Buyker BewareJun 08, 2016
Note: The following is an anecdote related by one of our admins. While we don't take sides in personal matters, we felt the story was important enough to share, and we stand by its general message and sentiment.
A brick-and-mortar bike shop can sometimes be a powerful ally when preparing for a bike tour. Good advice, help in ordering an appropriate bike and components, and excellent customer service are all things that are harder to get online. It usually costs extra, but it can be worth it.
This is not the story of such a bike shop.
Two years ago, I had the idea to ride a bike across a couple continents. I already had a perfectly good touring bike, but I decided it would be worth it to get one where I could start from scratch, selecting each part of the bike for maximum reliability, ease of repair, and availability. In no way was I interested in a flashy bike with all the latest trendy components. The idea was this would be a life-long bike that would never need replacing.
After some research, the choice was narrowed down to two bikes. A local shop was a dealer of both, so without intending to make a purchase, I went in to ask their advice. They heavily favored one, and they were so convincing, I placed an order! The deciding factors were a lot more control over how the bike turned out, and it was a lot cheaper than expected. Only one thing - they wanted a $1,000 deposit. No problem, that would come out of the price later anyway. I paid up.
The bike was due to arrive on April 11. I decided to start my tour in mid-May and bought a plane ticket for May 13, giving me a month with Valeria (I'd already named her!) before I left, both to get used to her and to make sure everything was working.
Valeria was completed five weeks late. Yes, after the flight. During that time, the bike shop made zero phone calls, neither to the customer or the manufacturer. The extreme tardiness was in no small part due to the bike shop's negligence, including:
- Placing the order two weeks late after failing to schedule around an employee traveling to a conference.
- Failing to maintain any communication with the manufacturer.
- Waiting until the frame arrived (late) before ordering necessary parts.
- Failing to have said last-minute parts shipped overnight.
- Not checking if all needs parts arrived with the frame, setting off yet another round of ordering parts and waiting.
- Once all parts arrived, waiting an extra day or two to begin assembling the bike.
When I arrived to pick up Valeria, there were a few surprises:
- The tires weren't what I ordered.
- The tubes weren't what I ordered.
- The stem was the wrong size. When I asked why it wasn't 100 mm, I was assured that it was, even though the size was printed on it.
- The saddle wasn't what I ordered.
- The lights weren't what I ordered.
- The headset spacers weren't what I ordered. When I'd originally been talked into ordering expensive ones, and now that the order had been changed, the same person told me they were a waste of money.
- The brakes weren't even the same type of brakes that I'd ordered.
- The price had increased by over $3,000. You can buy three perfectly good touring bikes for that much. Better, in fact, because they would have more reliable components.
There were also a few parts I'd never had a chance to specify, the seatpost for example, due to the lack of communication with the shop. So I got whatever they decided I was getting.
I asked why so much of the order was changed, and they said they weren't able to get the correct parts. They added, "I didn't think you would come in to pick up the bike." In short, they pulled a fast one in the interest of making a sale. Rather than let the customer get them somewhere else, they decided to change their order without telling them.
I got them to replace the brakes (with wrong ones again, more on that later), then headed straight from the store the airport for my second flight, rescheduled a week after the one I'd missed. Had I even a couple days, I would've refused the sale. Getting a bike from another shop, online, Craigslist, a garage sale, anything would've been a better experience.
For that matter, if I'd been told, "It's going to come in five weeks late, $3,000 over budget, half the parts won't be what you asked for, and you'll visit several bike shops for maintenance within the first month after the sloppy work we do putting it together," I would've cancelled the order, even if I had to eat the $1,000 deposit. That's probably exactly why they make you pay one. They know they're likely to screw up, or intend to screw you over, and now they've got you.
I felt that the shop should have to make up for their tardiness, and also that the bike came in wrong. At a rate of $10/hour, that came to more than the bike was worth. At $60/hour (the rate most shops, including this one, charge for labor), they would owe a small house. At a hospital's hourly rate, you could probably put Google out of business. Asking for a free bike is a lot, but I think most people would agree with the following:
- A customer's time is as valuable as the shop's.
- No one should have to pay for something that isn't what they asked for.
- I should've been in Alaska a week already.
- It was too late to start all over somewhere else. The bike was needed now.
- The bike shop was a large part of why I was late for my tour.
