Sunday, 14 August 2016

Bicycle dilemmas...

I always thought that bicycles were indestructible. For me, a bike is for life, not just for Christmas, but that said, in my life time, I've owned five bikes, including a Moulton Mini, and I only know the whereabouts of one of them, my Kona Scrap, which, right now, is in the garage, unpadlocked, having been on what might have been its last ride.

Shock! Horror! It's last ride? Well, it's like this...

First, like a lot of people, I tend to expect things to work without question, particularly my bike. I ride it, I finish riding it, I chuck it in the garage and then I repeat the process as and when. Occasionally I get a puncture, I fix it and get back on. Sometimes the bike takes a trip to the repair shop, but then I carry on riding it week in and week out.

Castello Aragonese, Ischia – just part of this wonderful Italian island...
What I fail to understand is this: bikes are like cars; they're like human beings. They must be taken care of or they will buckle under the strain of things and die and that, my friends is what might be happening to the old Kona Scrap.

Cycle Republic...
You might be wondering what I'm talking about, I know that I wonder sometimes; so I'll relate the tale to you. The week before I went on holiday – yes, I've been to Ischia for a relaxing week in the sun – I decided that I'd mosey on into Purley (a 15-minute ride from where I live) and put the old Kona in for a full service at Cycle Republic, which has just opened and now occupies the same large space once occupied by the great Motorcycle City, a place I used to go religiously on a Sunday morning to sit on the cruisers and fantasise about owning a motorcycle. Call it a mid-life crisis. I never did buy a motorbike and that's probably why I'm still alive, writing this blogpost; had I bought one I might be dead or limbless.

How much?
So I take the bike in for a service and tell the guy manning the workshop that I'll be away for a week. I went into work and then around lunchtime I get a call from the shop. "It's going to cost around £200," said Cycle Republic's Brian. "Personally, I'd buy a new bike," he added. A new bike? He started speaking in the same way a mechanic might disparagingly discuss a clapped out old banger of a car and to be quite honest, I couldn't believe it. Surely, I thought, bikes went on forever, they're basically a frame, two wheels, brakes and gears and if you replace bits that are faulty you're merely prolonging the bike's life. They're not write-offs like cars.

But oh how wrong I was! Apparently. For the rest of the day I worried and fretted and thought things through. A new bike? The thought has rarely crossed my mind to be honest. My bike is my bike, it's 10 years old, I can't just sling it on the scrap heap and buy a new one! Or can I? No! If it's £200 then so be it, I'll get it fixed. So I called back and told him to go ahead and then I went on holiday for a week, fretting a little bit and losing sleep here and there because I'd have to explain away the £200 bill, possibly more, that I'd be getting when I returned sun-tanned and relaxed from Ischia. It was a great holiday, thanks, I just wished I'd booked a fortnight and not just seven days, but you can't have everything.
Should it stay or should it go?
Getting back to the bike, for me, the 'big day' was Saturday, the one just gone, as I'd have to go and fetch my bike and hand over the money. I levelled the situation at home and headed off to pick up my 'new' Kona, but when I reached the shop, the bike hadn't been fixed at all. "I'm still trying to get the parts," said Brian. This, of course, was great news. He said he wouldn't push ahead until he'd told me the price, but that he'd need a few more days.

I ought to explain exactly what needed to be done on the old Scrap. It needs a new chain and block, the gears need servicing, it could do with a new bottom bracket, the brakes need a service, the crank needs replacing, the pedals are edging towards the day when they'll have to be replaced and the bearings in the front wheel are completely blown.

Is bicycle servicing a bit of a scam?
Up until this point I was quite happy with Cycle Republic. I was not committed to pay the aforementioned £200, they'd let me know the final cost once they'd sourced all the parts and then I could either go ahead with it or take back my bike unserviced. I left it with them, but then I remembered Cycle King, another bike shop about a mile or two down the road in South Croydon. They were an honest bunch of guys and would give me a quote while I waited, so I shot back into Cycle Republic and asked for my bike. I must point out that I was a little annoyed with Cycle Republic mainly because Brian said that for the money it would cost to repair my bike he could sell me a Carrera. Hmmm... is this whole bicycle servicing thing a bit of a scam, I thought? Fine if you bike doesn't really need a servicing, they can replace a few cables and charge you £40 or £50 and laugh all the way to the bank. But if your bike really does need to be serviced, then hey, why not try to sell the customer a new bike. "Not worth fixing, mate," they might say. Not worth fixing? A write-off? Surely not. But it's true – or so they say.

A courtesy bike?
So I took back the bike and asked them to let me know the cost of the servicing as and when they'd sourced all the parts. Something else that riled me was the whole notion of a 'courtesy bike'. Things really are beginning to sound pretty car-like. Soon we'll have to get our bikes insured and have number plates fitted. A courtesy bike? It's not a bad idea and the wheel of the Carrera Brian tried to sell me had a circular piece of card stuck to the front wheel saying something like, "why be without a bike while yours is being serviced? Take this courtesy bike." It was a blatant message. Basically you could have the Carrera as a courtesy bike while yours was being serviced. So I asked Brian if I could have it. "No," he said, not really explaining why, but he did say I could have a rather crappy old bike they kept round the back. This pissed me off. Why advertise the Carrera so blatantly as a courtesy bike when it actually wasn't? Unless, of course, he simply didn't like the cut of my jib.

