Friday, July 2, 2010

Review of my buying experience with Sanner Cycles

My intention was to review the actual frameset that Tim Sanner custom-built for me earlier this year, but having only ridden it about 50 miles before it failed, I actually spent quite a bit more time dealing with the ordering, delivery, remediation and return processes than actually riding the bike, so my review leans more toward examining what happened and what went wrong with the transaction.

I have no axe to grind with Tin Sanner or Sanner Cycles. He eventually made good on his 'no questions asked' warranty. Still, if any previous buyers had similar experiences prior to my purchase, I'd have been glad to read about them, before I went to the trouble of ordering.

When I began planning a 2,000 mile cross-country bicycle tour that would involve a significant portion of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, as well as dirt roads between Texas and the California Coast, I knew that my current touring bike lacked both the brakes and the tire width to accommodate the trip. I began looking for a suitable factory frame or custom framebuilder to provide what I needed. At the time, there were few factory options for a 700c road frame with disk brakes, clearance for tires over 40mm wide and rack and fender mounts. Those frames that were available, such as the Salsa Fargo appeared to be built for heavy touring – carrying 40+ lbs of gear, which made them over built for the types of loads I was planning. I hoped my search would lead me to a frame that would serve as a very comfortable all-around commuter, light tourer and fun ride bike that I could ride forever.

While I had a decent budget for the trip and the bike I needed to make it, I didn’t seriously consider the well-known frame builders due to my relatively short lead time to have the bike ready and the stories of long delays in completion of the orders. The very last thing I wanted to do was to have to tour on a bike that I had not had the time to get the fit dialed in, or worse, delay or cancel the trip because the frame wasn’t finished in time.

This combination of factors and a couple of positive reviews led me to contact Tim Sanner of Sanner Cycles. Sanner is a touring cyclist himself and his web presence refers to a dedication to attention to detail in each step of the build process. Because he was relatively unknown and ‘small’ as well as understanding of the needs of a touring biker, I hoped he could work within my budget and 6-month time window and provide the frameset I was after. Additionally, in looking around the internet for reviews of his work, I saw several instances where Sanner made it clear that his powder coat finishes were highest quality, which was also an attractive statement to me.

At Sanner’s request I filled out his .pdf- based fit form with careful measurements and complete details of the trip I was planning, the components I expected to use, the load I intended to carry, and issues I faced with my current touring bike. I made it a point to ensure that communications of specifications were by email to ensure that Sanner had exact wording and context of my needs. On occasion I felt it necessary to press a little to be sure that he was clear on what I needed.

Initially a price was quoted for the frame and fork and an amount for deposit, to begin the work, which I accepted, then I forwarded the deposit amount. Shortly he contacted me again to tell me that he actually had touring forks made in batches by a ‘large manufacturer’, but that he had forgotten to mention that he couldn’t use them for a disk brake bike because they have curved blades. He offered to build a straight-blade disk fork for the frameset for an additional $400, or buy a different one wholesale, for $120.

I was surprised that he would advertise a ‘custom’ frameset with a factory-built fork, and a little put out that the additional expense would put his price up with several other, better-known builders, but hoping for the best build for my money, I asked him to proceed with building the fork and frame. Going back through emails to help write this review, I see that I was careful at this point to remind him and get confirmation that the details, I’d asked for - rack, fender and low-rider mounts, as well as disk brake tabs - would be present on the fork. (To clarify, I don’t think he was pulling a ‘bait and switch’ to get more money, but in retrospect, it appears that he had not given a great deal of consideration to the details of the project and so was caught by surprise.) In a later email, he stated that the fork would necessarily be a bit heavier than a typical touring fork, due to using hefty blades for stiffness and rigidity for the disk brake. I approved this, asking him to build it strong but avoid excessive overbuilding and he began work.

