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A month ago I bought a 90s Trek road bike for $100 off of Craigslist. It was my size but it had sat outside untouched for over a year so I took it to my local bike shop for a tune-up. I was expecting to pay around $150-200 for stuff like new brake pads, tires, tubes, and brake/shift cables. They just took my name and phone number and said they'd call me when it's done.

I got a voicemail on Friday that they finished tuning it up, and that they had a lot of issues working on it. Apparently the seatpost and bottom bracket were seized and the rear hub needed to be rebuilt. They also said that the only bottom bracket they could order that fit it was a ceramic one that was around $250. They also said it took 12 hours of labor which is billed extra, and the final total is around $850.

This is way more than I expected or wanted to spend - it was just a starter bike to get some exercise on and maybe do some commuting. I'd like to not pick it up - how should I go about doing this?

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    Ouch! Sadly this is a question about contracts and services and not really about bicycles so is likely to be closed. I'd suggest asking on law.SE , or consult your local Citizens Advice Bureau. If LBS gave a quote then they should have contacted you before it went more than ~20% over that quoted amount.
    – Criggie
    Aug 14 at 18:56
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    I’d like to imagine you were the victim of some horrible prank—anyone who unsolicitedly orders a $250 ceramic BB for what’s evidently an old commuter is a professional comedian, not a bike mechanic.
    – MaplePanda
    Aug 14 at 20:27
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    Tangent - would you have invested 12 or 24 hours of your own free time on rehabbing this bike? Personally, I would have. Next time, ask SE and we'll help you get your bike going. You can ask in Bicycles Chat too.
    – Criggie
    Aug 15 at 23:03
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    "I was expecting to pay around $150-200 ..." - Was this something the shop quoted or you discussed with them? Or is it simply something you assumed but never talked about with the shop?
    – marcelm
    Aug 16 at 5:52
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    I’m voting to close this question because at this point it is a legal problem of service contracts.
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 16 at 13:33

7 Answers 7

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Law Stack Exchange could surely help you from a consumer law perspective. The New York Times’ ethicist column or similar could also advise. However, from a cycling perspective, I would expect a bike shop to know the relative value of the bicycle compared to what it would take to get it running. I would expect them to call the consumer if the bike was going to take a lot more work or cost a lot more than expected. I believe this is a common expectation. They definitely failed on this score.


If the bike were sitting outside for a year, then unfortunately, the amount of damage described is plausible. The seatpost and the BB being seized is expected. I would actually expect anything with bearings plus the chain to be badly damaged and possibly uneconomical to just service, meaning that the headset was probably also involved. I would assume all cables and housing needed replacement. Furthermore, the frame might have internal rust, which can cause a frame failure if it’s bad enough. Continuous exposure to wet weather is truly evil. Thus, we always counsel strongly against simply leaving a bike outside. They aren’t cars. If we built bikes to be as weatherproof as cars are, they would weigh a lot more and would be a lot less fun to ride!

A reasonable mechanic should know that an average Trek road bike from the 1990s isn’t objectively that valuable. I wonder if you heard correctly that they absolutely needed to get a $250 replacement square taper BB, but if so, that should objectively have raised a red flag with the mechanic to call the customer. I’ve not worked in a bike store, but 12 hours of labor does sound like a lot. If the mechanic realized the bike needed that long, they should once again have checked in. If you didn’t tell them the bike was stored outside for a long time, you should have, but that doesn’t excuse their failure. An experienced mechanic should have inferred the general condition of the bike if they disassembled one of the hubs.

As a counterpoint, watch this vid from Berm Peak Express. This was a prank, but he had a fake customer bring a top of the line SRAM wireless MTB group to get installed on a very cheap (I think department store quality, but definitely very dated suspension design) bike. The mechanic said he would check for compatibility, and call the customer. He did exactly that after seeing that the components were indeed compatible, and also asked about some other minor jobs that the bike could use. And this did involve a judgment of economic value, because the chain alone retailed for about what you paid for your bike. Hence, a shop should have called. I believe similar norms operate in automobile repair shops.

It definitely wouldn’t be nice to abandon the bike, but I expect a lot of people in this situation wouldn’t pick the bike up. Surely the shop would have thought about this?? I don’t know the exact legal issues, but there is a branch of law dealing with property abandoned at a business by customers. The shop may be required to retain the property for a short time, but eventually they could probably sell the bicycle if they can (but it’s unlikely they would get back $850). I am not sure what you owe the shop ethically, and I didn’t initially discuss it. Bike shops run on tight margins. I endorse the other answers saying that you should talk to the manager; I argue this was a significant failure on their part. I think it is not ethically optimal to simply walk away, but if the events were correctly described, the shop does need to be informed that they didn’t handle this well. Your leverage is that you can walk away and be out $100.


