By Kevin Hodgson
There was an article published in a well-known MTB mag not so long ago, which listed the expected ‘lifespans’ of typical mountain bike components. The results were quite shocking, and it was portrayed as being “as simple fact of life for hardcore bikers”. Perhaps it is a badge of honour that your level of “hardcoreness” is measured by how long it takes your components to wear out?
Unfortunately, this article disguised the fact that premature component wear is not a fact of life, but is usually due to poor component design, and customer acceptance of this as normal. Even the most ‘boutique’ of components can suffer from poor design, and it is also a myth that longevity means extra weight.
Take for example Chris King: expensive, lasts forever, and incredibly light. Hope is another manufacture where high price equals high performance. Components that wear out quickly are simply bad designs; which can be excused on a £5 bottom bracket, but certainly not on a £70 one.
I recently realised that my trusty steed had suddenly stopped breaking things quite so regularly as I was used to. Somehow my component choice had become so honed, that I was getting close to that Holy Grail of zero-maintenance. Long gone were the days of new brake pads after every second ride, and monthly BB adjustments – I had not replaced a major component in 3 years!!!
Here is a list of the wonder components, how long they’ve lasted and why:
- Specialized S-work metal matrix frame – almost 6 years old. My previous two steel frames had both expired before their 4th birthday. Despite having horrendous chainsuck gouges, most of the paint missing, and weighing only 3.5lbs, my trusty M2 rolls on. Perhaps it’ll get a re-spray soon, but the lack of rear disc mounts is cramping my style so maybe it’ll get pensioned off instead. Secret of long life? Probably the exotic, and now unobtainable metal matrix ‘stuff’. If you’re also in the market for a frame to outlast your car, then titanium is probably the only currently available material that’ll last as long.
- WTB greaseguard headset - almost 4 years old. It needs regular greasing, but hey! Isn’t that the idea? After a whole series of annual headset replacements, it was a relief to find an eternal rotator for a modest £40. Seeing as the internals are bog-standard 5/32” ball races, it must be the greaseguard that prevents the whole caboodle from disintegrating into a bag of rust. Greaseguard headsets are still available if you search, but if you can’t find one reputable alternatives are the Campagnolo Record (yes, honest, road bikes use the same size nowadays and it had a greaseport) also at £40, or the Hope XC sealed cartridge at £70. Obviously there’s the Chris King for the Armani / Mercedes class of rider.
- WTB greaseguard bottom bracket – lasted 3 years. The same old story, small non-cartridge ball bearings with a greaseport. So it must the greaseport doing the business. Sadly now long obsolete, but Race-Face are producing ISIS bottom brackets with double-row bearings and greaseports…..nice. Not exactly a snip at £70, but should last forever, making it much cheaper than an XT unit every year.
- Rear wheel: Mavic X618 ceramic on XT hub – 3 years and rolling. The ceramic is now starting to wear through in places, causing slightly uneven braking. However, in the previous 3 years I consumed 5 rear wheels, which caused severe financial despair. The X618 weighs only 60g more than the race-ready X517 rim, but has double eyelets and thicker sidewalls. This means that my constant plague of pulled-through eyelets is cured. Extensive abuse has left these hoops completely unflustered. Expensive but piece of mind! Unfortunately my choice of hub was a little less wise, as I have now recently fitted the fourth freehub body to the XT hub. As soon as the ceramic coating becomes too distressed to use, a new wheel will be purchased – the same X618 rim, but this time with a Hope hub sitting at the centre.
- Pace EVOIII forks – almost 4 years. Fair enough, these forks have been far from maintenance free. They’ve had 3 circlip failures, and after the supplementary airspring gave up the ghost, they have now been converted to 100% ‘proper’ springs. A magnesium fork brace also bit the dust along the way. But unlike 99% of forks their continued existence alone is a miracle. The seals still seal, the inner legs are even shinier that when they left the factory, the carbon is all intact, the dampers still work (oil change twice a year) and the boing still boings. They’ll probably soon get pensioned off for something stiffer, and with more adjusting widgets (I like lockouts). But I may just replace Pace with Pace, despite the temptations of Messrs Fox and Marzocchi.
- Hope Closed 2 brakes – pensioned off after 3 years. These brakes bit the dust, not due to rider abuse, but by salt corrosion caused by too many winter journeys on the car roof rack. I’ve learnt my lesson now, and have re-fitted my roof rack back to front. A proud new set of M4’s has taken their place, but the capable Hope spares service has got the old C2’s back into working order. New pistons, hoses and connectors (as well as some wire-brush work) have left them almost as new. I just need another bike to put them on now.
- Rohloff SLT-99 chain – 1 year each. Simply the best chains. £35+ in the UK, or £13 each direct from Germany. I’m buying a box full next time! Teemed with Middleburn hardcote chainrings for super-longevity.
So frankly, don’t believe the hype. If you choose wisely, and have a reasonable amount of dosh you can simultaneously go for low weight and low maintenance. Who cares if I’m still on a square taper crank and 8 speed? The wheels still go around don’t they? Afterall it is all about riding and not fixing.
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