The Chainlink

ill start by saying that i love REI. i am a member, i take advantage of the scratch and dent section, i have always had awesome customer service getting help with gear for some of the best trips of my life including backpacking the adirondacks and the grand canyon.  but yesterday, on wednesday, i had my first negative but impactful experience.  i say impactful because it still lingers with me to this moment and i feel the need to share it. it still angers me. 

im going away this weekend on a fun trip. but i had to get some basics - freeze dried food, a new fuel canister, a new pair of swim trunks that didnt "dig-in in unfortunate ways". while running in, i figured i could take care of a minor issue on bike while i shop around for a bit. you see, i hate brakes.  not because of their function, but because i always seem to have a difficult time with their maintenance.  when i purchased "the joker" from my girlfriend in late winter/early spring, the bike was ridden for the first time in about 10 years, maybe more. the brake pads were completely dry rotted. so i replaced them. yeah, its an easy fix. heck, ive built entire bikes, i built my own wheels with the guidance of west town bikes, ive maintained my year round ridden bikes for 6 years. but them brakes, GAH! i couldnt get them to stop squeaking.  yes, ive adjusted them, yes, i sanded them, yes, i rode on them, yes, ive cleaned the rims.  i'll just let REI deal with them while i shop.

back to the situation.  i walk up to the bike service counter.  a nice lady approaches me. "do you need any help?" yes, i do my brakes SQUEAK. they work fine otherwise, they just squeak. she asked me to recreate the situation. i asked if i can ride it there in the aisle to demonstrate. "sure".  the brakes need the velocity to show it.  the brakes stop the wheel fine if you hold the bike up, spin the tire, pull the brake. i rode and she quickly acknowledged the squeak and accepted the bike for service.  we wrote up a ticket after a few more questions, and she determined the service was "brake adjustment". i clarified the brakes were fine as function, just the squeak. but "squeak" is not an option in the book, so sure, brake adjustment it is.  i leave the joker with the service team and go shopping.

i spend the next 20 minutes or so shopping for camp food, picked up the fuel canister, found a slightly too big but ok pair of swim trunks, and found a really cool button down on sale. i checked the returned gear section for a possible foam sleep pad (my inflatable big agnes has a leak, and they had one last time i looked) but no dice.  back to the bike service desk.

i find my bike leaning against the counter. but no employees, no maintenance techs, nothing. i think, ok, someone can grab the bike and leave with it.  i stand around a minute and decide to check the work on the bike. i get on it to ride it 10 feet or so to get that velocity, pull the brakes and SQUEEK. god damnit!

i put the bike back against the counter and wait for someone to come by. no one. i walk to the walkways to hope to be spotted by an employee. a guy towards the front of the store sees me and slowly walks towards me. "can i help you?" in a tone that came off as if he was annoyed he had to help. not sure if i just read it wrong, but whatever. i explained my front brake still squeaked and now the rear brake, tho it didnt squeak anymore, it barely gripped. and then he went a bit defensive on me. he said, well, you know your wheel is a bit out of true and the brakes arent rubbing. my brakes were never rubbing, my brakes worked fine other than the noise. then he said i need to clean them and my rim. i had to explain i came here to fix the squeak. i still have a squeak and a less functioning rear brake now.

i went to demonstrate as he continued to dismiss my repair needs and expectations, got on the bike to show him the severity of the squeak. the pitch does hurt eardrums now. he said "uh, you need to get off that bike, you cant ride in here, a customer might come out of the isle and you might hit them". i clarified i just tried to show him that i still have a problem, showing him the same way i showed the other employee.

he said "hold on, ill call the tech", still in his fussy attitude and tone. calls him, and says - still fussy - "the customer is complaining about the work you did, the front squeaks and the rear squeaks worse. can you come back here. he is still complaining". i corrected him about the rear brake, he rolled his eyes at me and remitted the correction to the tech.

the tech comes and adjust the brakes without talking to me.  now, speaking with him for the first time explained why my bike is in the shop. not for rubbing brakes, but for the damn squeak. i thanked him on the rear rim, but explained it wasnt gripping properly. he adjusted both brakes. he said "here, go try it now".

i grab the bike and head outside, but i quickly get stopped by fussy attitude guy saying "uh, you need to pay for that!". i explained to him im merely going outside to test the repair and the rest of my purchase is right behind him, ill be right back.

i go test the bike.  SQUEAK!

back in. maintenance tech asks if he can take for a test. by all means, please do.

he comes back saying "i wasnt really able to recreate it unless i really pulled hard on the brake. i dont know, it is what it is. just give yourself more room to stop. and so you know a brake adjustment doesnt cover squeak."

i underline to simply remind the reader that i HAD A DAMN SQUEAK, the whole reason i handed them my bike.

by that time, i was rather irritated. i spent way more time than i had there trying to resolve the problem, my girlfriend was awaiting my help to move boxes, and i just needed to get back home. i paid $130 and change for the camp gear, some clothes, and the damn "brake adjustment". oh, and i cashed in my $17 dividend. 

the more i thought about it today, the more irritated i got about the situation. i didnt like the unnecessary attitude, i didnt appreciate being talked to like an idiot, i didnt appreciate the "not covered" part. i would have been fine if they told me they were just going to replace the pads. but instead, they said i could do that if i wanted to install it myself. i actually entertained that thought for a moment but quickly remembered thats what brought me here in the first place. i asked the employee ringing me up to set aside that pad set from my pile. i wasnt buying it. 

i should have gone to comrades like i planned in the first place.

so...anyone have a good experience there?

