August 26 and 27 Rides: Betrayal and Redemption

Such a big title! Hopefully, this entry will live up to all that grandiosity. It’s at least LONG.

Victorian rideblog Title:

In Which I Break Up With a Mechanic

So, before I left for Ireland, I decided The Raleigh was ready for a tune-up. The cranks were loose and making wonky noises, and it hadn’t had a regrease since I bought it more than a year ago. I was just going to take it into Fritz at Dutch Bike, but as the day approached, the drive out to Ballard seemed interminably long.

I’ve been taking my bikes to my local bike shop, GHY, for several years. I had a good relationship with them, especially one mechanic named Jesse. He was the one who originally assembled my bike, despite knowing almost nothing about old 3-speeds. After working on my bike, he quickly became interested in vintage bikes, and began collecting them himself. He was the one who finished my Shogun, as well. I liked, and trusted him, very much, though I found Fritz’s work on the older bikes to be slightly more knowledgeable. On a whim, though, I asked my local guy how he would feel about doing the tune-up for me: “Can you do it, or should I take it to Fritz?” I asked. He assured me that he could do it, and do a better job than Fritz. So the day before I flew out, I dropped The Raleigh off at his shop.

Well, by the time I got home, I was far too sick to ride. In fact, it took me several days longer than I’d expected just to get down there and pick the bike up. He told me he’d also been ill, but that he was all finished: he’d replaced my cotters, regreased everything and the bike was good to go. I just drove it home, stuck it in my garage and went back to bed.

Finally feeling better on Friday morning, I loaded The Raleigh up onto the bike rack and drove most of the way to work. My plan was to park near my son’s school and ride the last three miles to my job. As I unloaded the bike near the school, I noticed that the kickstand wasn’t supporting the weight of the bike properly. Clearly, it had shifted from the spot where it was supposed to be. “Well,” I reasoned, “when he tuned it up, Jesse must have removed it and not replaced it quite right. I can fix that later myself.”

Off I went. The first mile and a half of the ride was a gentle uphill through quiet neighborhoods. The bike felt strangely “off,” but I thought it might be from the weight of the pannier basket in the back with my computer and purse. Then I tried to brake at a stop sign.

SQUEEEEEEEEEAK! the brakes shrieked. I was confused. My brakes had been carefully adjusted by Fritz and Co. when they redid the wheels and brake calipers, and didn’t squeak. Not only were they squeaking, but they weren’t exactly stopping, either. I hopped off and bent down to examine the rear pads. I could immediately see the problem: my normally-shiny new aluminum rims were black with grease. The spokes, the hub, the chainstays… everything was black. My chain, just replaced when I lowered the gearing, wasn’t just black, but crusted with dirty grease.

Shocked, I checked the front wheel. It wasn’t as bad, but huge globs of green grease sat quivering on the outside flange of my front hub, and streaked up along the fork. My jaw was hanging open by this point. I was far enough into my ride, and running late enough, that I just rode on into work. As I turned to head down the last hill, I noticed a crunching somewhere near the front wheel.

The first thing I did when I got to work was to talk to my colleague who was once a bike mechanic at a local shop. Though mountain bikes are more his thing, he agreed to come look at the bike after work. All day, I kept pondering that filthy bicycle, and wondering about the crunching sound. At last, we went to take a look.

“My god!” he said, horrified. “They gave it back to you like that? I would never let a bike leave my shop that dirty! Is this an old chain? Why it is covered in grease?” My colleague walked and rode the bike around the parking lot. “Why are your pedals freewheeling? I assume they aren’t supposed to turn when you’re just walking the bike.”

Really upset now, I grabbed some alcohol wipes and started furiously cleaning the rims, spokes, hubs and chainstays. Everything was covered in a thick, dirty coating of grease and oil. My colleague used my Park tool, and tightened up my fender stays. That, at least, stopped the crunching. “Did you know your tires are flat?” he asked. Uh no. I hadn’t noticed that. I had just assumed that after a tune-up, the bike’s tires would be, you know, filled with air like they were when I dropped the bike off. After locating a wrench, he tried to fix my kickstand. By now I had the bike reasonably clean, but the kickstand was toast. “Someone over-tightened it, and broke the washer. You’ll have to get a new washer.” No one had a working pump.

“Can I ride it the three miles back to my car?” I asked, very dispirited.

“I think so, but ride slowly,” he cautioned. “You could get a pinch-flat. This bike is a disaster. You really need to take it to a different mechanic. I have no idea what he did, but this thing is really bad.”

I rode slowly away from work.

Without the load on the back, the tires look okay (though a bit flat), but with the load and me on the bike, it was like riding through mud. On the way to work, I had ridden down a rather busy main route, but on the way back, I took a new way I’d never driven. At first, it seemed promising.

This was a mistake. The hills were enormous. I rode half-way up the first one, and came to a grinding halt. When I tried to restart, the weight of the single pannier and the flat tires meant I couldn’t get enough momentum to go up the steep hill. I walked.

