Monday 12 March 2012

The perfect pannier

The perfect pannier, or bike bag, is probably a Platonic Ideal, up there with the perfect saddle (which is made with marshmallow, stuffed with cloud), or the perfect circle. Nevertheless, although we know that perfection is unattainable, yet we strive for it, as Shakespeare said, or if he didn't, he should have.

The perfect pannier has, on each side, one large compartment and one small; the large being suitable for a bike battery and a bottle of water or two, and the small being a good place to keep bike repair tools, spare inner tube and bike lock. It attaches to the backrack with Velcro, because that means that it's quick and easy to remove for when you need to heave the bike over a stile (and the additional six kilos of battery means that you can't lift it, let alone swing it up and over). It has a handle on top, so that after you've detached it from the backrack you can conveniently pick it up to carry over that stile. It has zippers to close the bags, because zippers tend to stay closed, unless you want to open them. And it has a small loop at the bag, suitable for attaching a red light, so that car drivers who run you down at night no longer can cry "Smidsy", or "Sorry mate I didn't see you!".

I had such a pannier, purchased at an economic cost (£9.95) from Tesco (every little helps), but a couple of years of use, and especially the last nine months of intensive use, has led to the Velcro tearing, the seams coming apart, and holes developing in the bottoms of the compartments that have required ever-increasing quantities of duct tape to keep the insides in and the outsides out. So, I've been looking to replace it.

I got a pannier from Ebay, for a mere £7.95. It only had two large compartments, no handle, nowhere to fix a light, and the compartments did up with straps that would gradually loosen as I rode along. It worked. Kind of. But was far from perfect.

I got a better one from Sports Direct for £19.95, reduced from some huge price. All Sports Direct prices are at least 50% lower than they used to be, and in some cases as much as 80% lower, although I have never to my recollection seen anything sold there for full price; I suspect there is one small branch in Uttar Pradesh that offers goods at full price, thus legalising the dramatic discounts we (almost) all see. Great for me, tough cheese for the inhabitants of Uttar Pradesh. But the Sports Direct pannier, although huge, multi-pocketed, and with handle, suffered from the disadvantage of being attached with straps, and so no quick-release, plus of being truly huge. Maybe very suitable for long distance biking on roads, with much cargo.

So recently, I tried Google Shopping, to see what they might have. I found there the ETC bag pannier double 600D black, sold by Amazon, for a measly £9.86. I looked at the pictures, I read the reviews, I salivated. This looked to be the answer to my prayers.  The description from Amazon is "Lightweight and easy". Well, at least I wouldn't be getting a bag that was both difficult to use and weighed a ton, although if there are any like that, they probably don't tell you so. I looked at other people's web sites selling the same thing; they were similarly parsimonious in their descriptions. There was a small and hard to see picture that told me nothing, so I had to rely on customer feedback. It had two pockets on each side, one large, one smaller. It had Velcro attachments, it had a handle, although I had to read the customers reviews quite assiduously to glean all this information, and if any of that is mistaken, I can't get stroppy woth Amazon "Not our fault guv, we didn't write that".

Still, £9.86 isn't a king's ransom, so I took the plunge. It arrived today, and it's a paragon of virtue, a prince among panniers. It's just like the one I got from Tesco ... hang on a minute ... it's *exactly* like the one I got from Tesco, except that it has an "ETC" logo on it.

It came in packaging that led me to, and sure enough, they offer ETC branded goods as part of their range. But when you click on ETC nothing happens, and, as far as I can tell, there's no way on their web site that you can find out what ETC goods the offer, or the prices, or anything. So I phoned them up, and it turned out that the phrase I'd seen "Todays cyclist consumer website" wasn't, as I'd thought, a mere boast about the web site I was looking at, but was a link to a whole different web site, which did give me more info about the panniers. But not much more. "EACH HAS A LARGE COMPARTMENT AND AN EXTERNAL POCKET" and the price is £19.99. And then the big surprise - I can't buy it from their web site. I have to find a dealer who stocks what I want, and order it from them. However, I spoke to the sales guy, and asked him for some details on the pannier. He told me, it's attached with straps, not Velcro, there's no handle, and nowhere to attach a rear light. But I've just bought one, and I  can assure you that he's wrong. Not to mention that I got it at half price from Amazon, and it arrived a couple of days after I ordered it.

I despair of the British sales expertise. When I go looking for something, the vendor makes it impossible for me to find what I want (although I would have thought that Moorelarge would be keen to sell me their product), whereas when I'm not looking for something, I get bombarded by spam email trying to sell me things that I'm not remotely interested in.

Case in point - I got a spam from Achica. They seem to sell, well, lots of stuff. Homeware, furniture, towels, goodness knows what. But nowhere on their web site is there a phone number! Who in their right mind, would buy goods from a company that didn't want to give you their phone number? A bit of googling revealed lots of dissatisfied customers who had, after placing their order, discovered that they couldn't find a phone number to chase up, and who found that emails they send are very easy to ignore. But I am not without a certain low cunning, and I used whois to discover the phone number of the registrant of the domain name, 0203 0088304, and I called that number. Sure enough, it was the Finance Director of Achica, and he's looking into the spam issue for me.

When I asked him about the lack of phone number on his web site, he explained that they didn't have enough staff to be able to answer phone calls. Well, I can understand that as a problem, but at the same time, if they're short of staff to man the phones, one might also wonder whether they'll have enough staff to be able to sort out the problems that every business has to sort out. There will be the same number of problems, after all, whether they are phoned in or emailed in. He said they're working on it.

It's like when you phone up someone to buy something and you get "Due to the unprecedentedly large number of calls, we're putting you in an indefinitely long hold queue during which we'll be charging you 10p per minute for the privilege of listening to Verdi" and I know, straight away, that their problem is that they have too many customers, and I immediately decide not to make their problem worse, so I hang up and buy from someone else.

And I also got a phone call today from Barclaycard, about Freedom. But first, the caller said, "Although it's me that called you, I need to ask security questions". "Me first," I said, and asked he for her mother's maiden name. To my utter astonishment, she gave it! I mean, how could that possibly be a security question, when I have no idea what the correct answer ought to be? So then, just to see how far this could be taken, I asked her birth date - common sense asserted itself and she refused to give it. Good for her! So then she asked me for the name of my wife, which I gave her, and we got down to the real purpose of the call.

On January 17 (about 55 days ago) I'd complained about a spam email. They've lost all the details of the complaint, they've lost the copy of the spam that I'd sent them, but they did know that there had been a complaint, and that they were supposed to deal with it within 40 days, which by my reckoning was two weeks ago, but maybe they have some strange Barclaycard way of counting days, although I'd guess that when it comes to charging interest on loans they use the "one day per day" method. Still, they were keen not to just sweep this under the carpet, so I sent her another copy of the spam, which didn't get to her, having been blocked, I'd guess, by her spam filter, and I followed it up with a copy of the email as a Word document, because spam filters don't seem to be worried about that. Please don't tel the spammers this.

She was delighted that I was able to re-send this ancient spam, and promised that she'd get to work on it right away. I'm holding my breath in anticipation.

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