- The bike shop's sneaky dealing was the reason I only learned about the incorrect parts a week after my tour was supposed to start.
- A $3,000 price hike, with no warning, is ridiculous.
In short, a bike was needed now and I shouldn't have to pay for this one. Both of these things were the fault of the shop. They should be the ones to take the hit.
After 20 minutes of haggling, I received a 28% discount. I'm curious what they would've done if a customer simply didn't have the extra amount they wanted to charge. Or what if the bike was for a week-long tour that couldn't be rescheduled, and by finishing the bike five weeks late, they had caused the customer to miss it entirely?
Here's how the same situation plays out in a restaurant:
"Sorry your meal took so long, you didn't get what you ordered, the food wasn't cooked properly, the waiter was dishonest to you, and you were overcharged. I also understand you missed the movie you'd already bought tickets for. Your meal is on us tonight, and here's a coupon for next time. Would you also like a round of drinks, or maybe dessert?"
As I mentioned, the brakes were wrong a second time. Instead of the well-known, reliable ones I asked for, I got something visually similar from the same brand. Just like always, I wasn't told. I only noticed in the Andes, when the brake pads wore out. Not a single inhabitant of South America had even seen or heard of these brakes before. The Andes is a bad place to not have brakes, so I bought new ones.
I also had to replace a lot of the parts I didn't ask for, and even a few that I did.
- A dynamo hub that didn't produce a charge: $400
- A headlight that didn't light up, or at least didn't work with the dynamo: $200
- A taillight that didn't work under any circumstances: $30
- A USB port that didn't have enough power to charge anything: $200
- A front rack that couldn't hold up to 25% of its weight limit: $400
- Brakes that were sold to me under false pretenses: $120
It would've been great if I could've returned these right away, but getting the bike late prevented that from happening. Again, something that would've worked out differently if the shop had been on time. Two years later, now returned from my voyage, I went to the bike shop to return these items. Since I'd already had to replace them all while on tour, the intent was a refund, not an exchange.
Here's what happens when you spend $20 at Target:
"I used this a few times, and I don't like it."
"I changed my mind; I don't want it anymore."
"Sounds like you're not 100% satisfied! Here's your money back. Thanks for shopping at Target! Is there anything else we can do to help you?"
This is what happens when you spend $1,000+ in this bike shop:
"None of these parts worked the way they're supposed to, and you sold me the wrong brakes."
Buying everything online is cheaper, faster, more convenient, and no one changes your order without permission. And if your order is delayed, you get an email! When you spend extra and take the time to visit a specialty store, you should expect a level of customer service at least on par with Target. And when you buy an item that costs five times what a perfectly good one costs, it should come with the reassurance that in the rare event that it doesn't work, you get your money back.
Part of the problem is Bike Mart primarily caters to recreational riders, people who want to have a bike that's a few grams lighter for their weekend group rides, not people who use their bikes. You'll talk to someone who did a few amateur races in college and watches the Tour de France, not someone who's replaced a broken spoke in the pouring rain or tried to find a replacement part in a third-world country. There's more money in selling the latest, most expensive high-tech gear, which will become obsolete once next year's model is out, rather than selling something that's always worked and always will.
When I first got Valeria, a reader of my blog emailed Bike Mart and asked what caused the five week delay and all the mistakes with the order. After receiving the 28% discount, I wrote to the guy explaining that Bike Mart had done something about it. I went ahead and forwarded the email to the shop, so they'd see that I appreciated the gesture, in an attempt to bury the hatchet. This is what I received in response:
"Love your math 5200 is 28per of 10000" (note: the original price was $7,200 and was reduced to $5,200) "Hope you can ride better
Good luck. you will need it
Sent from my iPhone"
For a moment, let's forget that he was challenging the math ability of a calculus teacher who scored 800 on the math GRE.
Instead, let's focus on who wrote this - the owner of the store. The highest employee possible. He skipped over the word "original" next to the word "price," he's yet to discover what punctuation is, and he insults his customers, even after they do him a favor by placating other customers for him. Because it was the owner of the store, there's no way to spin this into "Not representative of the values held by Bike Mart." Quite the opposite, in fact. Dishonesty, lack of communication, sloppy work, extreme tardiness, and contempt for the customers is what Bike Mart is all about. You heard it from the top.
The owner's name is Jim Hoyt and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.