I am often asked whether a bike is worth fixing? It’s a reasonable question, though there’s not always such a simple answer. It’s like asking whether falling in love is worth it? I guess the answer depends on whether the relationship leads to loss or in mutual fulfillment?
For most people, whether a bike is worth fixing depends mostly on cost. But there are a lot of other factors as well, such as sentimental value, your personal environmental commitment, your level of enthusiasm for riding and other intangibles. Recently I had a customer bring in a bike for some repair and evaluation. At first blush the bike looked okay other than the obvious issue with the derailleur that had prompted the customer to seek help in the first place. While it would have been simple to simply repair the derailleur, an inspection of the bike yielded several issues in addition to the derailleur problem. Even though the frame and components looked pretty good, the bike had myriad issues that needed correction. A comprehensive tune-up along with a solid investment in some good parts would have been the right way to go. The cost for all this would have added up to about $30 a year over the previous life of the bike.
But the owners were not enthusiasts. They were not avid and active riders. The bike was old. It became clear that the owners would be better served going to one of the area shops to purchase a new bike. The timing was right because they got the news at a time when retailers are typically trying to unload the previous year’s inventory. They found a pair of bikes that they could both enjoy for an awesomely low price.
A Place for Second Chances
For a moment I considered purchasing the bike from the owners so I could fix it up and sell it, but after sketching out some numbers on a napkin, it quickly became clear that a fair price for even a fixed up version of the bike wouldn’t come close to the amount of investment required to make the bike safe and rideable. Such a numerical truth doesn’t bode well for an old bike, but nobody likes to see a bike hit the landfill because it’s like an ugly divorce. Everyone ends up hurting.
So the owner and I brainstormed a couple of possibilities instead of taking out the ultimate restraining order on the poor old bike. I suggested that perhaps the owner could donate their bike to a starving college student who could realistically resurrect it for transportation. Similarly, they could give the frame to a bike co-op somewhere, where some disadvantaged person could fix it up for transportation, or the old parts could be stripped and used by co-op members, spreading the love, so to speak. Or maybe it would just go to the landfill—an eventuality I never like to consider, so I never followed up with the owners to determine its fate.
But not every old bike is destined for the scrap pile and that queasy feeling that comes with throwing out a bike. Shortly after encountering the first bike, I began a project on a different bike. It was seven years old, had been heavily ridden and heavily neglected. The bike had been a high-quality model during its heyday. Most people would consider it obsolete these days, however, and would have elected to sell it or toss it. But the bike was in pretty good shape despite never having undergone comprehensive maintenance. The owner had done the bare minimum to keep the bike rolling.
When Love Makes a Comeback
The funny thing about a long relationship with a bike is that over time, due to the familiarity of riding an old friend regularly, the owner rarely notices the incremental decline in ride quality, component behavior, etc. We had an old dog once that we thought wasn’t doing so poorly, until someone who had not seen the dog for several years remarked to us how feeble and old the dog looked. It was a real wake-up call—just like the one I got when I started stripping and disassembling the bike for a comprehensive overhaul. It soon became clear that a lot needed to be done to the bike—replacement of all suspension bearings, bottom bracket replacement, the option of servicing or replacing the fork, and several other things, including the need to replace a crucial piece of linkage in the rear suspension. The owner decided that the maintenance period afforded an opportunity to upgrade the bike in addition to restoring it to a state similar to what it had been right after he purchased it. In addition to the required maintenance, the owner opted to replace the fork with a much lighter model and to replace the wheels with much lighter ones as well.
At the end of the process, the owner ended up with a refurbished bike that was three pounds lighter. It rides as well or better than it did during the owner’s first dirt date on it. Imagine the owner’s delight to once again have an active, functioning rear suspension, a more responsive, highly-tunable fork that provided a much better ride, and new, sturdy hoops set up for tubeless riding! Honestly, the joy the owner felt and will continue to feel in the coming months and years was and will be worth much more to the rider than what it actually cost him to upgrade the bike. Yet that expense was a fraction of what it would have cost to purchase a new bike with comparable characteristics.
Best of all, the owner now has a “new” bike that he is intimately familiar with. Any enthusiast knows that we sometimes strike up a love affair with a bike, and once someone manages to find a bike that they truly love, it’s really hard to find anything else to fill the void should the day come when that bike is no longer around. A new fork, some fresh lube, a shave and a haircut, and suddenly the bike and its owner once again had a relationship similar to that giddy, exciting period of first dates!
In all seriousness, despite the different outcomes for these two very different bikes, there is one common thread underlying both scenarios: maintenance. Had the second bike been totally neglected by the owner beyond the lack of a comprehensive maintenance program, the potential for repair and upgrade might have not existed. The owner of the second bike might have had to bid an early farewell to his two-wheeled sweetheart. Conversely, in the case of the first bike, had the owners perhaps been more attentive to their bike’s needs, they might still be together. It’s all about communication: When your bike is squealing or howling or moaning when you ride it, it’s trying to tell you something important. It’s up to you to listen. Communication is a two-way street.
At Little Jimmy’s Wheelhouse, we highly recommend that people who have a serious love affair with their bikes have our high-end tune-up performed on their sweetheart at least every two years. It’s like surprising your loved one with a relaxing spa treatment. If you’d like to treat your bike to our Deluxe Tune Up, contact us.
That Valentine’s Affair
In the meantime, it’s probably also a good idea to go out and purchase some roses or chocolates for that special human someone in your life. That can ensure that once the weather warms up, you’ll be able to spend as much time as you want on the trails or out on the roads with your real true love.