Bike costs - am I doing it wrong?
August 8, 2013 7:20 AM   Subscribe

It's really expensive to maintain my bike! Is this normal, or should I be doing something different?

I bike virtually every day year-round - but not long distances. Most of my trips are no more than ten miles round trip. I have a Jamis Coda that I got three years ago. The frame is a great fit for me and seems pretty durable. I weigh ~200 pounds, which I assume puts more wear on the bike.

And lord, is there wear! Just this calendar year I have had a tune-up, replacement of brakes because they were gripping and refusing to release and no one could seem to figure out why, new wheels due to wear (per the shop), and now I am looking at replacing the thing that shifts the gears. Plus some minor stuff - brake pads, cables, etc. Even if I have no more bike expenses this year, I will have spent almost the cost of the bike (it was ~$650) in repairs. Last year I think I probably spent about $400 between a delux tune-up and some new parts. The first year, of course, the costs were minimal.

It seems weird to me that I am spending almost the cost of a new bike every year just to keep the old bike on the road. If that's normal, I'm cool with it - I love biking, I know that a bike isn't just some one-time investment, I save a ton of money by not having to own a car or take the bus. But is there something else I should be doing? Would a fancier bike cost less to maintain? Do I need to have a different bike or different parts to withstand me being basically a fat cyclist?

Basically, I can change a flat and clean my chain/drivetrain. That's the skills I have. I am fine with getting a professional tune-up rather than doing it myself.
posted by Frowner to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
First, do you have an idea of how many miles you've put on the bike this year? Daily short rides vs weekly long rides shouldn't make a difference; it's total mileage. Terrain will also make a difference, particularly in brake and rim wear: it's different stopping at red lights vs bombing down mountains.

That said: an annual tune-up is normal. Replacing the brakes and wheels (!) are not. A bike shop that couldn't figure out how to fix a pair of cheap Tektro brakes is... well, I wouldn't go back there for service. And I have thousands of miles on my wheels, have raced and crashed them several times, and weigh as much as you, and they keep trucking. The only wear on wheels that would require them to be replaced is if the brake tracks are worn down, and even if you ride daily, that still should take years. The more I think about this, the more I'm just appalled. What brakes and wheels did they sell you?

I mean, it's conceivable that this was all legit work and the pricing was reasonable, but I still think it's highly unlikely and that the shop is taking you for a ride.
posted by The Michael The at 7:31 AM on August 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

Pads and cables are consumables, you would expect to change those quite regularly and pads are pretty easy to DIY. You may be being overcharged, ask around for other recommended bike shops.
posted by epo at 7:33 AM on August 8, 2013

I'm suspicious of your bike shop...They might be telling you to replace what they don't want to just fix.
But this could be a vocabulary issue: New wheels? Really? Are you really replacing the rims? or the tires?
Cables, brake pads and tires are all wear parts. Rims, derailleurs (the thing that shifts the gears) are not. Unless you've really banged up a rim (or derailleur) there's no need to replace them, as they can be adjusted back to function. Ideally, you should get the shop to tell you EXACTLY why these things need replacement, and are beyond fixing, and then maybe get a second opinion.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:33 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Brake pads, chains, and cables wear and will need replacement more frequently than the other things you mention -- those aren't really avoidable, but also don't cost much. I'm surprised at the shop having replaced your wheels; that one's not nearly as common and it doesn't sound like you tacoed it or anything. Carrying more weight on your bike can be problematic if your wheel doesn't have enough spokes; my touring bike has 36-spoke wheels so that I can carry heavy loads without worry. Count your spokes and see how many the new wheels have -- could be you've now got heavier-duty wheels. Whether that was necessary I couldn't say without seeing the bike.

Have a look at this thread over at BikeForums about a heavier rider on a Jamis Coda; might give you some ideas about what wear to expect.

In future, I'd ask them to show you specifically what about your gear needs replacing. If they can explain it sufficiently that you feel confident it's a good idea, fine. If not, get a second opinion from another shop.
posted by asperity at 7:36 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds pretty expensive to me. My two year old bike will happily do a year - 2,000km or so - between services and my bike maintenance skills are barely more advanced than yours. My tyres - I presume you mean tyres rather than the rims themselves - are pretty ropey now and will need replacing for the first time. A service - at London prices - is $100 or so.

You say the thing that shifts the gears needs replacing. I don't know whether you mean derailleur or the cassette. If the cassette, one way to manage costs is to change your chain annually if your mileage is high, which in turn means you are less likely to need to get a new cassette. I'd be really surprised if your derailleur had had it.

