Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Trying to buy bike parts on the cheap - A cautionary tale

Ya know, I'm generally a nice guy. I try to be patient with online orders. I realize sometimes stuff gets screwed up, and frankly, sometimes it's my fault for going with a retailer I don't have experience with trying to get a bargain. I really wanted to build a set of 29" Velocity Dually wheels around some Carver hubs I bought.These new wheels, to also be set up tubeless would hopefully save me a couple pounds over the horrendously heavy set of wheels I'm currently using.

Enter, name redacted. I've chosen not to "name and shame" this particular retailer. Ultimately, I had to throw down a proverbial glove to "get satisfaction" as it were. They ended up making things right, but I'm getting ahead of myself.



Online retailer name redacted had Dually rims cheaper than anyone else. A whopping $83/rim and free shipping. The next closest competitor was a retailer I frequently use who had the rims available for $107 each. I was saving myself nearly $50 by going with name redacted. My regular retailer does price matching but in this case would not match the price from name redacted. I bit the bullet and purchased the rims. The initial order was delayed, and delayed some more. It was only calling in that alerted name redacted to the problem that my rims had gone to back order and they'd neglected to tell me. Fast forward something like another week and a half and eventually they show up. Wrong size. I checked everything and found out it was somehow my fault. In spite of specifically looking for 29er rims I had ordered and paid for 26ers.

(Note - not the actual box, but a box that rims came in nonetheless. Still, two very similar boxes sat here as a reminder of my bike part purchasing hubris for something like a week. Yeah, sat there and taunted me day after day.)
I now think sizing mistake must have had something to do with the piss-poor "web 1.0" design of their website and shopping cart. Still, it's ultimately my fault for not catching it in the subsequent receipt email. So, I paid out of my own pocket to send those back. But wait, it gets better! A day or so later, a SECOND SET of 26er rims arrive! WTF?! So, I call in and get things sorted out. Some b.s. on their end resulted in a double shipment. At least I wasn't double-charged. Still, it necessitated me making a trip to opposite ends of my neighborhood because I always ship FedEx, and of course the free return label from them was for UPS. Forty minutes of walking around the neighborhood later, and I finally dropped off the last set of rims at the UPS store and rewarded myself for an afternoon of frustration with a six pack of brewskis from the liquor store next to the UPS store.

(Not actually what I bought, but those bottles have long-since been recycled. Also, I don't leave empties laying around on the counter like this. It's supposed to be humorous, okay?!)
On top of mixed up sizes, double shipments and the like name redacted  wasn't able to speedily do a return for exchange, and suggested I buy the correct set outright in order to speed up me getting the right rims. I went ahead and paid out of pocket again for the correct size rims thinking I'd have my new rims inside of a week. However, it could never be that easy. At 17 DAYS AFTER I placed the order for the 29er rims there was absolutely NO INDICATION of whether I would receive them SOMETIME THIS YEAR!

So, I called in yesterday figuring since it was already past noon and I was told last Monday 4th that the rims would be in and shipped out, "that week," that it was time to get to the bottom of this once and for all. Mind you, the last time I spoke with them was over a week ago when I was told my rims were, "...supposed to be here and will ship out this week." So, frustration level at an all-time high at this point, I called in and demanded a refund. I was immediately asked, "Was it taking too long?"
"Yes. WAY too long," was my reply.

He then tells me they may have come in that day. I told him absolutely the ONLY way I was NOT going to persist with my request for a refund was going to be if they had indeed actually arrived, and they would agree ship them to me to arrive by next day air. He asked if he could investigate it and shoot me an email later that day. I agreed and resolved not to hold my breath. The tab with the rims from my regular bike part supplier sat open in my browser window, since I figured I'd be placing that order for the more expensive rims by the end of the day.

