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  1. #1
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    Lifetime of a bike frame

    My bike has recently developed a crack on the seat tube. The bike is just over 5 years old and has been used for commuting an 8 mile round trip for 5 days per week for about 18 months, then was not used for about 18 months, then used for 3 days per week on a 8 mile daily trip.

    This makes me wonder if bike frames have a limited lifespan and whether my bike's frame has cracked due to wear and tear?

    Work colleagues do a similar or even longer journey than mine and some have done so for more than 5 years and their bike's are fine. I'm not overweight for my bike and if the crack was due to a manufacturing fault then I would have expected it to manifest itself within a few years or less.

    Does wear and tear break frames?

  2. #2
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    It depends on the frame. Steel should last, but a bad weld or a damaged tube can lead to failure.

    I have 15,000 miles on my Soma Double Cross. I'm sure I could use a frame for 50,000 miles or more.
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  3. #3
    Mmm hm! agent pombero's Avatar
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    yes, wear and tear causes damage to the frame over time. But a properly cared for steel frame should outlast you!

  4. #4
    Team Water Andy_K's Avatar
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    It depends on the frame. Steel, from what I understand, simply doesn't wear out in normal use. Aluminum will eventually wear out, but it takes a really, really long time -- I've never heard of an incident of fatigue failure with aluminum but it's at least possible in theory. Carbon, I don't know -- I think every carbon failure I've heard about has involved a crash or some kind of significant damage to the surface (i.e. not normal wear and tear).

    Any well-made frame, regardless of material, should last more than 5 years unless it's been crashed, even with intensive use. If it doesn't that reflects a manufacturing flaw and it's probably worth talking to the company that made it. Even if there is no explicit warranty, most companies will stand behind their frames for at least 5 years.

  5. #5
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    Thanks for all the replies so far. The alu fame has had a few knocks during it's use so I guess those incidents would have had an effect on the frame's lifetime, but that's not wear and tear though is it?

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    Depends on the frame, how it is used/abused, material, etc. Although there is a perception that a well cared for steel frame should last indefinitely, it depends on how well it is built. I broke a chainstay on a steel Specialized Allez frame in the mid 90's. It was about 2 years old, not very heavily used & no rust. The chainstay seemed to be very lightly built. The guage of steel on my Surly's however, seems to be much heavier & they may last me a lifetime. I also have a cheap aluminum Windsor road frame that is built rather heavy (weighs almost as much as my Surly Cross Check) and will probably last a considerable length of time. There is a local rider here that has a heavy built aluminum Motobecane road bike. He is quite large, probably somewhere around 320lbs, he has had no problems with it, & it has lasted him quite a few years so far.

    Theoretically, steel & titanium frames can have an infinite lifespan if they are not subjected to vibrations above a certain amount. But, the life of any frame depends on how it is built, how harshly it is ridden, & how well it is protected from the elements.

  7. #7
    Senior Member mtbikerinpa's Avatar
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    The fatigue life of an aluminum frame will be faster than most materials, and the newer alloys are better than the older ones but it still depends on the thicknesses and how the welds were done. A steel frame can be fixed when it cracks in most cases but an aluminum one will be a little more involved to repair(though far from impossible.

    I have seen a few aluminum ones develop cracks fairly quickly. A 100lb friend of mine as a child made a dual suspension Giant Warp crack at the shock mount within 2 years. Of course he was a wild man with stunts but not a large person. They will start from the weakest/most stressed area, so if you found one starting the other areas will follow eventually although they make in fact take a good while to reach that point or it could happen quickly.

    I have a couple suggestions that could fix it at an early stage, but for obvious reason that will stay as PM for those interested.
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  8. #8
    7-speed doomsday prepper ThermionicScott's Avatar
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    Seems a little early to fail -- you didn't ride with the seat post barely inserted, did you?
    Quote Originally Posted by chandltp View Post
    There's no such thing as too far.. just lack of time
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  9. #9
    Senior Member squirtdad's Avatar
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    my commuter was bought new in 1982....steel frame, no problems. I just had my wife's aluminum frame electra replaced because the head tube cracked. YMMV, but steel has a long history of longevity.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member rebel1916's Avatar
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    Steel breaks just as often as aluminum. Hell, I broke a steel motorcycle frame one JRA. But the mystical properties, some of you imbue steel with, are a never ending source of amusement for those of us who don't believe in magic...

  11. #11
    Senior Member mtbikerinpa's Avatar
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    Motorcycle fatigue is a bit of a different animal since you have engine vibration...
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  12. #12
    Dog is my co-pilot 2manybikes's Avatar
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    The key to how long something will last is not the material. It is the design of the frame and the use.
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  13. #13
    Senior Member rebel1916's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2manybikes View Post
    The key to how long something will last is not the material. It is the design of the frame and the use.
    Precisely!

  14. #14
    Senior Member rebel1916's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtbikerinpa View Post
    Motorcycle fatigue is a bit of a different animal since you have engine vibration...
    Well, you have not said anything crazy in this thread, but the usual argument of the "steel will last forever crowd" is that steel has an infinite fatigue life, assuming design parameters are not exceeded. Engine vibrations are surely well within the design parameters. The problem is, that the "steel is magical" crowd doesn't take into account the fact that potholes, and the like, may not be. Especially with modern, light n sporty, steel designs.

