It is always upsetting to hear about accidents in which cyclists are seriously injured, even more so when hearing about accidents such as the one that recently led to the death of the Australian cyclist whose racing bike fork broke causing fatal facial injuries. Some social networks blame Trek, the bike manufacturer currently under investigation, but we do not feel like blaming the parent company for, although the bike wasn’t too old, neither was it recent.
Many arose the question: when should the different components of a bike be changed so as not to compromise safety? Let’s analyse this statement and talk about the durability of a frame.
Are the materials the main components of a bike? No, it is the cyclist.
After the accident, various blogs and cycling information sites discussed the differences between various materials. We will analyse this subject later, for although rightly important, we believe the fundamental factor that influences the durability of a bicycle is its rider; this we can guarantee due to decades of experience both in the field of professional competitions and due to our experience alongside amateurs and cycling tourists.
- Riding style: imagine a prudent cyclist, who avoids potholes and bumps, uneven ground, who brakes with caution and falls very rarely. Now compare him/her with that kind of cyclist who rides over stones and over anything that comes his/her way; who falls 2 or 3 times a year, with no physical consequences – but who knows whether these falls cause internal damage to the materials? – who loves riding fast downhill and treats the bike as if it were a tool that must simply respond to commands and that must obey quickly. Can you see the difference? We estimate that a cyclist of average weight, who is prudent when riding can make his/her bike last 60-80% more than that of a cyclist of the same weight but much less careful in his/her riding style.
- Body weigh: this may seem trivial and obvious, but such is not the case. Each vibration from the ground is absorbed by the bike with a load on it: the cyclist. If the cyclist weighs 60kg there will be a certain impact; on the other hand, if the cyclist weighs 80 kg then it will create an impact that is 25% greater. In the long run this matters.
- Power: this aspect is always highly underestimated. However, our personal experience tells us that a bike used by an Under23 or Elite rider, that therefore reaches a power that is very similar to that of a professional, is worn out at the end of a single year, after having ridden 35- 40.000 km. The same bike when used by a cycling tourist can last 3 times as much.
- Annual km: this parameter is generally used for cars, but is often inexplicably ignored when dealing with bicycles. A five year old bike that has been ridden for 50.000km will be very different from a five year old bike that has been ridden for 120.000km.
- Maintenance: some cyclists go out under the rain and others do not. Some wash their bike every week, others once a year. Some take their bike to a trusted mechanic at every single noise they hear, others wait for something to break. Over time these different attitudes have important effects on the bike’s lifespan, with an estimated increased wear of 10 to 30% depending on how the bike has been maintained.
And here follow the materials
This is certainly not a secondary aspect. Over the years it has been widely demonstrated that aluminium has a shorter lifespan compared to other materials, but with the necessary differences. Clearly, less weight equals less robustness; for example, in the 90s we produced the Daccordi Piuma which weighed less that 1kg, however we would certainly not guarantee its stability in using it now.
Maybe using a heavier aluminium we could create longer lasting frames. Carbon has definitely proven to last longer, and steel is still used for historical events without danger. So it can be considered the best for durability.
A small digression that is often ignored by the comments we have seen online: construction technique.The death of poor Richard Stanton was caused by the breakage of a carbon fork with an aluminium stem glued on. Gluing two different materials together is always difficult; manufacturers, in fact, are slowly abandoning this technique because it has been proven that durability over time is less effective than when the same two materials are glued together.
Internal breaking, this sneaky danger
The use of carbon fiber has introduced a problem that isn’t present in normal metallic materials, where cracks are always clearly visible to the naked eye. Carbon, as a matter of fact, is made up of several overlapping sheets and can break internally after a fall or a strong impact with a pothole. There follows a sudden breakage, with no warning, commonly called the “glass effect” of carbon.
If your carbon bike has endured an impact, the best solution is to have it checked by its producer or by a bike manufacturer.
Tips for a better durability
In conclusion, don’t underestimate a periodic replacement of some of the components, such as the handlebars, seat posts or stems. The same goes for the wheels.
Don’t risk your life in order to save money, remember to adjust your riding style according to your age and the wear of the bicycle.