Two weeks passed without hearing back. It was now Mid-March, with my tour to begin at the end of May. I was aware that Sanner was planning his own cross-country bicycle tour starting at the end of March, so I began to be a little a little anxious about the timing. I contacted Sanner and he said the frame was almost completed and we discussed finish color and details. I opted for a blue powder coat with silver logo graphics and matching silver outlines around the frame and fork lugs. At this point the time between my emails and his responses was beginning to stretch out to a full day or two or three, which didn’t help my anxiety.

Eventually, he said the frameset was ready to ship, telling me that I would be pleased because the fork came out lighter than he’d initially thought it would. I sent the balance owed via PayPal. He said he had not had time to pick up the frame from the powder coater, but the frame would ship three days later, on March 15.
On the 15th, he emailed to say he’d just picked it up and he’d box it and ship on the 16th. On the 23rd, at my request, he sent the FedEx tracking number which showed it had not shipped till March 19th. During this time, all my family and friends asked daily about the status of the frameset as I had told them of the earlier promised shipping dates which were long past. It was embarrassing that I had to make excuses for why the frame had not arrived yet, and I truly hoped the final product would make it worthwhile.

The frame and fork finally arrived on March 26th, after Sanner was away on tour, and 2 months before my tour was to begin. I received the box at work and opened it immediately. I was alarmed that the box ‘clanked’ as I moved it to my office.

Opening the box, my initial impressions were very disappointing. Here is the text of the email I sent to Tim Sanner upon receipt of the frameset:

I realize you're on tour, I assume you're checking email from the road. Please understand that I chose you to build what will probably be the only custom frame I ever contract, because you placed emphasis on paying close attention to detail throughout the build process. For my part, I tried to provide you with as much information as I possibly could to allow you to do the work I contracted.

The frameset arrived Friday, March 26, days later than you told me to expect. The plastic wrap that was used to secure the fork to the frame had loosened in shipping, and allowed the unpadded steerer tube to batter the seat tube and the seat stay, causing ugly damage to the powder coat in both places.

That was disappointing, given the cost of the frameset, but I could live with that, it's a tour bike and it's going to be knocked around.

However, looking at the fork I paid $400 extra for, I see that you neglected to install either the rack and fender mounts or the low-rider braze-ons. I made it clear in writing, repeatedly, that these were to be part of the order.

Given the lack of attention to detail evident so far, I'm really not looking forward to building the frame up, fearing that the disk tabs may be out of place or other issues will cause the frame to be unusable for my purposes.

My own tour starts in 9 weeks, on Memorial Day weekend. I ask that you find a way to honor your part of our deal and provide me with the fork I contracted in 7 weeks or less. I will build up the frame over the next few days, and will let you know immediately if there are any additional matters that need remediation.

Please reply soon. Obviously, the content of any reviews of your work that I might publish will be driven by your positive response to these matters.

Respectfully, David Hill”

In light of the major issues that needed fixing, I didn’t mention in the email that the powder coat job on the frame and fork looked like fairly mediocre work, especially given Sanner’s claims of his work being well above the quality of similar finishers. Additionally the hand painted outlines around the lugs were done in a transparent gray paint which might have come close to matching the vinyl stick-logo graphics on a chip, but when painted over the blue powder coat, took on a distinct green tone that looked nothing like the color on the graphics.

The fork Sanner shipped was by all appearances a standard, lugged, curved blade road fork with a disk tab brazed on and none of the details we’d discussed. Without the fender and rack mounts, actually building the bike up was pointless so it hung in the work stand waiting on response from Sanner. In his response 2 days later, he stated that he couldn’t do anything about the fork himself, but he would refund the cost of the fork and help find a local frame builder to attach the mounts I needed. While the $400 was refunded, I was eventually left to my own devices at finding someone to make the fork right in a short time. Meanwhile the forkless frame languished in the work stand as time ticked away.

Eventually, through the help and friendship of a couple of local frame builders and yet more delays at the powder coater, I had the frame and fork completed and ready to build up with two weeks remaining till my tour was to start. The impressions of the frame builders who did the work on the fork and helped with building up the frame were not at all favorable.

