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Old 07-23-08, 07:42 AM   #1
HOV
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Local REI bike shop - bad!

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.

Many thanks

HOV
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Old 07-23-08, 08:07 AM   #2
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You're not going to get a response my friend.
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Old 07-23-08, 08:10 AM   #3
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Complaining after-the-fact about items you chose not to complain about when you noticed them in the store seems wrong.

You'd already made the decision that you didn't care, so now, you're just piling stuff on to make your list seem more impressive.

---------

Anyway, sorry about the bad experience.
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Old 07-23-08, 08:11 AM   #4
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I was in the Fairfax REI last night.

Good luck with your letter.
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Old 07-23-08, 08:13 AM   #5
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I know some folks like REI's bike department but I am not too keen on them.
I have had a few experiences like the OPs but nothing quite as bad.

It does seem that one should have complained while it was occurring or simply called it a day and asked for a refund. They do have a wonderful return policy.
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Old 07-23-08, 08:19 AM   #6
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Dump it and get the LHT.
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Old 07-23-08, 08:21 AM   #7
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Actually sounds fairly similar to my experience with a LBS here. If you have the know-how to set it up right, it's easier to save the money and order the bike online and do it yourself. Yes, it's a pain, but why pay someone to do it wrong?

I try to support the local shops when possible, but when I'm told I need to replace the entire hub instead of getting a 3 dollar axle, or I pay for setup and it's done poorly/wrong, I'll take my money elsewhere. And more often than not, that "elsewhere" is an internet retailer (usually JensonUSA).
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Old 07-23-08, 08:32 AM   #8
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I think it was a well thought out and written professional letter that needs to be sent to REI even if the OP doesn't get a response. That whole scenario was unacceptable.
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Old 07-23-08, 08:43 AM   #9
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I've had nothing but good experiences with their bike techs. Friendly, open, do a good job and don't mind helping me learn things.

They also have a satisfaction policy with all their parts, so I can use it and make sure I want it.

But you know, just like a chain fast food join, some are better than others even with the same food.
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Old 07-23-08, 08:45 AM   #10
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The "tech" that prepared your bike obviously had no clue about proper bike set-up and adjustment. Whether or not you get a response I think you're well within your rights to submit your letter. Let us know how it turns out.
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Old 07-23-08, 08:48 AM   #11
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I've never dealt with REI and have no access to one of their stores and I'm lucky to have a pretty good LBS. They support the "spandex crowd" more than utility/vehicular cyclists, but I've had no issue.

If you're ever in Jacksonville, NC, check out The Bicycle Shop.
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Old 07-23-08, 08:53 AM   #12
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Ya, it definitely depends on which store you visit.

FWIW, I complained at the store enough to get the bike somewhat ridable, but after seeing the speed and proficiency of the tech doing the basics, I didn't want to waste any more time with him. I figured I'd get back with the management later if there were more issues, and there were, so that's what I'm doing now.
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Old 07-23-08, 08:57 AM   #13
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You should return the bike.

You should have returned the bike before you wrote the letter and included the receipt for the return with the letter.

Once you return the bike, follow up by sending a copy of the letter and a copy of the return receipt.

If you don't return the bike... well they're not very likely to care, I wouldn't think. Money talks, BS walks. Might make you feel better to have written and sent the letter, but unless you follow up with action, I'm not sure it will make much of a difference.

As a point of just general process, you should have found out the name of the manager and addressed the letter directly to them. And be sure to follow up with a phone call to the manager--if not in the next couple of days, then certainly next week.

But I certainly hope you get handlebar tape and the discount refunded to you. Good luck.
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Old 07-23-08, 09:00 AM   #14
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The biggest problem I see here is that you knew things were terribly wrong, yet you took delivery of the bike anyways. And then, after the fact, noticed even more things wrong. I'm not into bashing the victim in incidents like this, however, the absolute best thing you could have done would have been to leave the bike there and either demand that the fixes be made or that a refund be issued. At this point, I think the best you can hope for is a refund or exchange.

I do suggest that you send the letter, and I do hope something comes of it. One of the big things I've read about writing letters like this is to tell them what would make you happy, so that's great that you did but it seems like what you're asking for is ridiculously high. $200+ off of the bike for adjustment issues and you still want them to throw in the bar tape? I guess it'd be great if you got it, but truth be told, most adjustment issues (note, not fit issues) are covered under a bike shop's tune up and the most expensive one I've seen around here was ~ $100 and it also included new cables and housings. To me that would be about the most you could expect - the cost of having a bike shop adjust all of the things.