As soon as I crested this hill, I turned onto the next street and bang: two more enormous hills. By now, my lungs were aching and I was coughing again. For the first time in more than a year, I actually used my asthma inhaler. Clearly, I wasn’t ready for hills like these (if I ever was). Covered in sweat, I pushed the bike up to the top and took a long break.

Much flatter tires with the pannier on, eh? By the time I reached the car, I was frustrated and angry. I phoned the shop where Jesse works, but he wasn’t in. I would have to deal with the problem on Saturday.

I posted on Bike Forums as soon as I got back, asking what folks thought was causing the pedals to freewheel. All sorts of doomsday scenarios were proposed, ranging from my chain being too tight to my rear hub being packed with grease and requiring a complete overhaul.

Like most folks, I don’t enjoy confrontation. Part of me just wanted to never go back to Jesse again. But I wanted to know what had happened. How had someone who was normally reliable, friendly and even, dare I say it, cool, let me down so badly? I thought he deserved the opportunity to explain himself. Perhaps he’d been too sick and someone else had done the work. Perhaps he’d been too sick and done the work anyway. Perhaps… well, those were the only two “perhaps”-es I could come up with. I drove down to my local shop and took him outside to talk.

He denied everything. He didn’t take off the kickstand, even though he regreased my bottom bracket and replaced my crank cotter. He hadn’t put any oil or grease in the hubs, even though it was a tune-up and I use only automatic transmission fluid in my rear hub (which is pink and thin, not thick and black). The grease on my chain must be old grease, though it was a new chain. He hadn’t touched the fenders, so he didn’t know why they were loose. He hadn’t let air out of my tires at any point. The blobs of grease on the front hub must have been from when Fritz rebuilt my wheels (3 months and 200 miles ago). If my hub was damaged, and he was sure it was, it must have happened in between when he serviced it and when I rode it, while it was sitting in my garage. “Old bikes like this just break, you know,” he said. Not once did he even offer to look at the bike, or refund any of my money. Nothing that had happened was his fault. I should drive the bike over to West Seattle, to Aaron’s Bike Shop (which is dang far) to see the famous Aaron, and have him do an overhaul on my rear hub, which had probably broken while sitting in my garage.

I left in tears, put the bike on the car rack, and called Dutch Bike. Fritz was not there, but his cohort, Travis, was. Travis was the person who had installed my brakes. “Bring it in,” he said. “I’ll look at it. If I can’t fix the hub, Fritz certainly can.”

One of the bridges between me and Seattle was closed, but I didn’t know that until I was on the road. An hour and a half later, even more demoralized, I pulled into Ballard. Travis immediately dropped the bike he was working on (not literally, people) and put The Raleigh up on the stand. “It’s still really dirty,” he said, appraising it. “Why does your chain look like that? Didn’t I just redo that a few months ago?” He pulled off the Sturmey Archer, opened it up, and peered inside. “Someone over-oiled this,” he said. “Most of the oil’s gone now, all over your bike.” I will point out again that I don’t use oil in my hub. He turned the cranks. “The bb feels pretty good. I’d say he did a good job there. Hey, I bet that’s it. He did such a good job on the bb that it’s now turning more easily than it used to, and he didn’t readjust the chain to match the new tension. Can you give me an hour?”

I could. I walked down to a local shop and had a sandwich for my now much-belated lunch, then drifted down to Camera Techs, where I talked to Joe about how much I liked my “fecking” camera and reminded him to visit rideblog and read about Ireland. By the time I got back to Dutch Bike, The Raleigh was done and Travis was on his break. His coworker, who I have never met before, charged me $40 for Travis’ time and told me to take the bike for a ride and make sure everything was fixed.

Rolling it out the door, I could see that it was no longer freewheeling. Everything looked clean and shiny, and my kickstand was back in place. I rode it for a few feet and then *clunk.* The pedals stopped. I looked down: they were hitting the kickstand. Amused, I rolled it back into Dutch Bike. The other mechanic winked at me: “Must have happened in your garage, Ma’am. We didn’t do it!” Then he adjusted it slightly, and off I went again.

Before I took off, I photographed a few things, of course.

That rod-braked Gazelle is a beauty, isn’t it? Sheesh.

But what’s this outside, being used as a rental?

Yep, another Viva Kilo, just like mine! Not quite as nice in terms of condition, though.

The Raleigh chatted briefly with this Bakfiets, while someone else checked out the rental Viva.

We headed out onto the Burke Gilman trail, which was as crowded as usual. I did find a moment to take this picture of The Raleigh in the shade next to a train car not usually parked along the trail. Seconds later I was nearly wiped out by a group of six cyclists riding three-abreast. I swear, that trail is like being on the set of Road Warrior.

Ooo, note the kickstand! So sexy. A few seconds later, Travis passed me on his bike, waving and “hello-ing.” “How’s it feel?” he shouted, not even slowing down. “Great!” I shouted to his back.

