Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ebay,BOO! Easton, YAY!

Executive Summary:

1. I confess (and lament) two cursed Ebay crank purchases;

2. Easton sends me a brand new EC90, gratis;

3. Analogies are drawn between my deplorable consumer behavior and sexual infidelity, with attendant warnings about the wages of sin, etc.

4. Apologies are issued forthwith and I pledge fealty to Easton and our terrific sponsors at The Bike Rack.

Commence saga...

The Zipp 300 crankset.

At 440 grams, minus bottom bracket, it's feathery... and cheap. Together with bottom bracket, it averages just over $200 new on Ebay, while retailers still sell try to sell it for $600. (A crazy price spread. Crazy!)

I would not recommend the 300 though, at any price.

First reason not to buy the Zipp.

The ISIS standard was abandoned for a reason. While ISIS widened and strengthened the spindle, it also forced a switch to smaller bearings. My bottom bracket started grinding and crackling in only about 3,000 miles, not uncommon among ISIS designs. They're also known to shear. In other words, ISIS sucks. Better to put the bearings outboard, or inside the new BB30 type designs. Then you can have large bearings, wider spindles, and improved leverage, viz., have cake; eat it.

Second reason not to buy the Zipp.

The five spider arms on the drive side of my crank did not form a perfect plane; so, my chainrings wobbled left and right with each revolution. Had it been a tiny wobble, it wouldn't have been a concern, but my mine was severe enough that I could never trust my front shifting.

To avoid throwing the chain, I had to adjust very conservatively, then press the shift lever hard and wait for the lumpy inner side of my big ring to reach the top, while I pedaled ever so gently and prayed it would catch.

It didn't always work out. At Greenbelt, I ended up doing an entire B race in my small ring. I'd adjusted too conservatively and couldn't get the chain over enough to catch. My legs are so weak that I already have to spin ridiculously high cadences to avoid blowing up, and so long as I didn't pedal on the downhill side of the course I could actually hang. But I did look like an idiot.

Coppi was worse. There I chose the more liberal adjustment strategy, sure to get my chain over from small ring to big ring. I had a pack finish, but only because I repeatedly nursed my thrown chain back on. Riding with this *&$ing crankset, I'd mastered the instant recognition of chain drop, the leg freeze, the half backpedal, soft forward quarter pedal, quarter backpedal, soft forward quarterpedal technique. But it was disruptive, scary, and probably unsettling to the riders behind me.

Zipp is a common brand in the pro peleton (though not the 300 crankset), but from what I've read about the 300, my problem was fairly common. Measuring spider alignment is elementary. Is it really worth it to Zipp to unload the defective cranks through an Ebay greymarket and risk their reputation? Or did they just never check? I wonder how this happened. Anyway, lesson learned: don't buy the Zipp 300, but if you must, be sure to buy it from your LBS.

The Easton

Wait. Did I say lesson learned? No, actually, lesson not learned, because when I shopped for a replacement crank midsummer I checked Ebay first. There I found an Easton EC90 for about half of retail and jumped on it.

After two short training rides, I raced it, and it, too, started throwing the chain in the race. I took it apart afterwards and noticed something was slightly loose, and again this was causing the chainring to flop left and right ever so slightly. What to do?

After emailing fruitlessly with my Ebay seller (already positively reviewed) I called Easton. The conversation went like this:
Me: So, I just bought an EC90 crankset new on Ebay. I know it's not under warranty, but it broke after three rides and now I'm wondering if there's any way someone at Easton could maybe look at it and tell me if a repair is possible, and then maybe fix it for me and charge me for parts and labor.

Easton rep: I'm sorry, but our policy is that we only do repairs on wheels. We don't repair anything else. And since you don't have a warranty, you're out of luck.

Me: Yeah, I know I don't have a warranty. I'm not asking for a free repair. I'm just thinking your engineers might want to see why a brand new crank that hasn't been crashed or anything would develop a little play on the third ride out. And for all I know, it's a tiny cheap part and an easy fix. If it's cheaper than $700 to repair, it'd be worth it to me. But I can't actually tell what's wrong or whether it's fixable.

