Thursday, January 25, 2007

Substandard Parts

After getting my cables, bottom bracket and chain replaced a week and a half ago, I found that my chain was slipping in the highest three gears. I gave it some time thinking the cables might stretch a little and settle in but it never did. Taking it back I found that the freewheel cassette was worn out.

I had bought a chain tool to measure chain wear and was changing my chain at the recommended time in an effort to extend cassette life and, at best I was able to get 2000 miles out of it.

What kind of crap are bike parts made out of these days? Twenty years ago I bought a Schwinn Sierra from a friend of mine. In 13 years of riding that machine I changed the chain every year. I think I changed the cassette once during that time. Maybe twice. That maintenance was sufficient to keep that machine running and I was putting as many miles on the bike then as I am now. With my five year old Giant Cypress, I paid five times as much as I did for the used Sierra and am changing the chain twice a year and freewheel every year, just to keep it working.

At the rate I'm spending on maintaining my bike, replacing "consumables" like the freewheel and chain, replacing cables and the bottom bracket and other things that wear out, I could buy a new bike every couple of years or so. Have bike part manufacturers given up on building quality parts for anyone other than the highest-end purchasers; those that pay thousands of dollars for their bikes? Do the more expensive bikes have lower maintenance costs? Should I just buy a $300 bike, ride it until it doesn't work anymore then just leave it in a ditch and get a new one?

The first step in making that determination is by doing the math to find out how much it actually costs me for maintenance.

Freewheel cassette, $25.00 / 2,000 miles = $0.0125 / mile
Chain, $22.00 / 1000 miles = $0.022 / mile

"Consumables", that is, those things that will wear out regularly and need replaced, total $0.0345 / mile. And at about 2,500 miles / year, that's $86.25 / year. (Or a new Giant Cypress every 3.5 years) And that's assuming I buy the tool to change the freewheel myself. I haven't been as careful keeping track of when other things went wrong and how much they cost to repair or how often tires wear out but estimates of that could bring the total up to $0.05 / mile or more.

I need to gather more information from other cyclists such as how much they are paying to maintain their expensive bikes. Only by comparing those numbers will I be able to determine if I should continue to maintain my bike, throw it away and replace it regularly with another modestly priced bike or but a higher end model.


Mikey said...

not to sound rude Geis, because this isn't intended to be a rude question. but how much do you weigh now compared to twenty years ago?

for someone riding as long as you, i bet you've gained quite a bit in muscle mass and physical strength, maybe the added weight and power in your pedaling is contributing to the faster wear and tear compared to twenty years ago?

Der Geis said...

No offense taken. It is a valid hypothesis but I don't believe it is true for several reasons.

When I started college, I was about 180 or 185. Now I've stabilized between about 215 and 220. I can imagine greater weight leading to greater wear but I can't see a 22% increase in weight causing a 100% increase in chain wear and a 250% increase in freewheel wear. That goes against the laws of physics. Wheeled machines should show better efficiency.

Secondly, while my weight slowly grew over those years, I did not see a similar change in parts wear. The change was dramatic when I got the new bicycle, indicating that the change was with the bike and not with myself.

The evidence points to the new bike parts being made of softer metal than on the old bike. I suspect a broadening of the middle in that cheap bikes use cheap parts and that's not a big deal because people who buy cheap bikes don't ride much so wear isn't an issue. People who ride bikes more are treated as enthusiasts willing to pay more for a bike, in part to get a better machine but also for the prestige of the name. Since they dropped $6,000 for a bike, spending a few hundred a year on maintenance isn't going to phase them. Here I am in the middle, riding my bike a lot because I commute but not wanting to spend a lot of money on a bike as I am trying to save money BY commuting.

In addition, the spectrum of cost to wearability probably doesn't work out in my favor. If I pay twice as much for a part, I doubt that I'm going to get a part that lasts twice as long. Now, if I paid twice as much and got something that lasted three times as long then I could see upgrading to a more expensive bike and parts. But if I have to spend three times as much to get a part that only lasts twice as long then the decision must be to either buy the cheaper parts or treat the entire bicycle as non-durable goods and replace it more frequently. Simple economics.

I've made a posting on a bike message board to try to get some numbers so I can have the mathematical answer rather than just supposition.