Thursday 22 August 2013

Fit for the job?

As you may have already discovered I had a bit of an incident with my Ribble bike the other day.Yes, my frame split completely. You could pull two ends of the downtube apart quite easily. I was lucky, it happened at a non-critical moment and there was no harm done to me (I'm sure a few of my readers will be disappointed).

The bike was bought in December 2009, so I've had it for 3 years 8 months, so it wasn't old. To be fair though I've probably done quite a few miles on it. It was my "not so great weather' bike, so living in Glasgow that meant it got used a lot. At a rough guess it has probably done about 13,000 miles. A fair mileage.

Is 13,000 miles a reasonable distance for a bike to fail at? That's a good question. If there are any specialists out there I'd quite like someone to have a look at the split to see if it was just lifetime fatigue. Anyone?!

Obviously I contacted Ribble to let them know about the incident and to see if they would replace the frame. Here is the response I got.

Thank you for your email and attachments.
Our alloy frames do have a 12 month warranty and as your bike was purchased in 
2009 this warranty has now expired.
As you are no doubt aware, all frames no matter the material will wear over time 
and usage and I can see from the image you have forwarded that this bike has 
covered a considerable amount of miles. 
Ordinarily due to the age and usage we wouldn't offer a refund or replacement, 
however under the circumstances we can agree to send you a replacement frame. 
This frame is brand new and unused, however the down tube bottle cage bosses are 
slightly out of alignment but I note from your video that a bottle cage is not 
currently being used on your Ribble Audax
There is no manufacturing defect to be concerned about as we have sold thousands 
of this particular model and this is the first instance of a breakage of this 
type being brought to our attention.
Please let me know where I can arrange to have your replacement frame delivered 
To be completely fair to Ribble, this is actually a reasonable response. Legally they didn't have to offer me anything, as the frame was only guaranteed for a year (I didn't actually know that). OK, they have offered me a slightly, 'soiled' frame, but they are right, I don't use a bottle cage. I could just take the frame and either build it back up (although I'd need to buy a few new bits and get an bike shop to install some of it..) or I could sell it on.

But wait.

I re-read the e-mail and it started to concern me. They didn't seem in the least bit surprised that my frame had failed, after all, I had done a reasonable amount of miles. Hold on though.....shouldn't a bike frame be able to last a reasonable amount of miles?! Are my distances really that excessive? Was the tool really fit for the job?

Let' be honest here, I bought the Ribble back in 2009 because it was pretty cheap. It had reasonable specifications for the price and it looked like it would do the job. It did until yesterday. However, I bought a  bike that the manufacturer was only willing to guarantee the frame for one year. That has to say something about the quality.

I'm not saying that Ribble are a bad company. I'm pretty sure they do good bikes, but thinking about the riding that I do, can I really ever trust a bike again that's frame only has a one year guarantee?!! The company obviously doesn't trust it much.

I could still accept the frame and sell it on, couldn't I? No. If I can't trust the frame, how can I sell it on to someone else? How can I know that the person I'm selling it on to isn't going to ride it in a similar way to me? Being an honest person (I do try!) I'd have to be honest about why I had the frame to sell. It probably wouldn't be the best sales pitch.

That's it then. I'm stuck. I don't want to use the frame and I don't want to sell it, but Ribble have been reasonable. There is only one solution ....politely decline the frame and grin and bare the expense of another bike.

I've certainly learned from this episode. If a company only offers a one year guarantee on the frame, that bike is unlikely to be suitable for my type of riding. Sure, it might be fine for a rider going on the occasional winter training ride, but not a daily commuter, and certainly not in Glasgow with it's particularly potholed roads.

Perhaps, there is a bigger lesson here. Perhaps we, as consumers shouldn't accept bike frames that only have a one year guarantee. It really doesn't inspire confidence if the manufacturer doesn't have confidence in it.

So yes, I'm on the look for a bike. I think I've found one. I'm going against some peoples advice and considering an aluminium bike again. Am I mad?! Perhaps....but this one has a lifetime guarantee......


  1. To be fair, people want cheap stuff and one of the ways manufacturers can do that is to not stand by their products for longer than they can reasonably expect them to last. Failure is a cost to someone so you get to buy cheap upfront but you also buy the risk of failure. If you want a lifetime guarantee get a Cannondale. They'll warrant the frame for life. The parts are generally a good step down from a similarly priced bike but they'll stand by the frame for as long as you own it. Not sure it is less likely to fail (although mine took over 10 years to fail) but at least you know you've paid insurance on the failure through the higher upfront cost.

    1. Aye. I'm looking at a Trek. It too has a lifetime guarantee...

  2. I always thought that Lifetime guarantee doesn't mean that the frame wouldn't brake but just that If it does brake, they will replace it with new one.

    1. Perhaps, but I do suspect that it will be a better frame than a manufacturer that only guarantees for a year. That really suggests a lack of faith.

  3. My Carrera's frame failed after 4 years. I put it down to poor manufacturing and heavy use in harsh Belfast weather. The Dawes got to a grand old 6 years before it hit the scrap metal dealer's skip. The Specialized will not see much longer use - it is already looking tired after 2 years. They just don't make them like they used to.

    1. We want lighter bikes. Something has to give....

  4. The Shand frames (made in Scotland frae Girders is a reasonable description) and the sort of frame you buy once - for life. Nick's Paper Bike is also designed - for a city bike hire model and reliable personal transport. They are 'made' like the first production bikes in the world (the Dalzell), in Kilmarnock.

    My Scot has taken quite a punishing over the years and in the Nervex lugs and B/B shell I have the only B/B which has never turned into a bell mouth thread in around 2 years.

    So go for steel, perhaps seeking out the classic lightweight tubing, of an older bike, of you can find one.

  5. Had a Scott Aluminium frame go at the chain stay were it meets the bottom bracket after 18 months.
    Scott replaced the frame and swapped over all the components. Replacement frame failed after 20 months at the same location, this time Scott said it has be over three years since the original purchase therefore its out of warranty.

    Next bike was steel, still going strong after 4 year.

    I do about 4,000 miles a year on Glasgow streets.

  6. "Trek Bicycle Corporation provides each original retail purchaser of a Trek bicycle a warranty against defects in materials and workmanship."

    Just a wee note of caution here - metal fatigue isn't necessarily a defect of either material or workmanship, so you might want explicit confirmation that metal fatigue is covered.


  7. "To be completely fair to Ribble, this is actually a reasonable response. Legally they didn't have to offer me anything, as the frame was only guaranteed for a year (I didn't actually know that)."

    Actually in the UK a consumer has statutory rights, that can be stronger than any warranty or guarantee.

    I am not sure what a reasonable lifetime of a bike frame is, so it might be a hard case to make. however it is worth knowing you rights.

  8. I wouldn't get too hung up about the length of the guarantee. As ssam has already said, you've just about always got more statutory rights than the standard warranty gives you anyway (although my immediate reaction would be that 3+ years of fairly heavy use would be borderline for a claim under reasonable expected life). The "12 Months" that so many companies quote is largely just because they view that as what is expected (or what they think they can get away with - or what might earn them a few more £££ in selling you an extended warranty). If you were happy with the frame up until now and got almost 4 years good use from it is it not worth taking up their offer of a Grade B frame and using it for a couple of years? Provided you're satisfied it was wear and tear and not a manufacturing or design defect then where's the downside? If you're concerned about the particular model of frame, then as Ribble seem to be playing fair then they may offer a discount on an alternative one?