Brakes - changing the pads is trivial and youtube can teach you how to do that if you ever want to do it yourself. Pads wear - that is a fact of life. Cables also wear but IMHO you shouldn't generally be needing to change cables much more than every two years at the very most on the kind of mileage you're doing.

Even so, new tyres, full service, new cassette, new cables, $650 sounds like a lot of money to me.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:37 AM on August 8, 2013

The derailleur (the thing that shifts the gears) on my bike lasted 10 years before I had to replace it. 1 year is ridiculous.

Brake pads, gear cables and chains you should expect to replace on a fairly regular basis, but are pretty easy to do yourself if you're willing to learn.

Wheel rims do eventually wear out if you're using rim brakes, but they ought to last thousands of miles, unless you're either a) doing a lot of heavy braking (eg if you have a big hill on your commute) or b) you've let the brake blocks wear down to the metal and you're grinding away the rim as a result. It's also possible to get bits of grit stuck in your brake blocks & grind the rim away with them, but usually you can hear that when you brake.

Have you got a breakdown of the cost of parts and labour for these services? I wonder if they're gold-plating the replacement parts in order to earn a bit more out of you. $1000 in two years on a bike that does 10 miles a day seems excessive.
posted by pharm at 7:39 AM on August 8, 2013

The Michael The got there faster than I would. I'd expect sturdy 32-36 spoke wheels like I see on the current line of Jamis Codas to easily last 10-20,000 miles, not the 5-6,000 you suggest. Unless you think riding over potholes and into curbs is fun (which isn't too great for the wheel), I'd ask them what wear they're referring to. You should be able to see it - wheel wear tends to show up as hairline cracks around the spokes. However, you're certainly looking at new tires at the 5-6,000 mile mark, so perhaps you're mixing up replacing the wheel with replacing the tires?

Similarly, derailleurs are not consumable item even at the low end of the bike market (actually, in my experience, they are less consumable at the low end because they are not as finicky to keep in adjustment). On a similar note as before though, gear cassettes are consumable (the gears being shifted), so perhaps they are replacing that rather than the derailleur. Again, I'd expect that at around 5-6,000 miles.

I agree that you're probably being a bit overcharged (by extra unneeded work) by your bike shop. However, bike maintenance is somewhat unrelated to bike value. Bike shops tend not to stock many parts, so when they replaced your brakes, they're probably not replacing them with exactly the same one that was on the bike - and the replacement part is almost definitely going to be more expensive so that the bike shop makes money. Further, more expensive bikes have approximately the same labor to replace anything and because bike shops don't stock many parts, the replacement parts are often exactly the same cost.
posted by saeculorum at 7:40 AM on August 8, 2013

Yeah, it sounds like you are being taken for a (hah!) ride here. Of course it depends on what you're doing but I don't see shifters and wheels needing replaced often. Like everyone is saying you can do some of this stuff yourself with not-too-much fuss, and you should feel confident asking your bike shop to show you just why they say stuff needs replaced.
posted by gauche at 7:40 AM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: Hm.

This is sad news, since this bike shop is the only one around where the people aren't jerks. Maybe they're nice to my face and ripping me off.

I was told that the wheels did have brake track wear. (And that I should consider using softer brake pads, actually.) Could it be really cheap wheels?

The situation with the brakes - several people did try to fix them, but what would happen was they'd be fixed for about a mile and the old problem would come back - the brakes would not release all the way and I'd be riding with very slight brake drag which would increase in severity over time. (Before I realized what was going on, I thought I'd developed some freak heart problem because it was getting so difficult to ride.) I had it in the shop multiple times for this.

The bike shops around here just, IMO, suck. There's the one where people are polite but totally, totally incompetent and lost my bike seat when I came in for a simple repair (and then suggested that maybe I'd brought it in without the seat!); there's the place where people are just really fucking rude unless you're a dudebro jock cyclist; there's the fratty one over near campus...the only place where people were both nice and competent was actually a super fancy racing bike shop miles and miles and miles away, which was weird because they obviously never dealt with lowly bikes like mine. Sigh.
posted by Frowner at 7:42 AM on August 8, 2013

The bike shops around here just, IMO, suck.