Again, I don't mean to bash the "victim" in these incidents, but it just seems like there were better ways to go about it.
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Old 07-23-08, 09:05 AM   #15
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You should consider sending this to The Consumerist: http://consumerist.com/
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Old 07-23-08, 09:11 AM   #16
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I've heard a number of people say that you use REI for their prices, discounts, and return policies and use someone else for actual mechanical needs. That jibes with my experience so far. My first new bike came from REI a year and half ago. Within a couple of months it started popping spokes, and I've come to believe that the wheel was probably never properly tensioned -- something I was never aware I needed to worry about with new, machine-built wheels, but REI should have known.
After about 9 months I had some skipping in my drive train. I replaced the chain, but it got progressively worse. I took it in to REI and described the problem. They "upsold" me on a full tune-up. Their logic was that a full tune-up was a set price, and that would include diagnosing any problems, whereas just diagnosing a problem was an hourly rate, so, depending on how long it took them to figure out the problem, I might come out ahead. I agreed, and it's good that I did because they spent over a week figuring out that my cassette had some worn teeth and needed to be replaced. And that was after having called me once to tell me it was ready, but admitting (after I brought back five minutes later) that the mechanic had not actually ridden it, but had just adjusted the shifting and deciding that it looked okay. At that point someone did test ride it and decided it was a bad free wheel hub, but they couldn't remove it. After they tried for several days to get the free hub loose, the head mechanic came back from vacation, looked at it, and suggested they try replacing the cassette, which solved the problem.

I really like the people at REI, including the mechanics, and I think the head mechanic really knows what he's doing, but I'm not sure about the skill level of the rest of them. Bikes aren't their primary business, and I wonder if anyone with a good skill level doesn't move on to more lucrative position in another bike shop.

I hope you get some positive resolution, HOV, but I've found the best way to get a positive experience out of REI is to lower my expectations. They sell quality stuff at decent prices and they have a great return policy. They just do not seem to be an actual bike shop.
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Old 07-23-08, 09:20 AM   #17
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I had a mess with REI, too. Went to the store looking for a car bike rack, they didn't have it in stock so I ordered it from the store to be delivered to the store (free shipping). They were to call me when it arrived. Should have taken two weeks they said. Two weeks later, no call. I went in and sure enough, they went to the back and said it wasn't there. Two more weeks, no call. I went back, they looked around and said it wasn't there. They'll call, they said. (I'm using a gift card for the bike rack, otherwise I would've cancelled at this point). Another week, and I'm fed up. I called another store and asked if they could tell me about the inventory situation of this bike rack. They said there were like 52 of them in their main warehouse! I went back to my store and told them about the situation. They rummaged around in the back again and came back with the bike rack. Apparently it was there the first time I went in, but they had the wrong name on the box..... It's all good now
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Old 07-23-08, 09:28 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mconlonx View Post
You should return the bike.

You should have returned the bike before you wrote the letter and included the receipt for the return with the letter.

Once you return the bike, follow up by sending a copy of the letter and a copy of the return receipt.

If you don't return the bike... well they're not very likely to care, I wouldn't think. Money talks, BS walks. Might make you feel better to have written and sent the letter, but unless you follow up with action, I'm not sure it will make much of a difference.

As a point of just general process, you should have found out the name of the manager and addressed the letter directly to them. And be sure to follow up with a phone call to the manager--if not in the next couple of days, then certainly next week.

But I certainly hope you get handlebar tape and the discount refunded to you. Good luck.
Yup, good points. I did get the name of the manager and edited the letter to be addressed to her before I faxed it in. I'm giving her a change to fix it before I return the bike though. Returning the bike really isn't even in my best interest at this point, because it's a good bike and set up properly now.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tekknoschtev View Post
The biggest problem I see here is that you knew things were terribly wrong, yet you took delivery of the bike anyways. And then, after the fact, noticed even more things wrong. I'm not into bashing the victim in incidents like this, however, the absolute best thing you could have done would have been to leave the bike there and either demand that the fixes be made or that a refund be issued. At this point, I think the best you can hope for is a refund or exchange.

I do suggest that you send the letter, and I do hope something comes of it. One of the big things I've read about writing letters like this is to tell them what would make you happy, so that's great that you did but it seems like what you're asking for is ridiculously high. $200+ off of the bike for adjustment issues and you still want them to throw in the bar tape? I guess it'd be great if you got it, but truth be told, most adjustment issues (note, not fit issues) are covered under a bike shop's tune up and the most expensive one I've seen around here was ~ $100 and it also included new cables and housings. To me that would be about the most you could expect - the cost of having a bike shop adjust all of the things.

Again, I don't mean to bash the "victim" in these incidents, but it just seems like there were better ways to go about it.
It's hard to really go through everything on a bike in the middle of a store. I stayed there long enough for the basics to be addressed, but watching that tech fumble around with the basics didn't leave me much confidence that they would address everything, so I did it myself. One thing I didn't mention in the letter was that I did talk about some of the other issues but it seemed like the dude wasn't following me, or didn't care. Plus, the time spent waiting around the store (~90 minutes) was edging my bored toddler toward meltdown.

The 20% off thing is an annual discount given to members in the month of March, applicable to bikes; this bike is sold with that discount every year. I'm asking her to extend that to my purchase as a courtesy.

