Easton Bell Sports: Now That’s Customer Service

Entrepreneurship, Health

Easton Bell $0.00 highlighted

Just wanted to send out some well-deserved praise for a company with excellent customer service.

Last December I damaged my Giro snowboard helmet.  I bent the metal snap of the goggle strap on the rear of the helmet.  (I mean the strap at the rear that clamps down over the strap of ski goggles).  After unsnapping the strap to remove my goggles, I found I could no longer close the snap.

I use this snowboard helmet for winter cycling.  As I don’t have a car, I need it on a daily basis.  This was an especially cold winter here in Madison.  I generally switch from wraparound glasses to ski goggles below 15°F.  While I don’t use goggles everyday, this is Wisconsin!

So, I emailed Giro, asking where I could buy the replacement parts.  I wasn’t optimistic.  In this age of disposable products and terrible customer service (I’m looking at you, AT&T, major airlines, Chase Bank, etc.), I half-expected to be told there are no replacement parts, if I were to be answered, at all.

They actually got back to me the very next day.  It was Customer Service Rep Amber Thomas, from Easton-Bell Sports, the parent company of Giro.  She said she would put the replacement strap in the mail, and I should receive it by the end of the week.  Sure enough, the strap arrived two days later.  I was thrilled to be able to use my goggles the rest of the season, without having to buy a brand new helmet.

(For those of you who say you don’t need the helmet strap to use goggles:  while running errands around town on my bike, I’m constantly removing my goggles and putting them back on.  This is much, much simpler to do with your helmet’s goggle strap latched to your goggles, as if the goggles were an integrated part of your helmet.)

When I wrote Amber back expressing my gratitude, she replied, “We just want you to have a fully functioning helmet.”

What you’re looking at in the image above is the packing list that arrived with the replacement parts.  Notice the figures listed in the “price” columns.  That’s right, “$0.00”

But, wait.  There’s more.

Several years back, I had a great little micro-light for the top of my skating helmet.  This was back in Houston, where the heat and humidity made Rollerblading at night the natural choice.  You need a light to skate at night, obviously.  Some of you may know this micro-light I’m referring to, called The Flea, by Blackburn.  They still make the Flea, but back then the Flea charged off of any battery via a little charging device.  My charger had a wire break loose.  I emailed Blackburn about it.  Same as with my helmet, Easton-Bell Sports, the parent company of Blackburn, sent me a replacement charger at no cost.

We’re talking a company with nearly $1 billion in annual revenue.  So how do they succeed while giving away equipment at no charge?  By making lifelong customers like me.  That’s how.

Just FYI, after selling one of its several manufacturing divisions, the company has recently rebranded itself as BRG Sports.

Layering For Cold Weather: Technical Clothing Systems

Health

layers vert

Body moisture:  it’s your worst enemy when dressing for winter cold. You can be wind-proofed and layered to excess. But if your layers aren’t venting that moisture, the minute your body stops radiating heat, the moisture trapped in your clothing will chill you like a Perdue chicken.

My first winter riding around Madison, I used to either underdress and regret having ever left the house, or I’d over dress, get damp with perspiration, and experience bone-chilling, near-hypothermic misery. Now, after three winters in Madison, I’ve got my layering systems down to a science. I’ve kept notes in increments of 1° or 2°F, from 40°  down to -1° F, both for cycling and walking.  (See below.)

I’ve also filled out my wardrobe of base layers, mid-layers, and technical garments. I prefer Patagonia’s synthetic products. They insulate and vent moisture as well as anything out there.  As a bonus, many of their products are made from recycled plastic bottles.

Just a few things to emphasize before presenting my layering systems.

I pay little attention to my legs. While I do wear a wool insulating layer under my jeans or cords, I leave my legs exposed enough to prevent them from perspiring.  Why?  Because I don’t own any high quality pants that are BOTH windproof AND breathable. Wearing lesser quality windproof pants, my legs get sweaty and damp–the last thing I want when it’s cold. Pants made from Gore-Tex Pro are very expensive. I do own a Gore-Tex Pro jacket ($600), as venting the body core and arms is much more important than the legs. Plus, I bike 95% of my trips around town (no car!), and on my bike my legs pretty much take care of themselves in the warmth department.