Sounds like you should learn to fix your own bike.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:53 AM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]

Of all the options, I see nothing wrong with tolerating a little frattiness in return for competence. The fact that this is a super fancy racing shop is very telling about their tolerance for wear and tear on work-a-day bikes. Gird yourself, and go hence to fratshop. They're near campus, they should be adept with old beater bikes (which yours isn't).
Edited to add: Where did you buy the bike? If it's at all close, head back to them, perhaps.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:53 AM on August 8, 2013

If you bought the bike new, some of the parts may still be under warranty.

If this is your only bike shop option, then maybe instead of firing them you can be a bit more proactive about checking what they are telling you, and letting them know you're doing so so they are on notice that you're not just going to sink money into the bike.

Also, sign up for an account on so you can run your questions by other knowledgeable folks. It seems to be a fairly positive environment although of course I can't guarantee you won't encounter some folks of the Ur Doin It Rong personality type.
posted by gauche at 7:53 AM on August 8, 2013

I was told that the wheels did have brake track wear. (And that I should consider using softer brake pads, actually.) Could it be really cheap wheels?

Yeah, those are cheap wheels, but that shouldn't make a difference. Maybe the brake issue was causing greater than normal wear. But they should last longer than a couple of years. And I've never, ever heard of "using softer pads." Different pads for carbon rims, sure. Otherwise... just drop some Dura Ace pads on there and you're good.

Out of curiosity, what wheels did they convince you to buy?
posted by The Michael The at 8:08 AM on August 8, 2013

I want to hone in on the braking issues. In your follow up they say the brake surface of the wheels was worn out and it looks like the brakes wouldn't re-engage properly. My experience is mostly with road biking, but an aluminum rim should last nearly 50,000km before braking surface deteriorates. Maybe you live in a very hilly area or you are doing some aggressive braking, but something about this sounds odd to me.

I can't tell you if your shop is being fair to you, but that is an unusual amount of maintenance expense relative to the value of the bike. I would have an open and non-confrontational chat about it with the shop owner. He or she may have some more informed ideas on what is going on.
posted by dgran at 8:15 AM on August 8, 2013

My thought is that if the wheels weren't true, then there would be braking problems, and it's possible the rims could have been damaged that way. Hard to say whether this was the situation now, since it sounds like both brakes and wheels were replaced at the same time.
posted by asperity at 8:18 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Though they're jerks, I'd think about taking the bike to another shop, just to see what they come up with. Don't tell them what this shop wants to do, just bring it in for an inspection. It sure sounds like your current shop is fudging things.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:21 AM on August 8, 2013

Where are you located? There may be a bike co-op or community bike shop in the area. They're pretty great because some will have an actual shop you can pay for service, and/or have tools and volunteers who will help you do the work yourself. Many also offer classes.
posted by HermitDog at 8:22 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I can't comment on the other aspects of maintenance but I've never paid more than 100-150 for a tune-up/clean up of my bike, and that was in downtown DC. Have you called around to the other places to see what prices they're putting on these services?
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:24 AM on August 8, 2013

I'm a bike mechanic. It's going to be really hard to second guess another shop without actually putting my hands on your bike, so give leeway to what I say.

Riding every day is going to put a lot of wear and tear on a bike. That's ok, bikes can take it, especially a quality bike like your Jamis Coda. Some things wear very quickly, and some things take more time. Some things will wear quickly or take a long time depending on how the bike is maintained or stored. Things like brake pads are something that wear fast, and will wear faster if you're a heavy rider or ride with a heavy load. That's just physics. My shop charges about $13 to replace a set of brake pads (if memory serves me right, normally I have a big chart on the wall to look at, but I'm at home) plus the cost of the pads themselves (which can range from $6 to $40).

Some tires are meant to last a very long time (Vittoria Randonneur II) and some are not (Michelin ProRace 4).

Wheels: WHY do your wheels need to be replaced? Is it because your hubs are worn to the point where a hub overhaul is about the cost of a new wheel? Is it because your rims are dented? Is it because the braking surface has worn too much? It looks like the Jamis is spec'd with cheap Alex wheels (which lots and lots of bikes, even nice bikes, come with, it's just an easy way for bike manufacturers to save a little money and most consumers don't know the difference between a decent wheel and a great wheel). If anything major, meaning anything other than just balancing the spoke tension and truing the wheel, needs to be done, it's basically more cost effective to just buy a new wheel. The hubs they come with aren't worth the labor charge of lacing them to a new rim. The rims aren't worth the labor charge of lacing them to a new hub. I'd ask why the wheels need to be replaced.

