I like Aerospoke wheels. I really like them. In fact, I like them so much I bought seven over the years, six in the last five years alone. And I tried to buy four more. I really, really tried, but Aerospoke did its best to keep me from buying those wheels, and finally, they succeeded. I gave up.
Does this sound odd? Companies that manufacture a specialty product normally want people to buy it. In fact, a repeat customer would normally be considered a good customer, a customer deserving of the kind of professional, earnest attention that will not only keep them coming back, but will cause them to encourage others to buy that specialty product. That’s just good business, isn’t it? That’s how any business stays in business and grows: by selling enough products to make a profit.
Throughout this little missive, you’ll see the wheels I bought over the years. The first was for my P-38, the first recumbent I ever owned. I wanted a front wheel too, but Aerospoke has never made a 16” wheel. Oh well.
Then, more than a decade later came our V-Rex and Stratus. Aerospoke does make 20” wheels, and we were pleased to have them. It’s not just appearance, though they look cool. One doesn’t have to have Aerospoke wheels trued, which for folks that weigh just a bit more than 150 pounds, is a regular maintenance item. Yes, they weigh more than the lightest spoked wheels, and one can buy carbon fiber wheels that cost a small fortune, but I can’t and won’t spend that kind of money, and I’m well past the age when saving a gram on bike components here and there means a thing to me. Then came our first trikes, which is where the story begins.
Actually, it begins with the V-Rex and Stratus. Our then-favorite bike shop, which sadly, no longer exists, ordered the wheels, and it took about a month to get them. Aerospoke has always been a bit slow, but they’re a custom shop, and they don’t build a wheel until they have a purchase order or payment. Even so, the wait has always been annoying, but because I like the wheels so much, I was willing to abide it. The point is, the wheels actually arrived, and they worked as advertised, as I had come to expect.
But with advancing age inevitably comes a bit of balance instability, and when Mrs. Manor, who is seven years older than I, started experiencing a tiny bit of that future, we decided the better part of valor was a fast trike for her, and settled on the Terra Trike Sportster. The nearest recumbent shop was Easy Street Recumbents in Austin, TX, about a 2.5 hour drive for us, but worth it. The folks at Easy Street are relaxed, genuinely nice people, and funny too. They’re the best-stocked shop around, and they know their business. They ordered Mrs. Manor’s trike, and Terra Trike shipped it as promptly as any solid business would.
Fortunately, various obstacles, including my shoulder surgery, kept us from getting to Austin for more than a month to pick up the trike. I say “fortunately,” because it took about a month and a half to get the Aerospoke rear wheel for her trike. I estimate I made no less than 20 phone calls and e-mails to Aerospoke just trying to get in touch with them. No one would answer their phone, or an answering machine with a badly updated message–the date was a month or more off–would answer, only to tell me it was full and wouldn’t record any messages. The Easy Street folks also made numerous calls and e-mails.
Occasionally, the Aerospoke folks would return a phone call or e-mail and were very apologetic, but just couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t find Easy Street’s wheel order. Eventually, they said they had a fire in their facility and were rebuilding and lost most of their orders, including mine, but that came very late in the process, and as the days went by, it was becoming harder and harder to get any response from them at all. That said, after much frustration, we did finally get the wheel.
After riding with Mrs. Manor for several months, I decided to go for a Sportster too, and masochistic as I am, I had Easy Street order another Aerospoke rear wheel for me. This one took about a month, and somewhat fewer e-mails and phone calls, with equal difficultly actually speaking with anyone. Encouraged–I’ve always been a sucker for people that appear to be trying to do the right thing–I asked Aerospoke–during one of our rare actual phone conversations–if they still had 20” front wheels that would work with our trikes. I remembered that Aerospoke and Terra Trike had a collaboration four or five years back.
Aerospoke assured me they did, and could get four of them together. They even agreed that if they didn’t work properly, they’d take them back and remit a full refund. They, Easy Street, and Terra Trike all wanted photos of our trikes with the 20” front Aerospokes. I was encouraged, encouraged enough to fork over nearly $1800 dollars for the wheels. That would have made me the purchaser of eleven Aerospoke wheels during my adult life. I doubt few could say the same.
And with that, I settled down for what I thought would be the usual month-ish wait. It wasn’t, and at nearly a month, I began trying to contact them again. Phone calls went unanswered, I ran up against answering machine messages a month or more outdated and answering machine messages that asked me to leave a message or e-mail, and then told me the answering machine was full. However, the answering machine always assured me my message was very important to Aerospoke. My e-mails were never returned. To be fair, I did receive one e-mail from them telling me they were working on the wheels and asking me to be patient. That was at about the month point.
I kept watch on their web site, which for a short time, mentioned a fire, and went through a few changes until finally, this:
And I still couldn’t get a response from them, despite successive several e-mails in which I demanded they either get me a tracking number for the shipment of wheels, or a complete refund by a date certain. No response. After more than two months of this, I contacted the bank that issued the credit card on which I charged the wheels (one of the smarter things I did in this entire debacle), and within a few days, I had my money back, safe and sound.
I tried to e-mail Aerospoke to tell them I recovered my money and obviously did not want the wheels. When I clicked on the “contact us” icon, this is what I got:
That pretty much summed up my experience in trying to deal with Aerospoke. I tried calling again too. The usual. My call is very important to them, and I can e-mail them too, please leave a message, but the recorder is full–too bad.
Before trying to e-mail them again, I doubted it would be possible. I also doubted they were still in business. After all, if they treat one of their best customers this way, why would anyone think they could remain in business? If your business is making and selling wheels, but you’re apparently not making and selling wheels… I figured when–or if–they discovered I got my money back, they’d get in touch if they felt like it. It has been about two weeks since my reimbursement, and, unsurprisingly, I haven’t heard a word. They have some 50 days to contest things, but I doubt I’ll be hearing from them.
So, we’ll ride on two out of three spoked wheels, and hope the Aerospokes last forever. If they don’t, I’m not optimistic about my chances to get a replacement. It’s a shame, because we really do like the wheels, but if you can’t get them, that really doesn’t matter. I can’t say I’d never do business with Aerospoke in the future, but I’d do so only with considerable reluctance, and only if I could reliably get in touch with them when necessary and received convincing assurances they were conducting their business, well, like a business.
It’s strange indeed that we see, more and more these days, businesses that seem to have no idea what customer service means. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy Aerospoke wheels, but if you make the attempt, caveat emptor.