One thing I really get hung up on is the $250 ceramic BB. This places the BB in premium pricing territory, of the sort you’d put on a top end bike. There are a whole bunch of cheap but perfectly durable square taper BBs from Shimano or from less known manufacturers. (Previously, I made an assertion about Phil Wood BBs, which are a very well-regarded premium option, being considerably cheaper. Phil’s prices have come up since I last remembered, but they are still somewhat cheaper; the steel spindle standard bearing versions are about US$175, plus you buy the cups separately.) Naturally, if you actually want a ceramic BB for your older Trek, you should not let social convention stop you. But again, it was an objectively strange choice to make on behalf of the customer.

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    Chuckle over the Phil Wood BB being the bargain alternative :)
    – Armand
    Aug 14 at 21:10
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    Concur - a generic BB cartridge like a UN26 is under $30 and not exactly rare.
    – Criggie
    Aug 14 at 21:45
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    Reg the BB: please keep in mind that the crankset may be an exotic one, so they had to put that BB instead of changing the complete transmission ...
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 16 at 14:40
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    @EarlGray: OP said it was a ordinary 90s trek, so likelihood of it using an exotic BB is very slim. Aug 16 at 20:58
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    @whatsisname OP never said it is an ordinary 90s trek.
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 17 at 5:39
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I'd agree 100% with the other comments and answers about this being beyond unreasonable.

I'd give the shop a call and ask to talk to the owner or manager (in that order). Talk through the situation. At a minimum, let them know how dissatisfied you are with them doing this, that you'll not be paying 8 times more for repair work than the bike is worth, and that, if they don't make some adjustments (like replacing the BB with a $30 one as mentioned elsewhere) with the labor on them, not on you, that you'll just leave it there in their capable hands to attempt to resell at the quoted price.

Also, let them know that you'll be making the situation known among members of the local cycling community. "They" say that there's no such thing as bad publicity, but "they" also say that it takes 10 good recommendations to overcome one bad one. The shop owner should know that and should want to protect his reputation. He may not even be aware that this happened, and would be more than willing to make adjustments and have a good chat with the service manager/tech to explain how this went wrong on so many levels.

If you do walk away, sure you're out your $100, but A) it's a lesson learned, and B) a lot of folks will blow that on an evening out...

Note: One of the lessons learned is to get an estimate (not a guaranteed price, but an estimate) in writing, and ensure that they know to call with a quote before starting any repairs.

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    " you'll not be paying 8 times more for repair work than the bike is worth" the shop may easily reply "the bike now is on par with high end actual bikes and can be sold for 1500$" so the repair is just half of the value. And there are waiting lists for any kind of bicycles, so a good salesman can sell that vintage bikes for that price to a customer (and maybe the shop is even being honest!) Using the worth as a base for the discussion is shaky at best. Good thing is, at that point you can walk off and say "good to know, then keep the bicycle and sell it to pay the bill" :) .
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 16 at 15:34
  • May not have said it as well as I'd intended, @EarlGrey, but that was my intended meaning.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 16 at 15:40
  • Methinks a law should be passed: If the total cost of repairs to any item comes out to more than it would cost to replace said item with another item that is closer to new than the item that is repaired, the shop must inform the item's owner of the cost to repair said item, before the owner is given an opportunity to pay the final bill. If this notification does not happen, the owner is entitled to repossess the item without paying for the repairs; otherwise, the owner is still under no contractual obligation to pay more than the cost of replacement but the shop then owns the item. Aug 16 at 19:09
  • @MontanaBurr The 9 scariest words in the English language: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." We don't need more laws, we just need people to be taught how to think instead of just taught to pass a test. </off-topic rant>
    – FreeMan
    Aug 17 at 11:52
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I'd like to not pick it up - how should I go about doing this?

Well, if your mind is already made up then don't pick it up. Are you just looking for affirmation for your idea?

If your mind isn't made up then keep reading.


The invoice might not be unreasonable but the fact that they didn't consult you first is what's unprofessional.

A simple "Hey, we're estimating $500+ to get your bike working" would have went a long way. Tangentially, you should have expressed a limit at which they must call you: "Hey if this looks like more than $200 then please call me."

It sounds like you gave them a bike and expressed "Please get this working."

You're both at fault so sorting out this matter is a question of interpersonal relation more-so than one of legality. I mean, if they did a good job then would you consider doing business with the shop in the future? Don't burn your bridges so hastily.