Cables also wear, but that's really due to AGE and STORAGE CONDITIONS. Once we install and adjust a cable, it should be good to go for a long time. Cables stretch a little, which can be fixed quickly with a minor adjustment, but cables don't "stretch out" to the point where they need to be replaced. What kills cables is time and water. Over time the cables will stop looking fresh and shiny and start looking dull, grey, or rusty. Time for a new cable. The housing (that tube that the cable slides through) will also start to collect gunk inside and cause shifting/braking performance to suffer. When it's time to replace the housing, it's time to go ahead and throw a new cable in there as well. Labor charge for a new housing run in my shop is around $13 for each run, so that's $52 for front and rear brakes and front and rear shifters. Cables themselves cost $3 each and the housing costs $1 per foot. There are these little metal ferrules that go on the ends of some housing and we charge $0.50 each for those (we don't want to, but a bottle of 200 of those suckers is expensive enough that we have to account for them). Almost nobody ever asks for just new cables and housing; it's almost always done as part of a larger tuneup, so people don't actually pay the $13 per run, they pay something like $4 per run if it's done as part of a tuneup.

Chains wear and need to be replaced. I can't tell you how many miles you should get out of your chain, but I can definitely tell you when your chain needs to be replaced by using a chain checker. I have no qualms about showing a customer how much wear their chain has using the tool. It's not a bad idea to just buy yourself the tool so you can check your own chain periodically.

Now, your shifters needing to be replaced. That's tricky. The 2012 Jamis Coda Sport comes with Acera shifters, which are, no offense, on the low end of the quality spectrum. They work. For a while. And then they stop being reliable and accurate. Before we replace a shifter, we attempt to bring life back into it with a "shifter flush", whereby we blast it with aerosol degreaser (the only valid use for aerosol degreaser ever) and follow that with a blast of compressed air, and repeat until it either starts working again or we declare it dead. This works more than half the time, and if it works we charge the customer $15 and say "we are awesome and fixed your shifter", and if not we don't charge anything for the attempt and say "your shifter can't be fixed and it's going to cost about $xxx.xx to replace", and that price will depend on what level of components we're talking about. I will charge you about $60 for a pair of Acera shifters (parts, not labor), so about $30 if just one needs to be replaced, and labor is in the neighborhood of $17 or something.

Now, about the estimate. After I total up everything that needs to be done on a bike, I break it down into GOOD, BETTER, and BEST, and then then I pad each of those estimates by about 10%-20% to give me a little wiggle room in case I get in there and find out something else needs to be done. In the GOOD category are major deal breakers, like safety issues (brakes, handle bars, etc). BETTER stuff is basically most of what the rest of the bike should have done, and the BEST is final touches that aren't a game killer, but wouldn't be bad (new bar tape or something). If I messed up in my estimate and have to use that additional 20% I quoted, that's ok, because I didn't go over my estimate. My goal is to UNDER PROMISE AND OVER DELIVER. At least that's what my master tech tells me every day. If I quote you $300 and call you up and say "Hey, your bike is ready, your total is $260 plus tax" then you're a happy camper. I hate to give a dead-accurate quote, because you'll always run into something little that you forgot to add up, so now you either need to surprise the customer with an additional charge or you need to eat that cost. Bad either way.

So, I'm sorry this is long (but in my shop we have SO MANY FEELS FOR BIKES), but the big takeaway is that you need to ask your shop to break down the individual items on the estimate and also tell you WHY things need to be done. We expect to get called out on every recommendation, so we don't just make shit up, ever. If we say your wheels need to be replaced because your braking surface is worn, then we will also be ready to break out the tool that indicates this. If your shop says something like that, by all means reply with "Ok, could you please show me why you think that needs to be done" and if they wave their hands in the air and give you woo woo or something, fuck 'em.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:32 AM on August 8, 2013 [138 favorites]

A couple of thoughts:

Is there a bike co-op--or even a shop that offers classes--anywhere near you? Learning to do slightly-more-than-basic maintenance (brake adjustment, pad replacement, cables and housing, replacing brake levers, adjusting shifters and deraillers etc.) is a great way to save on repairs, and it will help you develop a sense of whether bike shops are being reasonable about the work they're recommending and the price they're asking for it. These organizations often also have open shop nights, which means they can also be a great way to dodge the cost of assembling your own tool collection. If you were in Chicago, I would direct you to West Town Bikes or The Recyclery.