It was a lovely day, warm and clear. As we pedaled past her, the Queen of Seattle paddled by, with someone playing a raucous pipe organ on her deck, culminating in frequent puffs on the steam whistles. It was quite a party.

I even managed to capture the steam, if you look closely. It wasn’t hard, as every song ended in a blast of it.

Irresistible Bridge Shot Number 3,000,001.

Wait a minute… is that the Fremont bridge going up for the Queen? It is! Oh, if only The Viva could see this: we’ve confirmed that it moves!

Note to self: focus on the bike next time, not the boat. Anyway.

Though it wasn’t sweltering, I was getting a bit overheated already. I simply haven’t completely recovered from my bronchitis, and frankly, the day had been a bit emotional. I stopped to grab a water break. Doesn’t the trail look inviting in the sunshine? It’s like I’m photographing a Burke Gilman brochure, with all those pretty, peaceful folks strolling along.

After about five and a half miles, though, I was getting very, very tired. At this point, something dawned on me: I had to pick up The Boy. Across the bridge. I couldn’t go around and down, avoiding what I knew was a hideous traffic jam. I had to go directly across. It was best to grab a drink at the local 7-11 and head back.

They were out of Peach Snapple Iced Tea. It was that sort of day. I drank a Martinelli’s apple juice, instead, because a: it’s the best apple juice on earth and b: it comes in apple-shaped bottles, and that’s just adorable.

The ride back was slow. My lungs were tired, and my mood, despite the juice, the sun and The Raleigh, was rather down. Otherwise, how to explain my glum expression in this picture, given the backdrop in question?

Well, if you’d just broken up with one of your mechanics, you’d be sad too!

But nevermind. Travis was back. “That bike was pretty dirty,” he said. “I found grease all over it. But otherwise, nothing was broken. Just needed some adjustment.”

So let me get this straight: Jesse lost me as a customer, rather than simply re-adjust the bike?

“It rides exactly like it should,” I told him. Then I took Travis’ picture, for posterity (and rideblogging).

He’s a keeper!

So the moral of the story is… uh, well, it seems there are several.

First off, when someone does great work, you should drive an hour to their shop, period. I will not be going anywhere but Dutch Bike anymore. They are the best.

Secondly, as The Boy put it, upon hearing the whole story: “Mama, all Jesse had to say was: ‘I don’t know what happened, but let me fix it for you,’ and everything would have been okay.”



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9 Responses to August 26 and 27 Rides: Betrayal and Redemption

  1. Dorothea says:

    OMG poor The Raleigh! And poor you!

    Once you can stand to, I suggest emailing Jesse’s boss and/or the shop manager with this entry. They need to know that Jesse messed up. It doesn’t necessarily mean Jesse needs to go — he may be new, or just need some coaching on these situations and/or on store policy. But what happened to you shouldn’t have, and shouldn’t happen to anyone else, if that bike shop wants to keep its customers.

    (I had to take Pleione the purple Townie to the nearest LBS when her derailleur hanger got all bent and the shifter would not act right. I was rather relieved to see the LBS mechanic riding her around the nearby plaza when I came back — I figured if he was satisfied with the ride, I probably would be! And I was.)

  2. rideblog says:

    Thanks, Dorothea. Unfortunately, Jesse has been at that shop for years, and is one of their more senior mechanics. I don’t think he’s going anywhere.

  3. Auchen says:

    Jesse needs to learn that denial is not the best way to restore customer loyalty and good will.

    PS – Now that your tires are aired-up, you need to attack that hill again!

  4. rideblog says:

    Dear God, Auchen! Attack that hill again?

    Actually, I’ve already decided I have to try. Once I have lungs again.

  5. monk says:

    Sorry to hear about your bad experience with Jesse. As a retired bicycle mechanic it pains me to hear stories like this. My boss had the attitude that time was money so he pushed us to get things done quickly, which sometimes led to work that was not the best we could have done. My attitude was that time is only time and the work will get done eventually so why not give the customer the best you have. Besides, poor work can turn into more time if the customer has to bring it back, as you well know.

  6. rideblog says:

    I agree, Monk. I think the problem here was not the work itself (as he normally does great work, so I was more than willing to forgive this), but that he refused to take any responsibility for it. That irks me more than any mistake.

  7. rideblog says:

    I agree, Monk. I think the problem here was not the work itself (as he normally does great work, so I was more than willing to forgive this), but that he refused to take any responsibility for it. That irks me more than any mistake.

  8. Jesse says:

    I feel like we as a shop have gone above and beyond for you many times. As for “tune up” your repair tag says “overhaul bottom bracket & headset” that’s what was done, and that’s what you were charged for. If there was something wrong with either of those i wouldn’t have a problem fixing it on the spot, the problems you described had nothing to do with the work i performed. I’m glad you have found your favorite shop to deal with and wish you luck in your future bicycle adventures.
    ~Jesse @ g.h.y. bikes

  9. Pingback: September 3 and 7 Rides: Fast and Slow | rideblog

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