However, crotch warmth needs to be accounted for. (Duh!) In conditions of bitter cold (5° F, or lower), I’ll stuff a pair of glove liners down my crotch, and we’re good!

The head is easy. Above 20° F, I wear my aero-helmet with a headband and cycling glasses. Below 20° F, I stay warm in a snowboard helmet. I switch to ski goggles below 12° F  or when it’s windy. The key to snow-helmet comfort is a venting system, one which can be opened or closed on-the-fly. The head generates serious BTUs of heat, so when the air is in the upper-teens, or when pedaling hard, opening the vents keeps one from overheating.

One last thing to note. I avoid windproof insulation under my hardshell. Windproof fleece, such as Patagonia R4 or soft shells with a Gore-Tex layer, work really well as outerwear; they’re my go-to outer layers in milder weather (>30° F). But when worn as an insulating layer, they don’t breathe well.  The consequence:  trapped moisture close to the body.

Below, I’ve condensed my notes (layers for cycling), in increments of approximately 5°. The notes specify weather conditions, time of day, and the success/failure of the layers listed. What’s not specified is the type of cycling: running errands around town, i.e., bicycle trips of 15 to 25 minutes.

Message me or leave a comment if you want the full version (or if you’d like my notes for walking/hiking, instead).

Abbreviations

“Cap” = Capilene (Patagonia)
“Cap 3 crew” = long sleeve crew-neck
“Alpine Jacket” = Patagonia Super Alpine Jacket
“Gore Softshell” = Gore Bike Windproof Softshell
“Hi-loft” = either Patagonia R3 jacket or North Face Radium jacket

35-deg, 11pm, 8mph wind
— perfectly layered, home from High Noon Saloon
Cap1 stretch SS
Cap1 stretch LS
wool LS crew
Cap4 Full Zip
Gore Bike softshell
Capilene scarf, took this off 1/2-way home
wool leggings + jeans
glacier gloves w/ med. liners
Keen hiking boots, Smartwool socks

29 – 30 deg, 12 pm, 9 mph wind
— a bit over-dressed to Co-op; the backpack added warmth
Note: started out the ride with good warmth built up
lighter wool leggings + cords
Capilene 2 LS (this should’ve been a Cap 1, and the Cap 4 could’ve
Cap 4 1/4-zip been Cap 3)
Alpine jacket (possibly could’ve been softshell)
med-weight balaclava (allowed you to leave jacket 1/2-zipped)
lobster gloves + best liners
Keen hiking boots, wool socks
aero helmet + headband, glasses
backpack

30 – 26 deg, 7 – 8 pm, 13 mph wind
— ears/jaws got cold on way home, to Co-op
Note: started out the ride with good warmth built up
lighter wool leggings + cords
Two-layer insulation
Capilene 1 SS (torso was perfect)
Cap 4 1/4-zip
Gore softshell
(would’ve been nice to have mid-weight balaclava for ride home at 26 deg)
lobster gloves + best liners
Keen hiking boots, wool socks
aero helmet + light-weight headband, glasses
backpack

25 deg, 5pm, 5 mph wind, 96% hum.
— just right to State Street, then to Co-op
— was a bit chilly when you had your Cap 4 part-way unzipped
lighter wool leggings + cords
cotton TCap 4 full-zip
Alpine Jacket
lobster gloves + best liners
Keen hiking boots, wool socks
aero helmet, headband
glasses
backpack

22 – 19 deg @ 3 – 5 pm, 13 mph wind
— to State St. (overheated on the way out!! Just right on way home.)
wool leggings + jeans
cotton SS
Smartwool top
North Face Hi-loft fleece
Alpine jacket
lobster gloves, windproof cyc. gloves
wool socks
Keen hiking boots
aero helmet w/ headband
Campy balaclava