I also want to add my suspicions about your wheel replacement. I work at a shop, and we only rarely see braking surfaces or hubs worn to the point of replacement. And, like others have mentioned, when we do, it's a wheelset that has obviously seen thousands or tens of thousands of miles in inclement weather. If the customer can afford it, we recommend a custom rebuild or a new custom-built wheel, which will hold up to for longer (and be easier to repair, if needed) than a pre-built wheel. This is a large up-front expense, both because the wheel will have higher quality components and more human labor invested in its construction, but hopefully winds up being less expensive on a mile-for-mile basis over the life of the wheel.

What we do see, quite regularly, are machine-bulit stock rear wheels (almost certainly what was on your bike) which break spokes and tend to go out of true. We charge $30 labor plus $1 per spoke to fix this, and after a customer has been back two or three times (spending $60-90 over the course of a year or two) we'll escalate to recommending a new rear wheel--but only the rear wheel. This runs $100-150 inclusive of labor, which in this case involves swapping your tire and cassette or freewheel, applying rim tape, adjusting the bearings, and initial truing and tensioning. Front wheels never need to be replaced at the same time, barring an accident, because they don't bear your weight or the torque of pedaling. Based on the information you gave us, I suspect your shop was grasping for reasons to justify an expensive upgrade.
posted by pullayup at 8:38 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm a little baffled. I looked at your bike online and it's hard to imagine a more typical bike. The rims are decent alloy rims with a reasonable number of spokes. The breaks are normal D-brakes. The derailleurs are just plain 7 speed shimano gear. There's no carbon fiber or shocks or hydraulics other expensive high-maintainence craziness. I think they're ripping you off. Maintaining that bike should be cheap.

The good news is that bike is a great bike to learn repairs on because everything is pretty normal. See if you can find some classes somewhere. At the least it will teach you enough to know if your next mechanic is blowing smoke up your butt.
posted by chairface at 8:48 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Like spikeleemajortometc., I do feel a little weird second guessing another shop's work, so I want add that there is at least one circumstance that could account for a prematurely worn braking surface: if your brake was misadjusted to the point that it was dragging something metal (either the brake pad carrier or the core of a worn-down pad) against the rim, it would wear a channel in the braking surface in hundreds rather than thousands of miles. But, even if this were the case, I would fault them for not explaining it to you.
posted by pullayup at 8:51 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I feel like a lot of points have already been covered pretty well here.

But I will point out that here in Portland, OR, the best bike repair shop is the one with the most expensive bikes and the racer-ist folks. They also happen to have the lowest labor rates AND be the best at the work they do. They also underpromise and overdeliver. Most things I've had done come in at 1/2-3/4 the quoted price. While occasionally someone sneers at my 1970's British road bike or cheapo dyno wheel, I trust them to get the job done.

I have had to correct work done on friends' bikes at some of the more low-income, community-oriented shops. I have seen friends pay $250+ for a shop to lube their chain and cables.
posted by MonsieurBon at 9:15 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, my mountain bike survived about 8 years of hard city riding in all kinds of weather before the wheels (with very worn rims), the right grip shifter and the rear derailleur needed to be replaced.

I agree that you should start working with the most competent people around (the racing shop or the fratty place) to assess your bike and get what really needs to be fixed, fixed. Have them confirm how you should then maintain your bike, and work with a bike co-op (if available) or on your own with a checklist. If you want your work checked, bring it in for a yearly tune-up.
posted by maudlin at 9:21 AM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! Further information: it is the shifters that are being replaced - one person suggested that they could clean them out as described above and then another said no, they needed to be replaced. I can stop in to another shop for a second opinion, which should clarify matters a lot.

This business with the wheels - I think something must be going on, as now that I remember, I actually had a wheel replacement (both wheels) with the last tune-up, and this is an additional wheel replacement, and they specifically said "see this line on the wheel, it needs to be replaced if it's worn away like it is now, because that shows brake wear" - which may well be true? - but if it is brake wear then those brakes are screwed up, because this all took place over about six months. And it's this shop which installed the brakes, of course.

This may all be totally innocent - they goof up the brakes in some way, there's anomalous wear on the wheel, maybe my brakes were lemon brakes to start with and this is all some weird cascade - but I think I'll look around for another repair shop for the next couple of things and see if it seems different.
posted by Frowner at 9:23 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would be very surprised if six months of riding wore your rims to the point that the wear indicator was gone. This kind of wear has absolutely nothing to do with being a "fat cyclist", which you aren't anyway, but even accounting for the slight increase in braking force you'd need to overcome an extra 20 lbs. worth of momentum...rims just don't wear that quickly unless there's some other problem. If you ride ten miles per day, you're still below 2000 miles, and that's if you ride every day. You should verify the wear yourself, or take it to another shop for a second opinion. The indicator will either be a groove running along the middle of the machined braking surface or a circular divot, usually of the same color as the unmachined part of the rim.

