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In this question (with this answer) I asked about a commuter bike, which is to be ridden 40 km every weekday, in the city. And apparently for this scenario I can choose either of two possible kinds of bike:

  • A $700 bike with derailleurs, rim brakes, and 700 wheels ... I image that this is an extremely standard, common type of bike.

  • A $1250 bike with hub gears, hydraulic disc brakes, 700 wheels, and carbon forks and seat post ... these are higher-end features and it's rare to find them so cheap (and may require a much less local LBS).

I asked at a LBS (whose specialty is commuter bikes) about, what is the difference between say one of their $600 and $800 bikes; and the answer was, "better components, more durability": that more expensive wheels are 'stronger', etc.

I don't have any insight into how much, quantitatively, more-durable versus less-durable means.

Some arguments (perhaps the main/only arguments) for hub gears and hydraulic brakes are "less or no maintenance".

How much maintenance (not just what type of maintenance, but how much) does a cheaper bike require? How much less does a more expensive one? And/or, how much longer will more expensive components last? Might the more expensive components actually be more costly to maintain (because they're more difficult to service and more costly to replace), but require service less often?

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How much do you ride and how often do you get it serviced? –  Ward May 1 '12 at 1:08
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The cheaper bike will probably require you to adjust the brakes and gears plus lube the chain every week or two, and a bike shop to replace the brake pads, chain and cassette every 3-20Mm. For you, that's probably twice in the winter, once in the summer. With rim brakes you will also need new rims/wheels every couple of years, more often if the roads are gritty. But a lot depends on your riding style and the enthusiasm you have for maintenance (hence the 3-20 range). If "lube the chain every week" actually means "the bike shop does that every month or two", they'll probably be putting on a new chain. Count a monthly service at ~$50 and the chain/cassette/pads as $200 and that's $1000/year in maintenance, or $600 if you do the monthly service yourself.

It's important to note that you can skimp on all of this and it just means slightly more expensive fixes and a slightly worse riding experience (gears that skip under power, more resistance from damaged bearings, cables or chains the break, brakes that don't really work). When I was a mechanic I saw bikes where basically everything needed to be replaced, but people were still riding them (and just wanted a puncture fixed or a new basket or something). The bad riding experience means an hour for your 18km commute instead of 40 minutes.

With hub gears and disk brakes, especially with a full chain case, you'll lube the chain every couple of months, put new brake pads in every year or two, and I expect that replacing tyres will become your main dirty maintenance task. With a single-cable hub (Shimano, SRAM) you'll have to adjust the gears after a couple of months (the free service) then again a few months before you need a new gear cable. If you run Marathons or some other puncture-resistant tyre you should wear the tyre out without getting a puncture (a puncture is often the thing that makes you look at the tyre and go "need a new one". I run a Marathon Plus on the rear and have only had one puncture in at least 20Mm. I did get a 3" nail through one though (with no puncture!)

Those numbers are why people often end up with a dedicated commuter bike that costs a fortune up front. New Rohloff Oil every year at $20 compared to a new Shimano hub every three years at $800 makes the $2000 up front cost of a Rohloff seem cheap (a Rohloff will last 100,000 kilometres or more... no-one really knows because there aren't many hubs that have done that distance yet, Rohloff only started about 10 years ago).

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In the 1st paragraph you said that someone (i.e. me, presumably) adjusts the brakes and gears and lubes the chain every week: and visits the shop to change brake pads, chain, and cassette 3 times a year. But at the end of the paragraph you added "a monthly service at ~$50": what work is needed/being done in that monthly service? –  ChrisW Feb 11 '11 at 1:56
    
You're right. If you adjust brakes and gears, change tyres etc then the monthly service costs little to nothing (chain lube, basically). So you'd be spending $600/year. And that's Australian costs, I'm not sure what your local costs are. I've edited that para. –  Мסž Feb 11 '11 at 2:25
    
