Monday, January 5, 2009

Shop Review-International Bicycle Centers-I Like Them Even Though They Miss Deadlines

I have been frequenting IBC's Allston location since I started cycling in Boston, way back in the 1900's. I have had interactions with them on a number of levels, from buying a cheap wheel for my fixed gear back in the day to buying my first Fred-style road bike to settling and negotiating a $9000 bicycle replacement claim with a hostile insurance company. In all of these situations, IBC has acted in my interest, while remaining helpful and friendly in the case of adversity. Often the difficulties originated from your humble writer, as many of you may know, I can be a demanding customer.

Before I launch into my in depth review (which many of you will forgo reading), I'd like to point out two blanket observations about IBC. Firstly, they are often willing to offer a rider a good deal on a bike, particularly if the bike is old stock or last year's model. Be sure to ask about what they have "upstairs." Secondly, IBC misses their own deadlines, often. If they promise something will be done on Tuesday, it may be, but don't count on it.


My first major experience with IBC was when the rear wheel of my fixed gear was destroyed in an attempted theft. I brought wheel in to have it trued. The mechanic offered to true it as best he could, but politely pointed out that it was so far gone that it wouldn't stay true for the ride home. Suspicious, I had him true it and attempted to ride home. I walked back asked about wheels.
The mechanic walked me through the hub options and eventually I selected a Surly Flip Flop Hub. I allowed the mechanic to spec it out, as I was pre-Fred. We special ordered the hub, a one week wait. Short story, he never measured the old hub or the dropout spacing and ordered a 130mm when he should have ordered a 116mm. 8 days later I get the call; I walked over to IBC, paid and brought the wheel home and it didn't fit. Frustrated and sweaty from trying to force the wheel into the dropout, I collected everything and walked over to IBC. Another special order, another wait, though this one only 4 days, as IBC offered to upgrade the shipping and bump the wheel to the front of the mechanic's queue (this will become a theme).
Two weeks after placing the order, I got a well built wheel on a great hub that I am still riding today. I was upset about this transaction at the time, but now that the purchase has proved to be a good one, the sore taste is gone.

My next major purchase was a Lemond Victoire Titanium bicycle built up with Ultegra and a decent component spec. IBC offered me a good deal on the bike, my first road bike. I paid $1900.
They promised to have it ready for my at 5pm on a Tuesday. I came in to pick it up and the person at the counter called upstairs. A terse whispered conversation was visibly held out of my earshot. The clerk told me that they were just finishing it up. I walked around, looking at base layers, jerseys, tires, lights. 45 minutes later, I asked if it was almost done. The counter person didn't really know how to answer. At 5pm when it was supposed to be done, they hadn't started it yet! After this became clear, I asked them when it would be done.
I was asked to return on Thursday morning, which I did. Thursday presented the same scenario, upstairs call, delay, but this time it was brought down 20 minutes later, built.
I took the bike out for a ride that afternoon and found it so out of tune that it was unrideable. After tinkering with it on the side of the bike path, I limped home without shifting or applying any power. I though it on the car and drove back to IBC to bitch.
Amid a shower of excuses and apologies, the bike was fixed and the owner, Harold, threw in a pair of SPD pedals to replace the worn out ones that I had been using.
Nine monthes and 1000's of miles later, I sold the bike, as is, for $1600.
Again, IBC gave me a good deal, but big hassle.

My next purchase was a IF custom Crown Jewel frameset with a carbon seatstay and a custom paintjob. IBC was great about every step in the process. Over two weeks they patiently allowed and encouraged me to test ride every road bike in the shop, honestly pointing out the ride characteristics of each. They helped me to agonize over the choice between another Ti frame and steel. Eventually, they helped me choose the lower priced steel frame. They even let me get custom paint at their cost. Furthermore, they unbuilt my old bike, washed and relubed all of the parts and built my IF free of charge.
This transaction was smooth from start to finish. A+

While on a secret ride with Yash, a driver cut me off, causing me to crash into his car, T bone style. I went over the handlebars and over the car. My beloved IF frame was left crumpled on the pavement, while I suffered only scapes and bruises. Every other part on the bike looked fine, not even a scratch. Even the tires remained inflated.

I took the bike to IBC, who meticulously inventoried every part on the bike, assessing them at their full retail value. IBC reprinted a sales receipt for the parts and frame (I had lost the original receipts. IBC and IF wrote letters that stated:

1. All parts on a bicycle that had been in an accident of this caliber were inherently unsafe and would need to be replaced.

2. The normal life expectancy of a bicycle is 25+ years, so at 9 months of age, my IF had not depreciated by much (if you have an insurance claim, make sure you get a letter of this sort)

In addition to fielding difficult calls and in person inquiries from claims adjustors while protecting my claim, the manager from IBC, without my asking, loaned me a Campagnolo Record equipped road bike from his personal collection to train on while me claim was settled. He made it clear that the bike was mine to ride, in all weather, until I found or bought something else.
After months of wrangling, I received a full settlement of almost $9000, which represented the full retail value of my bicycle, my helmet and the clothing that was destroyed in the accident.
Throughout this whole process, IBC acted flawlessly, following up with documentation, returning calls and fending off insurance agents. They were singleminded in their effort to help me recover damages and get back on a borrowed bike in hours.

I ordered an identical IF frame. I changed only the paint job. I originally ordered the frame in brown and then at Yash's insistance, I went back and asked them to change the color to white.
My frame came 10 weeks later without the carbon seatstay and in brown. Furthermore it had an Alpha Q fork. Racing season was months away, so I remained patient. After talking on the phone with IF, it became clear that IBC was at fault. They had misordered the frame to begin with and then failed to make the request to change the color.
The problem was quickly sorted out; the frame was repainted and I accepted it without the carbon seatstay (which I don't regret). Again, IBC unbuilt my old bike and rebuilt my new one with a variety of parts from the old bike and eBay.

Another occasion, I had a Campagnolo Carbon crankarm fail. The aluminum insert that the non-drive side pedal threads into pulled out. When I brought the crankarm in to pursue it as a warranty issue, one of the mechanics rode his bike home to get a Campagnolo crankarm off of his personal bike to loan me while mine was replaced. It was an Aluminum crankarm, but it was the proper length and it served me well for the 5 months that it took Campagnolo to turn mine around.

I have had many other interactions with IBC. Repeatly, they have treated me well, often completing small fixes free of charge. They are always willing to root around in back for spare parts to keep a vintage training bike rolling. Repeatedly, I have left IBC satisfied, often without spending a dime. Every time that I go in there, I am made to know that I am a valued customer.
IBC certainly has its quirks, such as their inability to meet a deadline, but now you know that and you can plan accordingly. Go check them out, they will treat you well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

International has the best mix of quirky and professional that is the soul of good bike shops. I've been treated well by them as well.

You should go to the Newton location as well. It has a cleaner, more high-end feel. Kind of like the upstairs in Allston turned into a whole store. Really awesome staff there as well.