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That's pretty bad, Iggy, thanks for sharing.

I was treated very poorly in that store (Halsted) about 2 years ago and don't go out of my way to shop there as a result (have been there once since.)  Also a horrible attitude thing.

+1
 
Mike Fatout said:

So called mechanic, who didn't want to deal with your problem. Go to an independent, family owned LBS and I'll bet you get treated much better. You need a mechanic who takes pride in his work.

REI Lincoln Park bike shop does have great mechanics. And it does have terrible mechanics (I'm not sure those stay for long). The worst experience I had with the latter kind, newly replaced brake pads fell off the very next day on my ride to work on April 14, 2011.

I haven't gotten any work done at REI, but I did try to purchase a set of Ergon grips and get them cut down for grip-shifters (since they were out of the grip-shift compatible ones). They refused to cut them down. I ended up having to special order the grip-shift compatible set. That's about the only bad experience I've had with REI bike service. I always go to a LBS for bike work.

Sucks to hear that happened Iggy. I used to go to that REI to get my snowboard waxed and edges sharpened. They give a discount on that service to members and always had it done within a few days. Until the last time I went. That time it was a big deal and they were booked solid for 3 weeks. But I could pay an extra $20 or so to get it in as a "rush job." I declined and went over to Windward and they had me in and out same day. 

It barely takes about an hour to do that service on a snowboard. I've never had a bike shop tell me they couldn't perform less than an hour's worth of work for another 3 weeks. Or try to get me to pay a fee to get work done sooner. 

I (or, rather, my bike) had been turned down once or twice exactly when they were too busy waxing snowboards and stuff.

Rich S said:

Sucks to hear that happened Iggy. I used to go to that REI to get my snowboard waxed and edges sharpened. [...]

The key to customer satisfaction is to under-promise and over-deliver. Not the other way around.

Dude!

Those employees on that corner all have attitudes!

One time I came there to get a pair of clipless bike shoes and I told them that it was available on their store according to the website, but I didn't see my size on the floor, and I just checked just now that it was available. So I went to that area, since there were a lot of REI uniformed employees helping people there and I figured that it was for a bike shoes.

Sure enough, the first thing he said was: "The availability on the website is never right. Just because it's on the internet, it's not always right!"

I didn't need that! I needed help finding my shoes size. I walked away thinking that I'd just leave. But on the way out, I saw one lady helping another person with shoes, and waited for a minute until she had time to acknowledge me and asked me if I needed help. I asked her to find my shoes size and that I didn't see them on the floor. She disappeared for a minute and came back and find a stack of shoes in the back, and a couple of my size in different colors.

Hey IGZ,

I am very sorry to hear about your negative experience at our Lincoln Park Store. I would like to get you in touch with the store managers so you can share your feedback about the shop service directly with them. Do you mind direct messaging me your email or phone number so I can connect you with them?

Respectfully,

Elliot Bennett

REI Market Outdoor Programs and Outreach Coordinator

elbenne@rei.com

Wait, you mean complaining on the internet actually accomplished something?! My whole existence has meaning!

Elliot Bennett said:

Hey IGZ,

I am very sorry to hear about your negative experience at our Lincoln Park Store. I would like to get you in touch with the store managers so you can share your feedback about the shop service directly with them. Do you mind direct messaging me your email or phone number so I can connect you with them?

Respectfully,

Elliot Bennett

REI Market Outdoor Programs and Outreach Coordinator

elbenne@rei.com

Yikes Serge! Glad that brake pad didn't knock askew into your spokes, that could've been much much worse!

I've never had a terrible experience with the LP REI, but I've never actually used their bike mechanic services. I tend to stick with backpacking/kayaking gear, and chat with the people up front about recent trips and whatnot. The garage sale section is definitely my favorite, and where I got my first clipless shoes ($30?! hooray!). That said, every other REI I've been to has been absolutely amazing (especially the Seattle HQ one!), maybe my standards are too low :)

I've experienced hit or miss mechanics elsewhere too as all of us have, any my take on it is to either fix little things myself or take my ride in to very specific people. I've got at least 5 that I trust to do excellent work on my bike, so usually I can get her in somewhere "safe" if needed.



Serge Lubomudrov said:

REI Lincoln Park bike shop does have great mechanics. And it does have terrible mechanics (I'm not sure those stay for long). The worst experience I had with the latter kind, newly replaced brake pads fell off the very next day on my ride to work on April 14, 2011.

Hah, that's nothing. I once took in my bike for a flat fix to Cycle Smithy and the tech forgot to re-engage the brakes! Good thing I always look my bike over before riding after getting work done! I made a point of telling the manager about it.

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