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I live by the beach. Although I guess this is a similar problem to those who ride on salt-laden winter roads...

It does take a while but, as evidenced by the endless bikes abandoned around the neighbourhood, eventually:

  • the chain seizes (individual links seize and jam in the works), and/or
  • the derailleur seizes (the spring stops pulling the mechanism left/right), and/or
  • the cables seize (they do not move through the housing anymore), and/or
  • the...?

Actually, that's about it. Just those three things must be the root cause of 90% of the bikes abandoned in the neighbourhood; usually at, maximum, 5 years old. Sometimes, but rarely, the bottom bracket seizes, or the brakes jam, or the pedals jam, or the lock (if locked up) itself jams, but those three are the most commonly observed causes for end-of-life (at which point a malicious drunkard comes along and kicks the back wheel into a not-round-or-flat shape).

So, question, what can we do to mitigate these problems and keep them on the road a little longer?

Obviously, completely replacing those three parts every 3-4 years (plus the chainring), is a start but, advanced question, what materials can we replace them with to reduce the maintenance further.

Unfortunately, because the life-expectancy is so poor, and enthusiasm to be careless about locking it up so keen, price is a major concern. Is there such a thing as an all-plastic derailleur? Would the price of hydraulic lines really be worth the risk of theft? A hub and belt drive is perhaps ideal, but so expensive!

Just your two cents of insight please?

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    A simple hub (Shimano Nexus or Alfine) is not that expensive. You still have to maintain the chain but at least you don't have to worry about a derailleur.
    – Erlkoenig
    Jan 28 at 10:22
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    @Erlkoenig: They still have a cable. And how long do internal gear hubs last in bad conditions? How serviceable are they? A 9 speed derailleur costs less than 30€. If one really has to replace it every few years it’s not that expensive.
    – Michael
    Jan 28 at 12:08
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    @Michael There is Alfine Di2, but that's not cheap anymore :) Hub gears generally last much longer than derailleur drives in bad conditions, since they are completely unaffected by water, dirt, salt... They are somewhat serviceable, but it's often more economical to just replace them. There's a reason why in Europe, millions of IGHs are used for reliable commuter bikes. They also allow you to use full chain covers as on dutch bikes.
    – Erlkoenig
    Jan 28 at 12:14
  • @Erlkoenig: I thought so too, but apparently a surprisingly large number of people has had bad experience with internal gear hubs. They are not completely maintenance free either, for example Shimano recommends maintenance every 5Mm or 2 years. Probably more often in OP’s bad conditions.
    – Michael
    Jan 28 at 12:56
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    Little clarification required: the OP seems to justify the requirement of the low cost because of the poor life expectancy, but on the other hand you discard belt and hub because of the price. Wouldn't the additional expense be justified if they actually allowed to operate longer? Or there is a too high risk of theft? Also, hydraulic brakes are not super expensive in absolute terms: for 100€ you can get the "basic but excellent" Shimano MT200 + discs, but indeed, if the bike is not equipped with disc brakes to start with, new wheels might be needed.
    – Renaud
    Jan 28 at 15:25

6 Answers 6

11

As someone who lives on a peninsular and services bikes, I'll throw in my oar, though there's probably overlap with other answers.

My own bike has a Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub, gates belt drive and hydraulic disc brakes. The brake pads have stainless steel backs. All the bolts have been replaced with stainless steel equivalents where possible and the gear cable is stainless. The exposed bit of chain for the hub gear shift is covered in wax. I consider this bike "zero maintenance" as the brakes are self-adjusting and the belt requires no lubrication. It gets cleaned down with detergent a brush and a hose every so often. Headset and bottom bracket were packed with grease on assembly, and in an ideal world I would inspect these annually. If I had deeper pockets, I would have bought more gears in the hub but the 3-speed is very cheap and works well.

For derailleur gear bikes, it's sufficient to use stainless steel inner brake and gear cables, and good quality outer casing. The chain and the pivots of the derailleurs need to have lubrication applied regularly. Certain types of shimano rapid fire shifter will seize up due to salt corrosion if not used, but if the bike is used everyday, its chances of survival are good: it should wear out before corrosion stops moving parts from moving. Cosmetics will suffer pretty rapidly though. Use plenty of grease when assembling the bike.

You talk about a plastic derailleur and of course they exist. The S-Ride ones are very plastic and older Sachs and SRAM designs. Are they more durable? a drop of oil in the right place every now and again does alot of good.

When you talk about the cost of the belt drive and hydraulic lines etc, hydraulic brakes are pretty cheap now, cheaper than good quality mechanical brakes, and have better performance. It doesn't make your bike significantly more attractive to theives. The belt drive is a big cost and requires a compatible frame but has the benefit of thousands and thousands of miles of cycling with very little maintenance effort on your part. In a salty environment with an apathetic maintenance routine, you could be changing a chain after every winter or more often, and the cost accumulates past the level of a belt. But you can be more careful and look after your chain if you have the time.