Worn rims will also be concave, and you can check this by feeling them or placing a straightedge across the rim surface, like so. The rims in the picture are are quite worn--if yours look like that, you definitely need a new wheel. The picture's from a thread discussing rim wear and failure, and there's also a picture of how rims fail when the braking surface has worn away. I tend to ride on my rims until they crack, which is absolutely unsafe and you shouldn't do it--but normally, I just get a flat or the brake starts rubbing, because the rim is no longer able to resist the force of the air pressure in the tire. As a point of comparison, I weigh as much as you do and have been riding the same wheels on my primary bike since 2007. I've put ~25,000 miles on them, and they're probably going to need to be replaced by the end of this year.
posted by pullayup at 9:48 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

As just a slight counter example, I probably spend about the much on my bike each year, and bike as much, or maybe even a little less than you (and am a comparable weight). Really good hand-built wheels have lasted longer, but before that I had to replace several non-taco'd wheels. I trust and love my bike co-op, but I rarely walk out of there for less than $200 unless it's a simple flat, just because of obvious wear and tear stuff that makes sense when they show it to me.

Expensive urban area, often awful streets, and I'm probably a little hard on my commuter bike.
posted by ldthomps at 10:07 AM on August 8, 2013

Another note, it seems especially odd that your front wheel was also replaced so quickly. I ride year-round- thousands of miles per year (work, fun, to the store, etc). The bike I started commuting on, an entry-level 1998 base model "hybrid" bike still has its original wheel - and this is now the bike I still ride all through the winter. I have gone through a few back wheels for various reasons, including one rim crack on a relatively new Jamis Aurora so maybe they are just cheap wheels.

In terms of yearly cost for my primary bike (the Jamis), it probably averages out to about between $300-$350/year. This includes regular things like tune-ups and wheel true-ing; wear and tear items like brake pads, tires, drive train/chain replacement (not quite every year); and then other random (less frequent) things like a broken shifter, broken spokes, bar tape replacement, broken cable, bottom bracket replacement etc. Fortunately all these things don't happen at once!
posted by mikepop at 10:10 AM on August 8, 2013

Something is very wrong here. Brakes that refuse to release? Bad shifters? It's very bizarre for wheels to need replacing so quickly. I ride almost every day several miles at least, weigh 225, and have never, ever worn out a wheel like that. I'm a big advocate of cheap bikes being perfectly adequate riders. And I mean dirt fucking cheap. Because they are perfectly adequate. When they fail, it seems usually the result of gross abuse or absolute neglect.

It's possible for rim walls to wear through from braking. But it takes a whole lot of braking. I noticed this once on an Alex rim, on a work bike, with a trailer that was usually over 100 lbs. Particles of crud got embedded in the brake pads, and began grinding on the rims. However, it was pretty obvious to feel and hear, and remedied well before any serious damage was done. FWIW, the brake pads were replaced with salmon Kool Stops for the fix.

It's simply hard to believe that there can be so much wear in so little time resulting from ordinary riding. If the rims were failing from manufacturing defect, spokes popping regularly or hubs falling apart, resulting in wheels that are too expensive to fix, I can see replacing them. But such things almost never happen even on the cheapest of bikes. I find it hard to believe you got such a huge lemon. But the series of repair bills makes me suspicious. Go ahead. Second guess that mechanic. I sure as hell would.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:47 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

With the brake wear you're experiencing (and wheel wear!) I'd recommend learning how to change your own brakes and always having a spare set laying around. As soon as the grooves are worn down, replace 'em and get a new spare set. Ten miles a day for a year is 3650 miles. That's *nothing*. I mean, no it's not nothing, but for wheel wear it's nothing. Something is up. My bike's got ten to twelve thousand on the rough streets and chat trails of St. Louis, and my wheels are nowhere near needing replacement.
posted by notsnot at 10:55 AM on August 8, 2013

I was a daily urban commuter, rain or shine in a hilly New England city, while weighing in at 350lbs. I built a beefy bike, but once built, it was really reliable.

