Saturday, September 20, 2008

Goat Lovin'

If you read any of the retail sales guides, they usually mention some large number of people that irritated customers will run out and tell about some type of non-satisfactory interaction with a store. Typically, it is something around 20 people. I am sure the recent guy who thought a new front derailleur would somehow magically fix a worn out bottom bracket is out there right now. We kept his BSO (Bike Shaped Object) with huge miles running on the cheap for 5 years for the guy but now we are suddenly out to take advantage of him. He probably didn't utter a peep of praise in those five years but is probably out their now trying to hit his quota of complaints.

Unfortunately, the satisfied customers somehow don't interact with people and tell right around.....well, let's call it nobody. So, it was a pleasant surprise when the email below arrived from Kees in the Netherlands:

"After I received the photos you made, I was already very eager to get my hands on the frame but when I unpacked it, it looked better than the photos. Man , this is the most beautiful steel frame I have ever seen. I'm very glad that I chose the beige colour with the black and white decals. This makes on chique bike. Actually, I currently own 11 custom built bikes (including steel ones) and have spent more money that I should have on bikes in the past twenty years but this is frame is one of the most beautiful frames I have ever had. The fork is also stunning with the special fork leg tops and reinforcements on the inside. Thank you so much for helping me out with choosing the right geometry and giving me the opportunity to ride a real Mountain Goat"

We always open these email with some hesitation due to the percentage of people complaining vs. praising. It is especially worrisome with overseas buyers due to the language barrier and differing expectations. It is always tough to pick out colors by a description and a small color sample that looks different on every computer monitor.

Two days after the email above arrived, we got this one from Joe in England:

"W.T.R no.7 got put through its paces in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Spain. Got to say, it still impresses me with its perfect balance and ride. Ive been riding this for 2 1/2 years now and simply love it! I will definitely be interested in a cheaper eastern made Goat if it handles like my No.7."

It is even better when we get a note this far after the purchase. Everyone is excited to get a new toy but it is gratifying to know that it doesn't wear off after the first week.

Ride on guys!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Everbody now......It's a small world after all!

Occasionally, this big old ball of dirt seems impossibly small.

A couple of years ago, a girl stopped in the shop to check it out. They were traveling from Ohio to Florida. Since I am originally from Ohio as well, asking them from what town, is a good way to start a conversation. She says she is from around Mansfield (know for its ski "resort" and prison which was used in the Shawshank Redemption movie). I replied that was cool since I was from Lexington which is just a handful of miles from Mansfield to which she replies that she is also from Lexington but says Mansfield since more people are familiar with the larger town. We compare notes as to graduations years and figure out that she graduated with my sister and played softball with her. This was from a high school of around 800 students (all grades) that is 8+ hours away.

Last weekend a guy came in to look for a bike. I helped him choose a Trek 820 as a good choice for his 3 mile commute to the gym. He mentioned that he was living out of an RV and was a traveling nurse. While adding accessories to his bike we discuss the nursing profession since my wife is also a nurse. Once again, it is a series of questions that gets us there: where do you work? Charlotte, about an hour away. Oh yeah, what department? Oh, the children's hospital. Levine? Yeah. What department? Emergency room. That's where my wife works. Then we proceed to figure out that they have worked with each other.

So here is the most recent, and most convoluted, one. In our collection of mountain bikes, we have run across a couple that have belonged to the same guy out in Oregon. They have all been high end custom bikes and most have had little wear. I had looked up his phone number a year or so ago but always hate to cold call people. I feel like some hated guy trying to sell them new insulated windows. Anyway, a month ago, Jeff Lindsay (the true father of Mountain Goat) calls up and asks about an older Mountain Goat that we have on the web site. We get to talking and Jeff is going to Oregon and is visiting with the former owner of our bikes. He encourages us to call and tells us what a great guy he is and that he has bought quite a few Goats over the years. So I call him up and leave a message only half expecting a return call.......which came just a day or two later. We talked on the phone and discussed a few of the bikes that he has had over the years. A couple of weeks go by and a good sized box appears from the state of Oregon. OOOOOH, goodies! It is 4 Tyvek envelopes jammed full of old correspondence, pictures, magazine articles and catalogs. This is the kind of stuff that allows us to post more details on our web site and is always appreciated. I call him up to thank him and tell him that we'll get it copied and back out to him. He then tells us that it is ours and as he cleans out the filing cabinet, there may be more heading our way.

