(WARNING - LONG!)
We've been customers of the bike business for far longer than we've been in the bike business, and a big part of why we're in it came from what we went through as customers of it. Loyal readers of the blog will know all about this.
As it turns out, much like what happened to Michael Corleone, they keep dragging us back in. As in, to some degree or another we have to continue to be customers of the bike industry, both in business-to-business relationships and in business-to-consumer relationships. As you might imagine, we have pretty varied experiences with these. First, the bad.
I recently bought a 29er, both because I wanted one and because a lot of people want us to sell one. I've done a ton of mountain biking, but my time on 29ers was limited to about 6 minutes in the snow one day. As you might imagine, I did a fair amount of research before heading into this one. Doctoral candidates have done less. Since we aren't yet in a position to buy a container full of 29er frames, I wound up as a retail customer for this one.
I won't go too much into the decision making process but I will say that aluminum was my original preference, I had a budget, I created a small list of brands and bikes that I liked, and I pursued those. As it turns out, buying a 29er in the summer is a bit like buying a Wheelhouse in the summer - there's precious little stock. One excellent carbon-framed option came into the picture but was slightly out of the budget, and then another carbon option popped up as a closeout. The price was right, it hit everything I wanted (except remote lockout on the fork) and I pounced. The bike is from a huge manufacturer that we've been accused (always wrongly I think) of bagging on, and the store is a chain that's pretty big in the area and sponsors a club I used to belong to. Both of their names begin with "S."
When I went to go check out the bike, the only issue was that it took FOREVER to get a salesperson to help me. They were busy on a Thursday evening, I sort of understand. But I don't know that Mike and I have ever taken as long to respond to a customer email inquiry as it took to get someone to help me. But eventually it happened, Steve was actually remarkably well informed, and I walked out with the bike.
One issue with this particular model that I'd become aware of is the wheels. Most reviews of the bike took issue with the problematic wheels - that they come out of true and that they don't last long in general. Being a wheel geek anyway, I had taken a cook's tour of the wheels while I was waiting in the shop. They were HORRIFYING. There weren't two front spokes that had anything like the same tension on them, and the rear non-drive side had two that were at or near zero tension. Keep in mind that non-drive side mountain bike spokes are the ones that stop you: non-drive side = brake rotor side. Clearly that would need to be addressed.
I took the bike out for a quick spin on some local trails and, to no surprise, both wheels came badly out of true after making crazy popping sounds for a while. If a wheelbuilder that we use had presented these to me as finished work, I would have beaten him over the head with them. Other than that, hunky dory. The rear wheel was far worse so I took that down to no spoke tension and took it back up from there. The front, I just gave it a quick true and tried to balance some of the tensions a bit more than they were (which was none).
First "real" ride, the chain breaks about a mile in. I always bring a chain tool on mtb rides so not a real problem, other than it's an evident defect in the chain. While my shifting technique isn't necessarily ideal, mountain bike chains generally last me in the neighborhood of "years" not "minutes." Whatever, we fixed it and moved on. An hour later, a sidewall tear in the "tubeless ready" rear wheel. Again, shit happens, tires sometimes meet circumstances that are beyond them, and they fail.
The next day, I see a puddle of what I assume to be hydraulic fluid underneath the rear brake. Call the shop "yeah, you shouldn't use that like that." I've got no experience with hydraulic brakes, but what I do have is a BB7 mechanical brake still mounted on my old bike, so I swap that one onto the new bike and put the new brake in a bag to take it to the shop. At least now I can ride my bike, although I need a new rear tire. Which I get from another shop, because the more convenient location of the shop that I bought from didn't have anything that I wanted.
A couple of days later, I drop off the hydraulic brake at the shop.
I ride one race on the bike (voiding the frame's warranty, which is an entirely enraging topice for another day - when your ENTIRE marketing drive is on how pro racing gives your bikes legitimacy, and then you void the warranty for people who've raced your bike, you're an asshole - no way around it). Next ride, the front tire sidewall gives it up and I go down in a heap. So clearly I am in the camp of those (majority, but not overwhelming) reviewers who'd had not great experiences with the sidewalls on the stock tires, and now I need a new front tire as well. Total body count from this new bike (which keep in mind is a high end race bike) = 1 chain, 2 tires, one brake. At this rate, I will be replacing the entire thing before September.
