I got a '06 Cannondale R700, which comes with the WH-R550 wheelset. I noticed some roughness in the front hub, which seemed odd since I've only had the wheel for 6 months and 750 or so miles, and it's never seen water, original tire, never seen a flat, perfectly in true, etc. Anyway, I went to repack it - and there was plenty of clean grease in there. I looked closer and there on one of the cones was a pit right on the track (the whole width of it, about a mm wide). Easily visible to the naked eye, easily explaining why things are crunchy.
Now, from what I've read (Zinn's book, Calvin Jones in Park, Sheldon Himself) you can't let this kind of thing go - you need to replace the cone. And certainly you don't expect a cone to go out in 750 miles on a new wheel without water-intrusion abuse, so, 'defect in materials or manufacture', sure. I was under the warranty period so I took the wheel (disassembled) in to where I bought the bike and asked them to warranty the cone, just the cone. They refused, saying that such a pit was normal wear to be expected and the wheel would smooth right out if I repacked it and that they wouldn't warrantee it. (Tech: 'Me and the owner looked at it and...') Uh.
So, is it truly folks' experience that this kind of pitting is normal/expected/just fine ok? Everything I've read indicates that it ain't, particularly in just 750 miles.
End of the story is that I wasn't having any of this 'It's just fine' from the bike store. They wouldn't even sell me a cone for wholesale - they wanted $9.99 for one but would 'generously' not charge me shipping 'since they'd have to order it from Shimano.' Having ordered parts over the counter from bike stores before I am unfamiliar with this idea of normally having to pay shipping on items which are subject to retail markup. And which are part of batch shipments from somewhere anyway. I got the wheel back and now the cone is on its way to Shimano to be warranteed by Me the Consumer.
Needless to say I feel that going to that place (let's call them 'Cycle Lawyer') to buy my bike in the first place was a huge mistake - if you go in and spend $1400 on bike + accessories (at full list, mind!) you expect not to be given guff over a $5-$7 part even if your head is full of crack and your nose is all runny and especially if you haven't got a history of coming in and making a pest of yourself. This was the first time I came in for anything at all. Most of my business (wheel parts, a frameset and parts to build a bike with, etc) since I bought the bike in the first place has been at another place much farther from where I live, based mainly on a bad vibe I got from 'Cycle Lawyer' when I was picking up the bike and getting shoes/pedals. I guess I can understand better how people feel annoyed at LBSes and prefer the internet. The implicit deal is you pay more but you get taken care of better for the small annoying stuff if you buy your bits from a retail store -- but when you pay more and get treated like that...