Easton rep: I'm sorry, but we only repair wheels. And you have no warranty. So I can't help you.

Me: So, what do you suggest I do with my crank?

Easton rep: I don't know. That's up to you.

Me: Well, it's a very pretty crank, but I don't want to keep it around just to look at it. I guess I should throw it away? Maybe salvage the chainrings first?

Easton rep: I wouldn't say you should throw it away. You can do whatever you want with it.

Me: Except ride it. I can't do that. *Sigh*

Easton rep: I guess not.

Me: Hmmmm... I wonder if everyone buying Easton products, either used or grey market, realizes they're unserviceable.

Easton rep: We service wheels.

Me: Right. Apart from the wheels. I wonder if the secondhand market for Easton would be as strong as it is if people knew there was no repairing them. Like the market for cranks, for instance. And I wonder if that would indirectly affect the market for new products too.

East rep: Well, that's our policy. We only service wheels. Your purchase was not under warranty, so there's no way I can help you.

Me: Yes, I know the policy. Only authorized purchases are warrantied. I get that. You've got to protect your dealers. And I see why you wouldn't repair most of your parts, because they're very simple carbon pieces like seatposts and stems. I understand the rationale. But I guess I'm asking whether it's a good policy, and whether it's something people understand when they buy your products, and especially the crankset. Because as it stands now, your policy kind of locks owners into that purchase for life. Either you ride your EC90 to failure or you sell it very very very cheaply. Because no one is going to pay much for a product with proprietary parts that cannot be repaired at any price.

Easton rep: I'm sorry, but our policy is that we only do repairs on wheels. We don't repair anything else. And since you don't have a warranty, you're out of luck.

Me: Yes, we've already established that I'm "out of luck" according to the policy and I know the policy. I'm asking whether the policy makes sense in this case.

Easton rep: Well, that's our policy. (Long pause.) We only repair wheels.

Me: (Finally seeing what is going on.) Do you have the power to make exceptions to the policy?

Easton rep: I've already told you our policy. We only repair wheels, and for all other products, we only service them if they're under warranty.

Me: Yes. I'm fully aware of the policy. What I'm wondering is whether you have the power to make exceptions to the policy. Are you able to do that?

Easton rep: Our policy is that we do not repair things that aren't under warranty.

Me: Would it be possible for me to speak with someone who does have the power to make exceptions?

Easton rep: Well, that is our policy. That's what our policy is.

Me: (long awkward pause)

Easton rep: You can talk to my supervisor if you'd like.

Me: I would. Thank you.
So I talk to the supervisor, and a surprising thing happens. It's a precise replay of the conversation (roughly) transcribed above. Same set of responses, even down to the part where we talk about whether she has the power to override the policy and asking to speak to someone who does have that power.

She relents and gives me the name and email address of one of the engineers. Finally! I know the engineer will be curious. I write him a courteous email detailing the situation. I don't request anything more than an inspection of the part, and I say, explicitly, that I'm not asking for a replacement or free repair work. I do express my concern about the public knowledge of Easton's repair policy for unauthorized crank purchases and how that information might change the market for their goods.

He promptly sends me an apology and a shipping address for the crank. The point about repairs is valid, he says. The EC90 crank is a fairly new product and they hadn't given much thought to repairs for unauthorized purchases. Wow... candor and thoughtfulness!


A couple of weeks later the engineer calls my cell: they'd torn my crank apart and found a break in the bond between a carbon and a metal part. My crank was sawed into pieces in the inspection process, but not to worry, he'd be sending me a new one free of charge.

Yessss!!! Engineers are great. Easton is great. Life is great!

