How long is too long to wait for my custom bicycle?
May 18, 2015 3:06 PM   Subscribe

On January 15th of this year I emailed a custom bike builder to enquire about him building me a custom track bike. I was told his current lead time was 8 - 10 weeks. Two days later, on the 17th, I stopped by his shop and ordered the bike and paid a $1000 deposit. It's now been over 17 weeks and I have not received the bike.

On April 1st I received an email saying things haven taken longer due to hold up on tubing and vacation schedule, but the bike is in final stages of welding and it's definitely time to talk paint since it'd be off to paint in the next week. I responded two days later with some color ideas and told that was all totally possible. Then it went quiet again.

I stopped by the shop a couple weeks later to just make sure there was an understanding on the paint and he had totally forgotten the email I'd sent until I showed him my reference picture again.

So what do I do here? I put down a deposit with the understanding it'd be done within 8 - 10 weeks and it's closing in on being double the top end of that. There has to be a point at which I call and say "if I'm not getting the bike tomorrow, I expect my deposit refunded and the order canceled". I don't want to do that. I want the bike I ordered from a builder whose work I really respect.

I'm in the Bay Area, but I don't want to say who the builder is as I hope this is just a fluke in what I understand is a track record of great work and service.

posted by matt_od to Shopping (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My opinion: it's OK to make a deadline but that shouldn't be tomorrow.

I'd craft a brief, firm email saying something like, "When I contacted you in January you stated an x week timeline. It's now been almost twice that time. I need to know a realistic deadline for this and would expect it to be by (short term but realistic deadline, naming an actual and specific date). Let me know if this is possible, if not I would like to have my deposit returned. Than you."

Something along those lines?

Then after that, if he doesn't follow through on a specific deadline, it is reasonable to ask for your deposit back immediately.
posted by latkes at 3:14 PM on May 18, 2015 [11 favorites]

Ask for a discount on the provision it's delivered in the next (insert suitable time frame here).

If he won't agree to a discount then get your deposit back & go shop where you're valued.
posted by Under the Sea at 3:15 PM on May 18, 2015

This is one of those situations where a clear agreement ahead of time that spoke in terms of contingencies would have been great (e.g. $1k deposit, but if bike not delivered by [x], deposit is refunded).

It sounds like his lead time was just an estimate, like "most of the bikes are taking 8-10 weeks," not a promise that you would have a bike 10 weeks from the date of the discussion. That's an important distinction.

If I'm in your shoes, I'd ask for either a bike or my money back in 4 weeks.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:18 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't think there's anything wrong with requesting a bit of lagniappe thrown in as acknowledgment of the delay (in prime riding months, no less!). I think something that took the builder a bit of extra work would be a nice guesture, but it's going to depend on what stage the bike's actually in (if not painted, maybe some nice braze-on's you weren't planning to get, or if painting has begun maybe an upgrade on the paintjob, like stripes or fancy top-coat?). If the frames actually finished and you were planning to buy a complete bike, maybe a complimentary upgrade of a component or two seems reasonable.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:18 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I haven't gotten a custom frame made, but I've looked into it. I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but for me it would come down to two things: (a) What is the actual, right now status of the frame? Because if it's not painted, it won't be ready tomorrow and your deadline is silly. (b) How much do you want this particular frame/a frame right now? Sure, you can get your deposit back, but you've already burned a few months. No custom frame is going to be ready in the amount of time between now and when this one will be ready.

If it were me, assuming I was happy with the frame's progress, I'd suck it up, wait for the frame to come back from paint, and then not recommend the builder to anyone, or recommend with caveats of, "As long as you're not in a hurry..."
posted by supercres at 3:19 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, echoing craven_morhead that every time I see "lead time" on a builder's site, it's stated as a guideline, not a guarantee. Even with big multi-builder shops. With that in mind, I think asking for discounts or upgrades on something that's so variable is a little iffy.
posted by supercres at 3:22 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would write the following email: "Dear Bike Builder, I am really looking forward to receiving my order and need to know when the bike will be complete. The order was made on X date, and the time frame you quoted was Y. It has been Z weeks which is significantly longer than what I would have approved of had I known in advance. I recognize that build times fluctuate. This is moving into more than just overtime and I'm concerned I'm not going to get my order. You have a history of doing good business so I'd like to work with you to fix this. What can we do to make this situation right so I can get my order sooner rather than later?"

Then follow up if you don't hear from him. If he calls you, ask him to put his answer in writing. Make sure you get it in writing no matter what. If he tells you he needs more money, which he might, balk immediately and say that you feel that you're being taken advantage of and that you're not sure why he'd ask you to cover costs that he incurred after taking extra time on the order. If he were really a good business owner, he'd have had your order to you already. Don't let his supposed history prevent you from getting what you need.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:39 PM on May 18, 2015 [8 favorites]

I haven't ordered a custom bike, but I've watched other people order quite a few custom bikes. From my observations, it always takes way longer than their estimated times, and you kinda have to ride them to get it done. None of them seem super organized.

I wouldn't issue "next day" ultimatums unless you want a) shoddy work or b) a refund of your money. (It seems like a lot of custom bike builders are like in-demand artistes or tattoo artists--they don't lose out on much by nixing you as a customer because they already have a waitlist a year long.) The squeaky hub gets the grease.

