Whether you are looking at getting back on your old bike or buying a second-hand one, knowing how long your bike should last is very important. I took the time to ask cyclists how long a bike should last, as well as look into how you can extend the life of your bike?
Bikes last an average of 9 years, however, multiple bike components will need to be replaced before this time. The exact length of time your bike will last is dependent on the type of bike you have, how much cycling you do each year, the material your bike is made from, and how much bike maintenance you perform.
So, we’ve established that on average bikes last around 9 years, but how did I come to this figure? And what can you do to increase the lifespan of your bike? I take a look into both of these in the rest of the article.
How long does a bike last?
Many people will suggest that bikes last around 5 years when talking about the lifespan of bikes, but this number seems to be very random and with no evidence backing it up. Certainly, I know many riders with bikes that have lasted longer than this 5-year figure, and many that have lasted less.
In order to get a more accurate idea of how long bikes last, I went and asked a large cycling community how long their bikes lasted them. As you can see from the results, the answers were very varied.
From the results I collected, the average bike will last for 9 years. However, results showed that cyclists had bikes lasting them from as little as 2 years all the way up to one rider who had been using the same bike for 33 years.
I certainly found it interesting that many of the cyclists I spoke to were riding bikes that would be classified as “vintage (over 25 years old).
There are many factors that will impact if your bike will last more or less time than this average number.
The type of bike you have
Obviously, some types of bikes will last longer than others. Certain types of bikes (for example mountain bikes) are designed in such a way that prioritizes durability and toughness, this makes them more long-lasting than bikes that priotise speed and aerodynamics (road bikes).
Not only this, but the components on mountain bikes also tend to be more durable, again increasing the life of the bike as a whole.
The material the bike is made from
Following the type of bike you have, the material your bike is made from is the second most important factor in how long you should expect a bike to survive.
Most bikes are made from either steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, or titanium. Each of which comes at its own price point and with its own benefits.
Generally, titanium is known to be the most durable bike frame material. This is because it is resistant to rust, is the second strongest material used to make bike frames, and is the least prone to cracking of all bike frame materials.
Steel is another good choice however it is prone to rust and is much heavier than some of the other options. Carbon fiber is very expensive and some people also worry that carbon fiber has a shelf life. However, this is not the case (neither the carbon fibers nor the resin holding them together degrades over time).
If you want to look into bike frames in more detail, take a look at my article on which bike frame material is the most durable which can be found here.
Your cycling conditions
The conditions you cycle in will impact how long your bike lasts. For example, riding in muddy or dirty terrain will result in certain parts of the bike becoming dirty or greasy. This can lead to the components wearing down more quickly, especially if you are not regularly cleaning the bike.
As well as the cleanliness of the surface you are cycling on, how rough the path you are cycling on will also impact the bike’s ability to survive. For example, a rough section of a mountain bike path will put a lot more strain on a bike that a flat tarmac road. Over time this can have an impact on the structural integrity of the bike.
On top of this, rougher terrain will make you more prone to crashing or banging your bike, which can cause significant damage.
As you can imagine, weather plays a huge role in both of these factors, making the roads muddier, as well as making you more prone to crashing. As such, riding in poor weather conditions is also bad for the longevity of your bike.
Distance cycled per year
The distance a bike has cycled very rarely links to how many years the bike has been owned. For some riders, their bikes have sat in the shed for many years without being ridden once, while on the other hand, some regular cyclists will cycle for thousands of miles a year.
As you can imagine, the more you cycle a bike, the less time it will survive. As such, the amount of miles you have cycled is a better estimate of the “wear” on a bike than its age.
The way you cycle these miles also makes a difference, with more aggressive riders putting more pressure on the tires, wheels, and drive chain and thus wearing them down more quickly.
The bikes storage conditions
Where you store your bike has a huge impact on its longevity. Bikes perform best when kept inside, however, if they must be kept outside, they should be sheltered from the rain and wind as a bare minimum.
Any bike being stored outside without protection or a cover is more likely to break, either as the result of rusting components or cracked forming as a result of more varied temperatures.
