Handlebar tape on a bicycle is normally not something one thinks about much. Unless you ride several thousand miles per year. And even then, it’s not considered to be a structural issue. It’s a matter of comfort and aesthetics.
But that’s not really always the case, as I found out tonight.
The right half of my handlebars has been “insulted” on several minor occasions. The wounds weren’t that bad, but they were growing with each outing.
It was time to re-wrap.
It’s worth noting that the tape on these bars has been around for longer than the frame has. Trek saw fit to replace my frame (good on ‘em) when the original all-titanium frame developed a crack from a stress-riser on the downtube. But the bar tape has been around since dirt was new.
I’ll shorten this story a lot by saying that I was astonished to find that my own sweat had leaked through a small gap in the tape and had, over time, eaten a hole in the handlebar.
Structural failures (or even impending ones) are not to be trifled with on a bicycle (or car, or motorcycle, etc.) and so I set off in hopes of finding the right size and shape of bar to replace the existing part.
It was not as easy as one might think.
After much searching, I found a part that I thought would work at Performance Bike Shop. It’s a mail/online house that has retail stores around the country. I have been doing business with them for more than 20 years when local outlets have not been able to meet my needs.
But, my account information was all messed up. I couldn’t place the order online and couldn’t wait for an automated response.
So I called the number listed onscreen.
The call was answered before the third ring by a real English-speaking voice. No… a real “American” speaking voice. I’m not jingoistic, but hearing a Southern lilt in the middle of the night is somehow comforting when there’s something urgent to be taken care of.
We processed the order, and she offered to attempt to ship next day air to my office. At no charge. It was tempting, but she said that she could not guarantee it due to the specific hour. I elected to have the part shipped to a store that I would be much closer to in the event of a screw-up. (If something went awry at this particular time, it would mean an extra 300 miles of driving for me… not something I wanted to take a chance with.)
But, damn… I really appreciated the offer!
As she processed the order, I just had to ask… was she in North Carolina (Performance’s home base)? “No, the call center is in West Virginia, but I’ve got a son in North Carolina, if that counts.”
Customer service is not dead, and it’s not all offshore. I would buy locally if I could, but my options are thin-to-nonexistent for items like this.
I was both glad and sorry that I’d made contact with this extremely polite, very accommodating person in what was (for her) the middle of the night. I’m glad she was there to help me, but I’m also sorry that she had to be talking to me at 11:45PM her time.
She should have been at home, reading or sleeping.