11 tips to keep your bike running through an industry parts shortage
It’s no secret that cycling is booming and manufacturers are failing to keep pace with demand. Bike and parts shortages are real and there are signs they’ll continue through 2022. And so depending on where you are in the world and what you ride, you may need to get creative to keep your existing bike purring.
And so here are some broad tips to keep your current components going for longer, and what to do when your go-to service parts are further away than the next season of The Crown.
Prevention is key
The best way to deal with a parts shortage is to use what you’ve got and make it last. While there’s a lot to this topic, I’ve covered some of the more commonly neglected parts with which you do have control over longevity.
Pick where and when you ride
Not riding in severe weather will greatly increase the life of your drivetrain, brakes, tyres, and bearings. Of course, sometimes this is unavoidable, but if you have the choice of not riding wet, glass-strewn roads, muddy gravel, or wet trails then your bike will thank you for it.
Don’t have to ride in slop? Then don’t. Your bike and the terrain will thank you.
On this point, if you plan to ride off-road then consider what the drainage is like where you’re headed. Some trails and gravel roads will remain wetter than others after heavy rainfall. A slight tweak to your route could be the difference between whether you need new disc brake pads or not.
Clean your drivetrain, lube your chain
I’ve banged this drum so much the skin needs replacing, but keeping your drivetrain clean and running a good chain lube can make a world of difference to your drivetrain’s longevity. Under poor care I’ve seen entire drivetrains trashed to disrepair in under 1,000 km of use, while those who keep things decently clean and run a half-decent lube should be able to get at least 5,000 km from a chain.
Taking that last point to the limit pushes you towards the world of chain waxing where it’s fairly common for people to get over 10,000 km from a chain, and way beyond that for the other pieces of a drivetrain. Hot melt wax still reigns supreme for ultimate drivetrain durability, but there are also now plenty of great drip-on wax lubes that will get you most of the way there. And there’s a small handful of great oil-based lubes out there, too.
You don’t need a crockpot if you’re using wax lube. There’s a handful of great wax-based drip lubes which likely work much like your current chain lube, just better.
Get your drivetrain clean and then find a chain lube that helps keep it clean. Or put more simply, if your drivetrain currently feels rough, gritty or dry under load, then you’re causing more wear than you need to.
Chain lube is a topic we’ve covered in detail before and will again. While there are many great options, those interested in a good drip-on wax-based lube should look at products such as Smoove, Squirt, Silca SS Drip, CeramicSpeed UFO 2.0, and Tru-Tension Tungsten All Weather. Those wanting an oil-based lube should check out NixFrixShun (NFS) and Silca Synergetic.
Keeping a check on chain wear is the other big factor to getting more from your drivetrain. Pre-emptively replacing your chain before it elongates from wear (aka chain stretch) could save your cassette and chainrings from needing replacement. It’s not uncommon to get three chains to a cassette and go even further with the chainrings. That is of course assuming you keep things relatively clean and replace the chain before it’s fully worn.
Chain-wear-checking tools are cheap and easy to use. They can also help you get more from your expensive cassette and chainrings.
Practise preventative servicing
The drivetrain is just one part of the bike that can benefit from preventative cleaning. Meanwhile, the bottom bracket, headset, and hub bearings are often neglected until things go all kinds of wrong.
A quick clean and regrease of these often-overlooked areas will help remove trapped grit and ward off corrosion. Your bike will feel smoother for it, too.
It’s the same story if your bike has suspension or a dropper seatpost. Grit can get trapped beneath the wiper seals and abrade the surfaces of these telescoping parts. This can be incredibly expensive to remedy and potentially impossible to solve in these times of parts shortages. The manufacturers provide basic 50- and 100-hour service recommendations for a reason and if you can’t recall the last time they were serviced, then it’s absolutely time to do them.
Check on brake wear
Whether you’re running disc or rim brakes, your pads and respective braking surfaces will wear. But a little preventative care can go a long way.
For rim brakes, this can be as simple as cleaning your rims with a clean rag and removing the built-up grit from within the brake pads.
For disc brakes the most common cause for premature wear is constant rubbing from poorly aligned callipers or warped rotors. Similarly, if your calipers don’t sit square to the wheel (often due to frame surfaces not being faced) then you’ll get increased and uneven wear.
Disc brake pads are one of the parts hit by shortages. The alignment of your brakes can have a big impact on pad wear (and brake performance).
Disc brake users should keep a check on pad wear, too. It’s not uncommon to see brakes used until the backing plate of the pads is scraping through the disc rotor. At best this means you’ll need to go hunting for some new brake rotors, or worse you’ll be looking for a way to fix the caliper, too.
If you see less than a millimetre of pad material then it’s probably time to replace them. And don’t forget that your rotors will eventually wear out, too. All of these elements are covered in our endless FAQ to disc brakes.
Upgrade or downgrade
OK, so something needs replacing and you can’t find the exact part you’re looking for. Perhaps you’ve worn out your Ultegra disc brake rotors or need a 105 derailleur, and you can’t source the replacement you’re after.
Here there’s an opportunity to get savvy on the compatibility of the part you’re needing and see whether there may be a lower-end or higher-end option that can do the job.
Brake rotors are a classic example, and those Shimano Ultegra rotors can be swapped out for almost anything (of the right size and fitment) in Shimano’s range, whether it’s pitched for mountain bike or road use. Cassettes and chains are another prime example, and you can often safely upgrade and downgrade as long as the speeds (and ratios for cassettes) match.
Similarly, most of one brand’s components of a certain speed are cross-compatible across price points. For example, Shimano’s 11-speed components can typically be mixed and matched so you can absolutely substitute a 105 crank for Dura-Ace. Or in SRAM you can mix any Eagle part with another Eagle, or any level of AXS road within that range, too.
