How Long Will Your Bike Last?

A view of my frame after repairing a crack.

Bike frames break. It’s one of the worst nightmares for the owner, the bike shop, distributor, and manufacturer to deal with, because who’s at fault? Aren’t frames guaranteed for life? Yes, many bikes come with a lifetime warranty on the frame, but not the forks.

What’s interesting is that manufacturers recommend carbon fiber frames that have been crashed be replaced, even if there are no indications of damage. Now there’s a kicker.

Steel frames break too, and I should know. Mine broke recently on a long ride over Mt. Hamilton. Forty-five miles into the ride, a gust of wind knocked over my bike, which was leaning against a fence. When I reached over to pick it up, I noticed a crack in the top tube, near the head tube.

With 80 miles still to ride and in the middle of nowhere, I had little choice but to continue. The crack got worse until it was halfway around the top tube. Worried about sudden failure, I stopped at a True Value hardware store in Pleasanton and paid $3 for some duct tape.

I continued on and finished the ride with no problems. Dale Saso, who built the bike in 1987, added a patch and I was back riding two days later, with 115,000 miles on the bike.

The frame had been cracked for years. In 1992, I ran into a cyclone fence when my front brake cable snapped. My forks were trashed. Dale built new ones and added a small patch on the down tube where the frame had a hairline crack.

The top tube was bowed slightly, so the frame had been compromised in the accident. It took 100,000 miles for the crack to make itself known!

I’m confident the bike will now outlast me. That’s why I ride steel frames. Carbon fiber has its advantages over steel, no doubt about it, but I’ll settle for a slightly heavier bike that can last a lifetime and can be repaired.

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