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Orny's Cycling Journal

Went South for 3 Months

ornoth-cycling

11 PMC Riding

Went South for 3 Months

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07 PMC Riding

I don’t even know where to start with this tale.

In June I stepped into my LBS (local bike shop), looking for a cycling cap and dry lube. They were out.

A week or two later, I went back to see if they’d happened to restock those items. A girl I’d never seen before immediately jumped on me and asked what I wanted. When I told her I was looking for cycling caps, she said they were out. When I asked for dry lube, she said “Right here!” and handed me a bottle. I didn’t look at it until I got home, when I realized she didn’t know the first thing about bikes and had sold me wet lube: precisely the thing I didn’t want. Newb.

That wasn’t a big deal, and I just shrugged it off as a one-time thing. I only mention it here because it was the prelude to the four month demonstration of astronomical incompetence that comprises the rest of this lengthy posting.

Fourth of July weekend my bike started making ticking/clicking noises whenever I pedaled hard. Since it was coming from the bottom bracket area—the drive train—I figured it needed to be looked at, since I was in the intense final month of training for this year’s Pan-Mass Challenge.

On Monday, July 6, I brought the bike in to the shop. After a quick examination, they had me make a service appointment for later that week.

When I brought the bike in, the first thing they did was ignore my report that the ticking was coming from the bottom bracket, and opined that it was coming from the steering area. So they clamped my headset down so tight that the handlebars barely turned. Uh, yeah. When that didn’t fix anything, they put a new Shimano bottom bracket in the bike and called it done.

But for some reason, that wasn’t the right bottom bracket, and they had to order a different one, which wouldn’t be in for a week. When they asked, I requested that they put my old bottom bracket back in, so that I could at least ride the bike in the interim. The mechanic said he’d do that, and that I could pick the bike up in 45 minutes.

90 minutes later, when I showed up for my bike, the mechanic had gone to lunch without swapping the bottom brackets. Another mechanic said it was okay to take the bike, even with the new (temporary) bottom bracket, which I didn’t pay for. Fine, whatever; if you want to loan me a new part, that’s your problem.

When I went to ride the bike home, I was rudely surprised. The seatpost hadn’t been tightened, so it slid down into the seat tube as soon as I sat on it. I tightened it up myself and rode the bike home, wondering why they would have touched the seatpost at all while working on the bottom bracket. Idiots.

Oh, and over that next week I discovered that even though they thought the new bottom bracket had fixed the problem, it hadn’t. The bike continued to make the same rhythmic ticking noises as before. Morons.

On Thursday, July 16 I brought the bike into the shop for the new, correct bottom bracket, and to replace the middle chainring, which I had noticed was worn. I didn’t hear anything by end of day. Or the next day. On Saturday, July 18 I went in and learned they’d forgotten my bike, but that they’d have it ready by end of day.

When I went to pick it up, I brought gift certificates to the corner ice cream shop for the two mechanics who had worked on the bike, to show that I appreciated their effort. When I picked up the bike and handed the mechanic the gift certificates, he told me that while working on the bike, he’d broken the mount for my cyclocomputer’s detector, so I’d have to figure out some other way of attaching it to the fork, since the mount was completely broken. Thanks, guy.

Before I took the bike, I mentioned to the mechanic that I was doing the Climb to the Clouds century the next day, and asked whether he was absolutely sure that the bike was solid and ready to ride. He said it was. I paid for the chainring and rode homeward. But I only got about three blocks before the entire left crankarm assembly and pedal simply fell off the bike. This fucking moron gave his word that the bike was fit for a century, and I couldn’t even get three blocks before it fell apart! When I brought it back to the shop, he said, “Oh yeah. I thought I heard a crunching sound when I tightened everything up.” Brilliant!

As he ran the bike through the gears on the work stand, I noticed what looked like a hop in the rear tire. Indeed, when I stopped the mechanic, we confirmed that part of the tire’s bead wasn’t even seated inside the rim. It would have been an absolute danger to ride. And, again, I have no idea why they would have had to touch the tire in order to replace the bottom bracket and chainring. Mushy nipple-lick.

