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I have seen quite some carbon fiber bikes that cost upwards of $4000. Why do these bikes cost so much when one can get a very good motorbike for $3000?

A motorbike comes equipped with several technologically advanced systems like IC engines, electrical lighting systems, electronic fuel injection, exhaust systems etc, which require considerably more R&D to build than any bike, IMO.

What then, justifies the exorbitant price of these road bikes?

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Keep in mind that for any product to be profitable it must "recover", on each sale, development costs divided by total units sold, plus manufacturing, cost of sales, and a suitable profit. Expensive bikes sell very few units. (And, of course, beyond that every manufacturer will naturally charge "what the market will bear".) In any event, no one who is not either a pro or an avid amateur needs a $4000 bike -- a bike in the $1000-2000 range will be just as serviceable, and even a $500 bike will suit most people just fine. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 11 '13 at 11:51
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(And, of course, Shimano is the Microsoft of bicycles -- it gets a substantial chunk of the price of a bike because it has so little competition and can charge whatever it wants.) –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 11 '13 at 11:53
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Why Is Carbon Fiber So Expensive? - gizmodo.com/5843276/why-is-carbon-fiber-so-expensive –  Tom77 Jul 11 '13 at 12:32
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The more accurate comparison is with Grand Prix motorcycles, which seem to go for about $35,000: gizmag.com/honda-nsf250r-moto3-grand-prix/18811 –  kmm Jul 11 '13 at 16:25
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@DanielRHicks I'm not so sure about your comment about Shimano. That may have been the case a few years ago, but SRAM is really starting to eat into their market share. Shimano is not nearly as dominant as they used to be. –  Stephen Touset Jul 11 '13 at 16:29
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@Gary Has a valid view on the answer, but its also a bit more complicated than that. He has compared a 250 motorbike to a 1000cc motor bike - completely different to comparing a $500 road bike to a $5000 road bike. A better comparison is a 250 GP Motorbike vs a 250 Sports bike vs a 250 Commuter.....

Unlike motorcycling, Road Cycling is the new Golf. As a result, a lot of cashed up middle aged executives have taken up the sport, and the marketing has largely responded to this by targeting them (more importantly, their disposable income) - promoting the 'need' and desire for high end product. Compared to Golf, a $5000 bicycle is cheap, therefore, its not hard to convince them they "Need" one

Are they grossly overpriced - they have a lot of RD cost attached, are built out of exotic materials, the shops have a high risk stocking them (End of year sales == 50 percent or bigger discounts), they are relatively low volume products (at the high value end of the scale). Marketing expenses are quite high as it is competitive. There is no doubts the margins on high end bikes is high - just like everything else in this world.

Whats different, is many people fell the need to purchase a high end bike due to the excellent marketing, and can actually afford it. Not many of us can afford a Lamborghini or Bugatti, so they do not target us with marketing, and we by a Toyota and are happy with it.

The real question is "Is riding an overpriced high end bike more enjoyable/worth wile compared to riding a cheaper mid-range bike". The the answer to that is "It depends"

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While some will say "it's just supply and demand" and companies charge "whatever the market will bear", I'm not convinced that your comparison is fair to try and determine whether bikes are overpriced relative to motorcycles. Using a $4,000+ road bike and comparing it to a $3,000 motorcycle is comparing the upper end of one product to the lower end of another.

For example - you can go to performancebike.com and buy a reasonable entry-level road bike for around $800 ($500 or less if you watch for sales). That bike will have an aluminum frame, low-end carbon fork and a hodge-podge of low-end components.

Similarly, you can buy a low-end 2013 Honda CBR 250R at a list of $4,199. That motorcycle has a relatively small engine and will likely will have heavier components.

Both of those products are consumer focused, recreational products; not high-level competition machines.

If you move to the upper end of the recreational products, you are looking at $2,800 for a full carbon with mid-level components on the bike side, versus, $14,000 for the CBR 1000 on the motorcycle side. Neither of these is anywhere near the upper-end of competition ready products.

If you look at the relative percent difference in price, it about 250% between base and mid-level models of both products. It's up to the individual consumer to decide whether the added benefit of lighter materials, better components on the bike side, and more power, better component on the motorcycle side is really worth a 250% increase in price, but that's why manufacturers release a range of models.

If you want to compare between the products, the base motorcycle is going to cost you a little over 5 times what a base bicycle will cost (not counting add-ons like insurance, gas and maintenance). The prices of the higher level motorcycle and bicycle are at about the same ratio.

Finally, I don't know anything about use of composites in motorcycles, but I think it's debatable that the technology in a motorcycle requires significantly more R&D than for a bicycle. Precision shifting, weight minimization, not to mention the fabrication of carbon frame tubes to be light, strong, and exhibit directional dependent stiffness and flexibility is R & D intensive. This Gizmodo article explains in more detail why carbon fiber products are more expensive (hat-tip to Tom77) As far as I can find there are no stock motorcycles available with carbon frames, and Ducati sold a replica Desmosedici with a carbon seat support for over $70,000.

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Agreed, and I'd add to it that, beyond a certain level, you need to throw A LOT more money to get not-so-much additional benefit, so the "price vs features" is not linear at all between entry-level and top-level, creating an abyss if you shift these exponential curves to compare a low-end "lo-tech" product with a high-end "hi-tech" one. –  heltonbiker Jul 11 '13 at 18:47
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Great answer - but I think you are trivialising what goes into making a motorbike. For instance, using carbon - both are about power to weight, and power is out of control of the manufacturers and minute on one, so its all about weight. On the other its easier and cheaper to add power than save weight (that produce the same P/W result). After all, If I could increase my output on a bicycle by 1kW, do you think I would would I ride a steel bike, or spend $100 to save 100 grams...... –  mattnz Jul 12 '13 at 2:32
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Well, one can buy $600 bicycle, or $600 Baotian 50ccm scooter. Both would not be very durable, and require significant service after 20.000km. The later has order of magnitude more parts, some of them need to be made to much higher precision and stress than any part on the bicycle since it has internal combustion engine. So I would say bicycles in general are rip off in regard to the price. –  Davorin Ruševljan Jul 12 '13 at 8:02
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