How Much Is it “Worth”? (Justifying those new Sidis)


What the hell is it?


We throw these words around all the time. “It’s not worth it to me.” or “It’s a great value.”

But what does it mean? How do we quantify it?

As a person who loves good design and well made products but hails from a band of hard-working and thrifty farm-folk, I developed a straightforward method for calculation when I was in college. Here’s was the math I employed then:

$.25 x Number of Times Worn/Used must equal Price of Item.

“Expensive” was defined as (besides shit I just flat out can’t afford) something that was likely not to log the required amount of wearings. “Inexpensive” was something that would go above and beyond the call of duty.

So in college, a $40 pair of shoes had to be able to be worn 160 times in order to be “worth it”. A $90 pair of running shoes? 360 times (or thereabouts).

My Current Calculation Method

College was a long, long, long time ago and thankfully I make a little bit more money than I did back at the Seattle University Women’s Center, so I’ve since adjusted for inflation. My current calculation rings in at $.75 per Use.

What this ends up meaning is that my $239 SIDI road shoes, which are indestructible need only to last through 318 uses in order to earn their value. Since I’ve had these damn shoes since 2001, that’s no problem. Even the Sidi mountain bike shoes that I bought for ‘cross in 2006 have probably earned their keep.

It’s for this reason that I’m far more willing to drop green on good denim than a “special dress” for a wedding (or insert other societally-imposed formal social event here). A pair of $190 Earnest Sewn jeans? I guarantee you they will get worn at least 253 times in two years (about the time I might be looking at an alternate cut). They’re durable, versatile and timeless.

People dismiss products like Nau jackets (sustainable! super stylish! high performing! an “everyday” wear item!) because of a pricetag in the $200-300 range. Yet these same people will spend half that amount on a formal dress that they’ll only wear once or twice.

It blows my mind.

How it Works for Clothing

According to these calculations, I tend to buy cheaper cotton T-shirts and basics on sale from places like The Gap, Banana Republic or J.Crew (even high quality T-shirts, though they’re ever so soft and well cut, start to look old after a pretty predictable while), spend money on pants that are versatile and timeless,  drop cash for great outerwear and accessories (jackets, scarves, gloves, bags – which you tend to wear and use more than other clothing items), and search for formal-wear or casual dresses at relatively well-edited thrift stores like Crossroads Trading Company or local consignment shops.

Special Note: I do not believe that clothing is ever an “investment”. That’s f-ing ludicrous.

How it Works with Cycling Apparel and Accessories

Technical gear like Showers Pass jackets (Elite 2.0 for super bad conditions or Double Century for semi-awful weather) , Rapha, Swobo, or Ibex merino wool baselayers, Swobo jerseys, and Oakley sunglasses more than earn their keep in my cycling closet. Team kits? Not so much. (They usually last a year at best and cost around $400 for a complete set-up).

I have bad feet, so shoes are a priority. Sidi has never failed to deliver and Sal and I have been wearing the same road shoes since 2001. They literally will not wear out (which sort of irks me because it leaves me without an excuse to buy new ones).

Luckily, Lake gave me a pair of CX401 Carbon Fiber white road shoes last year at the Wend Magazine photo shoot, so my thirst for new and shiny was met. Having worn Sidis for so long, it took me a few months to adjust to the fit of the Lakes (it’s a more aggressive heel cup) but when I did, I fell head over heels in love with the white, carbon-ey wonderful shoes from heaven. As for value, I didn’t have to buy them, so they’re automatically in the “value” category for me (grin), but let’s pretend I’d spent the $498 that they cost. Will they give me the 644 wearings required for me to call them “worth it”?

Only time will tell, but since they’re white I can only wear them for about half the year. Assuming I ride every other day during those six months, I’d wear them 90 times in a year which means they’ll have to last a little over seven years to earn their keep. If they are anything like the Sidis then I’d lay money that they’ll make it, but this is my first experience with Lakes (and with the boa closure, which I love but wonder about in terms of durability).

These are the kind of calculations I run when I’m trying to be at least a little bit objective about the worth or value of an item. I find that, no matter how you go about it, it helps to actually have some kind of consistent system whereby you can compare one item to the next.

What about you?

What about you? How do you calculate worth? Do you worry about value? Do you run the numbers?

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  1. When I was in middle school or high school we did an exercise in “economics” class that stuck with me.

    Say you want a $100 pair of jeans and you make $5/hour (Hey, we’re talking about bagging groceries in the early 90s). You’d have to work 20 hours to buy that pair of jeans. Is it worth 20 hours of work to you?

    I use that same approach to this day. Sometimes the answer is no (in my case this would be for things like jeans). Sometimes the answer is yes (my new mtb cost me a several weeks worth of work but it was SO WORTH IT!!!), but I think its a good gauge.

