15

The details of this question may end up being quite specific to my exact circumstances, but I think the information presented in the answers will still be usable and interesting for the general case.


Hopefully as shown by my activity on this site, I quite enjoy working on my bikes. Whether that means buying and installing upgrades, trying experimental modifications, making aesthetic changes, or even performing general maintenance, I am not afraid to get my hands dirty; in fact, I find it rather enjoyable. However, I plan on giving my road bike to my brother (I am moving across the country), who is not nearly as serious a cyclist as I am. Since I know he will put it to good use commuting, I want him to enjoy the bike, but in a way that doesn't require the maintenance and adjustment I currently perform. In other words, I want to turn the bike from a constantly-evolving performance machine into a reliable machine that simply takes the rider from point A to B. Light weight and speed can be traded away if needed.

Are there any technological modifications, adjustments, purchases, or changes I can make to the bike to extend service intervals or make the bike more rugged? Alternatively (or additionally), are there non-technological factors I could consider? For example, I am trying to teach him to unweight the saddle on bumpy terrain to avoid unnecessarily stressing the bike, and I'm making a schedule for chain lubing and tire inflation. The bike in question is a 2020 gravel bike with a 2 by 10 Tiagra 4700 drivetrain and mechanical disc brakes if that helps. I think answers would be better if written from a more general viewpoint though.


Also, am I heading in the wrong direction? Should I just sell the bike before making any drastic modifications and get my brother a different one altogether?

14
  • 6
    In this case, I'd ask him directly if he would use it before getting too far down the spending path. I gave my dad a bike and it sat outside and rotted for years till he retired and NOW he starts using it. Had to replace all the rubber, chain, saddle and cables again.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 11:06
  • 4
    Maybe turn the time/money budget you're considering into vouchers for a bike store? Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 19:49
  • 6
    Rule #1: Store the bike out of the weather. Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 20:51
  • 1
    Rule #2: build a rugged bike that can stand some weather i.ebayimg.com/00/s/NzY4WDEwMjQ=/z/wYwAAOSwQPxiyx7k/$_86.JPG
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 14:56
  • 1
    Which bicycle, please? Don't you think any method making all bikes more reliable/less maintenance-intensive should make you as rich as rich? Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 17:54

11 Answers 11

26

I think you are probably worried about nothing, the bike probably needs much less maintenance than you think.

Like you, i'm an enthusiast, i ride quite a lot of miles/km, however unlike you I dislike performing maintenance tasks and largely ignore them. My bikes don't become dangerous, fall apart or spontaneously explode - the only real consequence is drivetrain parts wear out a little faster (not too much concern in your example of Tiagra components as replacement parts are relatively cheap).

My suggestion would be to hand your bike over to your brother along with a bottle of a relatively heavy long lasting wet lube. If running tubeless switch to a brand that's relatively long lasting and can be injected through the valve core (a top up every 6 months is a small task with huge benefits).

3
  • 4
    I'm also on the low cleaning/maintenance side, with the accelerated wear as a trade-off. I would however add that this approach still requires some knowledge to be done "safely", or avoid big replacements. For example, not cleaning the chain will accelerate its wear, but you probably limit the damage by replacing it timely.
    – Rеnаud
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 8:54
  • 7
    ...and now in my head I'm picturing a bicycle crash in a Michael Bay film. The rider falls off, the bike rolls forward, hits a wall...and then explodes, sending a column of smoke into the sky.
    – larsks
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 1:10
  • @larsks all because the rider opted against checking the tension on the headset. Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 7:26
17

In addition to all the other good advice here, there is one change you can do that will turn the gearing into a virtually maintenance free, rock solidly durable solution: Replace the chain-shift with an internal gear hub.

This will

  • remove the dishing from the rear wheel, making it more robust

  • completely remove the vulnerable derailleur

  • replace the cassette and its short teeth with a sprocket that has longer teeth, making chain skipping impossible (it will also make it impossible for a properly tensioned chain to jump off)

  • make chain suck and derailleur jamming impossible

  • provide linear, evenly spaced gears, avoiding worrying about cross-chaining and such (a bit like updating a car from manual shift with clutch to tip-tronic)

The downsides are

  • more weight

  • less gears (unless you invest over 1000$)

  • less gear range (unless you invest over 1000$)

  • less efficiency (unless you invest over 1000$)

Cheap IGHs can be obtained used for 25$, or so. These provide seven gears and 300% gear range, are rock solid and provide brainless shifting ability. The current top model clocks in at a bit over 1000$ but avoids all the disadvantages of IGHs except weight. There are some models in between with different trade-offs.

