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A Crack in the Dream

Happily ever after takes a hit

Do you have a dream bike? The one at the end of the n+1 rainbow? I took delivery of mine five years ago on an industrial estate in East Sussex: a bespoke Enigma Esprit, built to my taste with horizontal dropouts to facilitate singlespeeding (prompting Mark Reilly, who's since moved on to Reilly Cycle Works, to call it a "boutique bike"), old-fashioned round tubes where some of the Esprit's are ovalised, and a lack of decals in keeping with the brand name. ("What's that?" "That would be an enigma, of course.")

I can't say no expense was spared. The wheels, as an example, were near the bottom of the Shimano pecking order, it being easier to pencil in future upgrades in the misty future rather than step onto that rapidly rising price escalator. Especially blingy accessories weren't at the top of my agenda. It doesn't take a wallet completely emptied of cash to satisfy me on an aesthetic level. More important, the ride was sublime. I felt set for life. Ti can have that effect on people.

We've rolled happily together ever since. I've never named it: It's just "the Enigma". It eats up the lion's share of my riding time, with the other bikes in my small stable mostly relegated to iffy weather days or demoted to break-in-case-of-emergency status (that would be "the Langster", which is a sadness for a perfectly decent bike). If I have a complaint it's that it likes to throw puzzling clicks and creaks at me every once in a while, which I then have to sort out in a challenging game of Find The Source. But then all my bikes do that.

About a month ago the game went to a whole new level. I was on a midnight ride, enjoying the bliss of desolate tarmac and the always mysterious black cloak thrown over otherwise familiar surroundings, when a turn of the cranks suddenly pulled a disturbing new creak into the proceedings.

The following morning I put it on the stand and was startled to discover cracks near the bottom bracket, which as we all know is a location that attracts more than its fair share of suspicion anyway. I was strangely relieved: never has a creaky conundrum been so speedily solved.


As it happens I had recently gotten the bike back from a visit to Enigma HQ, there submitted for inspection as a last resort after failing to find the cause of yet another mystery noise. They'd made a few minor adjustments and returned it quiet. The only expense – bravo for the nil charge, Enigma – had been my loss of pride at not finding the problem myself. At the time, my three main rides had all come down with similarly earritating [not a typo] ailments, and I'd felt overwhelmed. I'd decided to take it to them so they could reassure me it wasn't the frame itself which was compromised. (Alas, the noise had returned. I'd finally exorcised it by swapping out the seat post and clamp.)

On presenting my now mortally wounded mount, the first question I was asked was "Has it been in an accident?" No. This potentially warranty-threatening query dispensed with, I was assured it would either be repaired or replaced, the latter seeming more likely given the location of the fissure, but it was up to their resident expert. Now that we had history, saying goodbye to that particular frame would be bittersweet, if replacement was in the cards. I mourned the possible loss of my favourite for the months it might take to get a reasonable facsimile back, and returned home to give my lesser bikes more exercise.

When I called the following week to see what decision had been made, I was told it would be repaired. Though I could live with this, and understand that throwing a new frame at the problem can make a big dent in a small business, it did concern me enough to email Enigma supremo Jim Walker in search of reassurance that this was the best course of action. Jim said it is their policy to repair rather than replace bikes older than three years, adding, "To be fair the indications are that your bike has had a hard life and covered many thousands of miles during its life and much can have happened during that time."

It's fair to say this threw me. Although East Sussex has a formidable pothole collection, I'm pretty good at avoiding them. A bumpy offroad stretch on the Dunwich Dynamo is the worst it's had to endure. I don't even like taking it out in the rain, which is surpassing silly, but that's why we have backup bikes.

Thus was the crack in the frame for the first time matched by a crack, however slight, in my trust of their expertise. What, I wanted to know, were the signs my bike has had a "hard life" when I know for a fact that it hasn't? Surely there was an impurity in the logic, if not the weld. With 20k miles on the odometer and indefatigable fatigue endurance, or so all the metallurgists say, I'd have hoped it was just warming up.

I stewed about this until I got it back repaired a week later and asked Jim. Either he amended his earlier observation or I amended my judgement of it, I can't rightly say, but we parted shaking hands, which is how you want these things to end. A weld in the crack, if you will.

It'll take a few miles to put this behind us. There's no logical reason the ride can't be exactly as it was before. I imagine resale value might take a hit, as if: I'd like to keep working on happily ever after.

