Today a fellow came in with a complaint about a part we'd sold him. He rode an early-80's Japanese road bike with an upright bar conversion. From the wear and tear on the bike it was clear that (a) he carried loads and (b) he put in many miles regularly. His complaint was that there was a significant amount of play in a freewheel he'd purchased from us some six weeks earlier.
While diagnosing the trouble I asked him how much he rode.
"About a hundred miles a week," he replied.
Well, to be fair, he'd purchased the cheapest freewheel we sell, a Chinese-made Shimano affair where the three largest cogs are riveted to each other rather than attached to the freewheel body itself. After some discussion he admitted that he was, in his words, "cheap"; and that he hated spending money to replace bike parts. He'd selected this freewheel knowing it was entry-level, because he knew that he had few other options if he was going to keep running freewheels instead of converting his rear wheel to a cassette hub.
"But you ride a hundred miles week," I said, "and you should be replacing your chain every thousand miles or so."
He was indignant. "You mean I have to replace my chain every three months??!"
"Well, yes, if you ride that much," I answered.
I offered to find him a decent used SunTour freewheel, one of the many I fished out of the scrap metal pile regularly, cleaned and re-lubed. I found a very nice used 6-speed freewheel and when I went to swap it, I discovered his rear axle was bent.
"Again?" he sighed with annoyance. "That's ridiculous. I just replaced it this spring!" He decided to skip dealing with the bent axle for now, but had me swap in the used freewheel.
While replacing the freewheel, I priced out a rough sum of what he could expect to pay for a much stronger custom-built wheel with a cassette hub. He blinked hard. I wrote the numbers down on a piece of paper for him and invted him to come back after thinking about it.
He thanked me for my honesty but allowed that he was still indignant about having to replace parts.
I didn't have the heart to tell him to ride less if he insisted on being so stingy with his cash. Bikes are made of metal and metal parts wear out with use. Sorry, but that's life. Frankly, he ought to just shell out the bucks for a stronger wheelset and be done with it. Hopefully he'll come back, but I don't know.
Sometimes you cannot win.
In other news, here's an example of something that IS built to last: a Randl wallet, made from post-production scraps of RELoad messenger bags some fifteen years ago and still going strong.
If you see one of these babies, snap it up. They aren't being made anymore and they are practically bomb-proof. Of course, they don't get ridden as hard as a bike does...