Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't call it a comeback

No one likes to admit mistakes. I had a hard time wrestling over this column, just because I hate to admit I screwed up as much as anyone else does. Maybe even more because my rep is founded on the ability to get it right, no matter what, over and over. Sadly, that just does not happen. As much as I hate to admit it I am not perfect, no one is.

What am I talking about? The comeback(There are two types). This is when you perform a repair and it is not done right. There is a problem of some kind and the customer is unhappy. It embarasses me, reflects poorly on the shop, and leaves the customer pissed.
Don't believe some of the hype you see on the web. Most repair guys, in any field, try their level best to get it right. If for no other reason than they don't want to listen to the customer complaints followed by the bitching of the boss. A double whammy, made worse for me because I am the boss. When I screw up, the mental beat down I give my self over the next week is merciless. For most of us the reason to do quality work is just that, quality. We have pride in what we do and it shames us when we fail in that task.

The idea for this tale came from a recent comeback. I did a repair that involved reinstalling a front brake. I put the brake back on, set it up(adjusting clearance/setting pad height)and sent the bike out. Two days later, the bike came back. The brake caliper came off. IT CAME FUCKING OFF?! I got no sleep that night. First, I was glad the guy did not get hurt, but honestly almost all thought was on, "How the hell did this happen"! I was trying to run back thru the repair. What had I missed? Did I, somehow, just forget to tighten the binder bolt? I was going thru all the steps around the key tightening of this bolt(Actually it is a nut, the bike biz uses it own wordset for some reason)My practice and the practice I drill into my minions(Yes minion, they voted that over flunky) is to always tighten what you are working on before stopping.
Stopping is key in the bikeshop biz. We get stopped all the time, to answer the phone, to greet the next dude in the door, to sell a bike. There are only two or three people working in most small shops, doing everything is part of the job, you spend all day stopping and starting.
Back to topic, I tell everyone to make sure the bolt/screw/nut is tight. Even if it is crooked get the damn thing tight. Crooked is better, in my opinion, because it gives you a start point when you finally get off the phone after ten minutes giving directions to someone that is less than 500 yards from the shop.
Back to start, did I make sure the nut was tight to start with? That is my habit(20+years habit) probably did, but still, it fell right freaking off. Next, I do my centering on the brake. This is just making sure the arms(side pull brake) are even. This is so you can set the pad height. Every one of these things should show a loose brake, but I need to be more careful, because this time it did not.
Then there was the headset check. When ever you put a bike on the floor, after a repair, you always grab the front brake and rock the bike. This is a the last head set check. If it is loose at all, you will feel it here. How I missed a loose brake(the front brake) here I don't know.
Finally, THE BOUNCE. The bounce is the classic bike shop mechanic move. We bounce the bike on the floor. Beleive me, if anything is loose, it will get heard here. Everything from a loose presta nut to a loose seat will show in this simple test(Trade secret, don't tell) I got nothing on this bike.
Even now a week later, after replacing the damaged brake and going over the whole bike checking everything twice, I am still trying to figure out the mistake(or mistakes)I made that caused this to happen. The bright side is that this kind of thing brings back, in HD clarity, that you need to be careful and pay attention to the big picture and the details when working on someone elses bike.

Now we come to the second kind of comeback. This is the comeback where you have performed a repair, often as long as a year ago, and the bike has had a failure of some kind after this repair. As you were the last to touch the bike in a professional capacity, any failure must be your fault.
Usually this revolves around flat tires. If you repair a front flat, pray, PRAY, that this bike does not have a rear deraileur issue in the next twelve months, for it will be your fault. Scratch that.If you repair thhe front flat, it better not have a rear flat because that poor tube with its sudden increased porosity, will be all your fault. This is the best reason to keep records of all repairs.
This portion of the sermon will be shorter than the portion where I was at fault. But with more examples and funnier.
Repaired flat front tire, later blamed for: flat rear tire, poor shifting, skweeky brake, loose seat.
Performed tune up, blamed for tacoed wheel and bent fork.
Aligned der hanger and adjusted der, blamed for bent hanger(In this case I watched the guy shove the bike into his car and slam the hatch down on the drive train.
This is one of my favorites: I was once accused of replacing a headset topcap with an exact duplicate. That's right. Someone accused me of replacing a part with the exact same part.

The hard part in all these comebacks is that you have to calm the customer and keep them happy without it costing the shop to much. As much as it hurts to do a repair for free, it is often easier to just fix the issue rather than start an arguement with someone that has already shown they have a(several) missing logic circuit(s).
The same day of the brake issue(mea culpa) I had a customer bring a bike in, that was over a year old, complaining that their chain had broken as a result of our tune up(more than two months prior). After a discussion of what had happened, I found that the husband(Who had not ridden the bike before) had taken it out and made a shift under load while climbing a hill. The forensic probe(sorry just watched CSI) of the bike had shown this. The chain was popped like you would snap a pencil in two. The front der was twisted in the direction of a down shift.
The riders story, combined with evidence on the bike, and with experience(chains don't fail, like this, with no outside influence) all led to the logical conclusion. The guy did not know how to ride a bike. Unfortunately, "You, my good sir, are an idiot" does not pan out well. So I replaced the damaged link with a SRAM master link, explained how to shift and when, and sent the couple on their merry way. I kept the customers, they had gained some knowledge(Maybe), and I had passed another lesson in anger management(When I am wrong I feel like pooh. When you screw up and treat me like the idiot I seethe. I hid it quite well)

So, think about all this before you jump on bikeforums to complain about a problem with your bikeshop. Maybe if you brought the bike back to the shop before lighting up on the web, everyone would end up happy.

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