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Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom Demerly at Ann Arbor Tri.

I hate waiting. I ordered four bikes for myself back in September and I haven't received one of them yet. When I ordered each one of these bikes the manufacturer gave me an estimate of the delivery time. With the exception of one manufacturer, all of them are late. Very late.

I don't have even one of the bikes I bought yet. I also paid for each of them early- presumably to get a little better shipping from the manufacturer. It hasn't worked (except in one case).

First off, I should mention the one company that did deliver when they said they would is Yaqui. Ves Mandaric at Yaqui actually builds his own bikes and he said my new Yaqui Carbo would be done in three weeks and it was done in three weeks. It is on the way here now. I should have it up and running in about a week or two.

Why do bike companies make us wait so long? There are a number of reasons. First off, I think a lot of people envision a bike company as an office with a bunch of cubicles and people in those cubicles taking orders then pressing some buttons on a computer and then an order printing out in a big warehouse somewhere. When the order prints out a guy goes, "Oh, hey! We have an order for Bikesport here, let's get this shipped today!" Then a couple hours later the bike gets loaded onto a waiting UPS truck and is on its way here.

Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. The bikes we sell and you buy are not commodity items. They cost hundreds and many times thousands to produce. Most of the companies that build them are very, very small- less than ten employees. As a result, they cannot afford to make any extra bikes. They can't afford many defects either. At any given time there are basically no bikes sitting around waiting to be sold. The larger guys may have some in inventory available for open sales, but in general everything is sold well before it is built. In fact, the bike you buy from us today was probably ordered b us back in September of '02 before you even thought of buying it. Now your name gets attached to that bike order and you own that place in line. If we didn't do it that way you (and I) would have to wait even longer.

Other factors that compound the wait are the day-to-day happenings in every person's (employee's) life. In a small company with two to four (at most) guys packing bike orders for every account in the world there is little room for attrition. If one guy gets the flu then 25% of the workforce is down. That means delays. More delays.

Today I talked to a very popular triathlon bike company on the phone about an accounting error they made. When I tried to discuss it with their credit manager her voice mail said she would be gone for a number of weeks to have a baby. Now, that's understandable. It's one of the events that take place in people's lives. The thing is, she is the only credit person. So I had to phone back four times to get our inside sales person to help with this problem. She did help and she did a fine job, but it did take 25 minutes to finally get to her, another 2 minutes to explain and about 8 minutes for her to fix it. That's 35 minutes and that's just one invoice from one bike company. And it wasn't even our mistake- we pay cash for almost all of our bikes so there should (theoretically) never be any hassles.

Today I got a letter (one of many) from another bike company. They were addressing the price increases and delays in bike delivery. This is what the letter said:

"Currently the industry is facing very long lead times because of key parts delays. Shimano and many other component makers are feeling the success and growth of the road market; this is causing much longer lead times than these component makers have given us over the last few years. "

The letter goes on to explain why things are late and why they now cost more. But it doesn't get my bikes (or yours) to us any sooner. They also can't tell us when the bikes will be here.

So, in some sense, its business as usual. Every year there are delays. Strikes happen, currencies fluctuate, people get sick, pregnant, leave to change jobs, etc. So delays always happen. But it is maddening. Including my own bikes I am also waiting for another 217 bikes. Those are your bikes. At this time of year the bulk of my work day is spent tracking those bikes down. I am on the phone with vendors (or trying to get them on the phone), trying to find out where the bikes are, when they will be here, how to get damaged ones replaced, etc. etc. I wish I could spend this time selling, fitting and building bikes. But instead, I have to spend it babysitting bikes that have already been sold. It's frustrating and makes for a long day. Most days nothing has changed at the end of the day. I don't know anything more than I did when I started.

Then one day, usually without warning, the bikes just show up. They're late and we had no good indication of specifically why, but they do finally arrive. It never fails.

Like I said, I hate waiting and I bet you do too. But it has been this way for years and it is getting worse with the growth of road and triathlon cycling. A weak economy isn't helping since some bike manufacturers are really strapped for cash to pay for components they need to complete bikes. That is another reason why we pay cash up front for the bikes we buy. In many cases we do get preferential shipping because we do pay most of our bike companies in cash.

So what do you do in the meantime? Well, I went skiing for a weekend. I'm riding my old bike on the trainer. I'm making sure all the parts I need to build my new bikes are here before the bike arrives. But mostly I'm just waiting for the bikes- yours and mine- to arrive. And there isn't a thing I can do about that. As a matter of fact, it's about time for me to call another company to find out where some bikes are….

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© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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