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Roller brake troubles breaking trust

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We went on a bike tour with my wife in July, and before that I wanted to get her bike into the best shape possible. I had a funny-disappointing experience at a bike mechanic in Graz. It's still bugging me, so I thought to just blog it out. If you want to read some positive story, skip my blog today...

This bike is a nice bike, made in France, with a nice paint job, and a lot of attention to little details that parts match in colour, curved matching rack, and so on. I made most of the service on it myself, but it has a special rear brake from Shimano, called a roller brake. It was weak on stopping power, and as suggested in the manual, I took it to a bike repair shop, instead of getting into it myself.

First question came: Where to go to get the bike repaired?
It's like for cars, giving the bike to a mechanic is a kind of a trust. I leave the bike there, I pay, I get it back, and I trust they worked well. I went through a long list of bike mechanics in my life, (like dentists), but I never found the "perfect one" in my neighborhood.

Now, I live in Austria, and some time ago, in 2003, I had a really good experience at the shop Wenninger in Graz. That time I asked them to shift my hub-gears for better hill climbing, by making the rear wheel one ratio bigger. This needed to calculating the proper gear ratios, changing the cog-wheel, changing the chain, etc. They made a good job, and I thought to return.

So, I made a day trip to the shop to Graz. Upon entering, I noticed unfortunately the senior mechanic who used to work there is not there anymore. However, I trusted the young guys (new for me) with the job.

I had three requests:
1. Change, repair, fine tune, or do something with the rear brakes so it works.
2. As they open up the rear wheel set, change both tubes to Schrader type (the one used for cars and can be pumped up at the gas station). My goal was to have all of our bikes finally on the same valve system, and being able to set the pressure. Usually, I change tubes myself, but if they dismantle the wheels anyway, let's get it done now.
3. Check the front forks, somehow during braking it vibrates back and forth. It brakes well, but the vibration is not normal.

Response was:
* They look into the rear brakes, but cannot promise big changes, they said it's a system that is bad by design. Unfortunately, I could only change it coaster brakes, which are 200 Euro for the hub only.
* For the front suspension forks the feedback was they are of low qualiy, they need to be exchanged. The cheaper is 70 Euro, but I can get the better version, with lockouts, for 90 Euro. Hah, the whole bike cost 500 Euro, upgrading the forks for 20% of the price... I decided to go for it, as it promised to solve the problem, for the better version for 90 Euros. Plus work: 40 Euros.
However, they had on stock only in black. After some back-and-forth questions, it turned out they can order the better version in matching silver colour, but only for next week.
* Changing the two tubes is of course no problem, 15 Euros with material and work for each of them.

This was on Thursday, and they estimated that the bike will be ready on Tuesday next week.

I call them on Tuesday, they say the bike is ready, I can pick it up. I was already busy for Tuesday, so I said I'll get there on Wednesday to pick up, in the morning.

All happy, and joyful, to get the bike in new shape, I make the trip to Graz, and show up at 10:00 am in the bike shop.

Then the surprise came: they didn't even touch the bike! They asked me to come back at 2 pm.

All my day is lost, but we need the bike for the trip, so I agree to come back later.

I came back at 2 pm, bike is ready. However, the mechanic working on the bike is not there, only the owner. I should pay and take the bike.
I decide first to check the bike. I cannot see the brakes fixed, but I see the front fork is a new one with new inner tubes, but the rear tube is the old one. What's going on?
They get the mechanic who worked on the bike.
In fact, he found it complicated to dismantle the rear wheel and look into the brakes, so he didn't fix it (so no fixing the brakes, no changing the tubes).
However, he changed the front forks, and the tubes in the front wheel.
I check the front forks, it turns out it's the simple non-lockout version, but they still list 90 Euros on the bill.
Totatlly disappointed that the rear-brakes are not fixed, what can I do, the time has passed, we need to bike, I pay, and go.

As I roll, I notice the front fork still have the funny movement as before. I check again, it still does.
I decide to get back to the shop, and ask if it can be adjusted. Another guy comes now (maybe the owner?), and it turns out, this fork is still of "low quality", and the same behavior is expected. I'm totally disappointed - they suggested me themselves to upgrade the forks to solve the problem! I have two options, either I get a pro front fork for 600-800 Euros , or he can switch back to the old fork.
I decided to get the old fork back. Fortunately, I got the price of the forks (90 Euros) back, unfortunately, not the cost for the work hours for changing the forks (40 Euros).