Now comes the shop's time to shine. I dropped the brake off on July 9. A few days later I called and was told it will be replaced under warranty, they'll call me when the new one's in. Great. I call one week later, thinking "surely this thing must be in." No, and the guy who knows about it isn't in today, can you, umm, like, call back later or something? So I call back a few days later, the guy who "knows about it" doesn't so much "know about it." But he's trying, so he says. So I call back on July 22, 13 days after dropping the brake off. Keep in mind that to the shop's knowledge, I'm a customer who bought a bike and has had use of it for two days out of three weeks of ownership. What they CAN tell me is that a PO hasn't been issued, so nothing will be to me until at least a week from then. At this point, I'm pissed, and offer that maybe I could just buy a brake from somewhere and send them the bill, so that I can actually use the bike that I bought from them for a couple of grand? "Oh no, we can't do that, of course." "Can I speak to the manager." "Hold on." So it comes back that the manager has given authorization for them to buy a brake complete, give it to me, and then chase the manufacturer for their compensation. This brake is supposed to be delivered to them today. Chances that they will actually call me when it's in as they said they would? I put the odds at zero.
Now, in the meantime to all this, the front rim completely just folded around a switchback. Of course I have a hand in this having adjusted spoke tension since the wheel, as delivered, came well out of true on the first ride. The rear wheel, that I rebuilt completely, isn't perfectly true anymore but it's awfully darn close. Whatever, I don't want to deal with this rim anymore, I'm going to get a new rim and spokes out of my pocket, and build a wheel that will actually be able to deal with a 165 pound rider using it for cross country riding. So I call the manufacturer, who supplied the hub and in fact whose logo is on the hub, for the hub's wheelbuilding dimensions so I can get the spokes sized up. "Oh, we wouldn't have that information." "Really? I mean it came on your bike, and it has your logo on it. The spec sheet for the bike says it's YOUR hub." "Well, let me see if I can dig something up and email it to you." Four days later, I get an email from the service rep I spoke to. To his credit, he responded. I'd already marked it off as a dead end. To his discredit, even though I was incredibly specific about the info I needed and for which wheel, he sent me a spoke length/count sheet (not what I needed AT ALL) for a set of wheels that didn't even have the same spoke count as the wheels in question. The spoke lengths he supplied were only about 35mm off of the spoke lengths on my wheel. Keep in mind that this is a company that is continually lauded for having a culture of bike geeks and they are committed down to the bone. In fact, my experiences at the dealer and with the manufacturer could hardly have been worse.
Mike and I are working on CX bikes and wheels and all manner of stuff. We're testing disc brake equipped bikes, so we need disc hubs. We've just become dealers for Chris King, so I call them to see if they are going to do some 24h disc front hubs in response to the developing, CX-based, demand for them. "Good morning, Chris King, this is Ed, how can I help you?" "Hi Ed, my name's Dave, I'm with November Bicycles, we've recently become a dealer of yours, and we're working on a CX project. I need to find out if you guys are going to do ISO hubs in 24h drillings for cross bikes, or if you've determined that you don't think 24 holes is enough for disc brakes, or whatever else you're working on in this direction." (I fully expect a "hold on and I'll connect you with someone who knows this, but no...) "Well, as you know, we only have ISO hubs now down to 28h, and we only do the rears in 135 spacing. We think the demand is going to go up for cross discs but we've just come through launching our ceramic BBs and the R45 road hubs have just launched this year so we're really focused on selling and supporting those two products at the moment, but I know that there's some engineering activity around disc brakes and cross." "So anything likely to pop up anytime soon?" "Well, it's a little late for this season in any case, so the earliest we'd launch anything would be for next year, and in any case whatever we come up with would ultimately be up to Chris." "THE Chris?" "Yes, of course." "Wow, cool, well, we've just sold some of our wheels with R45s and I'm going to be building them up soon and I'm really looking forward to it and thanks for all your help." "No problem, good to talk to you and I hope to talk to you again soon." "You too, thanks again, bye."
And he picked up the phone on the second ring.
Another manufacturer we're starting to work with a little bit is Stan's NoTubes. Pretty much all you need to do is watch this video, starring Stan himself, to know what kind of fanatics these guys are. I'm very psyched to work with that company.
Every company is going to have its hits and misses. I know this. We will too. But it's pretty clear who we're aiming to emulate.
ps - The replacment brake is supposed to hit today. I think what I'll do is just not call them, since they said they'd call when it gets in. I'll update with a comment if and when they do.