The bigger deal for me, however, was the scam behind bike 'servicing' and the fact that people with bikes that really needed a service, like mine, were basically told that it's not worth it, but how about a new Carrera? When Brian presented the Carrera to me as a possible new bike, I was appalled. "But isn't the Carrera Halfords' own-brand bicycle and aren't they, well, a bit crap?"

The horror! The horror!
In many ways, it was the sort of statement that could 'rumble' the true identity of Cycle Republic. Fine, it comes across as a radical-sounding, left-leaning, Guardian-reading sort of establishment full of potential Jeremy Corbyns going everywhere by bike. That word 'Republic' brings a touch of Che Guevara to the proceedings, perhaps. But, hold on, it's owned by Halfords and possibly it's a kind of undercover Halfords ('nobody needs to know our true identity'). Perhaps mentioning the word 'Halfords' in a Cycle Republic store is a bit like bringing up Voldemort's name. Imagine horrified customers stopping dead in their tracks. "Halfords? We're really in Halfords?" they might exclaim in horror prior to running into the streets screaming. But when I mentioned the word there was nobody around so Cycle Republic lived to trade another day.

Cycle King
The old Scrap creaked its way along the A23 for a couple of miles and eventually reached Cycle King where I was met by the store manager, an amiable gentlemen who knows a thing or two about bikes. I've always trusted Cycle King because they're a no-nonsense outfit that always calls a spade a spade. He looked at the bike and very quickly told me it was going to cost me an arm and leg, more than £200, nearer to £250 – "you'd be better off buying a new bike," he said, pointing me in the direction of some Ammaco hybrids, the CR750, and the CR450 (the latter being the same as the former, but with block brakes).

Cycle King in South Croydon, a trustworthy place...
I wasn't convinced, but I was getting there. That whole argument about the old Scrap being totally inappropriate for what we do, the fact that a more conventional bike would do the trick, the reality that servicing the Scrap would cost roughly the same as buying a new bike. It all started to add up. Or was the argument really that servicing my bike would cost roughly the same as buying a crappy bike, like the Carrera? Yes, that is the answer and when I really think hard about it, I wonder whether the reason Cycle Republic didn't touch my bike while I was away on holiday was because they wanted to wait until my return to see if they could sell me a new bike? Put it this way, I took the bike away but asked them to call me Monday – when they said they would have a price for me – and it's now four days later and I've heard nothing. Why? Because they're not interested in servicing my bike when they could sell me a new one instead.

The best comparison, however, would probably be something like this: you own a classic Aston Martin DB7, it needs around £5,000 worth of work doing to it and somebody at the garage says, "Not worth it, mate. You could buy a brand new Kia Piccanto instead."

Today we rode to the Tatsfield Churchyard, me on my beleaguered Scrap, which creaked its way up Church Way and along the Limpsfield Road. I hadn't seen Phil since the wedding and he said he'd enjoyed his honeymoon in Sardinia. We met Andy at the Green and rode off. Later, at the churchyard, we discussed the whole bicycle dilemma, running through everything that needed fixing: bottom bracket, gears, crank, wheel bearings...and we ended up deciding that a new bike was the best way to go.
The old Kona Scrap in happier times...
I'm going to be very sad to see the back of the Scrap, even if it is an inappropriate ride for me. I've had it for 10 years, but now, perhaps, it's time to get a more sensible bike, a hybrid, something with more gears, something lighter, with thinner tyres. But what? A Specialized Sirrus or one of the Ammaco bikes, the CR750 or CR450? It's what you might call a 'bicycle dilemma'.

Or is it? I've made the decision NOT to buy a bike from either Cycle King or Cycle Republic purely because they suggested I should buy a new bike – in other words, buy a new bike from them rather than service my Kona. How very dare they! There must be some kind of sales policy linked to bike servicing. "If the bill is more than X, try to sell the customer a new bike." And besides, Carrera and Ammaco are not exactly a match for a Kona, they're cheap bikes with cheap parts and they're not really designed to last. Furthermore, you really do get what you pay for in this world. I realised I'd be better off with a proper brand, a leading player in the field, be it another Kona, a Marin, Trek, Specialized or Giant.

The Specialized Crosstrail Sport Disc...

As luck would have it I found myself in a bike shop in Forest Row, near East Grinstead, and there it was: the Specialized Crosstrail Sport Disc. 27 gears! Lock-out forks for on- and off-road, available in matt black, just like my old Marin. The shop was offering 25% off the RRP so it was only to be £412.50. Not bad. In the end, however, thanks to Evans Cycles' Price Match policy I was able to buy the bike for the discounted price from an Evans store in Gatwick. I pick it up on Saturday and we're keeping the old Scrap in the garage until we can fix it. All's well that ends well, thanks to Evans Cycles where, incidentally, I bought the Kona Scrap 10 years ago.

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