Having finally installed the crank on my bike, I can also say the EC90 is in a completely different league from the Zipp. First of all, the properly aligned chainrings means the shifts are perfect. More appropriate to a general audience, the EC90 is just as light as the Zipp while being much, much stiffer. Some of this, no doubt, is due to the outboard bearings. But some is in the arms too. Whatever it is, power transfer is massively improved. Here's Easton's stiffness/weight chart (notably missing some key competitors, but still). And it's so smooth too; it's like riding a different bike.

Anyway, as the beneficiary of this act of generosity, I owe Easton a lot of future purchases. And the same goes for my bike shop.

Supporting your LBS is often put in altruistic terms, because there really is a significant spread between online prices and retail prices, and because bike shops build a community, lead rides, sponsor bike teams, and advocate for cyclists, all of which is an undeniable social good.

But shopping at your LBS is not altruism. It makes sense on a straightforwardly selfish level. Suppose I had walked into The Bike Rack midsummer and bought a SRAM Red crankset for just about what I paid for my Easton. The second half of my summer would have been filled with crisp shifting, no worries. I may have had better race results. If the crank had been defective, they would have hashed it through with customer support on my behalf.

In many cases, LBS prices are pretty close to internet prices, but even when they're not, you're probably better off taking the very same budget and buying whatever you can afford at your LBS. What matters most about equipment is that it fit and function as intended. And your LBS is in the best position to help with that.

What's the saying... pennywise, pound foolish? No, because we're talking about the same amount of money spent in either place. But some such aphoristic piece of folk wisdom must surely apply.


DJ Bike Police said...

I'd still be careful with the Easton crankset. They are popular in their failure rate. I have a friend who works at Revolution and he's already sent his EC90 crank back with the same problem you had. They sent him a new one, and the same thing happened again. Now he's going back and forth with Easton trying to get his money back. Fool me once...

Calvini said...

I love the conversation with the rep. In terms of annoyance, "It is not our policy..." is a phrase right up there with the smell of the Potomac on a hot day.

I think it's awesome that you persisted and finally got through to the engineer.

Interesting how the engineer seemed so fascinated (cutting apart your crank), and yet DJ suggests that it's widespread.

Anonymous said...

You know the saying. You get what you pay for. If the deal is too good, it's probably not worth it.

KOA said...

i was about to buy an EC90 myself...let me know how you like that new one or if it also breaks.

Regardless, after reading all that and DJ's comment, i doubt i'll ever purchase one.

Darren said...

Great write up, I like your opinion, about a part just not working. I have a issue right now with some Ritchey pedals. I just want to see if I can get them fixed.

Anonymous said...

I have a suggestion for your bad shifting issues: use the crankset for the gruppo you run. Why would you go aftermarket on a part so integral to performance when you could just buy a Dura Ace, Red, Record, &c., crankset that was designed to be used with your other parts?

Drew Armstrong said...

That was a totes brutal anon comment. You aftermarket BR sluts!

Really cool story--seems pretty common in the bike world, which is a good thing (the powertap customer service is up there). Glad it worked out.

qualia said...

DJ, that is so depressing. I was thinking the EC90 is the bomb. Now I'm hoping it's not a bomb.

Calvini, it may be that my situation was just earlier in the product cycle. I think I got it just after Ft. Ritchie. And yeah, the stench of the Potomac has got nothing on customer service in the Idiocracy era.

KOA: it feels amazing, smooth. Rock solid. But yeah, if I were you I'd hold off until you know more about the failure issue. I feel obliged to plug the EC90 line, though. I've had seatpost and bars and I can say their carbon is the good stuff. Their carbon is in some good bikes too, like BMC.

Darren and Anon: back when I bought the Zipp I'd never been in a bike race and had only recently started riding. The 300 was much lighter and cheaper than RED. After racing, I learned that weight is just not nearly important as quality, but then I fell for this Easton deal like a Sex in the City fan snapping up clearance rack Jimmy Choos. Facepalm.

Looking forward, I'll never go more weight weenie than the pros.

Flanagan said...

Single Speed, or even better--a fixie! That way you don't have to shift at all!