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There are so many reasons to cycle. You don’t have to be a dedicated enthusiast, or know the inner workings of every part of your bike, to enjoy travelling by two wheels.
You might know these things, of course, but many people just want a bike to get around on and for the pleasure of riding. And whether you’re an enthusiast or a newbie, the indisputable facts remain: cycling is healthy, eco-friendly, and a lot cheaper than running a car.
If you’re thinking about taking up cycling, or are relatively new to it, you may be wondering about the bike’s lifespan. It’s a fair question. Your bike will become (if it isn’t already) your trusted companion, so it’s natural to question how long it’s going to work for you.
How Long Should a Bicycle Last?
If properly maintained, a bicycle could (in theory) last a lifetime. Particularly if the frame is a decent quality, and worn components are replaced regularly. It will also depend on how the bike is used, how often, and the conditions it’s ridden and stored in.
It’s a little bit like asking, “How long is a piece of string?”. But if you have a good bike (which doesn’t necessarily mean expensive) that’s well-maintained, it will last you a very long time.
Keep reading and we’ll break down what “well-maintained” looks like in practice.
How Long Does a New Bike Last?
The lifespan of your new bike will depend on the quality of the bike and how it’s treated. “Quality” doesn’t mean spending a fortune, as long as the frame and parts are sound. Even a relatively cheap bike can have an enduring lifespan, if it’s looked after and regularly serviced.
However, there’s cheap, and then there’s “cheap”. Buying a budget bike from a reputable buyer like Decathlon, is different to buying a brand new online bike for £100.
I used a small, independent bike shop in London for my services. They refused to take in any bike that wasn’t a trusted/known brand. The reason they gave was that there’s no point working on a bike that’s going to fall apart within months.
If these super-cheap bikes seem too good to be true, that’s because they are. Buying one of these is a false economy. They really do tend to fall apart within a few hundred miles of use. The uber-cheap ones (we’re talking some plastic parts, here), might just get you round the block a couple of times.
Most bikes have 25 essential parts, which when broken down amount to close to 1000 pieces. It’s a complicated machine. Think about how many times you brake and change gears when cycling – literally thousands. So you need these components to be reliable, strong and safe.
If bike components are cheap and nasty, they will not only be short-lived but highly dangerous too. The last thing you want is something crucial breaking on your bike when travelling at speed.
Most leading bike brands have a huge range of bikes on offer for a range of prices. Trek Bikes, for example, range from around £400 to well over £10,000. The lower-end components might need replacing more often than the high-end ones. However, this will also depend on how many miles you’re putting in.
Bicycle Life Expectancy
A bicycle can last for 30+ years, or even a lifetime, if the frame and forks are strong and good quality. The life-expectancy of components is far shorter, and variable. You’ll need to change different components between 1000 and 10,000 miles.
It’s difficult to pinpoint “average” bike use. In terms of commuting, studies show that of the 75% of people asked (who do commute), 47% cycle for 29 minutes or less (one way) and 22% up to an hour. We could approximate that an average weekly commute is 5 hours. At an average of 12mph, this amounts to 60 miles.
You may cycle more or less than this. However, it’s useful to have an idea when thinking about how long your bike parts will last:
- Your bike chain needs to be changed every 2,000 miles
- Brake pads will last for around 1,000 miles
- Chainrings can last for 20,000+ miles
- Cassettes (if looked after) can last for 10,000+ miles
- Cables may last for around 5,000 miles
- Tyres can last anywhere between 1,000 and 7,000 miles, depending on the type
These are approximate figures. Exactly how long these parts last depends the amount of wear and tear they have, and that can vary considerably depending on the type of riding.
The longevity of your bike frame depends on the type and quality of the frame you have.
Aluminium is the most common and generally the cheapest. A reasonable aluminium frame, if looked after and not hammered into oblivion, could last for 30 years or longer.
Carbon frames are more expensive, with a higher strength-to-weight ratio. They can last a lifetime, although are more susceptible to damage in an accident.
Steel frames are the strongest and most durable. They won’t fatigue after years of use and will take substantial knocks. They are heavier, however, than their aluminium and carbon counterparts, and can corrode if poorly treated.
When is a Bicycle Considered Vintage?
Bicycles over 25 years old are considered vintage. This is a generally accepted timescale. Bikes that were made before the 1920s are considered antique.
“Vintage” as a term for a bicycle, can be suggestive of “old” or “out of date”. But a reasonable bike that’s been properly maintained can still be going very strong after 25 years.
If you’re thinking about getting a bike and are on a budget, it’s worth getting a good-brand second-hand bike. Most bikes decrease in value significantly, and you can expect to pay around £200 for a reasonable used quality brand.
You’ll find bikes being sold for less than half their retail price after only a couple of years.
Some bikes, however, due to reputation and desirability, do hold their value. It would be extremely rare to find a cheap second-hand Pinarello or Canyon bike for sale. But if you did, you’d have a bargain.
How Can I Make My Bicycle Last Longer?
The short answer is you can extend your bike’s life by keeping it clean and lubricated, and checking components for wear. Getting it serviced regularly, and storing it in a sheltered space, will also help.
You know when key parts of your bike are worn or damaged. They’ll be working less effectively. But it’s best not to leave things until they’re on their last legs. Regular DIY checks can prevent this.
Replacing the chain around every 2,000 miles, even if it feels fine, will prolong the life of the drivetrain. A worn chain will wear the cassette and chainring, and it’s much cheaper to replace a chain than a cassette.
You need to inspect brake pads often. If you wait until they’re grinding on metal, this will damage the wheel rim or the disk brake rotor. It’s also just plain dangerous.
Dirt, grit and grime can wear and damage moving parts of the bike over time, so keeping it clean will contribute to a longer lifespan. Often, a sponge and soapy water is enough, but sometimes you may need a more robust bike cleaner to remove a build-up of grease.
Common sense is a factor here. If you’re often out in the rain and mud, you’ll be cleaning the bike more regularly than if you only cycle on tarmac in fine weather.
As a guideline, to keep your bike running as smoothly (and for as long) as possible, you should take it for a full service every year if you cycle frequently. A full service will involve thorough checks, adjustments, cleaning, lubricating, and replacing parts if needed.
When Should You Get a New Bike?
There are numerous reasons why you might want a new bike. It may be practical, in that the sizing or geometry is wrong. Your needs may have changed in terms of how far or where you cycle. Your bike might be in a terrible state of repair or, most commonly, you may just want a better or newer model.
It’s usually possible to sell a used bike, but if you feel this isn’t possible due to the condition, old bikes can be donated to a number of different charities where they are refurbished and reused. Even if the state of repair is atrocious, they can still be used for parts.
Unless the frame of the bike is damaged, “when” to get a new bike is another piece of string question. If the bike fits you, suits your riding needs, and is well looked after, then it should last you for as long as you want it to.