Other interesting sea damage I've witnessed but not mentioned:

  • aluminium spoke nipples dissolving to white powder within a year or two (expensive race wheels used along a seafront road)
  • aluminium frame tubing expanded and split along a chainstay (over one winter outside through the storms, cheap alu hybrid bike)
  • cracked aluminium headtube from expasion due to corrosion between headset cups and frame (longer term damage)
  • normal seized brake pivots, stuck headset spacers, seat posts and quill stems
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    Agreed - Aluminium spoke nipples only have benefit for lightweight/racing wheels. All other wheels should be built with brass nipples.
    – Criggie
    Jan 28 at 21:41
  • The spoke nipples is indeed a thing; although, for me, applies more to my 'proper' road bike than the beach junker; curious. Yes, also the brake pivots. They stop pivoting, but I can lube those up again relatively easily; if they don't break in the process.
    – John
    Jan 28 at 22:22
8

Get yourself a good quality Dutch bike, with internal hub gear, a fully enclosed chain and good quality other components. That way the chain and gears are not open to the salt and the rest should withstand most of what the weather can throw at it.

Keep the bike clean and polished but no need to attend to it daily. I live within 5 km, 2.65 mile, from the sea and most of the bikes here do not have any trouble at all. That are basically mid to good quality Dutch bikes. The very expensive sporty bikes and the very cheap bikes do not fare as well.

5

Some brake possibilities:

  • Use stainless steel cables for brakes and gears. Most modern cables are stainless steel, but older BSO bikes probably aren't.
  • Use full-length runs of outer. This minimises the number of places where salt can get to the inner cables.
  • To protect the head-end, consider bar-mitts or pogies that will encase your levers and warm your hands. There's not much you can do at the caliper end though.

Other:

  • Wash your bike after every salty ride - don't put it away wet with saline water. That could be as simple as running a garden hose over the lower parts.
  • Dry your bike - Simply put is to towel down with an old cloth. My bikes live in a garage with a humidity control, so I can put wet gloves up one evening and they're dry to ride again next morning.
  • Chain care - you will need to clean and lubricate your chain more often. A "wet lube" would be better than a dry lube, but I personally wax my chains and while snow/salt isn't a thing here, the waxed chain survives winter much better. I got 3000 km off a normal 10 speed chain on a road bike, and even more off a 7 speed bike.
  • Full mudguards/fenders. They do wonders for redirecting water/slush from the wheels away from the bottom bracket and front chainring area. Keeping your backside cleaner is a happy by-product. The rear guard should be slightly over half the circumference of the rear wheel, and the front should be about 110~120 degrees of arc.
    Guards will also protect brake calipers to some extent.
  • Pedals - again simply wash them with the bike.

Potentially you could use hydraulic brakes, probably disk rather than rim based. However disk brakes have rotors which will likely rust as the outer surface slowly wears away removing any protective layer.

Maybe this is one of the situations where a true fixed speed bike makes sense, but relying on the wheel's friction to stop you in the snow feels like a bad idea. Not recommended.

If money is available, consider an Internally Geared Hub instead of a derailleur. A 3/5/7/8 speed IGH will provide gears without exposing the mechanism to the elements. However they also don't work well with multiple chainrings, so figure out a combination that works for you and do away with the front mech completely.
A follow-on is to go from chain to drive belt, but that means expense-most bike frames can't accept a drive belt setup because it means a cut through the right-side rear triangle.

After winter and the salt is gone, you should do a deep service on your bike, and repack the cup and cone wheel/BB bearings, or if they're cartridges then clean and check them. A marine-rated grease would make sense.
Flush out the freehub and pedal bearings and relube them, and check cables etc. If this is your winter bike, do this before storing it for the summer - don't let it rust up over the summer.

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    To my mind, drying a bike always seems rather pointless. You can't (wipe) dry the bits that matter the most if they rust, like where chain side plates meet or inside derailleurs. Drying by evaporation probably takes too long in winter as well. That's one reason I always use wet-lube - I spin dry the drivetrain either on the stand or with a quick lap of my road, then oil while damp. Otherwise the chain gets stiffly rusty before it's dry
    – Chris H
    Jan 28 at 11:59
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    Brake calipers can still benefit from cautious drops of oil at pivot points, and generous grease where the cable comes out of the housing. But I had issues on a cold (for me, about -4°C) morning recently. Shifting to a smaller sprocket didn't happen, and to a bigger one was very stiff, and the back brake was reluctant to go on then wouldn't come right off. Perhaps trapped water froze in the cables, though it was put away dry
    – Chris H
    Jan 28 at 12:03
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    anyway +1 overall - lots of good ideas even if my take on a couple of points is different
    – Chris H
    Jan 28 at 12:03
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    To follow on the advice about full-length cable outers: there are "open" and "sealed" cable-housing caps. Sealed caps will mitigate saltwater intrusion into the cable housing.
    – Adam Rice
    Jan 28 at 14:11
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    @Criggie I do that too, but the tucked-away bits are certainly still damp the next day in most weather conditions. My garage is unheated and our climate tends to be damp and/or cold when the bike is most likely to need washing. I have made the mistake of leaving it to dry overnight after giving the chain a really good clean - and found rust on the links the next day
    – Chris H
    Jan 30 at 8:32
4

Kit:

I would take inspiration from the beach cruisers of decades ago. Although they are not that popular nowadays because "more gears = better" nonsense, they were mostly single-speeders with coaster brake for very sound reasons!