The frequency of bike maintenance
Linked to the storage of your bike at home is how often you properly maintain your bike. This might involve taking the bike down to your local bike shop for a service, or simply taking a look over the bike yourself if you are a bit more experienced. Regular maintenance will help you spot small areas of damage early on, allowing you to fix them before they ruin the whole bike.
Take for example a classic car. The fact that some classic Aston Martin’s from the 1960s are still around to this day is not simply down to the fact that the cars themselves are capable of this (otherwise there would be plenty more of them around), it is more down to maintenance and storage of these vehicles.
On top of servicing, you also need to ensure you are keeping the bike clean in between rides. Take a look at this short video from GCN showing you how to clean a bike after a ride in 5 minutes.
Number of crashes
Obviously, a large crash can write off a bike. However, even small bangs, dents, or knocks over time can impact a bike’s durability. The more of these you have the more the structural integrity of the bike can be comprised and lead to a “catastrophic structural failure”, even after a relatively small crash.
How often should I replace my bike?
So, we’ve established that most people’s bikes last them around 9 years. But should you be replacing your bike before this?
In general, you do not need to replace a whole bike simply because of how old or for how long that bike has been cycled. I would suggest that you only look to replace your bike when the individual components that need to be replaced cost more than the bike as a whole or if the bike has completely broken in a key area (such as the fork of the frame).
For example, even with the best bike maintenance in the world, a regular commuter bike will eventually get to the point where it needs multiple expensive replacements (for example new wheels and new brakes). Together, these will likely cost more than buying a completely new bike, one without any wear. This is the point at which I normally look to upgrade my bikes.
The amount of time it will take for this to happen will be dependent on the level of maintenance you put into the bike, the quality of the components when you bought them, and your ability to resist buying a new bike sooner.
How often do you need to replace individual bike components?
Much like a car, bikes have thousands of different parts hidden inside their quite simple-looking frame. Each of these individual components will not last as long as the bike as a whole, and you should expect to change them routinely over the years.
Below, you can see a table roughly summarising the estimated lifespan of the common pieces of a bike that need to be routinely replaced. These numbers are purely an estimate, after all, the lifespan of these parts will also be dependent on the conditions in which you are riding.
|Frame||The lifespan of the bike||The bike frame will often determine how long the bike as a whole will last. The frame is one of the most expensive parts of a bike and so replacing it often means you will end up simply buying a new bike. Many brands such as Giant offer lifetime warranties on their bike frames.|
|Bottom Bracket||10,000 miles||The bottom bracket of a bike is the part that attaches the crankset (the bit that holds the pedals) to the frame. Over time as you cycle, this can wear down and need replacing. A key feature to look for when deciding whether or not to replace a bottom bracket is “play” in the cranks themselves.|
|Brake pads||1000 miles||Over time, the pads on your brakes wear down as they rub against the tires to slow you down. Multiple factors impact brake pad replacement time, including how much you weigh, the type of riding you are doing, the type of bike you have, and how you cycle your bike.|
|Cables||2500 miles||The cables that attach the brakes and gears to the other parts of your bike will become more stretched as you cycle. This can impact how well your bike brakes or changes gear, and in some cases can snap mid-ride. Initially, you can try to “retention” them however this is not always possible and they will eventually need completely replacing.|
|Cassettes and chainrings||5,000 miles||Many people are aware that they need to regularly replace their chains, however, the cassette and chainrings also need to occasionally be replaced. This comes as the chain drags on the cogs of the cassette and can wear them away over time causing your chain to jump when there is a lot of force going through it. Regularly replacing your chain will greatly increase the lifespan of your cassette.|
|Chain||2,000 miles||Over time as you ride, the chain becomes stretched out and partially deformed. Eventually, you will have to replace the chain once it gets to a certain length between rings. This time will be dramatically reduced if you do not properly lubricate or clean your bike chain.|
