Component Life

My, what big teeth you have...
My, what big teeth you have…

I remember when I had a bike in college. It was… not a good bike. It was old, but it usually worked. It did have a bad habit locking up the front brake whenever I used it, but hey, what bike doesn’t? Maintenance just wasn’t something I thought about. The bike just… worked. Even after I bought my first real road bike (which I barely rode for the first 9 years I owned it), the only thing that I thought about wearing down were the tires (not that I ever came close to wearing them down) and the inner-tubes when I had flats.

It wasn’t until I started really riding a few years ago that I thought, “Hey, you know, this bike isn’t working very well anymore. Maybe there’s something I should do about it?” Thus began my road to enlightenment – and the subsequent lightening of my wallet. The first time I took my bike in for maintenance and heard what they recommended, it went a little like this:

  • New handlebar tape: Yeah, that’s pretty thrashed.
  • New tires: Well, I guess dry rot is a bad thing for rubber.
  • New Chain: Huh… that wears down?
  • New Cassette: Wait, what? That’s not supposed to come off.
  • New Cables: But, um… they’re still attached. I need new ones?
  • Rims are cracked: But they’re mostly round and still work right?

In the end, I only replaced the handlebar tape, the tires, and the chain. After a couple more months, I replaced the entire bike. But now I was scared. When do I know if a component needs to be replaced? How often does it need replacing? What’s the “typical” wear time for these things? I looked and looked, and I couldn’t find much. So, after three years of riding, I’ve compiled an approximate use limit for the most commonly replaced bike components. NOTE: if the component works or hasn’t worn down after this many miles, keep using it. Nothing is set in stone. Below are the estimates for component life, along with typical signs of wear, and the issues that can arise if you don’t replace the component.

Handlebar Tape: ~4-6k miles.

  • Duration Factors: your typical hand positions and the conditions the tape is exposed to.
  • Cost: ~$15
  • Signs of wear: discoloration, no padding, rips/tears
  • Issues: uncomfortable handlebar, hands hurt after long rides

Tires: ~2.5-3k miles.

  • Duration Factors: roads you ride on, type of tire (puncture resistant, lightweight racing, etc.), luck
  • Cost: $20-80/tire (big range depending on what you buy, where you buy it)
  • Signs of wear: large holes/rips in the rubber, strings showing through the casing, squared off
  • Issues: less steering control and less control on wet/bad roads, more flats, potential blowout

Chain: ~3k miles.

  • Duration Factors: how you ride (fast, hard riders can put more wear on a chain), maintenance (cleaning, lubing), cassette wear (older cassettes will wear down your chain faster)
  • Cost: $30+
  • Signs of wear: Bad shifting, chain length (easiest to use a chain checker tool)
  • Issues: shifting will continue to get worse, cassette will wear down faster, and chain could ultimately break

Cassette: ~6k miles

  • Duration Factors: how you ride (fast, hard riders can put more wear), how you shift, maintenance (cleaning), chain wear (older chains will wear down your cassette faster)
  • Cost: $60-150
  • Signs of wear: Bad shifting, chunks missing from cog teeth, uneven cog teeth, chain not aligning properly to grooves between teeth
  • Issues: shifting will continue to get worse, ghost shifting can occur, chain slippage, will wear down your chain

The rest of the components typically don’t wear down (or at least not fast enough to have to worry about them). You should look for wear signs on them however:

  • Frame: for carbon frames, check for cracks after any crash. For aluminum or steel, check for alignment issues from dents you can’t get fixed.
  • Wheels: check for cracks in the rim, and get your wheels trued once a year during routine maintenance.
  • Fork: carbon, check for cracks after a crash. Any other material: buy a new fork, because you’re probably killing your arms.
  • Saddle: if there’s padding, check for wear. Also check for rips/tears in the cover.
  • Shoes: if the insole is worn down it can lead to foot pain. If the cleats are worn down your shoe can unclip at the wrong time (which can lead to injury).
  • Gloves: check the padding by going into a bike store and feeling the padding on a new pair. If yours is worn down, replace them.
  • Helmet: if it hits the deck, chuck it. Even if you can’t see visible damage, the inner lining could have been compromised.
  • Crank: jacket or broken teeth on the chain rings which lead to bad shifting and faster chain wear. Chain rings can last tends of thousands of miles.

Things no-one should have to tell you to replace: shorts and other clothing. Even if you use Sport Suds (and I highly recommend you do, works excellently), at some point there’s no saving them. Please don’t overuse your bibs/shorts. Yes, I know they’re expensive, but if they’re more transparent than plastic wrap, or you can no longer wash out the funk, buy new ones! [Tip: hand-wash your clothes after every ride – don’t let your sweat dry in, as it’ll be harder to get out!]

So now that we know the parts that you have to typically replace on a bike (and about how often), we can get an estimated operating cost based on your yearly miles.  I’m going to make the following assumptions:

  1. A flat every 300 miles.
  2. An inner-tube cost of $7/tube, patched only once.
  3. No random events (such as a spoke or cable breaking, a crash, getting hit by a Mack truck, etc.)
  4. Bike is basically maintained (chain lubed every 100-150 miles, tires cleaned of debris, etc.)
  5. Average usage limits and prices you can find for items (using and

Cost for replaced hardware per year at various distances:

  • 1,000 Miles: $14 (2 tubes)
  • 2,000 Miles: $21 (3 tubes)
  • 3,000 Miles: $155  (2 tires, 5 tubes, 1 chain)
  • 4,000 Miles: $169  (2 tires, 7 tubes, 1 chain)
  • 5,000 Miles: $198  (2 tires, 9 tubes, 1 chain, 1 handlebar tape)
  • 6,000 Miles: $405  (4 tires, 10 tubes, 2 chains, 1 handlebar tape, 1 cassette)