I’m a conservative…when it comes to bike parts

Here’s a sampling of my broken bike parts.

UPDATE (March 15): Today’s cranks continue to fail. Check out Oz Cycle for an informative in-depth look at what’s causing them to fail. Shimano 105 has the best chance for a long life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkEkQV-zK0s&ab_channel=ozcycle

I’m conservative when it comes to buying and using bike components. I don’t buy the lightest and most expensive. You’re asking for trouble, as in a catastrophic component failure.

I’ve written about this topic on numerous occasions, but it’s always worth reminding everyone that bike parts fail! And when they do the result can be injury.

There was a guy named Prado that had a website dedicated to failed bike parts. He had plenty of photos showing all kinds of parts, many of them well known brands.

The industry doesn’t like to talk about it, for good reason. There is inherent risk in everything we do and bike riding is no exception.

As long as you buy a name brand and stay away from the exotic lightweight parts, you reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

The other important thing to consider is age. The older a bike part is — in miles ridden — the greater chance it will fail. It’s a good idea to replace old parts, even if they look good.

I have a laundry list of failed parts. Ones I can remember:

Frame. Frames will fail with continued use, especially if they’re subject to some kind of trauma, like a crash. It doesn’t matter what material it is. Steel is the strongest material and most likely to give some hint of impending failure: My opinion. I’ve broken my frames multiple times: fork, top tube, down tube. One incident was not accident-related, but two failures were.

Cranks. They’re under a lot of stress and over time they could fail. I’ve seen and heard of failures along the crank arm and at the pedal eye. When a crank fails, it can cause a nasty fall. I’ve broken two cranks, both times hitting my head, one time without a helmet.

Handlebar. I have a friend who used a lightweight handlebar that failed while riding on Page Mill Road. He was badly hurt. I’ve never had a failure, but if you have a 20-year-old alloy handlebar with lots of miles, replace it now.

Stem. I’ve heard of stem failures, but I’ve never had an issue.

Seatpost. There’s a recent comment (Super Record seatpost) regarding seatpost failures. It happens and it can lead to a serious injury. I had one seatpost failure, an Avocet with a two-bolt design. The seatpost had a fatal flaw — toothpicks for bolts. Fortunately it wasn’t a catastrophic failure, so I could ride home in discomfort.

Spokes. They break, especially on the freewheel/freehub side where there’s more tension. It’s not usually an issue if you have 32 or 36 spokes. I’m not sure what that means for hydraulic brakes, probably not an issue. For rim brakes, open the quick release lever to reduce rim/brake pad contact. I don’t know what happens when a spoke in a 16-spoke wheel fails. I’ve read about carbon fiber spokes exploding and the wheel disintegrating. Crash. I’ve broken at least ten spokes, never a problem.

Hub. Hubs can break at the spoke hole. I once re-spoked a wheel and made the dumb mistake of laying the spokes down in such a way that they did not line up with the previous indentations. The hub tore out two spokes due to my stupidity while riding down Metcalf Road.

Freewheel/Freehub. The inner workings can fail, especially bearings. I’ve had this happen.

Bottom bracket axle. They can fail, although the newer BBs with outboard bearings are much stronger today.

Hub axle. The 6-speed Campagnolo axles were notorious for failing after a few years use. Today’s hubs have outboard bearings and that means less axle overhang. I suppose it can still happen to hub axles ridden too many miles.

Headset. I had a headset disintegrate, the upper cup. Bearings also fail.

Chain. I know lots of people who have broken chains. It has never happened to me.

Brakes. I suppose a brake arm can fail, or a hydraulic brake, but more likely it will be a brake cable. With constant stress cables fail. It has happened to me on several occasions, always the front cable, of course. I crashed my bike as a result of the failure on one occasion, ruining a fork and crimping the downtube and toptube. Replace your front cable every few years, if you ride a lot of miles.

Shifters. Today’s complicated brake shifters are prone to component failure. Many small parts can break with use. It happened to me. Shift cables can fail from repeated use. Replace them once in a while.

Saddle. I imagine saddle rails can break, although it has never happened to me. A lot depends on your weight.