8
  • 11
    This might be sensible advice when choosing between different bikes. But changing the current 2x10 to an IGH is much more work than just buying a hub!! You need to rebuild the rear wheel, get compatible shifters and even get rid off the double at the front. At this point it's probably cheaper to buy a new bike... Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 19:47
  • 1
    @user2705196 That's especially true when you opt for the top model IGH... It is indeed a bit of work to relace the wheel. It's likely a good idea to simply buy a new wheel with the IGH already installed. The rest of the work, however, is quite straight forward: You buy a 1x crank set, remove the old cranks, remove the derailleurs, remove the shift cables, remove the shifters, install the new cranks, install the new shifter, route a single cable, install the new hub, fix the chain length, and you are ready to go. All of this is relatively easy and quick to do. Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 6:49
  • 2
    @cmaster-reinstatemonica in the case of the OP (gravel bike), the change won't be as straightforward as with a flat handle bar. You'll need to find a brifter (from a quick search, it's only for Shimano Alfine 11 Di2 - electronic, which is super rare and will add to the cost), and then rebuild the brake circuit (from cable disc to hydraulic). Enviolo & Rolhoff only offer shifters for flat handle bars.
    – Rеnаud
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 6:57
  • 1
    I totally agree with this., even if it means using a different bike altogether. With an internal gear hub you can also install a chain guard that protects the chain from rain, and probably from water splashing from the front tire which carries a lot of dirt with it. Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 12:59
  • 1
    You can't "fix the chain length" on bicycle that's not designed for a gear hub, the dropouts are vertical instead of horizontal and don't allow the necessary adjustment. You need to use a chain tensioner (looks a lot like a derailleur except can't shift). I did this on my bike because I wanted the reliability myself but it is by no means quick and easy. Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 14:53
10

There's a non-technical part in your question that I'd like to address: it's your brother and not a generic random person that you won't have contact with afterwards. You know him, and you can ask him what he expects from the bike. More importantly you'll stay in touch afterwards. When giving objects that requires care to relatives: the non-enthusiast one doesn't necessarily want that the "object" becomes a common conversation topic, or a "liability".

But rather than upgrading the bike, I would actually take another approach: long test ride period with the bike as it is now (if your brother is careful enough). Then you can see how it would fit his needs, and if his ideal requirements are not too far off what the bike can offer. If you live close to each other now, and if there's an overlap between the transfer of the bike and your departure, you can take advantage of this time to see what modifications are the most critical, or simply if the bike is a good fit for the need — then take some precaution like heli-tape on the frame to avoid paint damage, if you want to be able to resell it after this test period.

Now some technical points:

  • Comfort is the main point to improve. Performance bikes often trade off comfort for performance, and it's not necessarily what a non-enthusiast values. Discomfort is often a reason for non-enthusiast to not use a bike.
  • If the bike will be used as a commuter: replacing the saddle by something that can be used without a padded short.
  • A gravel bike is a good starting point: you got better tire clearance (better for comfort and lower ratios than road bikes), and eventually the possibility to attach fenders.
  • Tiagra/Deore/GRX400 is, I think, one of the best range for non-enthusiasts (not too expensive, performant enough, and not as "sensitive" as a high end groupset would be) — I would also add the Microshift Advent (X).
  • Replacing experimental bits by proven ones is a no-brainer.
  • Flat pedals.
  • Tubeless is for me a mixed bag. While it's true that tubes + reinforced tires will require less maintenance, they also require to be run at high pressure (because of the rigidity for the tire), which impacts comfort. There are people commuting with tubeless now. The answer will probably depend on the environment in which the bike is ridden. If the bike is ridden on nice roads, the comfort benefit of tubeless won't be noticed, but if the surface is rough, there can be a benefit with tubeless simply because the bike will be used more.
  • Replacing carbon parts for metal: tough one also. If you start with an off-roader, it's unlikely that a commuting use will lead to excessive stress on the bike. And some carbon components can greatly contribute to comfort (fork & seatpost).

A personal note: you mentioned that the bike will be used for commutes. The kind of commute do matter in that case, and how the bike is parked at destination (theft, care of other users when parking the bike). In the worst case, selling the bike and taking a beater bike would be a better option. I'll also link to an answer I made to a question asked by someone who asked if commuting on a race bike was reasonable. TLDR: requirements for commuting may not overlap with sport bikes, although some points may not apply in your case since you start from a gravel bike rather than a race road bike.

1
  • Thanks for the great suggestions. Looking for a new saddle now...don't think my overpriced carbon saddle-shaped object is going to be particularly enjoyable for him.
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 21:00
9

Install sintered metallic brake pads, as they don't wear as fast as organic ones.

Check your brake discs, some cheap discs are only for use with organic pads. Also you could get thicker discs (2mm instead of standard 1.8mm), they take longer to wear out and don't bend as easily.