Say for example you’ve got a bike with SRAM Force AXS and just broke the lever in a crash. You could swap it out for a cheaper Rival AXS or a premium Red AXS shift/lever unit.
Buy off-brand or aftermarket options
Can’t get any level of the part you need? Maybe it’s a set of Shimano disc brake pads, a Campagnolo chain, or a SRAM cassette. In years past a shortage of SRAM or Shimano parts meant you could go shopping online and buy overseas, but many brands have now georestricted such sales and wholly closed those alternative channels. Now the answer may lie in the myriad of aftermarket and off-brand options.
For example, the likes of SwissStop, Koolstop, Galfer, and many others have long offered brake pads to suit just about every brake in use. These brake pad specialists will often claim performance benefits, while others simply aim to offer a more accessible price point. In most cases you can find the pad you need by putting the model name/number of your brake caliper into the webpage search function of these brake pad providers.
Not all brake pads are the same. Some aftermarket options come with big claims related to noise reduction and heat management.
It’s a similar story when it comes to chains – the likes of KMC, YBN, and Wippermann specialise in creating chains to fit your drivetrain. And some of these alternative brands rank right up there for producing some of the best bicycle chains.
Generally speaking, you can match any chain of the correct speed with any brand of drivetrain, but there are some rare quirks. For example, new SRAM AXS 12-speed road and Xplor drivetrains still require a specific SRAM chain.
Cables are another area where buying off-brand can often be done without issue. Most alternative cable brands on the market seek to offer a lower-cost option, but brands such as Jagwire and Yokozuna do have premium options that aim to improve shift and/or braking performance.
It’s important to match your cable selection with your shifters. For example, Campagnolo-compatible shift cables feature a smaller head than what Shimano and SRAM use, while SRAM often calls for a slimmer 1.1 mm-diameter shift cable (matched to the housing).
Mixing and matching parts such as cassettes, chainrings, derailleurs, and shifters can quickly take you down quite the rabbit hole. There are certainly off-brand and alternative options in this space, with the likes of SunRace (low-cost drive parts), Microshift (shifters, derailleurs, and cassettes), Rotor (chainrings and cassettes), TA Specialties (chainrings), and Praxis (chainrings) being just a few to offer alternative parts. Our (soon to be updated) feature on mixing and matching groupsets will likely prove a useful resource, too.
While more prevalent in the mountain bike world, there are a number of brands offering alternative parts and at great prices. Recently reviewed, MicroShift’s Advent X mini groupset is just one example.
Seek out the used market
Finding new parts can be tough and they certainly aren’t getting any cheaper, and so buying used may very well be a worthwhile path. Your local Facebook Marketplace (search for your local cycling-specific options), eBay, Craiglist, Gumtree, VeloClub Slack group, or other cycling chat group may hold the answer.
I would advise against buying used chains, cassettes, and chainrings simply due to wear. Similarly, I wouldn’t buy second-hand brake pads or brake rotors due to the potential for contamination. But many other components are fair game and in some cases for those using older nine- or 10-speed parts, second-hand may be your only good option.
It’s worth noting that buying used inherently carries risk in knowing the condition of the part and forgoing warranty. Some people are comfortable with this risk, while others never will be.
OK, so all of this talk about off-brand component options, buying through different channels, and acquiring used parts brings up a critical point: counterfeit products.
Counterfeits are nothing new but they’re seemingly increasing in number by the day in the cycling industry. Fake Shimano and KMC chains now litter eBay and AliExpress, some people knowingly and unknowingly are re-selling counterfeit carbon frames and components, and you can bet that the issue applies to any popular brand of soft goods. In fact, the issue has gotten so bad that Shimano has recently started taking significant steps to help consumers know what they’re purchasing is an authentic product.
The answer is to first trust your instinct and be sceptical of prices that seem too good to be true. And secondly, it’s always best to buy from a known and trusted retailer.
Need new derailleurs or shifters but no stock exists? Maybe this is the perfect time to do a low-cost single-speed conversion and spice things up a bit. This idea won’t be for those who only ride in groups, but for the solo or near-solo riders this could well add a new dimension of fun and challenge to your local rides.
Single-speed isn’t for everyone but it’s a fun option to keep a bike rolling when groupsets are unavailable.
Typically single-speed conversions need a cog and chainring without shifting ramps, and a way to tension the chain. There are many ways to go about this, but most importantly it doesn’t need to be expensive nor a permanent change.
Really want those gears? Perhaps you can take inspiration from the resourceful bikepackers of the world and go with friction-based bar-end shifters, or find a derailleur cable pull adaptor in order to run parts from mismatched brands. It may be quirky, but you may just find that the tinkering itself is a fun experience, too.
Don’t assume it’s always online
So many of us live in an online world, and that has only become more true in recent times. Often Google will reveal the part you’re looking for and how to have it cheaply (or at a premium) delivered to your door, but sometimes you’ll be misled into believing the part is out of stock, unavailable, or non-existent.
The reality is that a number of major manufacturers support their retail partners by keeping online channels closed. Service parts for Giant, Trek, Specialized, or almost any major bike company are likely only found in their respective retailers. And the same can be true for smaller parts from Shimano, SRAM, Fox, and countless others. Just like plumbing and automotive parts, the internet doesn’t have every available cycling part listed.
If you’re struggling to find a part online then give your local bike shop(s) a call and see if they can help. Chances are you’ll be speaking to someone who lives and breathes bikes and may know a way to keep you rolling.
What did I miss? Share it in the comments below. If you’ve read this and have a specific question related to parts compatibility then consider starting a conversation in the recently launched CyclingTips forum.