In addition, while attempting to put the components on the frame, it became clear that although Sanner had clearly stated that all the frame preparation steps would be done before delivery, they had not been done. This forced yet another delay while I found a shop that I could pay for prepping the bottom bracket shell and threads, as well as the headset faces.

I finally got the frameset completely built up on a Friday night and the next day took it on a short unloaded, shakedown ride with my daughter on a gravel rail-trail nearby, using 36mm cyclocross tires. My initial riding impression was of a reasonably agile and responsive steel frame, but it needed some attention to saddle and bar positioning before it would be really comfortable. The ride was brief, everything appeared to work, and I went about installing the racks, fenders and 32 mm road tires I’d be using on tour for more testing and fitting. Sunday, I took the bike out with a friend for a 45 mile ride on the local paved bike path. At this time, I made a couple of adjustments to the saddle position and loaded the bike with 18-20 lbs of weight in the rear panniers (several pounds less than my anticipated touring load) to see how it would do with a load. During the ride, I applied the brakes hard several times to seat the disk pads and improve their performance.

The next day, I rode the bike on my usual 22 mile commute to and from work. Looking at the front wheel, I noticed that the top of the wheel was significantly closer to one left fork leg than it was to the other. I initially thought I had not seated the axle firmly in the fork dropout so I stopped and tried to fix that, but it changed nothing. It wasn’t till I had the bike back in the work stand that evening that I finally noticed that the left fork leg with the disk tab on it had bent backward at the top of the tab. Presumably this occurred under the hard braking force I’d applied while seating the pads and rotors. Clearly the fork would not withstand the force of braking with a full touring load on a steep downhill grade, which is exactly the sort of forces that were to be put on the frame during my planned tour along the Great Divide Trail.

I contacted Sanner to tell him my intent to return the frameset to him and my expectation of a full refund. His response stated that, despite our agreements, he had contracted the building of the fork to another frame builder in his area and that frame builder would fix the fork. Given that I was now one and a half weeks from my tour departure date, even if I’d had any faith in the rest of the frameset, there is no way that would make an adequate solution to my problem. I responded with a clear ‘No’ to that solution and repeated my desire for a refund. Again, Sanner’s response was that I should send the fork to the shop where it had been built and that he could not refund my money. My next email carefully detailed all the issues noted in this review as reasons why the frameset he sold me did not perform as required or even meet the agreed-upon specifications.

Throughout these communications, I was careful to remain very calm and not indulge my inclination to threats or recriminations, but I did close with the suggestion that legal action might be necessary should his next response not be in keeping with his 100% satisfaction guarantee. Shortly after that, Sanner responded with apologies and a promise to refund my money if I would ship the frame back to his shop. I shipped the frame immediately and received the refund via PayPal, a few days later.

All of the above are the facts of the transaction as fully as I can recreate them from saved emails and memory. What follows is pure opinion and conjecture.

Given the conditions of the tour I’ve just completed (on a factory-made ‘Vaya’ frameset from Salsa), I am truly grateful that the fork failed on a shakedown ride near my home, and not at ~40 mph flying down through Gore canyon.

In conclusion, I cannot recommend the work of Tim Sanner of Sanner Cycles. While I suspect he can and does make functional frames, his clear lack of attention to detail in my case causes me deep concern for others riding those frames in less-than-perfect conditions.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

End of the tour

The text on the sign reads "Next 140 Miles"

Sorry the last update has been so long in coming. There's been a lot of movement and patchy coverage from which to post.

I met my uncle John at the point which was as far west as one could prudently ride a bicycle on highway 36. No real alternative routes exist from there exist, si it was time to call it done. Once into Humboldt County, the road becomes 2-lane, no shoulder, with hundreds of blind curves, steep climbs/descents and traffic moving at 60-70 mph. In all honesty, I was worn out after the long ride the day before and nearly endless climbing that day. Time to be done.