REI has a satisfaction guarantee on their stuff, so a refund is a given for this one. That is why I chose REI to begin with. I still like the store, just not thrilled about this purchase.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
I've heard a number of people say that you use REI for their prices, discounts, and return policies and use someone else for actual mechanical needs. That jibes with my experience so far. My first new bike came from REI a year and half ago. Within a couple of months it started popping spokes, and I've come to believe that the wheel was probably never properly tensioned -- something I was never aware I needed to worry about with new, machine-built wheels, but REI should have known.
After about 9 months I had some skipping in my drive train. I replaced the chain, but it got progressively worse. I took it in to REI and described the problem. They "upsold" me on a full tune-up. Their logic was that a full tune-up was a set price, and that would include diagnosing any problems, whereas just diagnosing a problem was an hourly rate, so, depending on how long it took them to figure out the problem, I might come out ahead. I agreed, and it's good that I did because they spent over a week figuring out that my cassette had some worn teeth and needed to be replaced. And that was after having called me once to tell me it was ready, but admitting (after I brought back five minutes later) that the mechanic had not actually ridden it, but had just adjusted the shifting and deciding that it looked okay. At that point someone did test ride it and decided it was a bad free wheel hub, but they couldn't remove it. After they tried for several days to get the free hub loose, the head mechanic came back from vacation, looked at it, and suggested they try replacing the cassette, which solved the problem.

I really like the people at REI, including the mechanics, and I think the head mechanic really knows what he's doing, but I'm not sure about the skill level of the rest of them. Bikes aren't their primary business, and I wonder if anyone with a good skill level doesn't move on to more lucrative position in another bike shop.

I hope you get some positive resolution, HOV, but I've found the best way to get a positive experience out of REI is to lower my expectations. They sell quality stuff at decent prices and they have a great return policy. They just do not seem to be an actual bike shop.
Thanks for the story. Proper wheel setup was very important to me too, and I asked very specific questions about how they set up the wheels. I was assured that they were checked at least twice, but considering the rest of the setup, I will expect the worst.
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Old 07-23-08, 09:55 AM   #19
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I have bought 2 Novara bikes (07 Randonee and 07 Buzz) from the REI in Cary, NC and they have always done me right. The techs I ususally deal with are Scott and Hormuz (not sure if I spelled his name right).

I had to order the Rando to get my size, and the bike was set up pretty good when I picked it up. When I brought the Rando in for a 6 month tune up they installed cyclocross brake levers for me and didn't charge any for labor. When I bought the Buzz I wanted to swap out the bash guard for a chainring, and install a newer twist shifter for the front der, they only charged me for parts and threw in labor for free.

The quality of REI bike shops sounds extremely variable. I think you have to check them out the same as any other LBS to find out if they are good or not.
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Old 07-23-08, 10:16 AM   #20
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I've purchased 6 bikes from REI(returned one). Zero probs with any of them. HOV,try the locations in Rockville and Greenbelt. A bit of a hike for you,but I would highly recommend them.
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Old 07-23-08, 10:22 AM   #21
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When I bought the Buzz I wanted to swap out the bash guard for a chainring, and install a newer twist shifter for the front der, they only charged me for parts and threw in labor for free.
They didn't actually change the shifter did they? Unless specs have changed dramatically from my '05,the shifter and derailleur can handle a triple,you just need to tweak them. I never bothered since the der can only take a 44t and the extra 6 teeth wouldn't do much for me.
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Old 07-23-08, 10:25 AM   #22
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i bought my surly lht complete from jensonusa and had no issues.

they even called during the build because I had ordered a custom handlebar (nitto north road) and wanted to know exactly where i wanted the brake levers placed, instead of just lazily putting it wherever and making me change it later. they seemed friendly and competent.

i love rei in general, but get a creepy walmarty feeling when i walk through their bike department.
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Old 07-23-08, 10:35 AM   #23
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The 20% off thing is an annual discount given to members in the month of March, applicable to bikes; this bike is sold with that discount every year. I'm asking her to extend that to my purchase as a courtesy.
Sorry to hear about that. As far as the 20% thing...If you are a member, you will be getting 10% back at the end of the year. If they give you 20% back due to the issues, you're getting an extra 10% that you wouldn't be entitled to. If you buy something on the annual 20% sale, you do not get the extra 10% at the end of the year.
Good Luck, let us know what happens
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Old 07-23-08, 11:09 AM   #24
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Departments stores = Bad. Unless you are handy at bike mechanics and repairs, then do your business with a LBS. And complaining about it down the road and asking for a 20% refund...what?!

Now bring the bike into you LBS and pay to have everything re-adjusted professionally. And bar wrap is pretty cheap, so if you need some new stuff because you overlooked it before you rushed out the door then that too will be on your tab.
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Old 07-23-08, 11:10 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
They sell quality stuff at decent prices and they have a great return policy. They just do not seem to be an actual bike shop.
+1. I bought from that location recently. The sales staff, though trying to help, just doesn't seem to know much of anything about bikes, but I did my research and the price was right.

Mechanically, no way. My experience: i was being lazy and offhand asked em to swap out the spoke protector (note that I did not say "dork disc") on my new bike for a smaller one while they did the postpurchase tuneup etc (really, it was insanely big), they agreed. Came back for it and... all they did was take scissors and hack the protector down to a smaller size, so i had a terribly mangled oblong piece of plastic hanging off my new bike. They didn't even pop off the cassette when they did that.
I'll do the mech work myself or take it elsewhere from now on, thanks.
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