I also learned that our adventure wasn’t done yet. Since the new bottom bracket didn’t solve the ticking problem either, they declared that the real issue was the cranks. So they were going to talk to the manufacturer (FSA) and see if they could get a replacement. Joy!

On Tuesday, July 21 the mechanics were still trying to reach the manufacturer, whom they said was singularly hard to reach. I was told to sit tight and wait. With just ten days until the Pan-Mass Challenge, I was wary of bringing the bike in for more work, and although it continued to tick at me, it had survived the Climb to the Clouds. So I decided to leave things alone until after the PMC. I’d ride it as it was, and hope it held together for the most important event of the year.

The PMC went well for me, but poorly for the bike. The cranks were no longer just ticking, but chunking and skipping as I pedaled. As if the crank issue wasn’t enough, just 25 miles into the 190-mile ride I discovered that I’d broken a spoke on my supposedly bulletproof $900 Mavic wheelset. Thankfully, I had blown the additional $200 for their product protection program, so I was hopeful they’d just replace the wheel. I gingerly rode all of PMC day one and part of day two on a broken wheel, hoping it didn’t collapse underneath me. Thankfully, both it and the cranks held together long enough to get me to the finish. But after the PMC, I had some work to do.

Which, unfortunately, was delayed. Sixty hours after I got home from the PMC, I had to leave for a week on Vancouver Island, so I couldn’t get the bike to the shop until I got home.

I finally brought it in on Monday, August 17. The wheel didn’t just have a broken spoke; it had a hop that wasn’t reparable, so they were definitely going to have to send the whole wheel back to Mavic. But the imbeciles couldn’t find their copy of my protection program paperwork, so I had to run home and turn the house inside out to find my copy. We discovered that they’d given me both copies of the paperwork when I’d bought the wheels. No wonder they couldn’t find it!

Fortunately, back when I put those wheels on the bike, I’d saved my old ones, so I had a spare rear wheel that I could use, so that I could continue to ride while the new one went to Mavic. But when I brought it in, the shop discovered that the cassette I was using on the Mavics wasn’t compatible with the old rear wheel, so it couldn’t be used, after all. Suckage.

In the end, it didn’t matter anyways, since there was also the crankset to deal with. The mechanic claimed to have called FSA 15 times before finally getting a response and convincing them to take them back and look at them. So both the cranks and the rear wheel were off to their respective manufacturers, and the 60 percent of my bike that was left was completely unrideable. Fortunately, I still had my folding Bike Friday, which saw a thousand miles of use over the next couple months.

Seventeen days later, on September 3, having no word from the shop, I checked in. Although they’d sent the parts off, they’d heard nothing from the manufacturers at that time.

Another week later, on September 9th, they called to let me know that FSA had replaced the left crank arm, and would be shipping the assembly back in one or two days.

On 9/11, 25 days after they’d dissected my bike, the bike shop called to notify me that Mavic had replaced my wheel and it had arrived. We both agreed that since the cranks were already on their way (lies!), it made sense to wait until they arrived before putting everything back together again.

But a week later, having heard nothing, on September 18th I checked in, and the store had yet to receive anything from FSA.

On September 21, I called again. The mechanic had talked to FSA, whose entire staff was apparently in Las Vegas at the Interbike trade show except one grumpy person. The FSA guy said that although they’d promised to ship the cranks by the 11th, they actually hadn’t bothered to ship them until the 15th. The shop had still not received them, so there was nothing to do but continue to wait. That’s okay, it’s only been five weeks so far…

On the next day, Tuesday the 22nd, the cranks arrived. But the shop’s first open repair appointment wasn’t until Friday. Of course!

That was September 25th. The good news was that Mavic respected their protection plan, so I got a brand new rear wheel and was only charged $15 for labor to install it. Yay!

But the cranks… The half-new-half-old FSA cranks still had the same problem. Surprise! The mechanic naturally couldn’t raise FSA on a Friday, so it would be the next week before we even knew what the next step was, but his plan was to send them back to FSA and demand a completely new replacement crankset. So I had my new wheel, but no way of testing it, and the bike was going to continue to sit in drydock.