Tires. This is obvious, but these days because I have so few flats, I have to remind myself to check for tire wear. Replace tires when they start to look worn. Casings can tear, and that’s not good.

It’s always a good idea to check your bike from time to time. Look for cracks using a magnifying glass. Replace old parts.

The airlines industry is known for replacing vital parts on a regular schedule, and they retire planes after so many years. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

2 Responses to “I’m a conservative…when it comes to bike parts”

  1. jamesRides Says:

    Also don’t forget spoke nipples. Newer bikes use aluminum nipples instead of brass to save weight. If you habitually ride in wet weather these nipples will corrode over the course of 2 years or so and break. Just recently had to re-nipple the back wheel of my “mostly road” bike using brass. (need to remember to do the front also). On the mountain bike over the course of 10 years literally everything broke – only the original handlebars, shifters, and brake levers remain. Trek replaced the frame when it broke – nice of them.

  2. Richard Mlynarik Says:

    * Frame: Fork failure is potentially — no, likely! — catastrophic.
    Elsewhere keep an eye out, repair, replace.
    But forks …. [shudder].

    * Cranks: I’ve lucked out here, again, almost incredibly, but either the pedal eye or the bottom bracket failing on the left side (everywhere but UK/AUS/NZ) — meaning an abrupt fall towards a motor vehicle land– is potentially disastrous.

    * Handlebar. Has happened to me, twice, but again I was lucky and recognized the symptoms *barely* in time. Jobst always used old Cinelli steel handlebars, and ones suprisingly narrow for his size. I went with wider aluminium ones (46cm x 26.0mm diameter, now obsolete, it seem) and replaced them every couple years. You REALLY don’t want this to happen to you.

    * Stem. Hasn’t happened to me, but the failure mode (per Jobst, and per even my rudimentary mechanical understanding) on old-style threaded headsets+stems is the stem binder bolt. Another reason to go “aheadset”/”threadless”

    * Seatpost. Referenced earlier. You really really really don’t want this to happen to you. Really.

    * Spokes. So many, for me. Just A Thing. Prepare, replace, continue. I wish this didn’t happen, and perhaps with wider rear hubs it wouldn’r happen, but this has just been a bane for me for decades. Carry spare spokes, know how to replace, know how to manage to continue without replacement.

    * Hub. Not to me, but I’ve seen it happen, particulary with radially-spoked wheels back in the day. Jobst had a small museum of failed Campagnolo hub flanges.

    * Freewheel/Freehub: I’ve destroyed several. I ride-ending inconvenience. but not life-threatening. (At least in my experience.)

    * Hub axle: The 30-year-obsolete freewheel design was just STOOOOOpid (Jobstism.) “Freehub” superior in every single way. This was the first piece of “modern” bike tech I adopted in the 1990s or whatever, and the most blindingly obvious. There is *nothing* to be said in favour of freewheels. Nothing.

    * Bottom bracket axle: You may very well be fucked (= DIE) if you fall into traffic. But hasn’t happened to me — my crank+BB failures have been of cranks. Knock wood. And I’m still riding stupid old “inbound” bearing BBs, not for technical reasons, but because that’s what I own.

    * Headset. Not fatal. Inconvenient, for sure. But not fata.

    * Chain. Many times. Potentially very dangerous (consider stomping down hard on the traffic (left, hereabouts) side when the chain gives way) but I’ve escaped so far. I don’t have any rationale for why this hasn’t either been or even *felt* dangerous to me, so — SO FAR — but it hasn’t. Perhaps I need to think more about this, and think more rationally.

    * Brakes. I’ve had brake cables break (several times) and brake pivot bolts (once, very memorably, on a Jobst ride, in the Dolomites, mid-range late-1990s Suntour part) fail. You really really *really* do not want this. You *REALLY* don’t want this. Jobst strongly preferred older Campagnolo cables, and replaced them frequently.

    * Shifters. Whatever. You don’t die if you miss a shift. WHAT-EVA.

    * Tires. Blowouts can be fatal, for sure. I’m such a dinosaur that I have little idea of what’s out there. KEEP THE RUBBER SIDE DOWN, KIDS!

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