How changing a chain almost cost me £258


I have never been a particularity huge fan of bike shops. Well, perhaps I should rephrase. I love bike shops – it’s the old cliche of an Aladdin’s cave of technology and trinkets, of soft curves and harsh, striking aerodynamic forms all with price tags to make you grown. Yet still, you can lust after something just because it’ll complete the aesthetic appeal of your beloved machine that little bit better and day dream with the multiple posters and the like displayed about the place. Yes, I like bike shops very much.

The people that work in them, hmm, not so much. Many, of course, are perfectly pleasant, extremely helpful, and know that you will return to their shop if they go above board to help you out and make your bicycle just that little bit better by paying attention to the details. I would mention one in particular but I don’t want this to turn into an elaborate advert. Let’s suffice to say it’s in Corbridge.

However, the typical bike shop, the one that you now find littered around British cities, or more specifically London, which is where I’m currently living, is not quite as nice. They are, quite frankly, thieving bastards.

The usual experience when you go into one of these yellow and green badged hypermarkets with a bicycle is for a man to come out with a chain-checking tool, check your chain, and tell you that you need a new one before asking ‘what on earth have you been doing with this?! It’s in quite a state!’

Now, this is annoying on two fronts. As you have probably by now worked out, I took my bike into such a shop the other day, and had asked, quite specifically, for a new chain and cassette, as the current chain had done about 7,000 miles more then it should have and was so stretched and loose that the bike changed gear when it felt like it and, when the mood took it, decided that it would quite like to randomly jam itself and kick the back wheel in the air. Having explained that I would quite like a new chain then, the man got out his tool, stuck it in the chain, and preceded to tell me I needed a new chain. I know. I jsut told you I want one. You cretin.

What was more annoying was the what I like to term, ‘bike abuse.’ In no other shop would you bring something in and be subject to insults about the state of what you’ve brought in. But no, at  a bike shop, it is apparently fair game to have a go at your machine. I can only assume this is part of a misplaced bike snobbery – mechanics, presumably because they have access to gallons of lubricant, acres of torque wrenches and endless fields of bolts seem to think that we mere mortals must also have such access, and so cannot understand why the bike they have been presented with does not appear to have been treated by someone with a full-time job in bicycle repair.

So a quick FYI for bike shops – we bring our bikes to you because we don’t have all the tools to create and build our own machines, let alone diagnose and repair the faults. Believe me, I wish I did have such skills, because then I wouldn’t be charged ludicrous amounts to have them fixed. In the same vein, we bring them in in a state because they need repairing, not because we sadistically want to ruin your lives.

Anyway, back to my story. Having now had it established by the genius honcho that I needed a new chain, he proceeded to produce a case study in not doing what the customer wants. For a start, they couldn’t fit it at the shop, but would have to send it away to ‘central’, whatever that was.

‘Fair enough’, I replied.

This would mean it was a ‘silver service and would be a minimum of £48’, he said without looking up from his counter.

Bike mechanics with my effing money

‘But I don’t want a service, I just want the cassette and chain changed’ I pointed out.

‘Ah, but with the service, we look at everything,’ he riposted, apparently confusing me with an idiot who didn’t understand the concept of what a ‘service’ was. Unfortunately, I knew that a ‘service’ was an excuse to find more stuff wrong to charge me with. More on that later.

‘I know,’ I ventured, ‘but I just want the chain and cassette changed. I don’t want a service. It’s just had one.’

Even this revelation was not enough to detract the honcho away from trying to get me to service the machine. ‘It’s £48 for the service, and you can set a cap of say £100 in total to cover parts such as the chain and cassette.’

‘Can’t I just pay £52 to change the chain and cassette?!’

This obviously confused them, as apparently they hadn’t considered that people might not actually want what they were trying to force upon them.


Here I have up and resigned my self to their nonsense on the basis that I needed to get to a lecture, and so I was told that it would be back, according to the receipt, the next day.

The next day, I received a phone call from a man at the legendary ‘central’ to tell me that my bike was in very bad condition indeed. ‘What have you been doing on this?!’ he laughed, ‘It’s in a real state…’

It turned out they’d called because my bike was in seemingly in intensive care. The headset, I was told, was wearing. The brake cables were stretched. The chain needed replacing, as did the cassette. (Apparently no one had listened to my actual customer request). Most impressively though, my bottom bracket was apparently wearing, was moving, and could do with replacing.

‘That’s impressive,’ I said with a grin, ‘because I had that replaced the other week and haven’t even ridden on it yet.’

Silence was on the line. Most impressively, this wasn’t even stretching the truth – I genuinely had only just changed the bottom bracket, as well, oddly enough, as the headset. That both were thus apparently wearing without having actually seen use was thus an impressive act of witchcraft, or more likely, being ripped off.

‘Er…well those are our recommendations anyway’ piped up the voice eventually. ‘Our recommendations come out at £258. Would you like us to proceed?’

No, I damn don;t want to spend £258 replacing parts that haven’t even felt a pedal stroke of anger yet.I wanted a chain and cassette replaced. Yet somehow, I was now about to be subject to a £258 bill. Needless to say, the request to proceed was not approved.

So the moral of the story? Don’t bother with the green and yellow money grabbing swines. They seem to have no concept of customer care, nor of actually listening to them, and instead simply want to extort as much money as they can from you. I didn’t even get the bike back the next day, which, when I brought up at the store, was greeted with a nervous chuckle and a shrug. Cracking.

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