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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Igz - I've had those same low-pro shimano brakes before. I think mine were old school XT but very similar in profile and construction. I liked them but mine squeaked too.

I used these VO post style brake pads.  I immediately replaced the "squeal free" pads with standard road pads (tried Dura Ace and Kool stop) and it worked great. I think the length on your current pads contributes to the noise.

Here's what should have happened:

igz walks in to the service counter where a competent mechanic, perhaps the most experienced, greets him and tries to understand the problem. After seeing the demonstration, the mechanic would ask what igz has tried so they don't waste their time (or his time). Seeing that the problem is unusual and the typical remedies have been tried, the competed mechanic should explain that it's not a typical repair (it's not on their take-in slip after all) and that they could do their best but can't guarantee a fix. The mechanic should then ask igz if he's okay with paying for the service even if it's not successful. He should also offer to install a new brake as an alternative. igz can then decide (a) to have no service done, (b) to have them try, (c) to have them put in a new brake, or (d) to have them try and if they can't fix it, to put in a new brake.

Let's say igz really wants to keep those brakes so he chooses option b. After returning from shopping (and not seeing his bike because it's hidden safely in back) igz should be able to summon an employee easily by ringing a bell or similar. A mechanic should come explain to him that they tried their best but couldn't make the repair and their advice is a replacement. The mechanic might even take the opportunity to tell igz that they have some great new chain lube that will make his bike extra quiet since they know he doesn't like it making much noise (hope you're listening REI). igz can then decide how to proceed.

Instead they have someone very nice and patient but who is inexperienced and untrained set igz's expectations very high only to guarantee disappointment both through a lack of policy that allows her to properly communicate with him and how to properly communicate with the mechanics. (I want to emphasize, it's not her fault, this is REIs fault for setting up this sort of fast-food check the closest box repair mentality rather than making sure they understand and communicate with customers properly.) When igz comes back for his bike, they leave it out carelessly and then try to hassle him because of their own failures and incompetent policies.

I'm not really into the idea that a local show is necessarily better than an REI (though if you look at Yelp, many seem to be) but I do think taking that sort of efficiency-maximizing mentality REI seems to have implemented is clearly demonstrated here.

I do agree that igz's expectations were way too high. But I don't think they were set there through his own thoughts but rather through his experience dropping off the bike.

Devils advocate statement... All brakes squeal, it's a fact.

I have nothing against REI, but don't consider their bike service to be non·pareil.  But even if you took it to (insert your sworn favorite shop here) and they got rid of the squeal, there's a great chance that the squeal might return tomorrow, if not on your way home.  It doesn't mean the shop or particular mechanic is inept.  Google "Squealing brakes" and spend the next several hours reading BikeForum posts on the topic.  Disc brakes are even worse.

You say you don't know if the pads were sanded by REI, and state you did it yourself months ago.  Pad sanding may be required in just a few days, depending on myriad factors, and then the pads may need to be readjusted because you sanded the "toe" off.  The only way to know is to visually inspect them for the glaze that builds up from use and this is not difficult to do, especially with colored pads.  Different combinations of rims/pads are better/worse.  With discs, it's different combinations of rotors/pads.  Your salmon-colored kool-stops are the softer/quieter compound and should be able to be set up to be quiet.  I can't tell if your rim has a grooved brake track or not but they help cut down squeal as well.

I am not a professional mechanic but do all my own wrenching on my 5 bikes and have gotten quite good with keeping things quiet, but there is always a mystery to be solved when it comes to squeal.  I don't think it's fair to blame the mechanic or the shop for the unfortunateness of Physics.

Any regular cyclist should learn to at least adjust their drivetrain and brakes, because they generally require constant maintenance to be perfectly quiet.

Three excellent resources....

1. www.youtube.com

2. http://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-help

3. (my personal favorite)  http://www.jimlangley.net/wrench/keepitquiet.html

Happy Wrenching!


igz said:

pads did get toe'd in, rims did get cleaned. the only thing at the shop that wasnt done was the sandpaper - that i know of anyway. but i did that a few months ago.

i love your analysis Tom, spot on. though it is a "perfect world" scenario. im not sure i expect that, but it certainly would be nice.

in terms of expectations - im not sure if they were particularly high or if they were "standard". by standard i mean - i the customer has a problem with item (bike), service dept of item offers solution to problem. my problem was squeaky brakes. solution is to make them go away. their service is to figure out how to make it go away, in this case, even if it means new pads. i dont think thats too much to ask.

i wasnt expecting them to sprinkle magic dust to keep the pads - that of course would have been too high of an expectation. those who know me, know that im realistic, reasonable, rational. sometimes emotional, yes, but that happens when i deal with something/someone hits me that lacks those three in a given discourse. but if im wrong, i expect to be called out on it, just i like do to others.

on wednesday, i feel i was dealing with personal defense mechanisms rather than getting said solution at the service desk. i dont care who you are, where you come from, what you think of me. i just come to you, to pay you, for a service, that you offer, to make my squeak go away. is that too high an expectation?

So that why you exist?  Ever considered taking up another hobby?

Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) said:

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

;)

Tank-Ridin' Ryan said:

So that why you exist?  Ever considered taking up another hobby?

Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) said:

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

Why would you even want to cut down the normal ones when they make ones for grip shifters? 

It makes no sense; the end result almost always looks bad as well.

I would not have cut down grips either.


Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) said:

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.

It does not matter what he communicated.  Part of a brake adjust is having an effective brake that does not squeak and if they delivered a bike back to him that had squeaking brakes they did not preform the work properly.


Joe M said:

To be fair, igz, I think you might have done a better job of communicating your issue to the actual person working on your bike.  I know you had a lot going on--which is not their fault--but you might have had a better outcome if you had demonstrated the issue OUTDOORS to the tech who was going to do the work.  And then have the tech do the same and replicate the issue.

I know you're venting and not happy.  But I don't think it's fair to put this all on REI.  I've been a member/customer for 20 years and never had an issue with them.  Their return policy is beyond generous, devotion to conservancy admirable and, for the most part, customer service is friendly and helpful.  There are exceptions, of course, but one bad experience (which was not entirely their fault) does not warrant such acrimony, IMHO.

I cannot express how WRONG you are in mere words...

Brakes should not squeal, if a brake is properly adjusted and set up it is going to operate quietly; this is especially true of rim brakes. 

Yes, squeaks can come up after short periods of riding under certain conditions but it should not be a chronic issue if things have been done properly.  The brush off of, 'it is what it is' when it comes to brake squeak is not an acceptable answer from a bike shop.  Their JOB when adjusting a brake is to have it be effective, not rub, center properly, release smoothly and not squeak; if the end result does not meet those criteria they did not properly complete the repair, end of story.

Dirke said:

Devils advocate statement... All brakes squeal, it's a fact.

I have nothing against REI, but don't consider their bike service to be non·pareil.  But even if you took it to (insert your sworn favorite shop here) and they got rid of the squeal, there's a great chance that the squeal might return tomorrow, if not on your way home.  It doesn't mean the shop or particular mechanic is inept.  Google "Squealing brakes" and spend the next several hours reading BikeForum posts on the topic.  Disc brakes are even worse.

You say you don't know if the pads were sanded by REI, and state you did it yourself months ago.  Pad sanding may be required in just a few days, depending on myriad factors, and then the pads may need to be readjusted because you sanded the "toe" off.  The only way to know is to visually inspect them for the glaze that builds up from use and this is not difficult to do, especially with colored pads.  Different combinations of rims/pads are better/worse.  With discs, it's different combinations of rotors/pads.  Your salmon-colored kool-stops are the softer/quieter compound and should be able to be set up to be quiet.  I can't tell if your rim has a grooved brake track or not but they help cut down squeal as well.

I am not a professional mechanic but do all my own wrenching on my 5 bikes and have gotten quite good with keeping things quiet, but there is always a mystery to be solved when it comes to squeal.  I don't think it's fair to blame the mechanic or the shop for the unfortunateness of Physics.

Any regular cyclist should learn to at least adjust their drivetrain and brakes, because they generally require constant maintenance to be perfectly quiet.

Three excellent resources....

1. www.youtube.com

2. http://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-help

3. (my personal favorite)  http://www.jimlangley.net/wrench/keepitquiet.html

Happy Wrenching!


igz said:

pads did get toe'd in, rims did get cleaned. the only thing at the shop that wasnt done was the sandpaper - that i know of anyway. but i did that a few months ago.

Well, you agreed with me at least on one point, and you did it with mere words!  Kudos! ;-)

notoriousDUG said:

I cannot express how WRONG you are in mere words...

Brakes should not squeal, if a brake is properly adjusted and set up it is going to operate quietly; this is especially true of rim brakes. 

Yes, squeaks can come up after short periods of riding under certain conditions but it should not be a chronic issue if things have been done properly.


Dirke said:

Devils advocate statement... All brakes squeal, it's a fact.


igz said:

pads did get toe'd in, rims did get cleaned. the only thing at the shop that wasnt done was the sandpaper - that i know of anyway. but i did that a few months ago.

Dug, I wish you knew a little bit about anatomy and physiology... I could use some backup on some of the repetitive strain/nerve compression syndrome threads.

notoriousDUG said:

I cannot express how WRONG you are in mere words..

I dont like using those kool stops with the flared ends as it makes the toe-in adjustment less than precise, in my experience. they always squeal. I prefer normal straight pads. maybe that's just me. 

I'm using yokozuna & swiss stops. I recommend them both. VO pads are junk. 

Squeals are basically from lack of proper toe-in and off-center adjustment (and sometimes greasey rims). Sometimes cantilever adjustment can take many different attempts to get 'em just right. Maybe that's why the REI mechanic didnt fix the problem. Sometimes things look centered and the toe-in is just right (about the width of a business card folded up), but the squeal persists upon the test ride. Sometimes a mechanic working by the hour just doesnt have the time or ability to spend an hour or two micro dialing cantis or sometimes that time-suck is not worth the shop's time unless you're paying by the by-the-hourly labor rates ($60 or so usually). 

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