Bike Repair: How Often Do Components Wear Out?

October 18, 2019
Ryan SmithCommuting into work for the umpteenth time on the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway requires some regular bike repair.

I bike commute 28 miles most workdays year-round and have been doing it now for more than six years almost entirely on the same bike, a 2010 REI Novara Randonee touring bike. At this point I estimate that my go-to ride now has somewhere north of 20,000 miles on it, so it needs some regular bike repair. It’s an interesting case study for what lasts, what doesn’t, and which components need replacement over time.

What Has Lasted

Several components have stood the test of time. (While the specific components originally included with the bike are no longer available new, I have listed them for reference.)

  • The frame and fork. I intentionally chose steel for the frame (Reynolds 520 chromoly, a workhorse of the bike industry). Plus the tubes in the frame are double-butted for durability, which means they have thicker walls at the ends than in the middle. While stainless steel is heavier than aluminum and carbon fiber, it is designed to last. And it definitely has.
  • The front and rear derailleurs (Shimano Tiagra and Shimano 105, long cage, respectively). These are perhaps the most remarkable components to have survived so many miles, especially given the fact that they are moving parts on the bike that are subjected to grit, grime, winter road salt, and more.
  • The shifters and brake levers (Shimano Tiagra). No problems.
  • The handlebars and headset (FSA Vero Compact and FSA Orbit X, respectively). Other than wearing out and replacing the handlebar tape several times, no problems here.
  • The saddle (Novara touring Anatomica). I’ve worn holes through the butt of many a pair of shorts I’ve used cycling, but the saddle itself still shows no sign of wear.

What I’ve Needed To Replace (And How Often)

  • Chain and cassette. The cassette is the component by your rear wheel that contains all the gears. I replace it and the chain roughly twice per year, primarily to preserve the crank. You don’t have to replace these so frequently, but it’s a good idea. Otherwise shifting will get less smooth as the chain stretches and the chain will line up less perfectly with the large gears in the crank (the ones attached to your pedals), which wears them out faster and means you’ll be replacing the (much more expensive) crank sooner than later.
  • Brake pads, at least once a year. My bike has rim brakes rather than disk brakes. This makes them easy to service and replace but also means they wear out regularly. Generally the front brake pads last about twice as long as the rear ones.
  • Crank. I’m now on my third crank and have needed to replace it roughly every 8,000 miles or so. My general telltale that it’s time for a replacement is when the teeth on the gears become worn down into dangerously sharp shark-teeth points.
  • Tires. I wear through the rubber on the rear tire about about once a year. The front one lasts a lot longer
  • Bottom bracket. I replaced this the last time I had the crank replaced, though mostly for preventive reasons. It’s easier and more affordable to do so (assuming you’re having a shop do the work) at the same time as you’re getting a new crank than doing it separately.
  • Rims. I’m now on the third rim for the rear tire because rim brakes slowly wear out the metal on the sidewalls of the rim. This thins the metal in the rim, which can result in a catastrophic failure of your rear wheel if you let it go too long. You can tell it’s time when the rim walls begin to take on an inward-curving, scalloped shape.
  • Handlebar stem. Over time the ball bearings in the original stem developed a noticeable groove in alignment with a straight front wheel. This meant that the handlebars and front wheel were starting to noticeably “snap back” into straight-line position and require a small but noticeable effort to turn to the side. This started to feel like a safety issue, so I replaced it.
  • Pedals. Sproing, click, click, sproing….some noises drove me mad until I figured out that it was the ball bearings in the pedals making the sound.
  • Cables and housings. I’ve replaced all the shifting and brake cables and housings at least once. They wear out with use and replacing them is better than having one snap in the middle of a ride, which has happened to me and completely shuts you down.

In terms of ongoing care and maintenance, I confess to being not the most vigilant. I do lube the chain every two to four weeks for a smoother ride, depending on riding frequency and conditions (Finish Line Wet is my go-to), occasionally hose down the bike if it gets really dirty, and every once in a while will clean all the gunk off the jockey walls (those two small gears in the rear derailleur), which can get quite thick. Otherwise I just ride, ride, ride, and replace the things that need replacing when their time is up.


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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.