replace old equipment

When to Replace Old Equipment

My Nishiki touring bike passed away a few weeks ago, after a full and happy 28 years. Reliable, comfortable and endowed with a certain red-and-yellow panache, it carried me over thousands of miles of errands and commutes.

The end of this machine has led me to meditate on when to replace old equipment.

The Nishiki came into my life in 1987 when my teenager ten-speed died. I needed a bike that could tackle San Francisco’s hills, carry a week’s worth of bachelor food from Rainbow Grocery to my Western Addition flat and get me to and from my first real job, which was in Chinatown. I spent $350.

How Long to Hang On

By and large, the Nishiki was up to the task with its low gear, steel frame and long chain stay. We moved together to North Carolina and then back to Oakland. In rain, on sweaty days, too often in the dark, we crossed the Bay Bridge to jobs in San Francisco. It needed few repairs for the number of miles it traveled, and survived one clumsy effort at theft. It carried my kids in child seats and later towed them on Trail-a-Bikes.

We never took an actual tour together. Our longest ride was 70 miles to my dad’s place when we were both on our prime. I always imagined we’d ride across the country someday, loaded with a sleeping bag, a tent, tools and clothes, and in the company of a close friend, or one of my sons.

I still cherish those fantasies, but the Nishiki will not be part of them.

About five years ago, I took it to a local bike shop because I needed a new tire. The guy who sold me the tire told me I was wasting my money. “That bike is old,” he said. “You should replace it before the frame beaks.”

I wanted to punch him in the nose, figuring he was trying to upsell me.

A Maintenance Schedule

Then riding up a steep hill in July as I stood in the saddle its down tube sheared all the way through, just below the head tube. We were able to limp back home, but that was to be our final ride.

Until this happened, I had no doubts about hanging on to this bike as long as I did. My rule of thumb was: replace what you have when it can no longer do what you need it to do.

But what would have happened if the bike had broken as I was heading downhill at 30 miles per hour? Or in the middle of the long tour I was contemplating?

At the very least I now realize I should have inspected more and more carefully for signs of cracks. And in general I plan to do maintenance on a more regular schedule. I plan to pay more attention to replacing my helmet regularly as well. It won’t be as much fun as a tour across the country, but it could save my life.

Photo by Laird Harrison

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