I'd guess that most expensive Shimano hub is the new 11-speed Alfine, isn't it: and that costs about $400, not $800? –  ChrisW Feb 11 '11 at 3:08
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Yes, but in three or four years time it will no longer be available, so you will need to buy the new "Dolphine 12" speed hub and have that built into a wheel instead. The Nexus 8 that I bought was only available for about a year after the 2 year warranty expired. But the time the third one had died it was irreplacable. So a new $400-ish hub, plus either a wheelbuild at about $80 or a new rim and build at about $200 means you're looking at $500 minimum. That assumes you get Shimano warranty and don't do an intermediate replacement. Which I won't assume, hence the $800. –  Мסž Feb 11 '11 at 3:50
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@ChrisW: It's tricky - I like hubs, and I'd like to think that Shimano have started making usable ones, but I'm reluctant to recommend them as entirely reliable. If nothing else, Shimano's typical 3-5 year product support life is a poor match for products expected to last 10 years or more. It will probably work fine for you, and I've sold those hubs to customers, but never to a beefy guy who pedals hard because I personally don't think they're built to take that. You might be fine, you might not, I don't know. So I'm mentioning the downsides too. –  Мסž Feb 11 '11 at 3:55
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A lot depends on the design goals for the bike. High-end road bike gear often isn't terribly durable because it's designed to minimize weight at the expense of all else. Carbon is likely to be less durable in the long run than metal, especially if the bike's used for utility purposes and regularly locked up and knocked around.

A cheap fixed gear is pretty low-maintenance: in order of frequency, all you have to do is oil the chain, change the brake pads, change the tires and chain, and replace the bottom bracket and wheel bearings. After a few years, the brakes might wear through the rims. But you're giving up functionality (that you may or may not want) in exchange for less maintenance.

More expensive hand-built wheels generally are stronger than cheaper machine-built wheels.

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In fact for the riding I described in the OP I found that I need the following maintenance.

  • Fix flats in the tires, until replacing the tires with proper reliable touring tires
  • Take the bike in for service every 6 months (2 years's of free service included with purchase of new bike), and expect them to change the chain and cassette and maybe the hydraulic disk brake pads.

The bike is a all-aluminium Kona Dr. Dew.

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I think there's a diminishing returns on this, but on the really cheap end of things, no amount of maintenance will actually get things to work properly. You could end up with wheels that just cannot be trued, gears that never shift cleanly, etc.

Mind you, I'm thinking of BSOs, not something you'd find at your LBS.

I try to give the bikes I commute on some maintenance monthly, and take them in for a tuneup every 500-1000mi or so. I don't ride any internally geared bikes though, so I can't really say how often I feel they need service.

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40 km (25 miles) per day => 125 miles/week => 500 miles every month! At that rate (one tune-up per month), if each tune-up costs $30 to $80, then the tune-ups alone (excluding parts) for the first two years would be more expensive than the bike. How much time do you put into each of your monthly maintenances: what are you doing each month, and what is the "tuneup" that you take them in for and that you aren't doing youself? –  ChrisW Feb 10 '11 at 22:54
    
Heh, fair - I usually take it in every few months (3-4 or so). My daily commute is about 15mi, plus whatever else I ride around town for errands and friends. My routine stuff that I do is clean the chain deeply, adjust the brakes and derailleurs. –  zigdon Feb 11 '11 at 17:34
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From what you've described, it sounds like you are trying to achieve mutually exclusive goals.

You want to spend less AND take the bike to service less often AND have the bike feeling better (for longer) AND have parts that don't wear so much.

Indeed, you can spend less and have the bike feel better for longer by actually taking it MORE OFTEN to maintainence.

If you ride three or four times a week for EIGHTEEN MONTHS without nothing but some oil spray on the chain, no wonder your bike feels like another after you take it to shop. That is WAY TOO MUCH TIME without maintenance.

