Sep 17, 2010

Doing business with Toga Bikes West End

I usually don't complain about this kind of stuff or do these kind of rants; I'm a big advocate of picking your battles. In this case I have been so thoroughly shat on that I might as well catalogue the events.

Background about me

I am an avid cyclist as well as a big electronics nerd. So it is natural that I have all kinds of expensive toys for my bike. Now, for years, I haven't been able to justify the expense for a power meter (one of the ultimate cycling toys) but very recently I decided to get one. The SRM is still too expensive for me (2-4 grand a pop?), but the powertap is more affordable (although the quarq is interesting also) and a close second best in power meters. Also, the day before, I had popped a spoke on a relatively new wheel (purchased elsewhere) while descending bear mountain in hard rain (no wipeout thankfully) and so this upgrade would actually be part of switching to a different wheelset with more spokes. So long story longer, I decided to get a powertap.

My bike shop of choice (at that time, anyway) was Toga Bikes West End (if you click the link you will see their location as well as a shorter, earlier version of this rant review in the google review section.) They are close by and they come recommended by the cyclists I know. I've been their customer for about four years, I tip the mechanics there whenever they true my wheels or whatever, and have until now been happy with the store. In retrospect, I never charged them with the responsibility of anything more than a tune-up/clean-up. Although I did purchase a wheelset and shoes from them in the past successfully, but anyway this was to be my first experience of having them purchase parts and assembling them.

The sale

On Sunday the 25th (July 2010) I called the store and they said sure we can do that, come on in. Inside the store, the sales dude who recognized me from the phone (I will refer to him as sales dude from now on) called up their powertap expert who happened to be around. I asked them both for advice as to whether I should slap the powertap on my existing wheel which is now popping spokes, or if I should get a new wheel/wheelset. Here they got pretty confused, unable to give me any advice and not even understanding what I wanted to do. I mentioned to them that on another bike I had a differnet wheelset that I was happy with, so maybe I could build a similar wheel around the powertap instead of using my popped spoke wheel. Instead, they thought what I meant is that I wanted to put the power tap on my other bike... So in the end after 10 minutes of confusion trying to get advice from them, I decided fine, lets skip all this and lets just build a new wheel around the powertap.

Now came time to order the powertap. The sales dude told me to come behind the counter with him and we browsed the powertap website and I picked out the model I wanted. (I didn't care too much about spending an extra grand to shave off 50 grams, so I picked the entry level wireless elite+) So we ordered the elite+. I noticed on the website, the price range was $849-$999. In passing, I asked what that was, and why I was charged $999. Sales dude consulted with his powertap expert and they told me this was due to the large spoke count on the hub (which is what I wanted to avoid popped spokes) so I said ok great, trusting their expertise at that point. In for a penny, in for a pound, right? If I only knew... Anyway, I also ordered, on a separate bill, the spokes, rim, and labor to build the wheel around the powertap.

Hub System vs Hub Only

On my way home, I was still a bit puzzled about the price range, so I pulled out my smartphone and went to the very site we had open at the shop. I went through the purchasing process, and noticed that there was a dropdown after you select the model. The dropdown gives you a selection based on whether you want shimano or campy, and how many spokes you want. But I noticed one thing - the price did not depend on the spoke count. The price was different only if the package was called "hub system" or "hub only". All the "hub system" whether it be shimano or campy, and no matter how many spokes, they were all listed at $999.99 (which is what I was charged) Likewise, all the "hub only" were listed at $849.99.

I thought: surely the powertap expert was aware of this? Surely the salesman saw this dropdown when he was ordering? There must be some misunderstanding. So I called the powertap number listed on their website and asked them for clarification as to their product. Indeed, the representative there told me that the hub only means exactly that - hub only, while hub system includes also the computer you mount on your handlebars, the wrench to open up the hub to replace batteries, various manuals, usb cords, drivers on a CD, the usual goodies. The more expensive models above the elite+ even have a HRM strap but the elite+ does not. (Which is fine, I already have my own HRM strap for the 705)

I decided that what the sales dude told me about the price being due to the spoke count was just a mistake, and furthermore I assumed that he actually ordered the hub system as that was the amount I was charged according to my receipt and bank statement. I assumed that when my wheel was due for pickup, I'd also get the extras inside some kind of powertap-brand box that the whole thing ships in, and so I left it at that.

