we are talking about e-bikes, which are in a category of their own, a bike for getting around town is probably better off being on the cheaper side, to be honest. That is since bikes left outside do run the risk of getting stolen. On the other hand, if someone is looking for a road bike that they plan on riding multiple times a week up and down Lookout Mountain, then there is some serious value in spending money on a road bike that can perform.
On the surface level, spending thousands of dollars on a bike is shocking to most people. You can get a bike at Walmart for a couple hundred dollars. Won’t those work fine? It’s just a bike, right? Yes, it is just a bike and it will work, but after hours in the saddle, you will start to notice things.
What will you notice? The shifting might not feel right. The seat is probably terribly uncomfortable. The tires are starting to fall apart after a couple months. In some cases, like with department store bikes, you can’t really make upgrades to the bike. But even if you can, after getting a new saddle, drivetrain, and better tires you might be close to the cost of that brand new nicer bike that was initially out of your budget. The most common components that will hinder your performance are suspension, brakes, and drivetrain. The better the performance of these items, the more expensive they get. When you start to notice the limitations of your bike, it’s natural to want something that won’t hold you back. After hours in the saddle, you will notice. Or you can take our word for it.
With most things in life, once we get accustomed to something it is hard to go back. With bikes, it is the same way. Ask any mountain biker who currently rides with a dropper post if they would buy a bike without a dropper post. 99.99% of them will tell you absolutely not. In 2022, a full-suspension mountain bike with a dropper post is going to cost you at least $1500. The same goes for road cyclists who use carbon wheels. It is this “I need to have it” mentality that gets people to spend thousands of dollars on a bike. It is worth noting that the bike should fit properly. The most expensive bike in the world isn’t worth much if it doesn’t fit you right. Here is an article on that!
When it comes to spending this kind of money on a bike, it certainly sounds crazy to most people. Unfortunately, unless you have spent countless hours on a bike saddle, it is hard to justify the cost. Once you do start to ride more often, however, you will notice how the bike could be better. Through time and experience, you just might find yourself driving around in a car worth less than the bike that is hanging off the back.