Thursday, 21 July 2011

Where the hell can I get Dot 4 hydraulic fluid for a bike? A bike shop, perhaps?

Now I know how JR Hartley must have felt, trampsing around the country, peering into secondhand bookshops and asking for that elusive copy of Fly Fishing. I'm amazed that he didn't become a gun-toting maniac. But at least old JRH had the satisfaction of finding a copy of his long-lost book – thanks to Yellow Pages.

What really annoys me about everything at the moment is this: life is so unnecessarily irritating. You call somebody and you get a recorded message; you need to talk to somebody urgently and they're on holiday for two weeks and while these, of course, are all minor irritations in the scheme of things, they add up. Minor irritations accumulate and soon you start to realise that the country is suffering a major epidemic of general incompetence.

My Kona – causing headaches for bike repair shops.
How would you feel, for example, if you went to the dentist to have a tooth filled and was told that the dentist in question didn't have any amalgam and, furthermore, didn't know where to source it from either? You'd think: hold on, I go to have a tooth filled at a dentist and I expect them to have the right materials to finish the job; AND I'd expect them to know where to procure the materials should they run short. Filling teeth is 'what they do' for heaven's sake, innit.

Likewise bike shops. Avid readers will know that, for some time now, my bike has been minus a rear braking system. The pads have worn out. Naturally, I decided – eventually – to take the bike to the shop and get it fixed. First stop, Evans Cycles (where I bought the bike), but they're too busy. Fair enough, I'll go elsewhere.

To make matters worse, I had a puncture (see previous post on this). Earlier, I had inserted an old inner tube and that sufficed to get me into Croydon, after a bit of pumping, but by the time I'd reached Evans (in West Croydon) the tyre was flat and I didn't have a pump – or rather I did, but it was at home.

As I left Evans, I called Halfords and they said I should bring the bike over and they'd fix it: great! But with a flat tyre I had a fairly long walk ahead of me; not a problem, I needed the exercise.

So, off I went, bike trailing along making that unmistakable squidgy, rubbery sound, reminding me for the entire journey that I had a puncture.

At Halfords I was met by a really good bloke and what's more he was going to charge a lot less than Evan's had quoted me – so I left the bike with him. He'd agreed to hammer out the front inner cog, check the front brakes and so on. Job done, as they say.

But then, a day or two later, I received a call. My brakes – which are hydraulic – needed Dot 4 fluid, Halfords didn't have any and, what's more, they didn't know where to source it from. Pardon? A while back, Halfords used to stock Kona mountain bikes, including the Scrap, but they didn't possess the hydraulic fluid required to fix the brakes? No, that's right, they didn't. But they suggested that I go to Evans Cycles and buy some and then bring it to Halford's and they'd fix it. Why they couldn't do it, I don't know – surely that was their job!

Foolishly, of course, I said okay. I said i'd try. Surely they should have suggested that they would do this, but they didn't. Anyway, I reach Evans, another Kona stockist, and no, they don't have any either. I wondered how they would manage to fix my bike if they too didn't have the right product.

"Oh, we've got a lot of it upstairs, but in industrial-sized packs, not for sale," said the sales guy. "Have you tried Halford's?"

Halfway back to the car, I thought about turning round and asking the guy at Evan's whether I could have a small quantity of the fluid, but thought better of it: he'd probably charge me an extortionate price or, more likely, tell me no, I couldn't have it for some spurious reason, like the workshop was closed or something.

When I reached Halford's, I thought I'd check downstairs where all the car parts and accessories are sold, to see if the place stocked it all along and the guy upstairs in the bike repair shop simply didn't have a clue. They had Dot 4 hydraulic brake fluid for cars, but I was directed upstairs – to where my bike was awaiting fixing – and I knew that the guy would say he didn't have any bike fluid. I was right, but he suggested using the Dot 4 car fluid.

I guessed it would be okay, but the guy said he'd try a cycle shop in nearby Wallington and pay for it out of petty cash. In the end, that was how I left it, but as I left the shop I wondered why the hell I'd bothered going to Evans to source the fluid myself. Nothing had been achieved, but I walked away knowing that my bike would be fixed and that I could pick it up the following day.

Then, the following day, another phone call: some of the spokes on the rear wheel were broken – they were causing the wheel to appear buckled (I knew this) – and the gear changing mechanism adjacent to the bottom bracket simply wasn't working. I've told Carl, the bike mechanic, to go ahead and fix it and I should be picking it up today.

I must say, however, that Carl has been pretty good. He's kept me informed about progress, pointed out stuff that was wrong and he's been honest, which is all good, but I'm a bit flabbergasted about their lack of Dot 4 bike hydraulic brake fluid. Surely I'm not the only one with a bike that requires it?

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