OK, this isn't that weird yet? No big deal. As I sort through the literature, there is one hand written note discussing the introduction of the Raven bike and it is signed with a name that starts with a "J". Through our research, we knew that John Olsen had designed the Raven. Putting 2 and 2 together, I figured the signature was Johns. I email John and mention the note. He asked if I was going to scan it and I said probably not since it wasn't that interesting and we didn't have a Raven page on the web site yet. I was scanning some other stuff and just stuck the note on the scanner to send to John. After he received it, he emailed to tell me it wasn't his signature and was actually the signature of Jim Zorn who was the QB for the Seattle Seahawks back then (and now coaches the Washington Redskins). John told me that Jim was friends with the shop owner who was selling the Ravens and helped him sell stuff during the off-season. It was kinda funny to me that a professional starting quarterback was a bike salesman during the off-season. Guess he needed to supplement his income?

When you pull on the end of the thread you never know where it will end up. Makes me wonder how many of these stories we miss by not pulling on every thread that comes our way?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Free" the Internet

With our web site, we get inquiries about vintage bike stuff every single day. Some are looking for an old bike that they had growing up or an elusive handlebar to finish their restoration. Some of the other calls are just from folks looking for someone who cares about their passion for older bikes and are just looking for someone who isn't hung up on the new crank arm that is 30% stiffer than its predecessor. We also get a fair number of people who don't have much interest in old bikes but just found an old bike when cleaning out aunt Millie's shed. Most of them are hoping they found a Ferrari in the garage but are OK when it turns out to be a 4 door Chevy. They just want to know what it is so they can tell their friends about it after finishing the rattle-can rehab. It takes some time to answer these questions but that is OK since they are "honest" inquiries.

Along with these questions have come questions of the "dis-honest" kind. Fortunately, they are usually pretty easy to spot. It often starts out as "what can you tell me about" which is code for "can you write my eBay auction description for me". The next most popular one is the "what is it worth" questions posed by folks putting it on Craigslist since they are too cheap to pay eBay fees. I guess this is their version of research. We have spent hundreds of hours studying catalogs that have cost us thousands of dollars to acquire. I often joke that I am studying for my PhD in vintage bikes. If I put the effort into a law degree, I could charge $300 an hour to talk to people about old bikes but I don't see that happening. For some reason, anybody that can be reached via email shouldn't have to be paid since somehow their time isn't worth anything??

What got me thinking about all of this was an email I received over the weekend. The guy wanted to know what bottom bracket he should mail order for his old mountain bike. He complained that if he took it to the local shop, "they would try to rip me off for $50". For some reason, our answer should be free?? Not to mention, the impossibility of really even answering the question without having the bike in the shop plus the need for tools..........I just don't get it. Where is the disconnect? Why should the Internet be "free"?

We have started to see this mentality invade the shop recently as well. These conversations usually start with "what size shoe do I need" or "what size bike do I need"? This is very lightly disguised code for I am buying something online but need you to do all of the work for me. We explain that bike sizes depends on style, brand ,usage, model and preference. Some bikes are measured center to center, some center to top and some along a hypothetical line somewhere in space. Some brands have odd sizes, some even.....riding off road? need more clearance? long legs? riding 6 hours? After all of this, they look at you again and ask "what size bike do I need" but with less patience this time. We usually see these guys back in a couple of weeks with their new pride and joy telling everyone what a great deal they got. Then they are back in another week since they can't seem to get their 6' 3" body comfortable on their 26" bike (which is really a 15" frame with 26" wheels) and wanting to know why the shock is spewing Valdez amount of crude on trail and why a tune up is $60 when they were able to put it together with Vice Grips.