On October 1, the mechanic called to let me know that FSA had agreed to ship a whole new crankset, and that I should be really, really thankful, since “They never do that”. They’d let me know when they arrived. It did seem odd to me to get a warranty replacement on a crankset that was four years old and had over 10,000 miles on it, but I wasn’t going to argue with one of the few bits of good news I’d had in three months!

Unlike the previous mailing cycle, which had taken 36 days, the new crankset only took 14 days to arrive, appearing at the shop on Friday, October 9. But, of course, the first repair appointment wasn’t until the following Tuesday. That’s okay, I’m not expecting this repair to work, either.

Tuesday, October 13. I brought the bike back to the shop to have the new cranks installed. And oh my gawd they installed ’em! Brand new, FSA SL-K Light hollow carbon fiber cranks, complete with a brandy-new FSA bottom bracket and three new chainrings (disregard the fact that I had replaced and paid for the middle ring on my old cranks on July 18). And after all that hassle, the mechanic said that all he would charge me was $45 labor.

Of course, you can’t blame me for being skeptical on my first ride in 10 weeks. I rode 46 miles out through Waltham, Lincoln, Concord, and back via the Minuteman, without a single glitch or hiccup. In fact, it was really, really awesome.

While I hadn’t detected a huge difference when I went from riding the Roubaix to the Bike Friday (other than the fact that I couldn’t climb as well on the latter), transitioning back from the folder to the road bike really surprised me. Let’s see if I can capture it…

The first thing that struck me was how light the Plastic Bullet felt in my hands. That shouldn’t be a surprise, since (despite being a much bigger bicycle) it’s actually a good ten pounds lighter. That makes an immense difference on the road, and especially on the hills. I zipped up hills much faster, and without breaking a sweat. Neat!

And overall, propelling the Roubaix just felt effortless, even against a stiff autumn wind. My legs did feel the results of the effort after I got home, but during the ride, it felt like I soft-pedaled the whole day. And despite that, I maintained a better speed overall, and in particular had easy access to top speeds that would have been difficult on the folder.

The machine also felt incredibly smooth; the larger wheels glided down the road like butter. And I was struck by how whisper-silent the Roubaix was: no fidgety gears, no creaks, no chain noise, and of course no more ticking coming out of the bottom bracket. Solid!

After getting used to the folder, it feels like I’ve got a brand new bike. While all those repairs were going on, I bought a nice new air pump (Topeak Road Morph with gauge), and added that to the bike. I also swapped the old saddle with the newer version of the same model that I’d bought for my Bike Friday. The bottom line is that the Roubaix now has a new rear wheel, new bottom bracket, new cranks, new chainrings, new saddle, and a new pump, and all that cost me a measly $140.

So the shakedown cruise really was an inspiring ride, and I’m looking forward to many more, even though it’s only 37 degrees outside as I write this.

All this leaves me perplexed about how I should feel about my bike shop. They repeatedly demonstrated their incompetence, took over three months to fix a simple ticking noise, and kept me off my primary bike for no less than 10 weeks at the height of the season. On the other hand, they are within easy walking distance of my house, the eventual fix appears to work very nicely, and they only charged me a total of $60 for a brand new bottom bracket, chainrings, and crankset, and the warranty replacement of my rear wheel, plus all the time they put in over those months.

But more important than any of that is that finally, after a month of jerry-rigged patches and two full months in drydock, the Plastic Bullet is back on the open road and performing optimally! Even if it’s freezing outside and practically November, you can’t imagine how happy that makes me.

  • wow, I read this whole long tale.....and I have to say that (if you can afford it), $500 is way worth being jerked around (by your LBS and the manufacturers) instead of having to wait 4 months and endure endless appointments and calling back and disappointments.

    Your LBS won't suffer from your lack of business -- firstly, they didn't charge you a lot anyway and secondly, they're swamped with so many repair appointments they can't fit you in! Bikes Not Bombs is not too far from the Orange Line, and they do good work (and they'll teach you how to repair your bike if you want!) I would at least *try* a different bike shop next time...you don't have to swear you'll never enter the store again, but at least give another shop a chance to do better.
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