Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cervélo Nightmare? Néver Again!

Are you thinking of buying a new bicycle? The good news is there are a lot of great choices out there (see list of manufacturers at the bottom of this post). The more you're willing to pay, the broader the selection becomes. Unless you're a top pro, you can get a bike that easily exceeds what is warranted by your riding or racing talents for only a few grand. For $7K, you can get an awesome bike (including custom wheels) that you simply don't deserve.

Given the broad selection available (and my willingness to buy bikes I don't deserve), my last few purchases have been partially based upon aesthetics…how sexy does the bike look? Apparently I made the right choice when I bought a black Colnago CLX a few years ago. Before the start of one of our SDBC club rides, a lady there said, "That bike IS sex!" Strange choice of words, but I didn't disagree with her.

Despite my emphasis on "looks," I also demand great performance out of a bike that costs thousands of dollars. So when I took my 2010 Cervélo P3 time trial bike out for a spin, I was immensely disappointed when I encountered problems with the seat post. I was also angered when my contact at the bike shop refused to help me with this issue. (Due to ongoing relationships between the bike shop and a local bike club, I'll leave the name of the shop anonymous here.) In a nutshell, here's what happened…

After riding the P3 for about 20 miles of TT training, the seatpost slipped down. In the process of slipping down, the poorly-designed seat post clamp shredded a bunch of carbon fiber right off the back of the post, making my brand new seat post look like crap. I can hear you saying, "Well, that's just a seatpost clamp torque issue, moron!" This was also my first assumption. If that was the case, then the bike shop just messed up by not using sufficient torque and/or carbon fiber friction compound. But when I brought the bike in, the guy who sold me the bike declared that the bike shop couldn't possibly be at fault and insinuated that I must have messed with the bolts on the seat post clamp (which I certainly had not) because nobody else had. He suggested that "someone" had over-tightened the clamp bolts after the bike left the shop because the sharp edge of the seat post clamp cut into the seat post when the seat post slipped down. This was a demonstration of "How to piss off your customer 101." After selling a very expensive product that fails, accuse the customer of being at fault.

Why would I dedicate time and effort to whining about this unpleasant experience? Because I want anyone out there who may have had a similar experience with a Cervélo seat post to know the "rest of the story" as Paul Harvey would say. If this has happened to you, don't let the bike shop or Cervélo tell you it's your fault or that they've never heard of this problem before. Don't be a victim.

The bike shop staff eventually confessed that some of the seat posts fall out of spec. (This didn't come out until I pushed back again and again, threatening to work with Cervélo to get a complete refund if the bike shop wasn't going to help.) When the bike shop finally provided me with a replacement seat post, I confirmed this with a caliper right there in the shop, measuring the two seat posts side-by-side. The seat post that originally came with the bike was not as wide as the replacement was. Cervélo had allowed a crucial part to fall outside of a functional tolerance range but never issued a recall and never admitted there was any problem. Their poor clamp design exacerbated the problem by making it look like the clamp had been OVER-tightened when the post slipped. In reality, the clamp should have been over-tightened to try to compensate for the poorly formed seat post. After hearing two different versions of every story from the bike shop, I lost confidence in them and will never step foot in that shop again.

If the replacement seat post was going to slip and shred like the first one did, I knew there was no way this unreliable, untrustworthy bike shop was going to provide me with a third one. Since the seat post clamp bolts were starting to strip in the frame, I bit the bullet and applied epoxy adhesive to this post before inserting it for the very last time. Now I can't adjust the height of the seat, but I will finally not have to worry about the seat slipping down during training or competition. The bad news is that this permanently fixed seat height dramatically reduces the resale value of the bike. The good news is that I'm still comfortable with the permanently fixed seat height.

Yes, Cervélo makes beautiful bikes. But would I ever buy one again? Never, ever, ever. Getting stuck with inferior design by a given manufacturer just once is unfortunate. Going back to that same manufacturer again—especially after such poor customer service—would be stupid. There are so many great-looking bikes that are also well-designed, including legendary American brands used by the pros: Cannondale, Trek, Specialized, Scott, Felt, Ellsworth, Jamis, Independent Fabrication, Serotta,and Kestrel.

Happy shopping!