5

This question has been asked before, and there have been several answers to it - including links to interesting articles and scientific analyses. The general consensus appears to be 5-10 years, depending on factors like design quality, accidents, rider weight, riding style, environment, etc. I'm prompted to ask because I was recently considering a components upgrade on my 2003 Specialized Sequoia road/tourer bike, and raised a forum question about Shimano 105 upgrades. That's where I discovered that, at 20-years-old, the bike might not be worth upgrading. Shimano Components Upgrade

So, I thought about the fatigue factors. Over those 20 years, I've looked after the bike and not treated it roughly at all. It's had regular maintenance. I'm also one of those riders who cannot put the bike away dirty after a ride. If it's been muddy, or even just splattered with the usual crud from wet-weather cycling, it's always had a wash off, wipe down, polish and full lube before going away. Even recently, I've had comments that it looks like new! Well, not quite... but still, I think, pretty good for its age. It's never been used off the road (though our roads around here are quite rough and pot-holed anyway). It's never been in an accident, and throughout those years my weight has remained around 13 stones, +/- a few pounds. Plus, I think Specialized frames come quite high in the quality stakes. I do, though, live on the coast, and most of my cycling has been in a coastal environment.

I have now (reluctantly!) decided to go for a new bike. But I'll keep the Specialized, too, as a bit of a runaround. I've had a good look over the frame and can't see any signs of cracks. There are quite a few areas of aluminium oxide 'whitening', but I've been given to understand that it can actually form a protective barrier for the metal underneath. Even so... time and stress take their toll, I know, so it's hard to know for sure what might be going on underneath it all.

Here are a few photos I took to illustrate. The main areas that concern me are those on the left chainstay, near the bottom bracket, and the pitting around the pannier bolts on both of the seat stays.

What do people think, based on these examples? Could there be many more years left in the frame, based on the use it's had (and other factors)?

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

4
  • 1
    One of your pictures shows corrosion around a threaded insert. Have you got that on more of them? Important ones?
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 15:10
  • Yes - as I said, on the other side, too. Both pannier bolts on the seat stays. All the important corrosion - or, rather, the most obvious - is in those photos. Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 19:46
  • 1
    My worry in that case is galvanic corrosion where dissimilar metals meet as coastal conditions mean salty dampness. It may be worse at the actual join than you can see on the surface. And on something like the BB threads you could end up destroying damaged threads changing it
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 20:22
  • 1
    I too feel that the worst areas of corrosion are galvanic in nature. This will hasten demise if left untreated and the treatment is to replace the inserts with aluminum alloy , a more like metal to the frame and less likely to cause galvanic corrosion. Another solution is to somehow separate the different metals with a barrier such as paint, grease or anti-seize. All these solutions are problematic to impossible for various reasons. I agree with keeping the bike as a second hander and encourage you to enjoy the aspects of shopping for and obtaining a new ride.
    – Jeff
    Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 5:16

3 Answers 3

5

The likely failure modes of aluminium frames will depend far more on how you ride and how heavy you and your load are, than on what you do in between rides or on what the calendar says.

If you've got the space, having an old bike spare is useful in case you don't want to expose the new one, or for if the new one is out of action. If you can't store it, while it might not be worth much, it's still a decent starter bike for someone so is worth selling on.

I suggest you discard any advice based on elapsed time, and consider only that based on distance and conditions. A frame isn't going to degrade in storage compared to riding. Of course you also need to take into account the frame's intended use - a bike built for off road use will be tougher than a light road bike so should last longer even if both are used as commuters. That's one reason why I went for a gravel bike as my new faster endurance road bike (decent tyre & mudguard clearance was a bigger factor).

As just one data point my hybrid lasted about 40000km before a weld cracked where the chainstay meets the dropout. It was about 13 years old. Much of that distance had been done with a pannier on the back, some with a child seat, which probably explains why I'd had to replace the rear wheel for a cracked rim - a sign of heavy loading at the back. Mostly on road, avoiding riding off kerbs, some light gravel but the biggest and most common shock loads were unavoidable potholes.