How long has it been since you stopped in? If it's been about a week, email again and remind him of the color you picked out and ask when he thinks it'll be done. If he doesn't respond in a week, stop in or call again and ask the same things. He's clearly forgetful and you "bugging" him politely will get your work moved up in the queue.

It sucks that this exchange of money for goods is not going how you like, but you still want the bike right? It may help to reframe the exchange in terms of you're buying more than a bike when you get a custom built one--you're getting a work of craftmanship/art.
posted by purple_bird at 4:08 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'd go in and talk to the builder in person. I'm guessing that he has other clients who are all over him and so their frame schedules got pushed up and yours pushed back. Squeaky wheel and all of that. I'd have a face to face before sending strident emails. Go talk and ask to see the progress. Ask for a timeline for all remaining fabrication steps, and come to an agreement about a delivery date. You can always follow-up with an email recapping what you discussed. Then, stay in touch! Call in, email, or pop in for updates. Be the nice, but persistently squeaky wheel.
posted by quince at 4:47 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I haven't ordered a custom bike; I went with a semi-custom frame from Mike Kone at Boulder Bicycles, precisely because I wanted a frame that I would get in a reasonable period of time. Most people I know who ordered custom frames ended up waiting a lot longer than they initially thought. And I would guess that a frame builder who estimates 8-10 weeks is either not that well known or a really efficient producer. There are many for whom a typical wait time is on the order of 1-3 years (Peter Weigle, for instance).

Most frame builders are artisans, not businesspeople. The odds that you could get your money back without legal expenses are slim; your deposit presumably went into materials. I would think that at best, you'd be in small claims court; at worst, you'd need to lawyer up, which would quickly eat through any money you'd recover. I think quince's advice, of a face-to-face chat, is the best.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:58 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ah yes, I didn't literally mean tomorrow. That was a bit of a hyperbole.
I definitely want the bike as opposed to a deposit return.
Some good advice here. My one resistance to going in and having this conversation face to face is that he ALWAYS has other customers in his shop. I don't want to bad mouth / embarrass him in front of other paying customers.
I'll email him requesting and update and a request for a specific date on which I can expect to take delivery.
posted by matt_od at 5:09 PM on May 18, 2015

I had Marinoni build me a custom frame. It took 17 weeks.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:21 PM on May 18, 2015

Some good advice here. My one resistance to going in and having this conversation face to face is that he ALWAYS has other customers in his shop. I don't want to bad mouth / embarrass him in front of other paying customers.

This is exactly the kind of leverage you want. Make him feel a little discomfort, just like you have been put out.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:50 PM on May 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

If you play things right, you won't necessarily embarrass him in front of other customers. Just drop in and ask for an ETA on your frameā€”ask where it is, what's left to be done, any input he needs from you. If he has shown that email isn't the best way to get his attention, you're not likely to get your desired outcome by sending an email.

And if you plan to use the bike for a specific event, mention it. In my (limited) experience, and based on what I've heard, telling a frame builder that you plan to build up the bike in order to use it for a particular event will be more likely to get traction than just saying that you want it sooner rather than later. After all, anyone ordering a custom frame already has at least one other bike; otherwise, they're showing that they're foolish by ordering a custom without first figuring out what they want. (I had five when I ordered my semi-custom frame.) If you say, "I really would like to put this bike through its paces before I ride it on the X event on June 14," then he might be more willing to bump you up in his list.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:39 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with brianogilvie's assessment. It doesn't sound like a well-organized shop. Maybe he's growing fast, with all those customers hanging around while you want to talk business. BTW 8-10 weeks is at least 1/2 the time anyone I know waited for a custom frame, so he should be about finished.
posted by TDIpod at 6:47 PM on May 18, 2015

I'm also in the bay area and an amatuer framebuilder. I'd say that this is pretty much standard operating procedure for many framebuilders, not saying it's excusable but from lurking on many forums and lists this is something that comes up often. Let just say that many frame builders aren't really business people. You'll get your frame, it'll just take a bit longer than you thought it would.

My only custom frame was quoted at 6 months or so and took over 9 and my emails weren't always answered in a particularly punctual manner either.

Also as far as comparing wait times between's not really constructive, wait times are really really variable ranging from newer builders or production style shops that might turn your order around in about 4-6 weeks, to older highly sought after (or just hyped) builders like Richard Sachs or Vanilla who's wait list are 5 years or a decade. Of course most are somewhere in between but like anything hype plays a big role on who has a long wait and who doesn't.
posted by miles at 9:34 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I stopped by the shop a couple weeks later to just make sure there was an understanding on the paint and he had totally forgotten the email I'd sent until I showed him my reference picture again.

This guy is totally taking advantage of you because you won't do anything.

Spend $75-$300 to sit down with a lawyer in the bay area who will advise you EXACTLY what you need to do so that you get your money back (and maybe more) when this guy gets back to you with a bike that is NOT AT ALL what you were expecting.

This guy is a professional scammer.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:40 AM on May 19, 2015

Also, I don't understand why everyone is using the "lead time" argument from January. This mofo told you on April 1, that it would be painted next week. Its almost JUNE. Whats the holdup, and why hasn't he been clear on the delays as they are happening?
posted by hal_c_on at 12:43 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

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