Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Stromer Tar Pit

Sunday, Mr. X pulled up in the back parking lot with his brand-new Stromer ST 1 Platinum on the bike rack of his SUV. The rear brake had gone mushy on this one exactly as it had on the other black diamond-frame bike in the batch I just assembled.

I was glad I had ordered a new bleed kit to replace the improvised one from the 1990s that our shop had used on Magura rim brakes. Along with all the other sucking chest wounds in the repair shop I told Mr. X I would have the bike ready for Monday morning when his gang was going for a ride. I'd already done it on one bike with a less than optimal tool kit. It should be a snap, right?

I put the bike in the stand, removed the neoprene sleeve over the wiring on the chain stay, unhooked all the wiring connections, cut the various zip ties, broke loose the 19mm axle nuts and maneuvered the 25-pound rear wheel out of the dropouts past the derailleur. I removed the brake pads and inserted the block to hold back the pistons in the brake caliper. Next I undid the forward mounting bolt to help orient the caliper vertically once the bike was positioned with the front wheel up at the ceiling. That had to be tied to a pipe in the overhead to hold it straight so the brake lever would remain in the proper attitude.

The latter maneuvers required a stepladder, as does the bleeding process itself on these bikes.

Once the bike was positioned I could hook up the syringes of the bleed kit to the fittings on the caliper and the brake lever.

Magura's video, in addition to being dubbed in English so Bernd the technician's lips keep moving after the narration has stopped, shows the bleeding procedure on a front brake on a conventional mountain bike. It's quick! It's easy! It's fun for the whole family! Need the caliper oriented vertically? It basically is already. Piece of cake.

Even though our new bleed kit supposedly has the fittings for Magura brakes, they don't fit exactly right. Magura's own kit is a lot more money and the fittings shown in the catalog look identical to the ones on our old rim brake kit, which also does not fit the new disc brakes precisely. So there's a bit of weeping and the chance of air being introduced during the procedure to eliminate air from the system.

Between interruptions from customers I worked my way through the bleed and reassembled the bike: untie, lower, clean caliper, insert pads, reinstall 25-pound rear wheel, reconnect wiring, and, finally, test squeeze the brake lever.

Totally dead. It was now 15 minutes to closing time and I was supposed to ride an hour home in time to shove down a bit of supper before some guests came over to share a birthday cake the cellist had made for me. But I'd told Mr. X we would have this done. I had to try at least one more time.

Tired of lugging that 25-pound rear wheel around, for this round of bleeding I removed the caliper completely from the bike, cut the remaining zip ties to allow it to hang down below the bottom bracket and screwed it to a wooden framework I scrounged up that happened to be a convenient shape and size. While this did not put the caliper and lever ends in exactly easy reach it was easier than going up and down a stepladder over and over. I was able to fill and bleed the system in half an hour.

Successful bleeding of the brakes on these two brand new $4,000 Stromer electric bicycles does not answer the question, "why did they need bleeding in the first place?" I had seen a sheen of fluid around the vicinity of the caliper on both bikes, but there was no big stain in the box when I unpacked them or a massive dripping mess to indicate where the system had emptied itself catastrophically. There was just that little schmear. It looks as if the halves of the caliper do not mate quite correctly, but nothing is obviously warped or loose. I won't be surprised to see a Stromer or Magura brake recall on MT 2 disc brakes before the year is out. But why only on the two black men's bikes and not on the white and red step-through models?

I've given up on getting a lot of two-way communication from Stromer. They're obviously too busy selling these things to worry about a few that don't work, even if the bikes belong to some of the richest people in the country. It's nice to see they're not letting their heads be turned by all that dough. You can see their point, can't you? The rich folks have already spent their money. That makes them no more use than any other customer who has already purchased the product. Time to move on to new conquests.

I'm not sure when loyalty to old customers became a liability and the quest for new new new ones became the mark of success. I guess it's all part of the growth philosophy that drives corporate planning and cancer. An old customer is only as good as the money they're willing to spend on your new product. And since the products are poorly thought out and badly supported, new customers are your only hope. Go for the people who haven't heard about you yet!

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