Here's a letter I wrote to the store manager at my local REI. I'll post the response.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
To: Store manager, Fairfax REI
Subject: NOVARA RANDONEE PICKUP
I am writing to tell you of the experience I had purchasing my new Novara Randonee bicycle from REI.
I had done quite a bit of research prior to purchase, and had my selection narrowed down to two bikes: the Surly Long Haul Trucker (available through www.jensonusa.com for $950), or the Novara Randonee ($1050 including tax). Ultimately I chose the Novara for two reasons: the REI return policy provided the ability to exchange the bike if I purchased the wrong size, and the in-store setup and service was preferred to an internet dealer.
The day of pickup, I called your store to make sure the bike was ready for me. It was, and I told the bike shop rep that I would be there within an hour to pick it up. However, upon arrival, the bike was not ready for me. While I waited for the bike to be prepped, I took the paperwork over to the register to finalize the transaction.
When I returned to the bike counter, I waited a little longer while the tech finished up the prep. Overall the wait was not too long, but having provided advanced notice of my intentions, I would have hoped to have waited less.
When the bike was presented to me, I told the tech I wanted to take it for a test ride before I took final delivery. I wanted to ensure the fit and setup were right before I took it home. The tech said the bike was ready to ride. Being an experienced cyclist, I noticed a few things wrong immediately. First of all, the tires were inflated to about 10 psi or less – they were essentially flat. Had I not checked tire pressure and ridden that bike as provided to me, I would have damaged the rims immediately. Secondly, the tech made no effort to set up the seat or handlebars (with the adjustable stem) to the proper height. If I were a new cyclist and didn’t know about proper fit, I would have done a test ride with the seat misadjusted by about 6 inches. No effort at all was made to check standover height, reach, or to position the seat properly along the seat rails. In fact, the seat was tilted up at an extreme angle and was not fixed until I prompted the tech to adjust it.
On the test ride, the front brakes squealed, which indicated poor setup of the brake pads. The rear derailleur was out of adjustment – it ghost shifted. The front derailleur was out of adjustment – the plates were not parallel to the chainrings and the chain rubbed in gear combinations that should have been smooth.
At this point, after having waited too long to test ride the bike, and after the setup gaffs, I decided not to raise these issues with the tech, and take care of them myself. I am an experienced bicycle mechanic and can do the necessary adjustments. Unfortunately, the point of me buying this bike from REI was that I wouldn’t have to make them myself.
Finally, I returned to the store and was ready to leave. Another employee was behind the counter at that time and requested that I pay for the bike. I said I already did – it was an internet order. He made me go back to the counter anyway and wait some more as he processed the internet pickup – again. It took three times telling the cashier the pickup was already processed for the message to get across. The bike shop employee just walked away.
I got the bike to my truck and loosened the skewer to get the front wheel off so I could mount it to my bike rack. Unfortunately, the wheel wouldn’t come off because the brake caliper was set too tight and it didn’t allow the proper clearance for the tire to pass through. So it was back to the store for more setup tweaks – things that should have been done before I even arrived there.
When I arrived home, I found more things wrong with the setup. All the braze-on bolts (for rack or bottle cage attachment) were loose. They may have vibrated off within a few rides. The front derailleur was not only out of parallel, but it was touching the large chainring (there should be a few mm of clearance). The fork was adjusted too tight, preventing the headset from turning freely. The rear derailleur cable tension was set so loose that the barrel adjuster didn’t have enough travel to tension it – I had to pull the cable tighter with the tension nut. Finally, I noticed a slash in the handlebar tape from where an employee must have used a box cutter to open it up, slashing the tape in the process. It took me quite a bit of time to get the bike working correctly.
Overall, it was by far the worst experience I have ever had buying a new bicycle. I paid a premium for a new bicycle so that I wouldn’t have to take the time to go through and adjust everything myself. For the bikes I have purchased at other local bike stores, this has never been an issue. The worst part about this experience was that the employees in your bike shop created a potentially dangerous situation by delivering me a bike that was not suited to ride on the road.
I would like to ask for two things to make this better for me. The first is that I would like a new roll of bar tape shipped to me to fix the damaged area. Secondly, I would like the annual 20% off any item offer extended to cover this purchase (in other words, a refund of 20% of the purchase price). Short of that, I believe the folks at Jenson USA are more meticulous with their bike setup and I would probably take advantage of your return policy and satisfaction guarantee to go with the Surly bike instead.