    Another approach I take is similar to yours but its based on the amount of time the thing is used. The number of hours used must be greater than the number of hours spent working to buy it. So lets say my new mtb cost me three weeks worth of salary. That’s approximately 120 hours of work time. Will I spend more than 120 hours on the bike? I damn well hope so! Makes the answer easy.

  2. I love the equation! I’ve made the same tradeoff (without doing the math) that you describe above – spend money on long lasting, high use items, spend less on the stuff that wears out or goes out of style. This is why most of my everyday clothes come from Goodwill – name brands for cheap!

  3. A national champion told me recently that having the “right” equipment helps you perform better. Whether that’s the $5000 bike, $500 shoes his argument was that you feel faster/stronger/better equipped well.
    Rather than do the math (it’ll hit you later) i subscribe to the idea that if you buy the item just below the one you want, you will always want the one you don’t have. Buy what you want, rationalize it any way you want to, and then decide if this is your best course. I do not but designer jeans, I but carrharts they last along time and I’m told I look good in them. I do buy expensive bike frames they may not make a differenc in the world, but when I line up at the start I don’t feel like I’m in an immediate disadvantage. I buy good food. I buy good food for my animals, (horses and dogs)…at some point I think there is a balance. as long as you feel good about it….that’s about $0.04

  4. Justin Benson

    As I’ve aged the question moves more to the “incremental” spend equation. That is, I can buy those shoes for $150 or these shoes for $250. Then I ask myself – If I spend $100 less for those shoes what does that mean?

    Well, if it’s for jeans as a happily married man I usually go for the $150 pair because does it really matter if my butt looks that much better? It might actually be a negative return.

    On bike shoes though I say “let’s say one pair feels juuuuust slightly better than the other. Number of crank rotations per ride vs number of rides per year vs number of years wearing the shoes. Suddenly the incremental spend seems ok.

    Others may call this a “rationalization” vs sound economics but there is a reason they call economics the “imperfect science” It’s dependent upon rational behavior being displayed by emotional human beings.

  5. Interestingly you mention 0.25 and 0.75. I have always used 0.50 as my number. That $200 pair of jeans would have to be worn 400 times (200/0.5) in order to make them “worth it”.

    I have never applied this to any of my biking implements, including bikes (no way I will ever ride the mtb 6000+ times… :( )

    Also that $200 pair of jeans that the wife talked me into buying have probably been used easily 400 times, and I still love them. :D That was a good purchase. (seven for all mankind, if you want to know).

    • Jay,
      I’ve been thinking about the bikes too. One important distinction for bikes is that most hold some decent resale value. So, say you can later sell that $3k MTB for $1500 or so, you only have to account for the cost of the $1500 you lose in the deal. You still probably won’t ride it 3000 times but maybe it means there needs to be a different equation for bikes. Just like there is a different, special heaven for bikes and cyclists. ; )

  6. Should there be a different equation for bikes or does it mean that the 3k bike isn’t worth it? I guess i can’t talk.

    What defines value? Is it different for everyone, if used for commuting where the option is a car – capital value + upkeep + depreciation + fuel + parking or public transport a 3k bike is pretty good value.

    I ride a 3k bike, to and from work everyday, $3000 my family and freinds said to me. As well as train on it and race it.

    Commuting alone the options cost around $7.50 /day; I live in the UK, I’ve done the conversions, 3000/7.5=400 uses to repay.

    365-104(weekends)-20(leave)-8(public holiday)=233 days per year available to commute.

    400/233 = circa 1.75 years to repay, i’ve benn riding it 4! Good value i say! Problem is I still own and run a car :(

    Clothing ‘value’ is less easy to quantify.

    The definition of Value is subjective, based upon the recipients requirements.

    Value = Worth vs Cost ?

    Worth is defined as “The quality that renders something desirable, useful”

    Cost is defined as “An amount paid or required in payment for a purchase”

    I love the idea that everytime you wear your jeans out you may put 75c in a virtual pot somewhere so that in 2 years from now you may get a new pair.

    I use Sidi road and MTB shoes, I wear Rapha (and Champ Sys) I ride Litespeed (that $2.5 frame already has 1200+ uses, some 2100+ to go though, based on 75c per ride) and soon SpeedVagen (I hope), I wear $175 jeans, $250 boots…

    I judge value and worth on simplicity, funcionality, longevity, how something makes me feel, how ‘classic’ it is (will I be able to wear it forever and feel ‘cool’, or in three months time will it be back at the charity shop – hmmm that pink t mobile jersey, what possessed me?), how long it will last and how much use it will get. Not necessarily in that, or any other, order though.

    Clothing for instance that can be worn for cycling/running/everyday life, without compromise scores big time.

    Or the ‘classicness’ of a white T and jeans or a plaid shirt.

    I’m guessing that these are the exact same criteria as everyone else really but, often it is only a calculation we can do in our own heads (we each weight the individual criteria differently), often we come up with the wrong answer but when we get it right, boy! do we feel smug.

    Trust me to give the long boring answer… but, honestly I’m a hoot at parties. :)


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