Your starting line of defense is to physically go to the shop and say:

Hey, could we discuss this bill? I never received a call telling me that it was getting this high. I thought this was going to be a ~$200 job and this is considerably more than I was anticipating.

In no way am I trying to scam your shop but at this price I would have just bought a better bike. Honestly, I'd be willing to let you keep the bike for $100, the price which I paid on Craigslist.

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    "[If] they did a good job then would you consider doing business with the shop in the future?" Not if they charge $850, no. If I get a CEL on my 16 year old car and bring it in, I don't expect to come back to the shop to be told the car has been LS swapped without any prior notice, with a bill that exceeds the price of the vehicle by several orders of magnitude. I'm sure if they went ahead with the LS swap they probably know what they're doing, but it's (1) not what I asked for, (2) not reasonable, and (3) the procedure or final price were never communicated to me.
    – jayded-bee
    Aug 15 at 18:49
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    @jayded-bee Well, that sounds silly. OP's post indicates that they granted the shop autonomy in getting their bike up-n-running. This is akin to bringing your car in to get it running and then getting upset that it entailed replacing the fuel pump. Yes, the shop goofed by not communicating an estimate at any point.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Aug 15 at 19:21
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    There's a difference between a normal OEM fuel pump and one that costs ~8 times as much though. No sane person would assume their customer would want one of the most luxurious bottom brackets on an ordinary bike that was brought in with deflated tires. If the part was special and expensive enough that the ordinary means of part procurement for the shop weren't enough, that alone should have raised an alarm to call the owner of the vehicle.
    – jayded-bee
    Aug 15 at 19:27
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    The shop told the OP afterwards that the super-premium Bb was the only one available. this may not have been true. Worst case, the shop can have some employee with Amazon Prime buy a Shimano unit, or they can tell the OP that we have to order one from QBP but it’ll take a while to get here. Also, that is a super-premium BB, and it was an objectively strange choice, and the shop should have known. I don’t know that I can describe the OP as being at fault in this exchange.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Aug 15 at 22:46
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    'It sounds like you gave them a bike and expressed "Please get this working."' → It's been long since I owned a bike, but there certainly is a difference between getting it "working" and getting it revamped like it was new. A "working" bike just needs to move when I pedal, stop when I brake, turn when I turn, change gears when I shift, and not fall apart when I sit. Everything else is beyond "get it working", IMHO.
    – walen
    Aug 16 at 8:49
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Typically there are laws that govern how much a service business can charge you beyond their estimate in situations like this, if anything at all. The number varies by location so in terms of who has what rights and responsbilities in this situation, you will find your answer there.

Common practice in the industry is to give an estimate, potentially give some kind of contingency allowance along with the estimate in case of something like a stuck fastener, and then get specific approval from the customer if it's going to be more. Difficulties arising that threaten to take a lot of time or require more parts is common in bike shops and it sounds like the one in your story is having trouble with it.

The fact alone that the bike turned into a black hole of time is perfectly plausible. That is common and it can be very difficult for even a good shop to navigate to a win-win.

I would avoid any conversational line that involves how much the bike is worth, because it is subjective and not really what's at stake here. Figure out the legal rights and responsibilities piece and have a conversation about that.

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What the bike shop has done is not normal practice and beyond absurd. Every shop I've ever used (whether it's a bike shop, auto mechanic or whatever) will do a detailed assessment and confirm anything that wasn't pre-agreed is OK before proceeding. Legally I don't know where that leaves you but personally I'd just walk away from it.

That said: this is very often a trap with used bikes! The purchase price of a used bike is often the least expensive part of the exercise. The cost of even basic consumables (tyres, brake pads, tubes, cables) can easily exceed the amount paid for the bike. If you're not working on it yourself and have to to add the cost of labour on as well it gets expensive quickly. When buying a used bike (unless it's something special) I wouldn't touch anything that isn't more or less rideable as-is.

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  • "When buying a used bike (unless it's something special) I wouldn't touch anything that isn't more or less rideable as-is." And even then be prepared that components can go downhill quickly. I had a used mountain bike (2010-ish) that had been sitting idle but was rideable. In the first year (2020) I had to replace the front and back brakes, rotors, and rear derailleur. After the initial onslaught it's been riding well though. If I didn't order discounted components and use my own time, using a mechanic instead, the bike probably wouldn't be worth it. Aug 17 at 17:42
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Going counter every answer you received and playing devil's advocate role, I would say that if the Trek bike from the 90s was a top of the line bike, fitted with very good parts, the shop may have thought you wanted a top of the notch job, so they fitted top of the notch component (see ceramic BB).

