Thursday, June 02, 2005

I was just riding along...

Every bike shop hears this one. “I was just riding along when…” Someone shortened it to JRA. In my case, it was a customer with a severely bent front wheel. It had a deep right-angle bend from hitting a storm drain. He claimed that he’d merely run over some leaves. Another customer standing nearby said, “They must have been some damn big leaves!” Of course, the shop wouldn’t honor his ‘warranty’ claim.

Another customer brought in his recently purchased bike for warranty work. The front wheel, fork, and frame were bent. He’d loaned it to his cousin who rode it into a wall. He wanted to replace the bike under warranty too.

Do people go back to the car dealership after they’ve crashed a new Blimpmobile, asking that the dealer replace it under warranty?

We had another tremendously fussy customer who dithered for weeks before finally ordering a particular bike. When it arrived we assembled it, then had to re-do much of it because it didn’t meet his anal retentive standards. He picked it up on a Saturday morning and rode it home where he left it on his front porch while he had lunch. You guessed it! After lunch, he returned to the now vacant front porch. The bike was long gone. But, thinking quickly, he phoned his bank and cancelled the check! It wasn’t going to be HIS loss. It was going to be OUR loss. We took the check and bill of sale to the local magistrate, who informed our customer about the law. He paid for the bike, and a bit extra for the magistrate’s fees.

I was thinking about some of these things while riding to work this morning. Sometimes I get good ideas out there on the road, and I have every intention of writing about them later in the day. The hell of it is, I often don’t remember what they were! But what got me thinking about the JRA stories was an ordinary, everyday incident that all cyclists experience. I was just riding along when I noticed freshly broken glass strewn across the road ahead. I swerved to avoid it. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t look for overtaking traffic. I just reacted. But how many times have other cyclists performed that same maneuver and had motorists honking or had a tire punctured?

“I was just riding along when the dog jumped out/ the car door opened/ the bike skidded on leaves/ the pedestrian stepped off the curb/ the car turned suddenly/ etc.” We’ve all heard them at one time or another. The common thread is the apparent suddenness of the incident. We get surprised by something that could be avoided if we were simply paying attention and trying to anticipate. Too often, we rely on experience to teach us those lessons. A patch of sand, some wet leaves, a loose dog, or the sound of an engine starting can provide us with sufficient warning. All we have to do is pay attention and try to think ahead a little.

But there’s another aspect to this story too, and that’s the people who are unwilling to accept responsibility for their own actions. When bad things happen, it’s always someone else who’s at fault. The bike was defective. The tire was defective. The workmanship was shoddy. You get the idea. Riding a bike into a wall obviously showed that the product was defective. If it were strong enough, it wouldn’t have bent.

Frankly, I have little idea about what to do with adults who try to wriggle out of personal responsibility in the same way as my children. Well, I have few ideas other than treating them as children, not backing down and absolving them of blame. There are limits to that approach, of course, and I can illustrate that with another story.

I was leaving a meeting a few weeks ago, unlocking my bike from an outside rack, when a middle-aged man walked up and started asking questions about bicycling. As it turned out, he’d bought a bicycle from one of the big box stores and he was having problems with it. (On some newsgroups, they’re referring to these as “bicycle shaped objects” or BSOs. I read once that their best use is to ride them back to the store and demand your money back.)

His bike had a problem with a pedal falling off. “I was just riding along, when suddenly the pedal fell off!” He called the customer service number, and they sent him another pedal, which promptly fell off. Next, they said they’d send a crank arm. It hadn’t arrived yet.

I suggested the first problem was that he’d bought the bike at ****Mart, instead of a bike shop. “No! Bike shops charge way too much!” Then I told him the crank arm would need to be removed with a special tool, and it would be best to have a shop do the work. He was dubious, intending to do it himself, so I told him about the Park Tool website and its repair section.

But as I said, there are limits to pointing out personal responsibility. He had purchased the bike and was loathe to spend any more money on it. He didn’t know why the problem happened in the first place. He didn’t know how to fix it. And he didn’t want to pay someone to fix it for him. Like I said, there are limits. The best approach with such people is to let them learn through harsh experience. It really doesn’t sink in otherwise.

The story struck a chord with me though, because I had a similar experience earlier this year. The left shoe cleat on my Giant felt loose at times. It released without warning. I’d been meaning to look at the pedal, but I put it off and forgot about it. And that’s understandable because I really don’t ride the bike much. So on a nice Sunday afternoon, I was a couple of miles from home when I noticed it getting much looser. I stopped to take a look. The pedal was about to fall out of the crank arm! There’s no one to blame for this other than myself since I do all the maintenance. It was an expensive oversight. I had to buy a new crank because the pedal threads were stripped.

Somehow, I don’t think I could walk into Tom’s with that stripped crank arm and say, “I was just riding along when suddenly…” They’d just laugh.


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