The Raleigh Returns!

I know, I’m just a font of bike-related writing right now. I think this is because my business has finally settled down into a more predictable groove, so I have time to devote to other things, including this blog. I’m very happy that’s occurred at last!

As you all know, I love The Gazelle I was so generously given two months ago. It’s beautiful and fun to ride, when the rides are either flat, or short, or preferably, both. I find it’s an ideal bike for my run to the store 3 miles from my house. Yes, there is a hill, but it’s only a block long and I can get The Gazelle up it with a bit of huffing and puffing. The Gazelle rides really nicely with two loaded panniers (except for the hill, obviously). In other words: it does its job, and it does it well.

For short trail rides, it’s also a fun bike to take out. The fully-upright position helps keep my hands from hurting, and as long as I don’t have to sit on the saddle for too long, it’s a great work out that feels deceptively like I’m not doing anything strenuous. In fact, once it gets a better saddle, it will be a fun bike for longer rides, as well.

But in the meantime…

Oh let’s face it, I was just missing The Raleigh. The Gazelle is great, but The Raleigh is my old friend. Comfortably shabby and yet spunky, a bit more aggressive but laid-back. I wanted to ride The Raleigh, and I’m not ashamed to admit it! There was just one problem… a flat rear tire. Now, if any of you own a vintage three speed with an internally geared hub, you know that replacing a tube on one of these suckers is no small shakes. But I was determined, and cheap. So out came the socket wrenches and off came the rear hub. It was a battle, and really hurt my already-aching hands. I got out the tube I’ve been carrying around in the wee saddle bag for nearly three years and… discovered it was the wrong size. Whoops.

Finding a 26 x 1 3/8ths tube was harder than you might think. Oddly enough, most local shops don’t keep tubes for vintage British bikes in stock. Go figure! I finally ended up calling my old friends at Dutch Bike, but they were understaffed for the day. They could sell me the tube, but they couldn’t put the wheel back on the bike with only one guy in the store (normally, there are 2-3 people there and half a dozen bikes lined up for service. That’s really all they do — they certainly aren’t making money selling Dutch Bikes to the Seattle population, as far as I can tell). After wrestling the damned thing off, I wasn’t going to drive an hour each way only to put it back on myself. I just wasn’t. So I decided to try somewhere new. We’ll call it… Famous Local Vintage Enthusiast’s Shop.

The guy who runs this shop (we’ll call him FLVE for short) is something of a local legend. Whenever anyone sees The Raleigh who actually likes bikes, they say: “Have you taken it over to FLVE’s shop? He loves these things!” When my local mechanic did something nasty to my hub, he said: “Take it to FLVE. He’s the only one around who services those Sturmey Archers.” So indeed, I do not exaggerate when I say this man has a reputation for an interest in my bike. But uh… he also has another reputation. As a first-class, A-1 asshole. So as you might imagine, I have been somewhat reluctant to trek out to his shop, despite the fact that it’s much closer and easier to get to than Dutch Bike. But make the trek I did, as I really, really wanted to ride my bike yesterday.

FLVE’s shop was very spacious and bright, well laid-out with vintage trinkets everywhere. He had racks of reconditioned Schwinns, nice baskets and bags, and tons of NOS bike parts, including drawers filled with Sturmey Archer hub parts. I didn’t, truth be told, find him to be an asshole. I mean, he wasn’t mean or anything. But I didn’t walk away ready to go back, either.

The first clue I should have recognized was that he wasn’t repairing any bikes. His repair racks were empty. Dutch Bike can’t keep people away, but for all his expertise, FLVE wasn’t exactly packin’ ‘em in. I gave him my wheel and asked him to put a new tube in it. “You should put some Slime in it,” his associate said. I declined. I was pressured over and over about the Slime until at last I gave in. Then FLVE wanted to convince me that he needed to recondition my (totally functional) hub. It would, he said, “run better.” Than what? Than it already does? What would that mean, exactly, since it runs perfectly? “But it could break,” he said. “It hasn’t been cleaned out in over 40 years.” Yes, it could break. Maybe it will. Then I’ll come in and get it repaired. But the whole point of these old SA hubs is that they don’t need to be serviced like he’s suggesting. That’s why people buy them, for heaven’s sake! Anyway, I was missing “washers,” which he added. I asked if he could throw a bolt onto the Pletscher rack where it was held on with a wire tie. “I was going to do that anyway,” he said.