When welding, remember the 3 C's: Clean, Clean, and Clean

This is the first time I've had to use a warranty with a bike. The best you can hope for is that it goes the distance. Tony Farrelly, editor of, says he once spoke to "the head honcho of a high end, high tech bike brand whose carbon frames have a lifetime warranty – which is actually a distance warranty – calculated on the distance a pro would ride it in 3 years (I think) a very, very, long way it turns out – on the basis that that would easily cover the likely lifetime use of most purchasers."

What do some of the other ti pedlars promise?

Van Nicholas:
"Will replace (not repair) any Titanium frame that fails due to manufacturer defects in materials or workmanship for the lifetime of the frame. Every bicycle has a limited life, the so-called useable life-cycle. The duration of the useable life-cycle of bicycles depends on the type of frame, the way in which and the circumstances under which the bicycle is ridden and the care/maintenance the bicycle receives. The lifetime guarantee period is established on the basis of the duration of the useable life cycle of the bicycle. Van Nicholas sets the lifetime of their frames at an average of 25 years."

"The warranty is for the lifetime of the original owner. Any frame failure would be replaced with a new frame. We also have crash replacement policy where we offer a half price replacement for any frame damaged in an accident."

"If any of my frames or forks should fail within 4 years of purchase due to faulty materials or workmanship, I will repair or replace the frame or fork depending on which option I feel is fit."

Lifetime warranty means life of the company, so may we all live long and prosper.


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Sam Walker | 1 year ago
1 like
antonio | 7 years ago

Trust is always the biggest loser when paying for top end reliability only to find failure. That little seed of doubt will always be there when the question is asked, am I getting value for money? My chrome Bianchi Columbus fixie failed at the extended seat tube, it was replaced but confidence was compromised and I passed the replacement on. The great thing about being in a club is you get to hear of frame and wheel failures, equipment education is never ending.

700c | 7 years ago

Had my kinesis GF Ti replaced without any quibbles last year. It had cracked in a a similar place to yours - along the edge of a weld on the BB, a fine crack extending into the seat and down tubes.

I suspect that area is particularly vulnerable to stress from repeated pothole hits. Riding at night on minor roads does increase that risk I imagine.

I'm now running 28's on it, and with the decreased tyre pressure should reduce the transmission of hits to the frame (and to me! ).

I'm sure you can get a 'bike for life', but having broken several metal frames in the past, I've concluded there's a trade off between speed/ performance (low weight, thin tubes etc) and longevity. You can't have your cake and eat it!

Sam Walker | 7 years ago

Thanks for that, I was hoping for some bike stories.

ktache | 7 years ago

Many years ago, I had a Raleigh Ogre (90/91), the mtb with a bonded titanium frame, Ti tubes bonded into ali lugs, it was always very flexible, wobbled like anything.  Came unglued, nothing catastrophic, downtube started getting longer as it moved out of the headtube lug.  12 mile commute.  Went to my local Raleigh dealership with the stripped frame, replaced with a brand new 650 (96/97) within 2 weeks.

The 750 (same frame but polished) won the british mtb cup that year, which pleased me immensely.

Wonderfully stiff, magnificent frame, still my go to off roader.  Old fashioned maybe, 26 inch wheels with rim brakes (ceramic now), straight steerer and frame only wants 3 inches of suspension, so stuck with retro forks.  There is no way I could justify getting anything of the same quality new.

Good old Raleigh.

drosco | 7 years ago
1 like

That's pretty poor for what would really be considered a high end frame maker. You would really expect more at that price.

Sam Walker | 7 years ago

If you could put up with a mystery tick for years, you’re made of sterner stuff than I! Good luck with your VN. Owners I know are very happy with them.

Ad Hynkel | 7 years ago

Glad you got yours sorted Sam. I had the mystery tick thing for several years that eluded me, until the spectacular failure of clonk and brrrrrr, which were the sounds of the rear carbon wishbone shearing one of its fixing bolts followed by the rear brake locking on to both rim and tyre. Turns out there was a crack through the ALU part of the frame where the top of the wishbone was bonded, lurking under a cosmetic sticker placed by manufacturer to cover joint. The all alu chainstay and bottom bracket join had failed too, for good measure. Now happy (1st) owner of VN frame, hoping never to need the lifetime warranty.

leaway2 | 7 years ago

Specialized replaced my ali frame. I took it to Edinburgh cycles who transfered all components. Great service by both.

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