The goods

On thursday the 29th, I called the shop. They said the wheel was ready for me to pick up. I didn't wonder what would have happened if I didn't take the initiative and call them, in retrospect I should have, because this became a recurring motif. Anyway, I picked up the wheel after work, but at the shop I received only the wheel built around the hub and no box of any kind with any other extra materials that might come with a hub system package. I asked the sales dude, and he told me that I had ordered the hub only. So, keeping good spirits and hoping it was just a misunderstanding, we got at the computer together and I walked him through the purchase process (which we did in the store four days ago and which I did on my smart phone also as described above.) I showed him the prices for the hub system and the hub only. It was only after seeing all this that he finally stopped insisting that I had purchased the hub only. Implying that the rest of it must have gotten misplaced somewhere, the sales dude promised to me he will look into it with the mechanics, and track down the rest of the order. He specifically assured me that he would give me a call "first thing" on Monday.

The pinch flat

In the meantime, I decided to give the new wheel a spin that night. The wheel itself was indeed finely built. I cranked out some sprints in Central Park and was very pleased with the wheel, but as I was cooling down about half an hour later, I got a pinch flat. The pinch flat was extremely loud, and at the first glance at the tire I realised why: not only had it blown the inner tube, but it also tore out an inch and a half gash in the outer tire! During my purchase of the powertap, I had given the sales dude my old wheel with the popped spoke so that the mechanics could transfer the casette and the outer tire to the new powertap wheel which they did. The outer tire was the extremely resilient kevlar armadillo which I had bought at Toga Bikes only a couple months before this, and I had been riding it without any problems on the old wheel. (Note: if you aren't familiar with the armadillos, they are puncture-resistant tires that will absorb glass and keep going, I've even had it deflect a nail, embed it in the rubber of the tire, and not flatten. But that's another, happier story...)

So it seemed like in the process of transferring the tire to the newly built wheel, they jammed the tube in with force and inflated it. I bet it was only the high structural integrity of the armadillo tire that kept the whole thing from exploding from the start. I confirmed the poor installation of the inner tube that night at home after the ride, after walking home 40 blocks in cleats (the one time I don't pack my tools and spare...)

When I got home and opened up the tire, the tube was jammed in one spot so badly that it was bent in a Z-shape between the rim and the tire. Even the blow-out did not straighten out this obvious artifact of an incompetent (down-right dangerous) tire assembly. Now, I myself have never worked as a professional bike mechanic, but I've changed plenty of tires (my own and others) and I know one of the most important things is you check for pinches against the bead, and you don't jam the tire in. This failure on their part was egregious. The tire was now useless, and I ended up going to Conrad's the next day and getting a new set of armadillos. (Note: Conrad's found me the right size (23 not 25) and didn't try to sell me 25's like Toga Bikes did, claiming they will look the same. The armadillos from Conrad's look and fit a lot better than the ones Toga Bikes sold me.)

The follow-up

Monday comes and I get no call. I half expected this now, and gave them the full 24 hours of the day, but they didn't call. On Tuesday, I call them and got the sales dude on the phone. He tells me that I had purchased the hub only system. At this point I became not only suspicious, but incredulous. We had gone over this before. I will leave alone the speculations for this kind of behaviour, and will leave concluding remarks below, but my only explanation for this could be either gross incompetence or a malicious attempt to rip me off. Either way, I didn't tell him these thoughts, and instead explained to him again, very patiently, that according to the price listed on the website and my receipt, that it was the hub system and not the hub only. I had verified this with other cyclists and the official powertap salespersons. A couple back and forths, I mentioned this to him: I had called powertap and they told me the same thing, it is the hub system not the hub only. Finally, he changed tacks and explained to me that they did not order from the powertap website, but from a distributor between toga bikes and powertap, and that the distributor sent them the hub only.

