Thursday, February 19, 2009

Shop Review: Wheelworks--Expensive, But You Get What You Pay For.

Wheelworks is the benchmark that I measure other area shops against.  They have incredible stores of product in stock, new and old;  they retain an impressive array of spare parts for vintage and obsolete bicycles; they carry enough flashy product lines to make even the most jaded roady pay attention; their service center is unrivalled for attention to detail and thoroughness. 


When you walk into Wheelworks, either location, you are immediately greeted by a professional staff member and politely asked how they can help you.  I have never seen any Wheelworks employ act in a condescending manner, no matter how misguided a customer is. 


If you indicate that you are merely browsing, they back off and give you distance.  But they remain attentive and nearby to answer the questions that you will inevitably have.  They carry so much stock that they will always have something that you haven’t seen before, even if you are in the bicycle industry.


I have had the pleasure of buying a bicycle from them several years past.  I paid very close to MSRP for my mountain bike, which turned out to be a bit of a lemon.   Gary Fisher had some design problems with the Cake.  Wheelworks went over and above the call of duty to try to remedy the consistent chainsuck that plagues the model line.   


Wheelworks swapped out the crankset (selling me a better one at cost) and replaced a chewed up chain at their expense.  They even hit the marred chainstay up with touch up paint every time it was serviced.  At one point they offered to pursue Gary Fisher for a warranty, since it was clear that frame design was at fault.  I declined to


On this same bike, my front Hayes Nine hydraulic disk brake stopped working properly.  A Wheelworks mechanic took the brake apart and figured out that the product had failed due to a bad valve.  Wheelworks fixed both brakes (servicing the rear preemptively) and pursued Hayes after the fact for reimbursement.  This repair cost me nothing and took 3-4 hours.  I took the bike to them in the morning and was on the trail after lunch.


I find that the best reason to go to Wheelworks is when you need something immediately.  I often need some obscure parts.  I have never been asked to wait while they ordered it.  Instead, the counter person goes in back and confers with a more experienced mechanic and the mechanic rummages around and comes out with the part. 


My recent fulfilled requests have included: a lock nut for a first generation Campagnolo Chorus 10 Speed hub (located after 10 minutes of searching and installed free of charge), derailleur hangers for 2000-2001 model year Gary Fisher mountain bike (in stock and immediately located),  Shimano 600 brake pads (easily located), SwissStop Yellow brake pads, valve cores for tubular tires, Bontrager Valve Extenders, Mastik Tubular Cement (competively priced, even when compared to internet pricing) and various Campagnolo componentry.  I have never had to wait for Wheelworks to order an item; everything appears to always be in stock. 


Every time I have needed a piece of cycling clothing to address a need, Wheelworks has had a great solution.  Their glove and base layer selection is great.  They keep all sizes in stock, so there will never be a need to buy something that fits poorly just because you need it today. 


Wheelworks  also has great display items, vintage racing bicycles, autographed jerseys, photos, etc.  The Belmont location is worth a visit just for the tour of the shop. 

They have a world class bicycle fitting center in the basement of the Belmont location.
  I haven’t used it yet, but if I needed a fit, this is where I’d go.



There are only two small things that I can say against Wheelworks:  it is pricey and there is usually a considerable wait for service. 


At Wheelworks, you get what you pay for.  Wheelworks justifies their prices every time they offer exceptional service, every time that they answer a mechanical question free of charge, every time a seasoned mechanic takes time out of his busy schedule, free of charge to rummage around for a part to fix a vexing problem that you can’t solve, every time they charge you a nominal fee for a vintage part that they have stored for 10 years and that you can’t ride your bike without. 


In short, Wheelworks earns their money.  You should go there if you are looking for a premium road bike or a premium mountain bike and you don’t mind paying MSRP in order to get exceptional service and fitting.  Don’t expect a discount, none will be offered. 


As for service, it is top notch.  Their attention to detail is unmatched in the Boston area.  Expect to drop the bike and wait a couple of days for it though.  Some shops are able to conduct repairs while you wait.  Wheelworks has a queue year round.  The consolation is that your bicycle will be returned to you clean, repaired properly and on time. 


They only area that Wheelworks is outdone is in track bikes and fixed gears.  Cambridge Bicycle covers that market better than anyone. 


Every time that I go into Wheelworks, I have to steel myself against buying anything more than my intended purchase.  They always have things that tempt me. 


rosey said...

i've never had a positive experience with Belmont and have always found their staff to be unhelpful.
i was all set to write a contradictory post but then i had a completely positive experience on saturday. at mile 85 colin busted a spoke in his ksyrium front wheel only 2 miles away from BWW. on a busy saturday we managed to get a replacement spoke, i installed it, they trued it in a stand and we were out of there in about 25 minutes. oh and the total was a whopping $13. i think those spokes are $5 a piece so that seems like a damn good deal.

RMM said...

I think that they smell the chlorine on you and know that you have the soul of a triathlete.

Seriously, they can be curmudgeonly, but they generally get the job done.