11,400 miles of maintenance musings

While pondering the new bike attributes, I got to thinking about my current bike and all the random maintenance and retrofitting I’ve done over its lifetime. As of Thursday evening, I have ridden 11,400 miles on the ‘ Friday. Though this is not even a year’s worth for Kent, it’s a lot for me.


The only original, non-expendable components are the frame, shifters, fenders, front dérailleur and the rear dérailleur (but not its cogs). Things I have replaced:

  • Seat – Though it wasn’t original equipment, the Sella Italia titanium-railed saddle didn’t work very well on my new bike. Within a month, I replaced it with a Brooks B17 saddle. It’s heavy, but it’s very comfortable. Well worth the $70.
  • Seatpost – The American Flyers seatpost that came with my bike was a worthless piece of scrap metal, suitable only for 90-pound children tethered to zeppelins. It was the second component replaced.
  • Crank – The initial setup was an Ultegra double (39-52) cleverly modified to be a 39-52-61 triple. Shifting among the rings was never smooth because the big ring was too big for the front dérailleur. As part of my winter 2004 tinkering, I replaced everything with a standard Ultegra triple (30-42-52) and the Capreo 9-26 freewheel in back. (Normally freewheels go down to 11 teeth. The proprietary Capreo’s “9” tooth increased the upper gear inch range from 94 to 115″. Just nod and smile.)
  • Wheels — … then I started commuting regularly in 2005. The “optimal” route takes me down a 17% grade with several curves, culminating in a straightaway where I hit the upper 40s. (At this speed, raindrops are like little acupuncture needles in the cheeks.) During the Seattle Rain Festival, the braking necessary to control my rapidly decreasing potential energy on the the curvy, humus- and gravel-covered road wrought havoc on the wheels. In a mere 1,300 miles, I had worn down the rim.
  • Brakes — For Winter 2005’s tinkering, I had disc brake mounts added on the bike. As I was on a limited budget, I only switched out the rear brake. Last fall, I added the front. Unfortunately, by that time, I also needed a new front wheel. This week, the rear wheel cracked and will need to be replaced. It had ~5500 miles on it.
  • Handlebars and stem — In what seems like a semi-annual ritual, I fiddle with the overall bike fit or just hanging stuff off the bars. Before the regular commuting, I carried a heart rate monitor, odometer and GPS. Now, it’s an odometer, handlebar bag and headlight.

Now as far as expendables goes, I’ve observed that commuting, especially during the crappy winter rainy season, just punishes stuff. I am also apparently hard on equipment, at least if I believe the stories on the Cascade bulletin boards of people who claim to get 10,000 miles from a chain or set of tires. For posterity, my experience:

  • Tires – The first set of tires I had were the Schwalbe Stelvios that came with the bike. From the above component swaps, you might correctly infer that the salesperson who helped me spec out the bike was a racer. These were great tires for the first 700 miles, then broke down during the Seven (Flats) of Kirkland.

    I experimented with other types of Schwalbe tires, but always left disappointed. For example, during RAW 2005, I had four flats on the front tire, a Marathon Slick, none on the rear. If the rumors of quality control problems are true, Schwalbe is welcome to comp me a pair for my troubles and I will give them a fourth chance.

    Continental Top Touring – This was recommended as a “4,000 mile tire,” though I barely eked out more than 1,000 before it blew itself to bits. The tire didn’t grip the wet roads as well, either.

    Comet Primo – They’re slightly heaver and not as “fast” as the Schwalbes, but they seemed more durable. I’d get about 1,200-1,400 miles out of a (rear) tire during the winter, 2,200 during the summer.

    Kenda Kwest — After my recent blowout, I ordered a set of 1.5″ wide Kenda Kwests. I only have 200 miles on them, so I can’t vouch for their durability, but the ride seems smoother than on the Comets.

  • Brake pads – When I had the friction brakes, it seemed like I went through a pair of pads every 800 miles during the winter, less during the summer. Disc pads lasted 1,000 – 1,500 miles; however, when they’re worn out, they fall out.
  • Tubes – Tube replacement is a function of the number and type of flats. The two blowouts I’ve had destroyed a large chunk of tube. Generally, I’d ditch the tube after I’ve made 5 or 6 patches to it. I’m excessively frugal here because no local bike store I’m aware of carries 406mm tubes.
  • Cables and housings – these I’ve always replaced in the spring because the winter grit and moisture corrodes the innards (even with lubrication). The bike has barrel connectors on everything, allowing quick micro-adjustments.
  • Chains, cassettes – I (heart) the SRAM 951 and 971 mountain bike chains because they have the quick release feature, letting mortals remove, clean and reinstall the chain. I fart in the general direction of Shimano’s hard to use pins.

    Ahem. I go through two chains a winter (including intermediate cleanings in kerosene), one during a summer. During last winter, I had planned to replace everything in the drive train anyway, so I pushed it as far as I could. I’ve only had one chain break.

  • Bar tape – Like Hans, I double up on the cork bar tape for a smoother ride. The black tape is easily field-patched by black electrical tape 😉 It lasts a long time.

1 thought on “11,400 miles of maintenance musings”

  1. You need more bikes, then it would take much longer to wear out parts.

    Tires: I tried the Schwalbe Marathons and Continental TT before settling on Primo Comets. They seem to wear pretty well and grip better than treaded tires in the wet. Another one that works well is the Maxxis Hookworm 20 x 1.95″ tire. They are heavy but very smooth and long wearing and will go to 110 psi. Might look pretty strange on your Bike Friday.

    Chains: Have you tried the Whipperman nickel plated chains? I have had very good performance, upwards of 3000 miles from a chain without excessive maintenance (on an 8-speed chain). They come in 8, 9, ans 10 speed versions. They have a reusable link like the SRAM and you can get spare links for repairing your chain on the road.

    Tubes: If you think 406 is bad, try to find 451mm tubes. I think they have 406’s at Greggs Cycle but with their new website it is impossible to tell what they have. I usually order them online, eg.:
    http://members.aol.com/biketravels/406wheel/wheelbmx.html

    Bar Tape: An alternate to plain electrical tape for bar repair is a rubber self-vulcanizing splicing tape like Scotch 23. It fuses to itself when stretched and will never peel off or leak adhesive on your hands like electrical tape. It’s also flat black so it looks more like cork tape.

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