This made no sense to me. When I was behind the counter with him during the sale, we were on the official powertap website. And anyways even if he did order from a third party, in the best case scenario, toga bikes had just gotten ripped off $150 by their powertap distributor, whoever that was, and the sales dude didn't even flinch. If you follow the logical train of events, after having it explained to him that he basically got ripped off (if, again, that's what happened) when I picked up the wheel the week before, he then apparently went straight to ordering me the rest of the package (presumably from the same distributor) without any second thought. All of this was sounding really fishy to me, but I went along with it. I didn't want to pick a fight, I just wanted what I had paid for. Sales dude told me he will order it overnight, and that it will arrive thursday the latest, at which point they will call me. He also mentioned that he will be out on thursday himself, but that that shouldn't be a problem in me receiving the rest of my powertap package. Fine. I decided to give him the opportunity to redeem himself somehow, at least in his efforts of calling me back when he said he would.

The overnight delivery

Thursday rolls around, and I get no call. By now this wasn't news, although clearly the extra opportunity for redemption that I had given him had been squandered. In any event, I didn't give them the full day this time, and called them myself instead around 7pm. (Thursday is their late night working day, they close at 8pm.) Sales dude was indeed out, but another person told me there was no package for me. He sounded surprised that I had called them, telling me that they will call me when it arrives. I felt like I had just been told "don't call us, we'll call you." Toga bikes is open 7 days a week between around 11am and 6pm. So: Friday, no call. Saturday, no call. Sunday, no call. Monday, no call. Tuesday, no call. By now I was in no real rush, I just wanted to see how obnoxiously long it would take for them to call me back. My overnight delivery has now turned into a week-long treatment of silence.

The pickup

Having made my point (heh...) I called them on Wednesday. Got through to sales dude, and he told me as if I had not a care in the world that it has been there waiting for me all this time. Again, I felt like I was being treated like a child. "Come pick it up, it's waiting for you here!" So I went to the shop, almost three weeks later now, to collect the rest of my "hub system" package. I came up to the counter and said I came to pick up a package, giving my full name. The guy at the counter (sales dude nowhere in sight just yet) had no clue who I was, and why I was expecting anything at all. I couldn't blame him, this was just the logical continuation of a customer spending $1,000+ at the shop and still being treated like shit.

Sales dude appeared and noticed me and announced that my package had been waiting for me all this time, "it's right here!" He presented me with the powertap computer wrapped in some bubble-wrap.

Wow. I asked him if he understood what it is that I initially paid for, and I also asked him why he was now purchasing this stuff piecemeal. For example, I asked where is the hub wrench? To this he replied "oh, just bring it in, we'll take care of it." I said that's not possible, I have to be able to do this myself. Now I was really frustrated. Finally, as if to do me a favor, he consulted with the other guy behind the counter and they produced a package from under the counter with another powertap computer in it, as well as the wrench, and all the other stuff that I actually paid for all that time ago. It even had the HRM strap which I don't need (I have one of my own) and which I don't believe the elite+ model actually comes with. They swapped the bubble-wrap computer with the package, and handed that to me.

I didn't know whether this was part of the package that originally came in with my order and they were just trying to withhold it from me, or if it was some random powertap package that they just had lying around and that they gave me just to get rid of me. And to be frank, I just wanted to get out of there. I felt like I was the asshole for trying to get what I paid for, and doing all the work necessary to accomplish this that they were supposed to be doing instead. The remains of any kind of trust disappeared. I have the distinct impression that they tried their hardest to rip me off, avoid calling me when they promised they would, and, in fact, couldn't even avoid a pinch flat while changing a tire. When I told them as I was leaving that I just couldn't trust them with any future business, sales dude told me matter-of-factly "thanks for being honest." At best, they just didn't care, and at worst they were disappointed that they had to part with what I had paid for.

So that concludes my story about how Toga Bikes tried to rip me off, (knowingly or unknowingly) and how incredibly incompetent they were at it. I'd like to believe that it was only the sales dude and not Toga Bikes as a whole, but so many people were involved in this that I just can't trust the whole shop anymore. I can be reached at -at-


It has now been more than a month since the above events, and I haven't even posted this rant :) Since the disaster with Toga Bikes, I have had the pleasure of dealing with Conrad's bike shop. Conrad's does have the advantage of being a much smaller shop, in a slightly less accessible location, thus being able to give more attention to detail. Anyway, John returned my call personally on the date he promised he would, made the estimate that my bike would be ready on friday the latest, and delivered on that promise. What more could I ask? I'm sticking with Conrad's.

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