RenoThis is an opinion piece by Reno Toffoli. Reno’s opinions don’t necessary represent the opinions of Your Group Ride or its advertisers but I always enjoy his rants. If you’d like to write an article for YGR, please email me at

Cycling can be expensive, you all know that. But beyond all the superfluous stuff that one buys because it’s shiny, or black, or you need it as a back up or ‘it would be nice to have around’, at its core, cycling is still pretty darn expensive. 

For the moment, let’s just consider bicycle maintenance…mountain bike maintenance. I currently have 4 bicycles to maintain. One is a cyclocross bike and probably only gets ridden 400 to 500 miles a year and mostly on gravel roads. It doesn’t require much maintenance so we’ll scratch that off the list. Another bike, a hardtail mtb, gets ridden maybe a thousand miles a year but in pretty tame surroundings. It does require some maintenance but nothing too major, so we’ll put that one on hold for a minute as well.
The two bikes I ride the most are a full suspension XC bike and a full suspension all-mountain (ish) bike. They each get ridden at least 1000 miles per year on what is often the burliest terrain that Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming have to offer. These bikes get the absolute snot beat out of them and, honestly, I’m pretty amazed they function as well as they do day in and day out. It says something about the current state of bicycle design when a 27 pound, mostly hollow, conglomeration of aluminum, steel, and carpet fiber can withstand repeated assaults up and down the steepest and rockiest parts of the local Rocky Mountains.
At this point, I will say two things. The first is that, as a former mechanic/ technician, anything I own that is mechanical must be completely dialed and work perfectly. Things that are rattly, loose, ‘hoopty’ or ‘wallered out’ drive me absolute bat@#$%!. I’m kind of OCD about this, like, really kind of a lot. Thing two is that after 25 years of riding mountain bikes, I’ll say without any hesitation that I’m an expert level rider and am also a pretty smooth rider. This is good because it means I’m not real hard on equipment, and I rarely have major crashes. (knocking on wooden desk right now). 20141218 170054
I tend to go over my bikes after each ride. I will check what needs to be checked, fix or replace things that need it and lube things that need to be lubed. ‘Thing two’ (as noted above) usually means that there shouldn’t be too much wrong. ‘Thing one’ means that if anything needs attention it’s getting done right then and there.
The two bikes I ride the most keep me really busy on the maintenance side. It seems like one of them always needs something. I absolutely couldn’t imagine having to pay someone to work on one of my bikes every single time it needed a minor adjustment because I’d be broke (more than I already am). Let’s face it, the modern full suspension mountain bike is a high performance and relatively high maintenance machine if ridden (as intended) to its limits.
The OCD mechanic in me has turned my garage into a mini bike shop with doubles and triples of nearly every maintenance item in stock at all times and it seems that I’m always buying more stock in an attempt to keep up.
As a general rule, I get 600-700 miles out of an mtb chain before my Park chain gauge shows that it’s time for a new one. With chainrings, it depends, but small ones are around 1500 or so miles and big ones will go quite a bit longer. With cassettes, I’m around 2000-3000 miles if I change chains regularly. Cables and housing are 1-2 times a year unless one frays and breaks. Minor fork and shock maintenance is typically done once a year but sometimes twice. Don’t forget brake pads, and the occasional rotor or brake bleed as well. Multiply this out by a couple of bikes and it takes some pretty good effort to keep things running as they should. Suspension pivot bearings, bottom brackets and wheel bearings all end up needing replacement at some point as well…yikes!
This is all assuming you don’t crash and taco a wheelset, take a rear derailleur out on a rock, gouge a fork stanchion or break the carbon widget you just bought; a frame for example.
20141218 170142To some degree, all of the previous maintenance is expected and somewhat sporadic. All of the previously mentioned maintenance pales in comparison to tires.
I kind of hate tires; they’re an expensive crap shoot. The rocks we have around here just destroy tires. If I’m lucky, I can get 600 miles out of a rear but it’s more likely that it’s going to be less. Fronts may go considerably longer but you never know. The thing I really hate about tires is that it just takes one misstep on one rock to completely destroy your brand new $50 (or more) tire. I hate that, and it’s happened to me quite a few times. Tires do last a little longer on my XC bike than they do on the all-mountain rig but you’re still not going to get that 50,000 mile warranty like you do with car tires.
For a while, my philosophy was to basically buy the cheapest clearance folding tires that looked reasonable as far as weight and tread went since I knew I was going to destroy them in pretty short order. That worked for a while but I have found that going with more ‘name brand’ tires tends to yield better results in the grip and longevity departments. I have a few brands that I like and a handful of models within each brand that I’ll seek out and grab up when they go on clearance. I refuse to pay much more than $40 for a tire and I usually pay far less than that.
A couple of summers ago, I tried running tubeless setups in all 4 of my bikes and within a year switched all of them back to tubes. For me, the tubeless thing was a nightmare. Trying to keep sealant fresh in 8 wheels split between 4 bikes was impossible, the amount of money they want for sealant is insane, and unless it was a goathead piercing my tire, the tubeless stuff never sealed when I needed it to. One little sidewall abrasion and it’s over…that would never faze a tubed tire.
These days I run tubes with just enough sealant inside to tackle the thorn issue and I’m much happier for it. Tire changes are quick and easy (and clean) and I probably flat less than I did with tubeless. Due to my aggressive, high speed descending habits, the only flats I ever really get are pinch flats and always in the rear. What I found was that in order to prevent tire and rim damage, I have to run just about as high of pressures with a tubeless setup as I do with tubes. The disadvantages (especially the maintenance) far outweighed the advantages for me so I roll old school with tubes these days and I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, I’ve found that if I blow out a sidewall with a tubed tire, I can run an automotive tire patch on the inside and still get full life out of the tire…anything to keep from spending more money on tires.
All of this never ending maintenance got me thinking about the lifespan of things and how it relates to their initial cost. I call this ‘dollars per mile’, and it may be best not to think about it because it can be staggeringly high when it comes to mountain biking. For example, you buy a $30 chain and get 600 miles out of it, that chain cost you 5 cents per mile…not bad. Buy a new $6000 mtb get 2000 miles out of it before it’s clapped out or, more likely, sold to your cousin for $600 because something shinier just came out and that bike cost you $3 per mile (roughly…probably more due to maintenance, and $600 less due to the sale price).
Like I said, it’s best not to think about cycling this way because your internal accountant will freak out and have an aneurysm…if you’re lucky. More likely is that your external accountant, also known as your significant other, will freak out and have an aneurysm.
To attempt to put things in to some sort of context, imagine that your new, $40,000 car only went 40,000 miles before it was worn out. That’s $1 per mile and not very economical if you ask me. A new car that’s correctly maintained should be able to go 200-300,000 miles without any major issues which would be a much more reasonable 13 to 20 cents a mile. This isn’t exactly a fair comparison for a couple reasons. First is that the car needs gas to go which is expensive and changes the dollars per mile thing a bit and second is that the car needs a lot less maintenance than my mountain bike and the maintenance for the car is usually cheaper. However, to be fair, my car isn’t bombing down Wathen or Mill Creek trails at mach three, either.
Love usually isn’t logical, so one probably shouldn’t think of it in a logical fashion. As much as I sometimes get tired of working on bikes, I’d much rather work on a bike than a car. My bikes keep me young, and healthy, and keep my senses sharp. Plus, they’re just a whole lot of fun. Is that worth the dollars per mile? Definitely.