- Your cables and brake pivots aren't lubricated, or worse, they used something like WD-40, which dries into a gummy mess. This is why the brakes stick and the shifter is balky. It's been in their hands more than once, and they haven't fixed it. Strike one.

- You shouldn't be eating up an entire set of brake pads in 6 months, unless it's horribly misaligned, or utterly inappropriate for your riding style, and so now you need a new rim because they screwed up the brake job. Strike two.

- They've wrecked your wheels twice in one year. Strike three. Done. Find another shop. They may not be lying to you or ripping you off deliberately, but they sure as hell don't know what they're doing, and it's wrecking your bike.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:01 AM on August 8, 2013

Normal amount of work, except for the wheel replacement. But none of that should be too expensive at a decent bike shop.

Snow can destroy a bike like nothing else if you let it -- do you ride in snow?
posted by miyabo at 11:52 AM on August 8, 2013

Find another shop. I'd rather have a competent mechanic with an attitude than nice guys who screw up my bike. If you've had two wheel replacements in two years, both due to brake problems, odds are that they are doing something wrong. I suppose that it's remotely possible that you are getting lots of tough grit on your brake pads from riding in nasty weather (it's not a bad idea to inspect your brake pads when you clean and oil your chain, and to sand off any glaze or embedded objects, not that I do this myself...), but that shouldn't necessitate new rims after only 6 months.

There are softer and harder brake pad compounds. Kool-Stop makes three (green, red, and black), depending on your riding conditions, so it's not completely off the wall to suggest a softer pad. But as a solution, it's inadequate to the problem.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:09 PM on August 8, 2013

Oh man, invest in a few basic tools, search out a bike bike co-op where you can take a basic maintenance class and Sheldon Brown is your co-pilot.

I took a basic maintenance class (with my bike) at the bike co-op near me and it helped a lot with knowing where to start and how to fix the little things before they become problems. Bike co-ops also make it easy to source used parts. Some of the co-ops here in LA even women/genderqueer nights (ie no condescending bros).

Are you leaving your bike outside uncovered/exposed to the elements year round or something? That might explain parts seizing up.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:21 PM on August 8, 2013

It's not too hard to find good components that will last the lifetime of your bike. Many bikes come standard with the cheapest Shimano components. The first thing to do is ditch them for something better. Taking your bike to the shop to change components or do basic tuning is going to add up quick. It doesn't take much in the way of tools or know-how to do this stuff yourself. Oiling and lubing is so stupid easy it makes no sense to be a hard core rider and not do it yourself. The only thing I ever really had the shop do is true the wheel.
posted by JJ86 at 1:32 PM on August 8, 2013

Many moons ago I worked in the outdoor industry (Interestingly enough Jamis was one of the lines I repped early on), and I was lucky enough to be able to build up some very nice bikes. My pride and joy is a custom touring bike I built with a frame from Sycip designs. Some 16 year later it has perhaps 75K miles on it, and I'm only on my second set of wheels (the first set lasting over 60K miles). This is a Phil Wood hubbed/Mavic Touring rim 40 hole 4 cross spoke setup. Arguably tandem level bomproofness, but I wanted zero worries, as this bike took me across 3 continents, mostly in the middle of international nowheresville. Unfortunately retail on a set of wheels like this would likely cost as much a nice mid-line Jamis bike, complete. So I'm going to go in two different directions for a bit here.

Bikes have come a long way, especially the lower priced models. Quality control in the Chinese and Taiwanese factories has never been better. But you still get what you pay for. If you take the Jamis Coda, which on EMS's website retails for $560, you have to remember that there are at least three stops before you buy the bike in the shop. There is the component manufacturers, Shimano, Sachs, Etc., that Jamis buys components from which are sent to the factory where assembly take place. On a $560 retail bike there might be a total of $100 in parts, probably less. Stuff is purchased in volume, wal mart style to get the numbers right. Jamis buys these bikes from the factory, under contract of a certain number of bikes, for perhaps $110-$150 for a Coda level spec bike. Each step to retail ideally wants to double their money when they sell it. So beginning of the season for a model, They're going to sell that Coda to a shop for somewhere between $250-$350 depending on how much of a volume commitment a shop will sign up for. The more bikes you buy, the lower your cost each. So the bike arrives at the shop, and now has to be un-boxed and assembled; Most of the bike is ready to go, but you tighten everything up, air up tires and give it a quick tuneup. If the shop paid $350 for the bike they're looking at $190 possible profit. But out of this you have to pay rent, your workers, etc. etc. So needless to say, while a Jamis Coda or any other bike in that range looks kind of expensive to the end buyer, the wheelset with tires might be worth $40. That's machine laced spokes, a low end rim and low end hubset. Your drivetrain (front and rear derailleurs, crank, cassette, shifters chain) is probably worth 40-50 bucks wholesale. So the parts at this price point do tend to wear out more quickly, and tend to go out of adjustment more quickly too.