9
  • Incidentally - and sorry to be pedantic - but I reject one of the edits. 'Sequoia' was a genuine oversight. 'Aluminium' is actually the name of the metal. The suffix 'ium' means 'of the earth' - and that's what the Danish chemist who discovered it named it! Nobody calls 'magnesium' magnesum, or 'sodium' sodum. Aluminium it is! Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 19:54
  • 1
    @KevinMarman fair enough. I learned something thanks. Since there were a few valid edits that were rollbacked at the same time, feel free to reintegrate them.
    – olliebulle
    Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 20:06
  • 2
    "A frame isn't going to degrade in storage compared to riding" If improperly stored, I believe environmental exposure may cause corrosion, but I don't think that's a significant factor here.
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 3:27
  • 1
    @MaplePanda storage conditions would have to be very bad indeed for aluminium to suffer significantly. The bike would be unusable long before that because steel parts would rust to pieces
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 4:53
  • 1
    @ChrisH English-US indeed, I should have mentioned it. My point was since I did not know from the start that there were different ways to write aluminium in English, I blindly trusted the spell checker (and the aluminum tag). I am glad Kevin Marman raised the point since now I know.
    – olliebulle
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 20:41
3

Fatigue is influenced by the intensity of the effort, but also on the number of cycles loading/unloading: each pedal stroke causes a cycle, and each shock too. For fatigue, even low intensity cycles count.

To put a product on the market, there are norms (ISO4210-6) that fix the amount of cycles. The consensus is that the number of cycles matches a regular use of 5-10 years, but to know the exact number and the intensity, you need to pay ISO to have the standard: there are different requirements for race/road, trekking and MTBs. Given you mentioned in the other question that you used the bike to commute and on week-ends, that has triggered a red flag, but it's of course impossible for us to assert that you are approaching the "real" limit.

Brands like Specialized more than probably exceeds them. The fact that they offer lifetime warranties doesn't mean they consider that their frame will last a lifetime, but more that they consider that the cost of the lost sales will exceed the cost of the rare replacements under warranty — limiting the warranty to the first owner is a good measure from that point of view. To my knowledge, only Decathlon offers lifetime warranty, regardless of the owner, but all big manufacturers offer lifetime first owner warranty.

Note that the cracks in the frame are one possible problem: personally I had to discard a frame because a destroyed bottom bracket tread (after 15y, but the bike was used as commuter for 7/8 years - around 25km/day, then occasionally on week-ends).

6
  • I take your point on 'lifetime'. How long is a 'lifetime'? Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 11:00
  • 1
    The lifetime of the first owner, provided that this kind of warranty existed when the bike was purchased (what counts is not the current warranty, but the one that is applicable when you bought the bike), and you have/did the necessary paperwork. Currently, the lifetime warranty only applies if one registers their product within 90 days after purchase.
    – Rеnаud
    Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 11:29
  • 2
    specialized.com/us/en/warranty The warranty only covers physical defects: if there's corrosion, it is subject to interpretation.
    – Rеnаud
    Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 11:39
  • Yes, I see. I mean, 'lifetime' is essentially meaningless - unless they qualify it somehow (such as giving a number of years based on some kind of 'average' usage). And I take your point about corrosion. Prior to this, I had a Raleigh Pioneer Trail hybrid, which I used for commuting, and on roads only. I probably did around 5k miles a year on it. After 3 years, the seat tube broke just above the bottom bracket. A clean break, all around - like it had been cut through with a hacksaw. Raleigh replaced that frame. I definitely registered the Sequoia, and it was 'lifetime'. Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 14:41
  • @KevinMarman Totally agreed, it's entirely up to their judgement, and for bikes that used, you can say that fatigue is normal wear. In some cases, they might also just provide the frame, and the transfer of the components to the new frame (and replacements of the incompatible ones) might be more expensive than a new bike.
    – Rеnаud
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 14:54
1

I find this a really good question but feel there are really too many variables to give any one definitive magic bullet answer.

Yes there is science and standards for how long a certain block of metal should last, but these standards are still measured in some select set of conditions.

Really the closest thing to an answer here, is how much wear are you comfortable with?

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.