17 – 20 deg, 7 – 8 pm, 14 mph wind
— to Co-op (maybe also to Trader Joe’s)
wool leggings + cords
Silk weight Cap SS
Cap2 crew [should’ve deleted this]
Cap4 Full Zip
Alpine hardshell
lobster gloves w/ liners (hands totally fine!)
snowboard helmet (Note: no headband — just tightened chin strap)
Keen hiking boots, Smartwool socks [toes a bit cold when riding hard]
(carried in bag: Capilene scarf, 2nd pr. glove liners, balaclava)

30 – 16 deg, 5 – 8 pm, 9 mph wind
— to Mason Lounge
Note:
lighter wool leggings + cords
Cap 1 SS
Cap 2 1/4-zip[carried Cap 4 full-zip for ride home]
Alpine jacket
med-weight balaclava
lobster gloves + best liners
Keen hiking boots, wool socks, light wool socks
snowboard helmet + glasses

14 deg, 6 pm, 9 mph wind
— to State St. then to Absolutely Art
— torso was too warm; removing the Cap 2 crew was good;
wool leggings + cords
Cap 1 stretch SS (this should’ve been LS, and no Cap 2 layer)
Cap 2 crew [took this off!!]
Cap 4 Full Zip
Alpine hardshell
ski gloves w/ windproof cyc. gloves + liners (hands good until very end)
snowboard helmet
Campy balaclava
Keen hiking boots, Smartwool socks + wool footies
— (feet good until way home from Jenifer St. Mkt.)
(carried in bag: Capilene scarf, 2nd pr. glove liners)

14 – 11 deg, 2 – 4 pm, 4 mph wind
— to Manona Terrace then to Jennifer St. Mkt.
— torso a bit too warm to Manona Terrace; legs/feet/hands perfect
— hands & feet freezing on way home from Jenifer St. Mkt.(probably b/c boots & gloves were a bit damp inside
— should’ve taken gloves off when browsing in stores)
wool leggings + cords
Cap 1 stretch SS
Cap 3 crew
Cap 4 Full Zip
Alpine hardshell
lobster gloves w/ windproof cyc. gloves (should’ve added liners later) snowboard helmet
Keen hiking boots, wool-blend socks (that’s all you had clean)
(carried in bag: Capilene scarf, 2nd pr. glove liners)

10 – 9 deg., 12-1p, 9 mph wind
— too warm!
lighter wool leggings + jeans
Cap 1 stretch SS
Cap 3 crew [had to remove this; should’ve been Cap 1 LS, could’ve rolled sleeves]
Cap 4 Full Zip
Alpine Jacket
heavier balaclava (Gore)
lobster gloves w/ best liners & light liners
Keen insulated boots, wool socks
snowboard helmet
Anon goggles
backpack

6 deg., 3p, 7 mph wind
— just right!
— to Co-op
Cap 1 stretch SS
Cap 2 quarter-zip
Hi-loft Full Zip (North Face)
Alpine Jacket
heavier balaclava (Gore)
lobster gloves w/ best liners and windproof cyc. gloves
Keen insulated boots, wool socks
snowboard helmet
Anon goggles
backpack

5 deg., 7p, 5 mph wind
— over-warm (had excess body-warmth built up + backpack, espec. on way home when backpack was heavy)
— to Co-op
>>>Next time, whenever you’ve got excess body-warmth built up, downgrade the Hi-loft layer to Cap 4
wool leggings + cords
silkweight Cap SS [could’ve deleted this b/c of the backpack]
Cap 3 quarter-zip
Hi-loft Full Zip (North Face) [Or, this could’ve been Cap 4
Alpine Jacket
— unzipped 1/4
— body a little too warm b/c of the backpack
heavier balaclava (Gore)
ski gloves w/ best liners and light liners
— hands were fine
Keen hiking boots, wool socks, lightweight wool socks
— feet perfectly fine
snowboard helmet (no headband)
Anon goggles
backpack

15 – 4 deg., 5p – 11p, 5 mph wind
— just right
— to Square to get bus to Greg’s; ride home from Greg’s
two silkweight Cap SS
Cap 4 full-zip
Hi-loft Full Zip (North Face)
Alpine Jacket
[most everything was comfortable, except my crotch!! Nearly frost bit. Should’ve stuffed lightweight glove liners down there.]
heavier balaclava (Gore)
lobster gloves w/ best liners and windproof cyc. gloves
— hands were fine (surprisingly! You were riding pretty hard the whole way home)
Keen insulated boots, heaviest wool socks
— feet perfectly fine
snowboard helmet (no headband)
Anon goggles
backpack

1 – 4 deg., 1 – 2p, 13 mph wind
— just right to doctors appt.
Cap 1 SSCap 1 LS (a bit too warm; rolled up sleeves on way home and was perfect)
Cap 4 full-zip
Hi-loft Full Zip (North Face)
Alpine Jacketcrotch: glove liners!!
heavier balaclava (Gore)
lobster gloves w/ best liners and windproof cyc. gloves
— hands were fine!
Keen insulated boots, wool socks
— feet perfectly fine
snowboard helmet
Anon goggles
backpack

-1 deg., 7p, 12 mph wind
— to Old Fashioned
lighter wool leggings + cords
Cap 1 stretch SS
Cap 3 1/4 zip
Hi-loft Full Zip (North Face)
Alpine Jacket
heavier balaclava (Gore)
lobster gloves w/ two pr. liners
Keen insulated boots, heavy duty wool socks
snowboard helmet (no headband)
Anon goggles

How Madison Healed an Ailing Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship, Health

awesome pup(photo credit needed)

Madison has made me whole again.  A phoenix rising from the ashes?  Check.  And not a moment too soon.

I was recovering from a serious loss:  grieving the death of my first beloved small business to the cancer of the Great Recession. Obstructing the grieving process was the insane work schedule of my new small business, a nighthawk radiology service.  Nighthawk radiology is third-shift work, 7 PM to 7 AM, seven days on and seven days off.  Each night my two-man team would process (receive, read, and report on) the ER imaging of 130 patients per night from nine regional hospitals.  Then we’d sleep the day long, eat “breakfast” at 5 PM, and do it all over again.  Needless to say, the intensity and Sysiphian nature of my work week allowed for little reflection or meditation.

But at the end of workday seven, I would fly from Houston to Madison to spend my off-week with my wife, who had just gone back to school for graduate studies in public health at UW Madison.  I was greeted each week by the magical sight of Tenney Park (below; photo credit needed), which is essentially the gateway to Madison coming from the airport.

Tenney Park

We lived in UW married student housing, called Eagle Heights.  Each Monday morning I would have the cab stop short of the complex and let me off at the bottom of the hill for a nice stroll up the bike path (below).
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Eagle Heights was a throwback to mid-century institutional community design, with 1200 units housing over 3000 people essentially off in the woods.  It was separated from the main UW campus by a mile-and-a-half of the lake shore, which insulated us from the famously hard-partying undergrads.

It was a quiet hideaway, shaded in summer by 150-foot white pines and old oaks of ten-foot girth.  Summer mornings could get a bit rowdy, as hundreds of the children of grad students ran wild in this bubble of safety and open space.  Summers in Eagle Heights demonstrate the occupation of little kids to be the playtime mimicry of working adults.

eagle heights sandbox

The adults spent a lot of time in the dirt, as well:  Eagle Heights has the largest community garden in the United States (below).
frautschi pointjpg

Our two-bedroom unit was “cozy.” We had brought our king size platform bed with us from Houston, and we were lucky to assemble it with the bedroom door open because, once the platform was screwed together, it blocked the door. Tiny, yes, but the 650 square-feet of space had been laid out so well that we had all we needed.

That tiny apartment, with its single entrance and instantly surveyable floorspace, both swaddled me in warmth and encouraged me to spend time outdoors (which I took to include all the quality beer bars in the area). For us coming from a 3000 ft.² house in Houston, Eagle Heights living forced us to pare back. It was a cleansing consolidation, sorting and culling the piles of material possessions one collects over the years. I was astonished to find myself able to let go, even of items from my childhood that had an irrational hold on me, like this model ship which found a very good home in the bedroom of one of our favorite neighbors (below).
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I feel the emblematic patterns of Middle Life–moving out of state, changing careers, gaining weight, losing hair. Yet I feel it’s in Middle Life that one can make certain choices one couldn’t have made years ago. I feel I’ve traded an old sailing vessel that wasn’t doing me any good for a new one. (Have I mentioned I’ve joined the sailing club?)

29340020

Joining the UW Hoofers sailing club  is something I never would’ve done before.  My pre-Madison worldview was that of consumer first.  And what do good consumers do when they want to go sailing?  They buy a boat of their own.  That probably explains why I’d never chosen to sail:  the concept of owning a boat, and a trailer with which to tow it, and rented storage, all presented a barrier to my entering the world of sailing.  The UW Hoofers Sailing Club leverages the resources of the community to provide the boats and infrastructure and volunteer efforts for maintenance.  For a modest $295/year, I can sail any of the 100+ boats (from dinghies to sloops, on up to six different keel boats), windsurfers, and even snow kites in winter.  Perhaps best of all is unlimited instruction at no extra cost, which is how I learned to sail.

terrace

Speaking of winter, I ride my bike year-round.

ebike snow

In fact, when my wife and I moved to Madison, we sold our cars and left them behind in Texas.  Madison is compact enough, we can go nearly everywhere we want on our bikes.  When we do need to go farther, the Metro bus system is superb, with seemingly more lines than one could ever need.  Also nice, there’s no bus stigma.  To see the bus carrying individuals of many different income levels is to see a city that confronts its traffic problem as adults:  rather than ever-widening streets at the expense of all else, the city actually restricts traffic in various ways, chiefly by restricting parking.  Instead of encouraging more cars into the city center, the city provides great public transit and some of North America’s most admired cycling and pedestrian byways.  The true economic elite in this town still of course drive luxury cars to work every morning.  But if they work in the city center, they park at a premium.  Everyone else enjoys free (with any current student ID) or cheap and highly efficient trips by bus, bike, or on foot.  I recently took the heavily used route #70 nine miles to the west side during rush hour, which took twenty-five minutes.  That same trip on a woefully under-funded bus system in Houston used to take me a punishing 45 minutes each way to and from the college campus where I taught.

Rather than prioritize the individual in his or her own car, Madison coaxes individuals out onto the streets, preserving great public spaces for more people to enjoy.  The site of its lively sidewalk culture and busy bicycle commuter paths could be mistaken for one of the nation’s great cityscapes, like Portland or Seattle or Berkeley.  Madison is a small, compact place.  Competing interests collide.  Hard choices must be made.  It’s clear the city is making many of them well.

aerial_UW_50mm11_1901

There is also Community Car, a car sharing club that rivals the amazing value of the Sailing Club.

CommunityCar logoFor a one time $35 sign up fee, we joined the club and can reserve any of the Priuses, pickup trucks, Honda Fits and Civics, five of them kept in various spots within a mile of our apartment.  The cars are fully insured and fully fueled at no extra cost, save for the hourly fee, which is only $7.50/hour or the $3.75/hour Night Owl rate after 11 PM.  Mileage only costs extra beyond 150 miles in a day.  My wife and I rent Community Car to the tune of $20/month on average. The service hits that sweet spot that’s  triangulated between the bus, the bike, and walking.  The car isn’t the symbol of American individualist freedom for nothing; it can be a real advantage to have a car for certain scenarios.  But not owning a car–not shouldering the financial costs (depreciation, fuel, interest on financing, insurance, sales tax, maintenance, repair; Consumer Reports estimates such costs for a Mini Cooper to be $5,800/year!) or the costs in lost time (dealing with maintenance or breakdowns or flats or dead batteries, researching the purchase, researching the maintenance/repair providers)–now, that’s a freedom in and of itself.  The catchphrase in the Community Car logo is “Own less.  Live more.”  I get that now.

This post is getting way too long.  Besides, by now one can see what I’m getting at about Madison.  Madison has shown us a paradox:  the riches of living modestly but deeply and without fear, in a place that values community.  In this town I feel awake again.  Again?  Or is it really for the first time, ever?