Yesterday we traveled stretches of the coastal highway 101 through the redwood groves, and small towns. Trinidad, Eureka, Fortuna, and to the beach at Big Lagoon.

Pics are from the last 100 miles of riding, and from some of the sightseeing yesterday. The last pic is a genuine banana slug in the wild

I'll be returning to Fort Worth tomorrow, the 23rd. Patty and I were thinking about having friends over on this Sunday afternoon for snacks and swimming as kind of a coming -home party. Nothing is set in stone yet, but email me at, if you're interested in coming by and I'll let you know what develops.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

All done

Just met up with my uncle John. Just in time, too. Backtracking down hwy 36, I could tell that no way did I want to ride that high-traffic, no-shoulder trainwreck of a road. More, once I charge the phone. 112 miles yesterday,  I'm beat.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Winding down

The whole rest of this trip is now visible in one look at my map case.

I just descended 4500 feet in around 30 miles, putting me back at Ft Worth altitude for the 1st time since, well, I guess since I left.   Still gotta climb back up to almost 3000 today and tomorrow,  though. Here are some shots of today's 1st 55 miles.  It doesn't look like there are any towns of size between here (Red Bluff) , and the end of this trail, so I'm not expecting to be able to post again, before the end of the ride, tomorrow night or Monday.   Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, as it develops. See you on the other side!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Short day

I'm calling it a 65 miles, and camping in Child's Meadows.  There's no phone service,  but I found some wifi. Mt Lassen glares down on my little tent, sad now, that her laziness in shedding her winter blanket will prevent me from seeing her glories and sharing them with you, gentle reader.

Also, what the heck is the red thing?

Out of the Sierra Range, and into the Cascades

Feather River pics

Forgot to attach them to the last post

Along the Feather River

First 28 miles down. Just beautiful, amazing terrain, stunning views. All this is tempered by twisty roads, no shoulders, logging trucks and two flats so far today.

Stopped for coffee in Greenville, somebody knows the difference between a cappuccino and a latte. Yowm.

checking out

Leaving early to get a jump on the traffic. Not feeling all that chipper this morning, but its just a bike ride.. I'll check in a little later.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chilling in Quincy, CA

I took a room at the Gold Pan Motel, so I can rinse out my unmentionables and get an early start in the morning. According to a local rider, the 1st 17 miles of hwy 89 I'll ride tomorrow is not real bike-friendly, so I'd like to get through it before traffic gets gnarly.

The bad news right now is that the park road up to Mt Lassen is still closed for snow, so it's not looking like I'll make it up there tomorrow.  I'm bummed, but some other cool thing will probably show itself, so no big deal.

Also, today is the 1st day warm enough for riding with short sleeves and no leg warmers, since southern Colo.

Pics, the Vaya surrounded by the local version of bluebonnets, the view from hwy 70 before a long, fast descent to Quincy, and one pic just for Aunt Judy.

Great day for a ride

It was in the upper 30's but windless when I got up. I packed up the tent and gear, got some bacon and eggs at the Bordertown Casino and headed out. I tried a back road route suggested by Google, but had to turn around and backtrack, due to a gated road. No worries, the surface and shoulder on 395 are fine. The CA border inspectress called me "Sweetie" and told me not to speed. Climbed Beckwourth Pass to a nosebleed-worthy 5200 feet, then cruised to Portola for sightseeing and lunch. I hope the rest of the day (trip) is this easy.

Pics- back into the mountains, and a 1909 steam railroad snowblower.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tomorrow - the last state

Looking around on Reno's outskirts, the possibilities for a comfy or inexpensive place to stay looked bleak. My map showed nothing between where I sat in Golden Valley and possibly Chillcoot, Ca, Chillcoot being farther than I felt like riding after 36 hours awake. I stalled as long as I could in a Subway, under the pretense of charging my phone, till I decided to just start riding and trust Providence. About two minutes after that decision, in walked three men in local volunteer fire-rescue tshirts. I asked one if he knew a place I could throw down my tent, hoping for a spot not too far off-route behind the local fire station.