I'll go out on a limb and say that besides composite wheelsets, there isn't a machine built wheel in the world that is as well built as one laced by hand by a person who knows what they hell they're doing and has been doing it for a long time. At the shop level I have seen more than a few guys in the back who couldn't true a wheel to save their lives, and will just as soon try to sell you a new wheelset instead. That's not to say that your wheel's aren't legitimately shot. Only you know how you ride, and if you're riding like you have an elephant perched on your shoulders then I'm not surprised that your wheels (especially your rear wheel) might be in need of replacement.

The other thing I'm thinking about is how you ride. Do you ride over things or through them? I know that it comes off as some hand wavy B.S., but there is definitely something to the concept of a riding a bike lightly. And I don't mean you have to go easy, but I think you might have improved luck with wheels as you begin to choose better lines, don't crash off of curbs, etc. At 200# you're breathing down the neck of the Clydesdale class, so to speak. I should know, because even when I was riding 300-400 miles a week I still weighed 190#, and, well let's just say I'm not riding nearly as much these days.

Anyway, bikes are like anything else mechanical. The more you use them, the more important your maintenance schedule is. The better the parts, the longer they stay in tune, and the longer they tend to last. So at least in the 0-perhaps $1500 range you are definitely going to get better quality stuff as you go up in price.

If you're willing to do the leg work, you can find great deals on high end components on ebay and the like. Lightly used, but good parts just last. Think about longer lasting chains like Wippermann, which, while costing more, last long enough to make up for the price difference. Think about getting a nice wheelset built, by hand, by the oldest guy in the shop. Its actually kind of sick how close in price a machine built set of wheels is to a nice hand built set put together by the local old gearhead. Well built wheels are like a good pair of shoes, in that they make even a cheap suit work better. Good luck!
posted by chosemerveilleux at 1:59 PM on August 8, 2013

My bike (also a Jamis — Allegro 2 in my case) has 5000+ miles on it, on the original rims. The only things that have been replaced, beyond tires and tubes, are (as memory serves) the brake pads, the chain, and the cassette. And I'm riding on HELLA potholed streets.

Getting a second opinion sounds worthwhile, I think.
posted by Lexica at 9:50 PM on August 8, 2013

Hello! I Am Another Bike Mechanic. I am not your mechanic, but I work on Jamis bikes daily, in a shop that rents them to many, many people. Our Codas see lots of use, mostly by riders who have little reason to be careful with them. (On the other hand, they get weekly checks and monthly tune-ups.) The Codas aren't anything special, but they use decent components and are generally pretty well made. We usually keep bikes about 2 years before selling them off. I have yet to see one need new wheels due to braking wear, or even come near that point. So the repeated need for new wheels strikes me as especially odd.

Like others upthread, I'm reluctant to diagnose without looking at the bike or comment without talking to the mechanic who made the recommendations. At a glance, though, it sounds like your bike suffers from brake pad misalignment or insufficiently frequent replacement of the pads - this can cause both the jamming brakes and faster pad wear, bringing them down to the metal backing which would in turn cause faster rim wear. (If your brakes are catching now, check for a slight lip sticking out from the bottom edge of the pad that has not worn down as much as the rest. If you find it, that's the problem.)

As others have suggested, you may wish to find a nearby bike co-op or visit another shop with helpful mechanics who will explain brake adjustment and pad alignment to you. (I'm always happy to invite folks back to the shop and narrate while I make small repairs like that, and many other mechanics will do the same.) This way you can keep an eye on it even between tune-ups. At the very least, get some other mechanics looking at it. They can give you far more informed diagnoses than us internet folks, because they can see the bike.

But yes, for whatever reason, you're probably paying more than you need to. I would expect to rarely spend more than $200/year for the first several years of a bike's life, given the prices our shop charges - that would be a $70 full tune-up in spring, a $35 partial tune-up in fall, plus extra for parts and small fixes as needed during the year. After 3 years you might expect some occasional more costly repairs.
posted by sibilatorix at 11:54 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

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