Saturday, March 28, 2009

Shop real bike shops

A lot of people try to buy bikes at Costco, or Sprawl-Mart, or places like that.

Don't. It's not worth it.

Not only does it wind up costing you in the long run--a cheap piece of junk is not a bike that gives you value for the long term -- but it's also potentially deadly.

And an inferior bike doesn't just threaten your health and well-being -- it also undermines real bike shops, which are essential to Salem's community health and sustainability. We could get along great without auto dealerships (if only!), but we really need locally owned and operated bike shops, and we're going to need them even more in the years to come.

So, this spring, when you're noticing gas prices or that little bit of overhang around the belt that you'd like to lose, or noticing that your kid thinks X-box and PS-2 are aerobic activity and you start remembering how awesome it was to be able to ride around on your bike and learning some independence, go here. Or here. Or here. Or here.

Buying a bike isn't like saving a few bucks on the exact same toothpaste or 5# Bag O' Empty Calorie Snackage. When you leave the chain stores and go to a real bike store, you leave the world of "as cheap as we can make it and sell it" behind. Sure, price counts. But it's just one factor, and definitely not the most important one.

Buying a bike that you'll love is about finding a shop where they will treat you like an individual, find a bike that suits your needs and the kind of riding you want to do, and fits you right (and is safe for you to ride), where they will adjust and maintain it for you so that it stays fun and safe. Where the people selling bikes love and ride them, and have used the stuff they sell and know what's good value and what's not.

Here's a pretty typical story, posted at Consumerist.
Just thought I would share an experience I had at Wal-Mart purchasing a bike. I bought a bicycle with Wal-Mart in order to save on gas money and try to increase my overall health. Living within 2 miles of my University, and considering I happen to work there as well, riding a bike only made good sense.

I bought a Next brand bike from Wal-Mart for the cost of 110 dollars, and about 100 dollars in accessories (helmet, lights, lock, etc). The first problem I had - none of the accessories fit. Literally, none of them. The lights, the bike pump, everything I purchased did not fit correctly on the unit I purchased. "Well, I'll just deal with it", I said to myself. Within a week, the chain kept coming off, the brakes were so tight the wheels could barely turn (because the tires, when completely aired up, were too big for the brakes), and on top of all that the right plastic pedal snapped while I was riding the bike and nearly threw me into traffic. All in all, it was a shodily constructed and dangerous piece of garbage.

Needless to say, I thought it would be best for me to return it to Wal-Mart. I loaded it in my car, took it to my local Supercenter with receipt in hand, and headed to the customer service counter. There I encountered Cheryl, the Customer Service Manager at the Norman - East branch. Upon trying to return it, I was told that they had a strict policy regarding bike retuns. What follows is a rough approximation of my conversation with her:

Me: "I'd like to return this bike."

Her: "We don't return bikes."

Me: "Why not?"

Her: "Because we can repair them for you, so we don't give refunds on them."

Me: "What? It isn't listed as an exception on the wall behind you."

Her: "We can't have all of our exceptions listed, that would take up room we use for advertising."

Me: "No one told me about this policy before I bought the bike though."

Her: "We don't have to."

I stood there in shock for a few minutes, shooting her the most angry stare I could manage. I packed up the bike, and left. Later, I called them, asked for her full name (which she wouldn't give me) and told her that I would be filing a lawsuit in small claims court against them. To my wife's first year law school brain the Return Policy on that wall is a contract that allows me to return the bike within 90 days of purchase with valid receipt, and a lawsuit in SCC would almost be a guaranteed win.

Luckily, before filing the suit, I called the district manager. She told me that the "policy" touted by Cheryl did not exist, and urged me to contact the store manager before filing a claim. If the store manager refused to take care of it, she would handle it from the district level. He told me the same thing Cheryl did until I mentioned my chat with his boss, and he amended his stance to say "that the policy was more of a guideline than anything else" to avoid returns for flat tires. This is just as absurd as what Cheryl told me, but regardless, I got my refund - and I purchased a bike from a real bike store.

I just wanted to share my experience with the readers of The Consumerist, so they could be wary of buying an important purchase like a primary mode of transportation from such an unscrupulous company - and to be wary of what lower management tells you. Worst case scenario, contact district staff. Wal-Mart is seems to be often more afraid of pad PR than anything else.

The take-home lesson is that when you try to buy a bike at a store better known for selling pickles by the barrel, you don't even get what you paid for it, no matter how little that was. No matter how little you paid, they paid even less; not such a big deal when you drop $300 on a bike; the wholesale price on that still gets you a decent bike. But when you buy a "$100" bike, you get whatever slag can be slapped together and shipped over here in a container for under $50. Not a bike you should trust your life to.

No comments: