Trying to Find DT Swiss Alpine III Spokes
Tuesday September 30, 2014
6:45 a.m. Kuala Lumpur
Bird Nest Guest House
I got a bit of a late start yesterday, so I didn’t accomplish as much as I’d hoped. I suppose I can also blame that fact on circumstance and the nature of Kuala Lumpur.
My current task is still to rebuild the wheels on my bike, and to that end, I wanted to go to another bike shop that I’d found out about – KSH Cycles. This was supposed to be Malaysia’s top end bike shop, and they were the regional distributor for the DT brand of spokes. I had been told that they would have DT Swiss Alpine spokes. I found them on Google Maps while at the Internet café the day before, and I’d carefully marked their location on my map of Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley. The problems started when I tried to figure out how to get there. There was no convenient subway stop, as there was with the Bike Pro shop. And, despite studying my city maps for a very long time, I could see no way to get there by bicycle. It was very frustrating. Kuala Lumpur has the most bicycle and pedestrian unfriendly road system I have ever seen. The roads used to get around are almost entirely highways. I’ve never seen anything like it. A typical large city has a grid of normal streets with a freeway system superimposed. Kuala Lupur has the freeway system but no regular grid of streets underneath it. There are non-highway streets, of course, but these just go in crazy loops or they turn into highways. No matter how long I studied the maps, I could put together no set of roads to get me from one part of the city to any other part. It just can’t be done.
Insane as it sounds, the best alternative I could come up with was to ride the subway system to the same subway stop near Bike Pro and then walk about three kilometers along a series of highways to KSH Bicycles. Even on foot, I could make out no regular roads that could get me there. My only option was to walk along the freeway. And this is what I did.
On the positive side, this allowed me to have an early lunch at the same Indian restaurant as before. The friendly waiter was there again, and he set me up with another selection of delicious curries and rice. After lunch, I began my trudge down the highway. It was largely the same experience as I’d had while cycling in from the airport except now I had to sprint across the deadly freeway entrance and exit ramps rather than cycle across them. There was no shoulder to speak of to walk on. Instead, I had to walk along a raised cement water drainage system – being very careful not to step into gaping holes in the cement or step on a paving stone that was loose and would spin around and dump me down – and likely break my ankle. I don’t think anyone on the planet could have accused me of having any fun at all on that long walk with the traffic blasting past at high speed. It was crazy and stupid and dumb, but I honestly saw no alternative. I’m sure there was some kind of bus connection that could have gotten me from downtown to this area, but I had no way to figure out what buses to take. I had decided that riding a bicycle would simply be too difficult and too stressful, but there is no way it could have been worse than walking, so I imagine I’ll use my bicycle for future errands.
In the end, my brutal walk to this shop and then back again along the same freeway was a waste of time. This shop was indeed the regional distributor for DT spokes. But in the world that I personally inhabit, this meant nothing. The man who assisted me at the store was friendly, but he could not set me up with Dt Swiss Alpine spokes. In fact, he had never heard of them. This shop carried only DT Champion spokes. And that’s it. They had DT Champions and not only did not sell other types of DT spokes, they were not aware that they even existed. My interaction with this friendly clerk began at the usual place – with him simply showing me the DT Champion spokes and then smiling helplessly at me. He was not aware that there was any other course of action open to him in the way of helping the customer in front of him – the customer who was on a cycling journey through his country and who had walked several kilometers along a highway to get there. He had DT Champion spokes. Did I want to buy some? No? Oh, well. Job done.
I kept my impatience and sarcasm in check, and I pressed him gently on perhaps checking to see if they could order some DT Swiss Alpine spokes. Crazy idea, I know, but as the regional distributor for DT products, you’d think there was some kind of telephone call he could make. At the very least, you’d think as a bicycle professional he’d be curious about these Swiss Apline spokes of which I spoke. Apparently, however, he had never seen a DT product line catalogue or bothered to take thirty seconds out of his life and look them up online and see what DT spokes there were. Outwardly, I was calm and gentle. Inwardly, I was, again, a storm of confusion. I simply can’t comprehend this lack of interest in one’s job. I understand that this or that bicycle shop would carry only the products that were popular in their market area. This shop specialized in extremely expensive and unusual racing bikes from Italy and Spain. The shop was packed with a couple of hundred bicycles that I had never seen or even heard of before. I didn’t see a single brand or bicycle that I recognized. For these lightweight racing machines, they used DT Champion spokes. I get that. But at some point, wouldn’t you be made aware that the DT company made more than just these spokes? For me, it would be like working at a Ford dealership and not being aware of the existence of the Ford Mustang. Perhaps your particular dealership did not keep Ford Mustangs on their lot. Perhaps there is no demand for the Ford Mustang in that market area. So you carry other Ford cars – family sedans and minivans, perhaps. But it would be very difficult to be a Ford salesman for years and never, somehow or other, learn of the existence of Ford Mustangs. It would be embarrassing for a Ford dealer to be ignorant of the Ford Mustang. For my money, it’s also embarrassing for a bicycle shop specializing in DT spokes to be completely ignorant of all spokes except for the DT Champion.
I did manage to convince the friendly fellow to at least check into ordering some Swiss Alpine spokes for me. This wasn’t a simple task, apparently, It never is for bike shops. They are locked into deals that restrict how and where they can get their products. This shop got its DT spokes through a company in Taiwan. Perhaps the spokes are made there. Perhaps they just pass through that country. In either case, he had to call Taiwan and inquire. From what I could make out from their conversation, the fellow in Taiwan had never heard of DT Swiss Alpine spokes either. My salesclerk had to confirm with me several times that this is what the spokes were called. I got the impression that he believed I was incorrect and DT made no such spoke. The conclusion was that even if such legendary strong spokes existed, there was no way that they could order them.