Sooner or later, we'll all figure out that cheapest and smartest don't necessarily go hand in hand. I just hope there are still enough people around with the answers when this happens.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Escape Route

We've been contemplating importing a Mountain Goat frame for a couple of months now. I really prefer stuff made in the USA (pops worked at General Motors for 35+ years) but not everyone can swing a $1,400 frame. It has been interesting to see how the whole process works and I am sure there are a couple of wrinkles that I haven't discovered yet. We have worked in the traditional Goat features with the head tube reinforcements and wishbone stays. The tubing will be a good grade double butted cro-moly and will be available in all four sizes. Colors are still undecided but I am leaning towards one "normal" color and one a little bit wilder?

It is always tough to name a bike but we are lucky since we have 20+ years of Goat history to lean on. The late 1980's imported Goat was the Trench Goat which was never one of my favorites but does set something of a precedent for the imported bike. The Escape Goat was the first "budget" oriented Goat which kinda fits. The first batch will all be 29" wheeled frames which will be like our current Route 29 frames. Take the two and put them together and come up with.......Escape Route. I like to think of riding as an Escape Route from the real world so I think it fits.

Anyway, as time get closer and the details get nailed down, we'll wee it here first!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tar n' gravel is bad....m'kay

It seems like every time I commute to work, the wonderful state of North Carolina decides to tar and gravel another road on my regular route. This appears to be the process: take used motor oil from cars that get regular 20,000 mile changes, pour it onto the road, throw down what appears to be ground up sharks teeth into the oil, put up a "Caution: loose gravel" sign, wait two weeks until the cars wear it down, come back and Krylon some stripes on the whole mess. I think they pay someone to arrange each individual piece of gravel so the sharpest edge is sticking up. As car pass over the whole mess, they are supposed to pack it down and smooth it out. While we are waiting for that to happen, all of the extra loose bits get piled up on the edge of road right where they expect the bikes to ride. Thank goodness for Bontrager Hard Case tires! Heaven forbid that anyone would ever go down on the road. I can imagine it would be like a sliding board made of cheese graters. Two weeks ago it was Amity Hill Road and today it was Judas Road. Can't wait until the get to the rest of the route.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cackalacky '08

Our 8th Annual Cackalacky Cup wrapped up last weekend and it was a blast! We generally try to have some vintage mountain bike "celebrities" attend but it just didn't work out this year. Capt. Dondo was heading our way with FTW in tow and a couple of bonus buddies as well and Rody, from Groovy Cycle Works, was making a return appearance. The bad news started Thursday afternoon when Dondo called to tell us FTW had a paying engagement and his two traveling buds were bailing out. Facing a 14 hour solo commute, Dondo opted out which left Rody. Rody doubles as a fireman and the fellow who was covering his shift had a death in the family so Rodys trip south was put on hold as well.

That was the sad part. The good news was EL, Don and Noah were still winging their way to NC. These guys are part of the vintage ATB brotherhood and come down to check out the bike collection and get in some great riding. After everyone arrived at the shop on Friday, we headed out for some traditional NC BBQ.

Saturday morning brought the competition portion of the weekend. We use the Itusi Trail, at Lake Norman State Park, for this part of the event. It is a great trail network that follows the contours of Lake Norman. We used the 4 mile Hawk Loop for the Technical Time Trial which featured a handful of benign obstacles. Miss an obstacle, get a time penalty. After that, we rode over to the 6 mile Monbo Loop for a full out time trial. The fastest cumulative time won a Fox Racing Shox and Cane Creek donated a set of disc wheels which were awarded randomly to a participant. We doubled the amount of racers we had last year and had a great time. It was nice to see about 15 kids participate. After the time trials, we took a more leisurely ride around the park. This was followed by pizzas and beers at the shop.

Sunday was a gorgeous day and we met at the shop at 8AM. Everyone piled in the cars and we headed to DuPont State Forest. When we got to the trail head, it was already full of cars. We looked at each other and wondered if they were there to ride with us. We took 13 "locals" and were met by 15 people from the Asheville area. 28 was too big of a group so we quickly broke into the "racer" group and "tourist" group. The racers blew by the scenic overlooks while us tourists took in the sights. Big thanks to David, Mike, Woody, Chuck and Ed (plus others) for showing us around.

The worst part about the weekend is that it only happens once a year!