So, now, we have the bike, with
- rear brakes not fixed, although this was my primary task to be fixed; back home I notice the chaingard holder is broken.
- the old fork changed back and forth for 40 Euros
- the front tubes upgraded for 15 Euros to car-valves, the rear tubes are the old ones with Presta-valves

I'm just laughing in myself... two full days and 55 Euros spent, and all I have is a mixed valves on my bike. I never had such a bad experience in a bike shop in my life before.

I was hesitating to tell which bike shop it was, but then, I had such a negative experience.
If you happen to live in Graz, the one single bikeshop to avoid is Radsport Weninger - Fahrrad Weninger Verkauf und Reparatur in Pl├╝ddemanngasse.

Consequences for me?
I decided to invest in some quality books and tools for bike repair, and do as much as possible myself. When touring, I will have to do it myself anyway.
I think I will contact Shimano, and ask for some specialist that they trust, and knows how the rear brake works.

On a positive note, we tested the bike extensively on steep hills, and see how it behaves. In the end, we decided to go touring in Slovenia with the bike as it is, with special attention on the forks and brakes, and stop whenever we experience any troubles. The tour went well, we couldn't roll down hills as fast as we wanted, and had some mental-energy spent on the worry about the bike, but in the end, we finished the tour without problems. More about it later, Slovenia was beautiful.

If you have good suggestions for books, DVD, youtube videos, websites on bike repair, please let me know!
What do you repair yourself?
How do you choose a bike mechanic?
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I'm sorry you had this totally disappointing experience. I'm new to the biking world as you know and I haven't had the experience of service yet. But we're taking our bikes for the first (free) service next week, so we'll see how it goes. But my husband is really handy at fixing things and I think he'd rather repair everything himself. So, I'd be really thankful if you could share your discoveries. And if I happen to come across anything helpful, I'll make sure to share, too.
    I'm glad your tour wasn't ruined and you had a good time in Slovenia!
    1578 days ago
  • MMILLER139
    That's like with my car. I recently went in to have a transmission flush and the mechanic told me that it has never been done and whoever did it the last time just put a sticker on it without even doing anything. People are so lazy and unreliable these days!
    1578 days ago
    Good luck with learning more about it yourself!
    1579 days ago
    So awful, doesn't anyone care about good customer service anymore?
    1579 days ago
    So sorry you had such a trying experience with the bike shop. I'm not handy myself, my husband did everything when he was alive. Now I have to trust repairmen to do the job they are supposed to do.
    Glad you had a nice tour of Slovenia.
    Happy touring and better luck with mechanics.
    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1579 days ago
    I agree that it can be hard to find a bike mechanic you trust, particularly when you have an unusual bike like we do/did. When we had our Hase Pino tandem, we would only take it to one place a very long drive from our house. We did most of the work on the bike ourselves after watching you-tube videos and reading forums about particular problems we had. We felt the same way about being able to repair the bike ourselves while touring.

    We had great success with learning things though the internet. You will too. I don't have anything specific to suggest in terms of books or videos, but you will be able to find things quickly enough specific to whatever particular problem you are facing.

    Glad to hear you had fun on your tour. I can't wait to get back to it.
    1579 days ago
  • FIT4MEIN2013
    Groan, bikes, cars, washing machines....good repairmen are hard to find!
    1579 days ago
    Wow what an experience you had. I'm glad it didn't totally ruin the tour.

    I am SO not handy at repairing ANYTHING so I have to trust the "experts" and hope for the best. So far I've had good experiences with the bike shop near me.

    I hope someone can recommend a more reputable bike shop for you.

    1579 days ago
    Good rant. I wonder how long it will be until they put themselves out of business or find a real mechanic.
    1579 days ago
    Well I have no clue on anything bike related, but I am really sorry you got the run around and not any of the work you actually wanted done not completed...

    Hopefully you figure that bike out soon :)
    1579 days ago
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