Then he tried to sell me on new brake cables and new levers. “But I don’t really want them,” I said. He showed me a pair of ugly modern levers and insisted they would really improve my brake performance. I turned him down again. Then he noted that, in adjusting the shifter, he’d gotten grease under the clear plastic cover. “Could you wipe it out?” I suggested. He noted that the cover was cracked and if he unscrewed it, it would fall apart. Fair enough. So then I was buying a “new” SA shifter cover (which, to be honest, I did need, but still). Finally, we discussed my saddle, which has never broken in. He adjusted it and then said he’d do a “quick oil treatment.” I assumed this meant rubbing oil on it. It did, and he heated it up a bit.

At last, we came to the bill: $93. I just about dropped my teeth. That was a $35 tube replacement, after the $7 injection of slime and the new tube and his labor and the washers. $10 to put a new bolt on the rack. $20 for the replacement shifter and cover (fair enough, I suppose), and then $20 for the oil treatment. With tax, almost $100. FLVE may be knowledgeable, but all those little charges sure added up fast, especially the $20 to oil the saddle and aim a hair dryer at it for a minute or two. Given that I told him I had Proofride at home, he could have just suggested I do it myself. The thing that got me is that he didn’t tell me what most of this would cost as he did it. In fact, I got the distinct impression that he was deliberately not telling me. “I was going to do that anyway” was not encouraging. He also made a number of silly statements that sounded authoritative, but really weren’t logical when I thought about them. My favorite:

“It’s not the bike that determines speed: it’s the power of your legs.” So if Lance Armstrong got on The Raleigh and just started riding it, he’d be able to win the Tour? Somehow, I think no.

So he wasn’t a bad guy, but he was pricey and a bit too bossy for me. I like to be asked if I want to spend money, and I like mechanics to ask me first if I can do something simple or if I’d like them to do it. Will I go back? Doubtful.

But I did have a Raleigh with a much softer seat and a new shifter cover, and I did get a new tube with Slime in it. Though I haven’t had a flat on this bike in three years, so the Slime still seems like overkill. I realize that these guys make very little money. I get that they need business, and that all bike shops charge you for every little thing. Still, $20 to oil my saddle really chapped my hide, so to speak. Tell me what to do, and I’ll go home and do it. Then, when I need my hub rebuilt, I’ll come back. As it is, I don’t see myself utilizing his services again, even though he is an expert. I like my experts a bit less “expert,” and a bit less into the hard-sell.

Then I took The Raleigh on a 26 mile jaunt. More on that soon!

Pics, I know, or it didn’t happen:

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4 Responses to The Raleigh Returns!

  1. Bay Area BFF says:

    I stand by my LEGO comment. I told my cohorts about your experience and they all had my reaction, only one of them used more curse words than me! (I know, how is this possible?)

  2. rideblog says:

    BFF, I didn’t have to deal with him the way you do, but I could extrapolate and figured that the reputation was well-deserved for those who did have to deal with him regularly. He wasn’t, as I said, rude to me. Just nickeled-and-dimed me and pontificated a lot. He also talked down to me a bit, and as someone who does know a bit about bikes, that also annoyed me.

    I doubt he’d be a total asshole to me as a customer standing in his shop with a bike up on his rack, but I could see him being that way to those who had to do business with him.

    He did snicker when he asked how my wheel had gotten so filthy, and I told the story of how my LBS had filled the hub with grease and then denied doing it. “Jesse did that?” he asked, surprised. “No,” I said. “He just denied responsibility for it. I think AJ did it, and he’s an idiot.” That got a laugh I know you’ll appreciate.

    Really, I like Dutch Bike. Nobody else comes close for me. They’re friendly and nice and know about old bikes. I need to stop trying out anywhere else, and they need to leave Ballard and move closer to ME.

  3. adventurepdx says:

    $35 for a new tube install is a rip-off, no matter what.

    I think shops like this appeal to a certain type: one that feels they are inferior about bike knowledge and don’t mind being talked down to by “The Master”. I’ve had a few experiences like that in Portland, always left a nasty taste in my mouth. I’m guessing that most folks who dealt with him were like you: went in once, saw how much they got charged, decided to never return. Which leads to the lack of bike repairs. So how does he stay in biz-ness? Ebay?

    FYI Snarkypup (or whoever else can use this info): Pretty much any Wal-Targ type discount department store has 26″ x 1 3/8″ tubes in stock. I’m serious here.

  4. rideblog says:

    Adventure, I think you’ve absolutely nailed what this shop was all about! I guess I don’t like being “mastered.” :)

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