Coming in scant minutes under the draconian "one to two hour" time limit I gave them for contacting me, I had an email stating that the rims had in fact arrived and would ship that day via USPS Priority Express for arrival the following day. I still wasn't holding my breath. Seeing the rims arrive today would be the resolution I was looking for. Ninja postal workers inevitably snuck in and deposited the box o' rims and departed without so much as a peep from the buzzer. Only checking the tracking a second time since getting up alerted me to their presence. This nearly month and a half saga would not come to an end though until I opened the box, and checked the rims, examining them for signs of damage or them not being the correct item. Would they be 26ers again? Perhaps 28 hole, even though I'd specified 32 hole?

It's about damn time!
The box was there, the rims undamaged, and yes, even the correct size and hole count. A sigh of relief escaped my lips and a grudging email was sent acknowledging, "The rims arrived in good condition. Thanks for sorting this out. By the way, tracking shows you received the other rims. Just need to make sure you're processing that refund for the original purchase. Thanks." Thus ends our cautionary tale. Would $50 extra have been worth it to get the rims within the same week they were purchased, thus avoiding a lot of aggravation and phone calls to a less-than-responsive retailer? Maybe. However the siren call of the bargain is often hard to resist. Next time I hope I can convince my crew wife to tie me to the mast and just put wax in her ears so she won't hear my cries of, "But it's $50 cheaper!"

Friday, April 8, 2016

When the POTUS comes to town

My commute to and from work is usually pretty uneventful. However, living in the home town of the POTUS sometimes can make things interesting. One more than one occasion, riding home on a path that parallels the shoreline of Lake Michigan, I was turned back by Chicago Police, stationed along the path to turn back civilians attempting to enter an area cordoned off for presidential security reasons. I live in Hyde Park, which just happens to be the neighborhood where President Obama lives, and where he received his law degree from the University of Chicago.

President Barack Obama speaks to students at the University of Chicago Law School on April 7, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama addressed his U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland as he hopes members of the Republican party will give Garland a hearing and a vote in Washington. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)


It turned out that this evening was one of those days where the POTUS was in town and in fact had a speaking engagement at the university which is just a few blocks from my apartment. As I passed by The Field Museum of Natural History and the John G. Shedd Aquarium, I sighted a MV-22B Osprey attached to HMX-1, or Marine Helicopter Squadron 1 as it's known. Starting in 1976, the Marine Corps took over responsibility for maintaining and flying the helicopter fleet that carries the president, cabinet member, support staff, and members of the press. The Bell-Boeing MV-22B Osprey tilt rotor aircraft was adopted for a support role back in 2013. So far, due to a high instance of Osprey crashes, the president himself does not fly in any of the Ospreys but continues to be ferried about in a modified Blackhawk helicopter called a VH-60N Whitehawk, which adopts the call sign of "Marine 1" when the president is onboard.

A VH-60N Whitehawk, flies over the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. - from Wikipedia


The unusual and loud Ospreys have become a fixture of President Obama's many recent trips to Chicago over the last few years, often attracting many a gobsmacked stare as they thunder across the sky, louder than any helicopter you could imagine. Imagine my surprise when I rounded a corner and found one of the MV-22B Ospreys had landed in a large parking lot next to McCormick Place. No police security was present, however numerous city buses lined the edges of the capacious parking lot as barriers to keep out hostile vehicles. The Osprey had touched down, and sat with it's engines at idle for a few minutes before throttling back up, taking to the air and fly back northwards the direction it came from. For a guy who still remembers being a kid fascinated by all manner of military aircraft and who built every imaginable fighter jet or WWII airplane model kit, it was quite the sight to see this amazing aircraft in action.






Monday, January 11, 2016

A Fool and His Money...

This just in from Bike Rumor! Yes, more gushing about over-priced boutique components. In this case Paul Components. Like any dutiful bike nerd I read a lot of bike blog stuff and reviews come up, a LOT. Occasionally I'm looking to buy something new and so I do my research and that means reading reviews. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that a handful of the biggest review and content outfits out there on the interwebz simply spew "reviews" out with very little in the way of critical consideration. One regular offender I've found is Bike Rumor. Maybe they're just reporting the "bike news" and not actually reviewing the product. If it's not a review, then apparently it's at least "news" when a company makes something that a bunch of other companies already make cheaper, but for some reason make it the same but more expensive. So you can buy, for example a Paul I.S. disc adapter for $20.