|Freehub/freewheel||5,000 miles||The freehub helps to transfer the power from your legs into the wheels, and also gives the bike the ability to “free wheel” where you move while not pedaling. As time goes the freehub can be worn down and become loose. The lifespan is often linked to the lifespan of your chains, lasting two or three times as long.|
|Headset:||10,000 miles||The headset of your bike often lasts as long as the bike itself. This part of the bike does not take much weight while you cycle and often remains clean given how high up on the bike it is. It is worth replacing your headset if you notice any extra “headset play”, rust, or abnormally noises coming from the headset itself.|
|Bearings ((hubs, bottom bracket, headset))||5,000 miles||Bearings within bikes require occasional services but rarely need to be replaced fully, In many cases it is the grease inside a bearing that has dried out, causing them to become stuck, especially if the bike is not being ridden regularly.|
|Tires||3,000 miles||Many cyclists will quote the 2000-3000 mile number for replacing tires, however, in reality, you should be deciding when to replace your tires by regularly inspecting them for signs of wear such as cracks, worn down tread markers, or repeated flat tires.|
|Wheels||The lifespan of the bike||Typcially wheels will last a very long time, and should only be replaced if there are signs of damage, for example, broken spokes or damage to the wheel rim. Even then, wheels can often be repaired and trued instead of being completely replaced.|
|Saddle||10,000 miles||Saddles can wear down over time and may need to be replaced if there are specific cuts allowing the sponge underneath the fabric to be exposed.|
|Handlebar tape||5000 miles||Handlebar tape will wear down over time, collecting dirt, oil, and sweat as you cycle. Not only is it important to replace tape from a hygienic standpoint, but it can also help to keep the handlebars of your bike lasting longer.|
|Stems and forks||The lifespan of the bike||The stems and forks of your bike should last as long as the frame. As with the bike frame, these are likely only going to require a replacement if they have been damaged through an accident or crash.|
|Suspension||Brand dependant||The frequency at which you should get your suspension serviced is very dependent on the brand you buy, with some suggesting a full service once per year, and others suggesting this should be done every 100 hours of riding|
Can a bike last forever?
While the oldest surviving bicycle was made in 1846, I doubt it is that rideable anymore. But, could good care and maintenance of a bike help you to keep it going forever?
The answer is probably not. Even with the best will in the world, the wear and tear that will happen to the bike over time will catch up to you eventually. On top of this, there’s always the risk of an accident doing some serious damage to the frame.
However, with a few simple steps, you can keep a bike going for decades.
How to make your bike last longer?
Regularly clean your bike
As we’ve already established, keeping your bike clean and mud-free is a great way to increase its longevity. A regular cleaning routine for your bike can take as little as 5 minutes after a cycle and may add years to the bike.
As well as removing any mud or debris from the bike, make sure you are keeping all the other areas of the bike clean, for example regularly lubricating the chain or regreasing your hubs, seat post, and pedals.
Finally, make sure that you are not using any power washers on areas of the bike that move (think the headset or the freehub), as this can damage the bearings inside and strip away the grease.
Use the correct tools
Another good tip for increasing the lifespan of a bike is to use a proper torque wrench when making any changes or repairs. These are very helpful to ensure that all nuts, bolts, or screws are being held in place at the right pressure. This helps to reduce the risk of overtightening a screw and putting extra stress through your frame.
As well as a torque wrench, also look at what bike stand you are using (if any). Some bike stands grip onto the frame of the bike and in some cases (particualirlty with carbon fiber bikes) can do damage to the frame materials. If you plan to use a bike frame, try and invest in one that holds the bike from the bottom up, the type used by professionals.
Keep your bike safe
There’s no point putting all this work into keeping your bike in the best condition if you don’t look after it. Be that through ensuring you lock it up safely when it’s not in use, to riding it in a sensible way that limits the risk of a crash and a failure of the frame itself.
Finally, make sure you are storing your bike in a warm, dry and suitable environment for a bike, that is free from the elements and limits any possible damage.
As you can see, while the average bike has a lifespan of 9 years, through proper bike maintenance and good bike care, you can extend this considerably.
If you are looking into getting an old bike out of the garage, and wondering if it will still be rideable, make sure to take a look at my article on how long bike tubes last which can be found here.