So, some simple measures would be:

  • Wash the parts of your bike that move under friction if they get dirty. That is mostly drivetrain, brakes and braking surfaces. Soft brush, hose and mild soap should be fine.
  • Don't wait too much before replacing the chain. A worn chain can waste good cassettes and chainrings. 1000 km is a good distance to consider replacing it, but it can last longer if you lube it and ride mostly on asphalt, and way less than it if you ride on serious muddy and/or wet conditions.
  • Shifting and braking rely heavily on cables and housings being on good condition. Replacing them regularly is not expensive and have a HUGE impact on riding quality.

Beyond that, bike mechanics and shop owners also need to eat. Taking the bike to the shop more often can end up having a much better cost-benefit for you than waiting untill the bike is crappy. And even the price of each service might be smaller, since it is much less work to service a bike that is not cying for help.

Hope this is useful!

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There is essentially nothing in the way of maintenance on a standard bicycle that cannot be done by a competent "shade tree mechanic". It's all a matter of learning the basic techniques and acquiring a few basic tools.

The first thing to learn to do, and the most important, is of course to keep the tires properly inflated.

Repairing flats, and changing tires when they're worn is something every cyclist should know how to do.

After that, cleaning the drive train (chain and sprockets) is reasonably simple and worthwhile to do. Should be done every few hundred miles. (The "chain washers" that are now available make this task fairly easy.) Inspecting the chain for wear (with a simple inexpensive gauge) and replacing it when worn is something that can be accomplished at the same time. (Chains last roughly 2000 miles, and if not replaced when worn out will cause damage to other parts.)

Replacing worn sprockets (rear at roughly 5000 miles, front at 10-15K) is actually relatively simple, though a few specialized tools are required.

Learning how to adjust brakes and derailers is one of the keys to keeping a bike in good working order. This needs to be done every few hundred miles. It takes a modicum of skill and practice, but it's not rocket science.

Keeping your wheels true is something that is fairly easy to do and well within the capabilities of someone with reasonable mechanical ability. There's no real schedule for this -- do it when the wheel appears to be out of true. Learning to replace a broken spoke on the road is worth doing, too.

Repacking wheel bearings is something that needs to be done every 10-20K miles, and once or twice in-between the bearing adjustment may need tweaking. This is not a difficult task, but it's messy and involved, and may be where you'd prefer to defer to your LBS.

There are books that will tell you how to do much of this.

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A good online reference and starting point is Park Tool. I would start there and also read up on the late Sheldon Browns web pages. If you can hold a screw driver and read a manual then the regular servicing should not be a problem. Parts replacement is easily within the scope of an average person - things like brake pads, chains and clusters (With the right tools). Where the bike shops have it is knowing just what parts are worn out, and the odd thing like a stripped thread or stuck seat post that they have the experience to deal to without breaking other stuff. ,

As far as specialized tools go, you won't need anything more than what a normal home handyman has in a tools box to start with. If you get more adventurous, You can get cheap specific bike tools kits that are OK for the odd job, but be careful as some of the tools can be low quality and damage bike parts (The Crank remover on mine "felt" too cheap for the forces needed, so I bought a Park Tool one.), or you can buy them from the LBS as needed.

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Chains

There's a lot of information here about why chains wear, how long they might last, how to tell when they need replacing, and what happens if you don't when they need it.

  • 1000 km (cross-country, or all-weather abuse)
  • 3-5000 km (well-maintained derailer chains)
  • more than 6,000 km for perfectly groomed high-quality chains, single-gear, or hub-gear chains (preferably with a full cover chain guard)

So if you're doing 800 km/month, then you ought to replace chains maybe monthly if you don't clean and lube them every week, otherwise 2-3 times/year.


Cassettes

There are some conversations here, here, and here about how often a cassette (i.e. rear derailleur sprockets) might need replacing.

The consensus there seems to be that a cassette must be changed approximately once for every 2 to 5 chains; and depending on how expensive the cassette is, if you're using a relatively expensive cassette then change the chains more often (to protect the cassette from being abused by a worn chain).