I got a little bit (just a tiny bit) passive aggressive with him at this point. I pointed out that as an individual, I could probably go online and order these spokes from any number of online bicycle shops and have them shipped to Malaysia. And if I could do it, why is it impossible for him to do it as an employee of the top-end bicycle shop in all of Malaysia? A bit embarrassing for them, no? Apparently not. He wasn’t embarrassed or apologetic in the slightest.
It’s a confusing life I lead. People generally don’t behave in the ways that I expect. I thought about how it would be if the roles were reversed – if I were a bicycle shop clerk and he the customer. First, of course, I’d be aware of the full line of DT produts – spokes and complete wheels. Second, if I wasn’t aware of them and was dealing with a customer, I’d go to the DT website right then and there and look the product up and check with the customer to see if this is what he was talking about. Then I’d do everything in my power to get that customer those spokes. If it were impossible, I’d try to find a solution for him – perhaps suggest that the customer order the spokes himself and use my shop’s address for the delivery. The customer would have to pay for the shipping, of course, but he could use my shop’s address. Then we could rebuild his wheels. This fantasy of good customer service is only in my head unfortunately. I had no choice but to leave the shop unsatisfied and as spokeless as when I entered.
A funny sidenote is that before I left, I asked him if he could do me a favor and measure the length of my sample spokes. If I ordered them online, I needed to know what lengths to order. I had asked the guy at Bike Pro to do the same thing. Afterwards, I asked the bike mechanic at another bike shop to do the same. The result? Three completely different measurements. I was told that my spokes were 264/266 mm, 266/268 mm, and 268/270mm. At the last shop, I pointed out to the mechanic that three different shops had now given me three totally different measurements. He went back and measured them again, this time more carefully, and he came up with 267/269mm. So now I had four sets of measurements.
I walked back along the highway to the subway station. I was really tired by this point and drenched in sweat. On my way, I stopped off at Bike Pro to talk to Jason. Whatever happened in the way of spokes, it was clear that Jason was key to having my bike put back in working order. Even if I do get the spokes I want, KSH Bicycle was not an option. That I did not get good vibes from there is an understatement. Jason at Bike Pro, however, was exceptionally friendly and helpful and knowledgeable. I wanted to talk to him about the Sapim spokes he’d shown me. He had shown me Sapim Leader spokes. He indicated that they were extremely strong – perhaps just as strong as DT Swiss Alpines. I had since done a bit of research online, and I was extremely disappointed to learn that the Sapim Leader spokes were considered the basic and somewhat standard Sapim spoke. The Sapim Strong was their heavy-duty spoke meant for tandems and touring. The Strong was the equivalent of the DT Swiss Alpine. The Leader was not. I knew it was a forlorn hope, but I wanted to ask Jason about the Sapim Strong. He disappointed me for the very first time as he had never heard of the Sapim Strong. Plus, there seemed to be no point even pressing for the option of ordering some. Jason said that any order – even if they could find them – would take two months to deliver. This is total insanity to me. Bicycle shops appear to live in a time warp of the 18th century. They’ve never heard of the modern world with things like Amazon and courier companies and worldwide next day delivery. I wonder, in fact, how brick and mortal shops manage to stay in business. You’d think to stay competitive, they’d have to expand their services to include special orders and fast delivery of products that they don’t physically stock. From what I can tell, however, their product and inventory systems have not kept up with the times. They can sell you whatever is sitting on their shelves, but that’s it. And I often get the impression that they will lie to you in subtle ways precisely in order to sell you what is in their store. They will insist that all these other products are unavailable or will take months to deliver in an attempt to convince you to just buy the stock they have on hand. It’s cheaper for them.
Except for the Sapim spoke issue, I had a good conversation with Jason. I talked about the other issues with my bike and the service options. I was pleased that he could easily keep up with me when it came to talking about bike mechanics. On the negative side, he said that they didn’t have the tools to service Shimano LX hubs. I was kind of surprised at this since Shimano is almost certainly the largest maker of bicycle hubs in the world. How could he not be able to service them? The point is that LX hubs are now quaint and old-fashioned. Modern bikes used sealed bearings. They don’t stock the grease that would be required to clean and repack a simple ball-bearing hub. The same went for the headset. If my headset wasn’t a sealed bearing, he really wouldn’t want to touch it. Depending on the size of my frame, he might be able to replace it with a new one. But he might not be able to clean and regrease my existing headset. Also, he would have to examine my wheels to determine if the hubs and rims were still serviceable. If they weren’t, then even ordering spokes on my own might not be useful. I’d just be wasting money, as it might be a better option to just buy complete new wheels.
None of this was what I wanted to hear, and I had pretty much spent an entire day of walking down freeways to get absolutely nothing done. And I wasn’t even much further ahead in terms of understanding my options. It all came down to how I felt about Sapim Leader spokes. If I decided to trust Jason’s opinion that they were more than strong enough for a touring bike, then the best option by far was simply to hand my bike over to Jason and let him do his magic. He’d have the entire bike right in front of him and could check the rims and hubs and then rebuild the wheels as he deemed fit. I wouldn’t have to worry abut spoke lengths or anything else. He’d just use the appropriate length spokes as he built the wheels. A major concern was the price of the Sapim Leader spokes. I had read they were somewhat basic spokes. Yet, Jason said they charged 3.8 ringgit per spoke. That is well over $1 per spoke. That is very expensive – easily the same as DT Swiss Alpine spokes, if not more. I have to go online to see what it would cost to order my own DT spokes.
I spent the afternoon and evening chatting with people at the Bird Nest and had a really enjoyable time.
Today, I might switch gears and try to find the Olympus service center.