  15. #15
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    i have a nasty tendency to ride over bumps/ruts at full speed (e.g. 25-30 mph) and have cracked several steel and alu road bikes at the dt weld (typical point of failure). i now ride carbon fiber due to its resistance to fatigue and enormous tensile strength. i don't think i will ever be able to break one of my carbon fiber bikes simply by riding it...

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by ThermionicScott View Post
    Seems a little early to fail -- you didn't ride with the seat post barely inserted, did you?
    No the seat post was inserted to 3 marks above the maximum extension

  17. #17
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    Any frame used for everyday commuting should be able to last more than 5 years. I would suggest that 10-15 years is a sensible design life. The Cyclists Touring Club did a search for the oldest commuting frame and found some with over 50 years of daily use.
    Frames frail at points where the stress is concentrated to exceed the strength. Stress can be concentrated by poor design, eg brazeon bits with sharp corners or thick step-changes in thickness or large unsupported structures such as very long seatposts. Strength can be reduced by poor quality welding or brazing, overheating the metal.
    What model of bike was your failed frame? Some brands have a lifetime guarantee, others may replace the frame at cost.

  18. #18
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelW View Post
    Any frame used for everyday commuting should be able to last more than 5 years. I would suggest that 10-15 years is a sensible design life. The Cyclists Touring Club did a search for the oldest commuting frame and found some with over 50 years of daily use.
    Frames frail at points where the stress is concentrated to exceed the strength. Stress can be concentrated by poor design, eg brazeon bits with sharp corners or thick step-changes in thickness or large unsupported structures such as very long seatposts. Strength can be reduced by poor quality welding or brazing, overheating the metal.
    What model of bike was your failed frame? Some brands have a lifetime guarantee, others may replace the frame at cost.
    It's a Dahon Mu P8 and Dahon warrant their frames for life if the bike is registered with their website, which mine is. The problem I've got is that with the fairly recent upheaval with Dahon, there is no longer a UK distributor that can honour the warranty on a pre-2011 Dahon, and mine's a 2007 model.

  19. #19
    The Left Coast, USA FrenchFit's Avatar
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    My steel commuter just celebrated its 40th birthday. My Al tourer is 17 and going strong after the first 5 years as a MTB. I don't think I've ever busted anything on my bikes, but I think I'm just easy on stuff. My two broken spokes on a 36h wheelset were sideways impact damage, not rider induced. I'm over 200# and ride 16/20 wheelsets on my fast bikes. I sold my Benz after 300K miles, nearing 200K on my BMW. I think it's all about how you use it stuff, not to suggest there is a right or wrong; just some people put a lot of stress on mechanical stuff, others do not. I imagine it's a challenge for designers to come up with frame & wheelset designs that assure a certain longevity regardless of the rider.
    Last edited by FrenchFit; 12-18-12 at 08:17 AM.

  20. #20
    tcs
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    Quote Originally Posted by giskard View Post
    It's a Dahon Mu P8...
    Ah, so while all the helpful posters were thinking a common diamond frame, the bike is in fact a small wheel, aluminum frame folding bicycle, built light for ease of lifting and carrying.

    Still, I would have thought the bike would not have developed a frame crack in 5400+ miles. I'm ignorant on the business and consumer laws in the UK, but I find it curious and suspect that a change in distributors would abrogate a warranty claim.
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  21. #21
    born again cyclist Steely Dan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by giskard View Post
    It's a Dahon Mu P8......... and mine's a 2007 model.
    no wonder. i have a 2007 Dahon Speed P8 (steel instead of aluminum), and mine developed a seat tube crack as well after about 2.5 years of riding. from my experience, and from reading the experiences of many others on the Dahon forum who went through the same thing, i'm convinced that there was a design/fabrication flaw in the seat tubes of Dahon frames of that vintage.

    fortunately for me, the LBS where i purchased my Dahon (Rapid Transit Cycleshop in chicago) was super cool and took care of the entire warranty process for me and got me a new frame from Dahon and switched over all the components free of charge (this was all just prior to the upheaval at Dahon).
    Last edited by Steely Dan; 12-18-12 at 09:04 AM.
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  22. #22
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    No the seat post was inserted to 3 marks above the maximum extension
    It's a Dahon Mu P8
    over extended seat post. causing frame damage may be an abuse not covered.. user damage..

  23. #23
    Senior Member rebel1916's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    over extended seat post. causing frame damage may be an abuse not covered.. user damage..
    3 marks to go. Not over extended. Anyway. You. Slice. It

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by spare_wheel View Post
    i have a nasty tendency to ride over bumps/ruts at full speed (e.g. 25-30 mph) and have cracked several steel and alu road bikes at the dt weld (typical point of failure). i now ride carbon fiber due to its resistance to fatigue and enormous tensile strength. i don't think i will ever be able to break one of my carbon fiber bikes simply by riding it...
    You must not ride with anyone else who rides carbon. They break just like everything else. I've seen more broken carbon frames than any other material. And, I'm not talking crashes. Just riding.

  25. #25
    Half way there gmt13's Avatar
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    My daily commuter is 40 years old. It seems to enjoy flying over the speed humps on the way. I figure something will break sooner or later, but it may more likely be the rider.

    -G

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