1
  • Awesome! I'll be sure to grab some metallic pads, thanks!
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 21:01
8

Some of the first ideas I had in mind:

  • Replace all carbon fiber composite parts with medium-duty metal ones. While I don't subscribe to the quasi-pyrophoric characterization of carbon bike parts, I do agree they're a little more finicky to deal with, and I can't expect a casual cyclist to know how to and/or have any motivation to inspect for cracks. Metals may be more forgiving.

  • Remove all "experimental" parts from the bike. Stuff like AliExpress bottom brackets and homemade brackets/mounts for fenders and lights certainly do not contribute to good reliability.

  • Switch the tires for more durable ones with better puncture protection.

  • Revert a tubeless tire setup back to tubed to eliminate sealant swaps as a maintenance requirement.

  • Teach the rider about the vulnerability of the rear derailleur and derailleur hanger to hopefully extend their lifespans.

3
  • 2
    Much better than your last point: Eliminate all derailleur related problems by using an internal gear hub. An IGH is basically zero maintenance and has a very long life expectancy. Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 8:09
  • 1
    @cmaster-reinstatemonica consider making that an answer
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 9:48
  • 3
    @WeiwenNg I didn't feel like repeating all the other good advice here, but I guess, you are right: This should be mentioned prominently. So, I have taken your advice and wrote an answer about IGH conversion now. I hope you like it. Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 10:35
5

Once the bike is tuned up and ready to send, ride it yourself for a week. That should bed in all new cables and take the shine off new tyre tread and brake pads. Then check the shifting indexing last thing. Bed in any disk brake pads too.

If the rider lacks basic tools, prep some. Two tyre levers and a spare tube and a minipump that fit the valves.

Add those white clip-on spoke reflectors and a rear red reflector. They often get "lost"


If your brother EVER intends to ride at night or in the dusk/dawn, then advise him to buy lights. However I would not include lights with the bike because they can get really expensive and might never be used.

If he does ride at night then you have a good idea for the next birthday/etc present.

5
  • Good point about the tools. I'll have to get him a basic repair set.
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 21:01
  • @MaplePanda depends if he's the kind of kid to misplace things. If he leaves them in a toolbag on the bike and it gets locked in a stand somewhere they might walk. Perhaps he'd be best carrying a small tool pouch in a backpack instead.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 23:19
  • Oh I meant for home use. If something happens on the road it would probably be faster for him to just walk than try to repair it.
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 19:03
  • @MaplePanda I ride ~6x faster than I walk. So a breakdown 10 minutes from home is still an hour to walk. Depends how long the commute is overall.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 19:05
  • 1
    Once you factor in the repair time for an amateur, it come out pretty even :)
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 19:35
5

Top of the list is replacing ‘performance’ parts with high durability alternatives that are less involved to work with. There’s a lot of stuff that gets thrown on a typical performance bike that is a pain in the arse for a casual rider. Off the top of my head:

  • Make sure the saddle does not require bib shorts for it to be comfortable. Comfort is crucial for most casual riders, and they generally will not want to deal with special clothing to be comfortable. This is especially true if the bike is intended to be used as a commuter, because in that case you really don’t want to be dealing with special clothing just to go around town.
  • If it has clipless pedals, replace them with (good) flats. Clipless pedals represent an additional cost/maintenance burden in the form of the cleats, and anybody who has not used them before and has no reason to commit to learning to use them is not likely to be happy dealing with them. Additionally, the effective performance improvement of using clipless pedals rarely matters for typical casual riding, and almost never matters for the type of usage that a city or suburban commuter is likely to be dealing with.
  • Tubeless tires are a toss up. There are definite benefits, but they are a nontrivial maintenance burden compared to decent tubes or even airless tires. This is one that you really need to talk to the future owner about. Explain the benefits (better puncture resistance is the one that will generally matter the most to a casual rider), the maintenance overhead (new sealant every six months or so, extra cleaning of the rims when you eventually replace the tires), and the downsides (heavier kit for dealing with flats when they do happen, changing tires is much messier). And then see what they say.
  • Consider replacing the RD with an IGH. This will simplify shifting, eliminate most of the drivetrain issues found with derailleurs, and also make the bike significantly more durable. The tradeoff is that the bike will be heavier, and will probably have fewer gears (unless you shell out for a Rohloff Speedhub, which has other benefits besides the increased gear counts).
  • If you replace the RD with an IGH, and the future owner is willing to shell out some extra cash, get an IGH that uses oil-bath lubrication instead of packed grease lubrication. These tend to be expensive (the Rohloff Speedhub and Shimano Alfine 11-Speed are examples, neither is cheap), but are much easier to do routine maintenance on (instead of having to tear down the rear wheel to take apart the hub to repack the grease, you just change the oil, which can be done on the bike itself).
  • If you replace the RD with an IGH, consider replacing the chain with a belt drive. A properly designed one is a few hundred USD, but will completely eliminate most of the rest of the common issues with the drivetrain that the IGH did not eliminate, will require far less maintenance on average than a traditional chain drive, and will usually outlast a chain drive as well.
  • You mention disk brakes. Look into ensuring that the bike has warp-resistant brake rotors, and consider sintered metal pads if not already using them. Both will help the brakes behave better when hot, and the sintered metal pads are not as sensitive to contamination in my experience as resin pads are (and you can actually clean them if you know what you’re doing).
  • If the brakes are hydraulic and the system uses DOT fluid, consider replacing it with a mineral-oil system instead. DOT fluid systems are a bit more of a pain to maintain than mineral-oil systems (mostly because DOT fluid is somewhat nasty stuff), and I have actually seen places that charge more for bleeding DOT fluid systems because of this.