If your area has moderate/steep hills you can look at options with the Sturmey Archer 2 speed kick shift hub with coaster brake (2 gears and brake with zero cables).

If your area is mostly flat or with some gentle hills I would go single speed but crucially I would choose an MTB cassette hub with sealed bearings and with a single speed cog adapter instead of a traditional/BMX freewheel. The reason being, the cassette style hub will stand up a lot better to the salty environment. If you go for the BMX style freewheel you can view it as a consumable that will need to be changed every year or so depending on the usage.

The MTB cassette hub option would rule out the rear coaster brake though. But you could still run with only a front brake for less maintenance. Although some people might find the ride less safe without a rear brake (particularly in wet/icy conditions. But my answer to that would be that lowering your tire pressure to achieve a larger contact patch is much more important for safety in wet conditions than having a rear brake.

In any of these cases I would still recommend a front brake as essential. Never ride without a front brake (unless you are riding a pump track or some other niche use cases). Front brakes due to the short cable tend to be much more reliable in that sort of environment anyway, representing a negligible maintenance effort.

That said I wouldn't entirely rule out a belt driven bike. There are some options on the market now that aren't too expensive. Check this for example https://www.prioritybicycles.com/products/priorityclassic2

Maintenance:

The key here is to keep your bike inside (at least overnight). No bike will survive for long in that environment if kept outside at night.

Get a bicycle chain cleaner kit (one of those plastic contraptions with some brush rollers that you hold around the chain and spray some de-greaser in while turning the pedals). Keep this in a large dedicated rectangular plastic bucket. Every once in a while just put your bike over it and do a quick round of cleaning and leave it in the bucket for next time.

This will give you a hassle free way of keeping your chain clean.

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    Great first answer! Welcome to the site :)
    – MaplePanda
    Jan 28 at 19:08
  • Disappointing how few bikes are sold with sturmey archers. Years ago they were everywhere! The few builds with hubs I can find mostly carry shimano nexus. Any idea if the sturmeys are some sort of "standard" width? Still have to wear the cost of building a wheel around it but might make it an option.
    – John
    Feb 1 at 6:58
  • @John, I can't speak from experience regarding Sturmey-Archer because my only first hand experience with them was inheriting a bike with a 3 speed hub from the 1960's decades ago. But I have owned and ridden a Shimano Nexus 3 almost daily for the past 11 years (since 2011) and I must say I'm thoroughly impressed by the reliability and the ease of adjustment. Feb 9 at 14:47
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    @John, Most internal geared hubs come in several possible Over Locknut Diameter (O.L.D.) widths to fit different frame rear dropout spacing. For example my Shimano Nexus SG-3R40 is 120mm width to match the frame it came mounted to, but there is also a 127mm version. The same goes for recent Sturmey-Archer hubs, the same model has variants with diferent O.L.D. sizes. Note that the most common frame spacing is the "classic mountain bike" size of 135mm. However older road bikes and bikes specced from factory to have internal geared hubs are typically narrower than a mountain bike. Feb 9 at 14:57
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    @John, if you want to convert an existing bike to an internal geared hub (IGH), bear in mind that the rear spacing is not the only thing you need to take into account. The frame dropouts also need to be considered. IGHs need a special washer to prevent the axle from rotating under load. These typically expect you to have horizontal or track style dropouts (as opposed to the now more common vertical dropouts you find on mountain bikes). There are anti turn washers for these vertical style dropouts, but in that case you will need a chain tensioning device (not a great idea for your use case). Feb 9 at 15:09
3

I’d start with regular maintenance. Regularly clean the chain, lube it and wipe it down afterwards. Use dry lube or wax to attract less dust and sand. You can clean the derailleur with a garden hose and apply some penetrating oil afterwards. Silicone lubricant spray can help to extend the life of cables and housing.

For the shifter cables there are systems with continuous liner where dirt can only get in at the very end. If you had a lot of money you could get electronic shifting.

For the derailleur – if the reduced gear range is okay for you – you could remove/disable the front derailleur and only use the rear derailleur to reduce the amount of maintenance required.

I don’t think there are any derailleurs which are especially resistant to sand and corrosion. I’d go for cheaper (not the cheapest) 8 or 9 speed components from Shimano or SRAM because they should have solid quality while requiring less precision than modern 11 or even 12 speed systems.

Many bearings (e.g. cup and cone hub bearings) can be serviced or replaced.

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Living in a similar environment, I gave up on trying to maintain the chain on my winter bikes many years ago. No matter what I did and how much effort I made, the chain would always end up rusting.

The best solution i have found is a singlespeed bike with a rustproof chain and a thick/heavy wet lube. No cleaning, rarely needing more lube, just ride and then put it in the shed. Total maintenance cost is 1 chain (~£20) per year.

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    Here they put a lot of salt on the roads. A quick application of some wet lube every few rides is still enough to keep my chains from rusting too badly. If it’s really raining I have to do it after every ride.
    – Michael
    Jan 28 at 16:05

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