Other estimates suggested 10-20,000 km for a cassette.

So if you're changing the chains 2-3 times/year then expect to change the cassette once/year?

And a cassette costs maybe $80 for the part (excluding labour; if it needs changing, the LBS will probably change it when they change the chain).


Maintenance schedule

How much maintenance (not just what type of maintenance, but how much) does a cheaper bike require?

Don't get a bike that's too cheap (a 'BSO'): no amount of tuning will be enough.

A maintenance schedule will include:

  • Clean the chain weekly (otherwise, at 40 km/day, expect to replace it and maybe the cassette every month or two).

  • Check the tire pressures weekly.

  • Adjust the brakes and gears monthly (either yourself, or at a bike store)

  • Change tires whenever necessary

  • Have an in-store tune-up 2 or 3 times a year: during which they may change the chain, cassette, brake pads, and tires.

Cost of thrice-yearly service, and new parts (pads, chain, and cassette) might be $600/year (or more if you don't do your own weekly chain cleaning, and monthly brake and gear adjustments).

And/or, how much longer will more expensive components last?

An internal-geared hub should be adjusted/serviced once, after it's installed.

A 7-speed internal-geared hub from Shimano might last 3 years or so, and cost $500 to replace; it's grease-filled.

An internal-geared hub from Rohloff lasts indefinitely, but costs $1700+ to buy; it's filled with oil instead of grease (change the oil once a year).

With an internal-geared hub (unlike with derailleurs) you can fit a chain-guard around the chain: in which case the chain might last twice as long, and want cleaning every two months instead of every week.

If you have rim brakes instead of disk brakes, then you may need to replace the rims (i.e. the wheels) every two years or so. Mechanical disc are cheaper to own than hydraulic disc

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With my exposed chain Rohloff-bike I oil the chain every couple of weeks-ish (more often if I'm riding in the rain). I run 8 speed chain because the Rohloff cogs are 3/32" so 1/8" chain doesn't sit right. That chain lasts a couple of years, I replaced it for the first time on this bike recently, at about 12Mm. We don't get snow or anything particularly awful in Melbourne, but I do ride a bike path that floods regularly with salt water and when I was testing a chain case riding through 0.3m deep water meant taking the case off and cleaning + lubing everything. More hassle than it's worth. –  Мסž Feb 12 '11 at 5:11
    
Disk brake pads: hydraulic brake pads should last 20-50Mm. My Hayes ones outlasted the bike (admittedly only 10Mm or so, but it was a tandem). Mechanical brake pads are softer and last me about 10Mm. They're cheap though - $25/pair in Oz. You need pliers to replace them, but it's not hard (easier than most cantilever pad replacements). –  Мסž Feb 12 '11 at 5:14
    
I've had the bike for 4 months so far: and the brakes and gears haven't needed any adjusting yet. –  ChrisW Jun 10 '11 at 14:02
    
Normally, some adjustment is needed after roughly a month (this is usually free when you buy the bike). However, just like vision, some people may not notice they need adjustments until you end up hitting a tree. –  Batman Jan 10 at 3:30
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On a $700 hybrid with a 9 speed chain and hydraulic brakes. Fit a new chain ($30) and new tires ($55/pair) and an LBS service for the brakes+new pads ($75) twice a year. But I'm doing 50km/day (1000km/month)

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1000km/month is quite a lot. Do you need LBS service only twice/year? How much maintenance do you do yourself? You clean the chain, I take it; do you also need to tune/adjust the gears? And how often (if ever) is the casette replaced? –  ChrisW Feb 11 '11 at 1:28
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Only been doing the long km for 6months (office move!) I clean/oil the chain at least weekly, check the gears, oil cables etc. Haven't needed a new cassette yet - but it has a 9speed (narrow) chain which wears out quickly enough before it starts to wear the hub. –  mgb Feb 11 '11 at 3:38
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