If you are not an expert on bicycle, the "local bike shop" may be a shop called "Cipo's bike shop". To you it means nothing, but it would be like bringing an old Toyota pick-up to a shop called "Dale Earnhardt's workshop" ... you may expect them fitting some expensive parts.

The fact that you paid 100$ on Craiglist does not help: it may have been a crazy owner, or a thief (again, I am playing devil's advocate role), so the price may have been 100$, but maybe it was a Trek 5200 OCLV with Ultegra, so the value can easily be 5 to 6 times that.

Although I agree that 850$ is a huge bill, I am saying all these things because from the facts you present, there is a chance that there was poor communication from both side (still, the one from the shop is serious misscommunication if they did not give you an estimate or called you before doing 12 hours of work..).

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    "new brake pads, tires, tubes, and brake/shift cables." if the bike was fitted with butyl tubes and expensive tires, the shop may have replaced them with equivalent(ly expensive) parts, easily bringing the parts cost in the 150-200$
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 16 at 14:16
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    example of a "trek from the 90s": cyclist.b-cdn.net/sites/cyclist/files/styles/… This is a titanium-frame from litespeed, Trek labelled. I think it can easily cost ~1000$ and more. Maybe you have got an exceptionally good deal on the 100$ from Craigslist, and you do not know (yet)?
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 16 at 14:22
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    @DanK if the Ford is a Ford Escort Cosworth, sold by someone with no clue for £200, then it makes sense to bring it to a racing tuning shop.
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 16 at 17:24
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    I think the Cosworth analogy is great, but it would still be professional to give the customer a price estimate beforehand. The ceramic bottom bracket is also well beyond what anyone had in the 90s (in price, it probably won't make any measurable difference in performance).
    – ojs
    Aug 17 at 9:56
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    @EarlGrey One of the best Subaru shops in the country is local to me. And while they're famous for the project cars they work on, which you can see all over social media, their bread and butter when it comes to revenue is still normal maintenance and more ordinary repairs on stock or lightly modded cars. I'm curious if high end bike shops are the same.
    – Chuu
    Aug 17 at 21:10
3

Just to play devil's advocate, let's run through the story from the bike shop side using the info you've supplied.

The bike has been outdoors for some amount of time and the extra work they have had to put in could have taken 12 hours. Let's say the workshop rate is $20/hour, that's nearly $250. And the absurdly expensive bottom bracket, which you should absolutely ask them to remove, is another $250.

That leaves about $350 as the "real" bill (parts and standard service cost), which is not excessive if the bike is as bad as implied and parts of some quality were used. I think the $150-200 you imagined to start off with was naive HOWEVER the bike should have been assessed and the go-ahead got from you before significant time was wasted.

It looks like somewhere along the line, communication has failed and before you burn your bridges or get angry, you really need to find out why they did this apparently unauthorised work and what they are prepared to do before you take a route that puts you on the wrong side of their good grace.and/or force the issue.

Equally, you can just walk away and never go there again.
This happens quite often at cycle shops and generally after a year or so, the bikes are sold on or stripped and scrapped, as a bike takes up alot of space (more than you'd think if you only need to deal with 1)

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    "$20/hour" - lol, the nineties called...
    – MonkeyZeus
    Aug 15 at 17:11
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    To answer both questions, no. If the shop rate is $20/hour then how the heck do they keep their lights on? That's barely the "my friend with tools helped me" rate. I'm not a cyclist but $60-$100 seems to be the average shop rate. If a shop is charging $20/hour then it's either a charity or the employees are being exploited.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Aug 15 at 18:04
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    In my country a car mechanic will do 40€/hr. That aside, how could it possibly take a (presumably) capable mechanic TWELVE HOURS to redo the headset, the hubs, and bottom bracket? I've built entire bikes in less for crying out loud, learning as I went!
    – jayded-bee
    Aug 15 at 18:37
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    @jayded-bee Yeah, having non-rusted and new parts helps considerably. 12 hours might have something to do with this little detail: "it had sat outside untouched for over a year so". For all we know, the shop restored it to mint condition.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Aug 15 at 18:44
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    @Noise, why do you think they charge very high amounts if they are only paid 20 an hour??? That's a rip-off shop, only bottom bracket they could order that fit it was a ceramic one that was around $250 and the rear HUB needed to REBUILT? That's total garbage. That sounds like "you were dressed like a rich ignorant customer so we will try to shaft you on this one" Aug 15 at 19:54

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