Paul Components I.S. disc brake adapter


Or, you could get the same thing from Shimano for $8.99, Avid for $10.00, or Magura for $11.00. So, yeah. Maybe "Made in America" is worth $11.01 extra?

SRAM Avid I.S. disc brake adapter






My objection I guess isn't so much against Paul Components, because honestly, I have no idea if it really costs $11 more to make a US-made part versus something made in China. I actually have Paul Thumbies on two bikes, and in the past I made use of their short-travel/long-travel drop bar brake interrupter levers. So, I've spent money on their stuff. At least what I bought was functional and innovative rather than just copying an existing design and charging more money for it. Also, judging by a lot of comments of folks following these "reviews" of Paul Component parts, many feel the same way. A lot of this stuff just isn't especially innovative. So, if it's not innovative, all you're paying for is the name and cachet of what is essentially a boutique part. It's like all of that purple anodized mountain bike crap from the early to mid 90s. Purple anodizing didn't make your bike any faster or lighter, but lots of folks were willing to pay more for it.

And finally, don't get me started on their "Klamper" disc brake which Bike Rumor also gushed over back in July. Again, they were just "reporting" on it's introduction and not really offering up any kind of critical review. However, the e-zine Cyclocross Magazine did in fact review the Klamper, and apparently liked it, even though it's neither innovative nor a weight-saving piece of kit. The Paul Klamper uses the same antiquated and tired design of the Avid BB7. Specifically, the Klamper has one moving pad and one stationary pad, effectively bending the rotor inwards to contact the non-moving pad. The only advantage it purports to have is larger ball bearings and some needle bearings. So what does a marginal engineering improvement over an already less-than-stellar design cost you? You can have a single Klamper caliper for $179!!! 

The Paul Components Klamper


If you didn't just spit coffee out all over your computer screen, it's probably because you don't know that you could buy a complete set of Avid BB7 disc brakes - that's caliper AND rotor for $79! That's $100 cheaper than the Paul version. Or, you could buy the even lighter BB7 S which now features stainless steel components and is marginally lighter than a standard BB7, and is still lighter than a Klamper. The BB7 S will set you back $120. That's still $59 cheaper per wheel, or to round up and consider a full set, that's $120 cheaper.

Avid BB7 (the cheaper version - the "S" looks the same, only black instead of grey)


Of course, the elephant in the room we're not talking about, is the TRP Spyre/Spyke family of mechanical disc brakes. The Spyre (road), and Spyke (mountain), are dual piston disc brakes that work in the same manner as their bigger cousins that stop our car and motorcycle wheels from moving. Reviews (if you care to search them out), consistently place TRP mechanical discs at the top of the pyramid in terms of best design, and modulation second only to hydraulic discs. You can buy a caliper and disc TRP Spyke set for $84.99. That's $94.01 cheaper than a Klamper for what is widely considered to be the most advanced, best-performing mechanical disc brake on the market.

TRP Spyke. Far more technically advanced than the Klamper. Lighter and $94 cheaper per wheel!


If you wanted to buy Paul Components so you could proudly proclaim "Made in America" I'm betting you'd have a lot of difficulty managing that for your entire bicycle build. I've always been of the mindset of building my bikes with a mix of affordability and durability in terms of components and frames. The country of origin of my parts has never been much of a concern. Pretty much most of the components you'll buy today come out of factories in China with lots of frames coming from Taiwan. Good quality stuff comes out of Chinese factories just like poor quality stuff. I've have bike frames made in China that were really nice with decent quality welds and good paint, and I've had atrocious frames that looked like they were welded by a child using a Fisher-Price "My First Welder" toy, and painted using spray cans. Those oh-so-affordable Avid BB7s are all "Made in China," and while they're often derided as being little better than rim brakes they're still the standard spec on most bikes using disc brakes.

My take-away on all of this? Paul Components make some good stuff - Thumbies for example are an excellent product well worth the coin. Paul disc adapters or their own expensive take on Avid BB7s, the Klamper? In my opinion, there's nothing especially innovative there at all. Well, a fool and their money...