Also, in terms of durability/reliability, consider that many casual or new cyclists do not exactly know how to cycle to keep the risk of damage to a minimum. Most of this is basic stuff to those of us who cycle regularly, but ensuring they know how to brake properly, how to corner safely, and similar things can go a long way to helping ensure the bike stays in good condition regardless of what parts are involved.

1
  • Thanks for the detailed explanations!
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 21:02
5

A very large number of derailleur equipped bikes are used daily with minimal to no maintenance, so you brother should be fine without to much effort. Lots of suggestions already in other answers around the bike, so I won;t go over them again. Teach you brother to identify issues (gears not smooth, flat tires, squeaky chain etc) and do a basic pre-ride check (Brakes, headset, saddle, drive train etc) and impress on him the importance of not ignoring issues. Find a local LBS you trust for him to take the bike to.

Teach your brother what he is prepared to learn - lube chain and fix a puncture (therefore inflate tires) are what I personally consider a minimum, but many get by on much less. If he wants to learn to do more himself, teach him - better to spend the time doing this and changing the bike.

As far as changes to the bike - Any improvements in reliably to a stock Tiagra equipped bike would be relatively expensive (e.g. IGH). If the bike is not reliable enough for your brother as is, probably better to sell it and buy a simpler bike (IGH, single speed is more reliable, but not ideal for a novice in most places).

2

It is quite a difficult task. If your goal is low maintenance and good commuting capability you need distinctive features that you should take into account when you buy the bicycle in the beginning. Changing later means that often you have to change so many things that eventually it would cost as much as a new one.

E.G. I agree with @cmaster - reinstate monica about the internal gear hub, but is it worth it?
What about the rims? If you have light wieght rims the recommendation would be to change them with heavier, but stronger one and put on them tyres big enough to absorb the impact of a pothole in the asphalt with a sharp edge.
Did you check the bearing of your fork? Many people don't think about it and do not check regularly if the fork is loose. A very good and well greased bearing is needed to mitigate the problem.

1

Non serious cyclists find drop bar annoying.

Commuters need the possibility of installing mudguards and a rack, possibly a front basket. They will find out what they really need later, but they need to have these options.

If the lowest gear is not that low, as soon as the commute will have a short hill, your brother will find it unnecessary painful.

It looks to me your bicycle is a poor choice for him. Ask your brother if he likes that bike, if he would like any other bike, or if he plans to spend an average of 250-300 £/$/€/CHF/CAD per month on a car.

In short: a 2020 gravel bike should sell for decent money. Maybe even a year commuting pass. Give that as a gift, the bicycle will be the obvious alternative if he saves some money, to commute quickly ...

0

Suggested modifications:

  • True stainless steel chain not just anti rust coating. (Waxed if you can teach him how). KMC Z1X INOX is an example and do not fit your bike.
  • Change every single bolt to stainless steel A4 quality. Tighten using correct Nm and grease. Where steel meets aluminum use the proper grease!
  • Change to ceramic sealed bearings in good quality especially for the BB.
  • Long-lasting easy to maintenance pedals
  • Stainless steel and teflon coated wires and hoses.
  • In recent years I have used tires branded "Duro". They seems to be lasting more than twice compared to medium brands and I paid $10 for a set. Tubes with antiflat liquid. Make tires/tubes one class thicker than normal. (Like change european 700x25c to 700x28c or even 700x32c)

If I was shopping for those parts, an estimated price would be around $100.

Estimated worktime for you (not for newbies): 3 hours.

Estimated extended life time: 2-3 times as long as without modifications.

An easy way to extend life is cleaning and lubrication. Teach him how. If you know how, you can do it within 30 minutes once per month. Upload a video to vimeo and make thousands of cyclists happy.

1
  • Thanks for the ideas, I'll definitely be showing him how to do the basic cleaning, maintenance, and lubrication tasks.
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 21:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.