After a minute of coming up with nothing, he rrmembered that there was an RV campground just on the state line, at Bordertown (not evident on my AAA map). I rolled 15 more miles on the smooth, wide shoulder of US395, to the cleanest, friendliest RV park of tbe trip. I'm truly grateful.

Shot of the tent and a dry lake bed just after the big climb and descent into the Sierra territory.

Amtrak across Nevada

As I mentioned, due to a damaged bridge, the California Zephyr got off to a 7 hour late start. The bad news was sitting up in the station all night, but at least I'm not crossing the desert in the dark. Here's a thunderstorm I've been watching. Lateness notwithstanding,  traveling by train is pretty pleasant.

Depending on how long it takes to unbox the bike and get situated in Reno, I may not get into California till tomorrow.

in and out of Reno

Looking for a place to sleep near the CA state line. Not much around.

I made other posts from the train, hours ago but they haven't appeared as I write this.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

all the sources said, "Don't be surprised..."

If Amtrak is 6 hours late.

Good call. They are.

Salt Lake City

It occurs to me that the only other time I've ever been to SLC was driving through the last time I was gone for a month - back when Grace was about 3 months old.It's not how I remember it at all.

I just stopped in at Millcreek Cycles here to see if they could find the source of a "tick" coming from the driveside crank. I suspected my chainring bolts were loosening, though I kept that to myself-not wanting to prejudice the mechanic's diagnosis. The wrench heard my time situation, and tossed my bike into the workstand, in front of who knows how many others. He checked, discovered a couple of loose ring bolts himself, and tightened those, as well as resetting the preload on the crankarms and re-torquing the crank bolts. I rode around the parking lot and the tick that's been making me crazy since the Utah border was gone.

Cost - $00.00, so in appreciation, I bought one of their t-shirts.

Tonight at 10 pm, I'll hop the California Zephyr to Reno, and start making my way up toward Mt. Lassen and across California.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Heber City view and Strawberry Reservoir

Heber City

Well, the roads are no better for riding here, but the scenery has taken a very nice turn for the better.

Today's ride was 55 miles of low-rise climbing with a sneaky headwind, followed by 17 miles of steep downhill into town here. It was cold enough all day to warrant two shirts, arm and knee warmers, a cap and a windbreaker. Here in Heber, it's finally warm enough to unwrap a little. Going to hang out tonight with my buddy Ryan, who lives nearby, and head for SLC and Amtrak tomrrow night.

Changing plans...

I'm not enjoying the riding in Utah, and all my information says that the grind getting across Nevada holds no great charm, either. Nonetheless, my original plan would require 6-7 more days of unpleasant riding to get to more pretty country in California. In california, I'd be rushing to see all I want to see and still spend any time with John and Carole, before coming home.

I now think there's a better way to finish out this trip, so I've booked a seat on Amtrak tomorrow night, from Salt Lake City to Reno.

Part of me is disappointed about the change, but I'm here to have fun, and the original plan always had me sweating the last week as being rushed and hectic. This fixes that. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Duchesne, Utah

Hmm, not much to say about this day, or the country I've seen. I have to confess not being very impressed with the roads or traffic in this part of Utah. Skies turned black and flashy about half an hour before I got here. I found a room at the Rio Damian B&B, and the hail started as I was rolling the bike back to the patio. Let's see what tomorrow brings...

Roosevelt, UT

I got a late start with the rain, shopping for road food and breakfast at Betty's Cafe. The service was slow, but the food was dang good, so it evens out, I guess.  I'm sitting in Roosevelt trying to figure out if it's gonna start raining again. Cross your fingers.

from the road.

Waiting for a break

Glad I didn't get a smaller tent. I've been up 2 hours, waiting for a gap in this "scattered shower " so I can pack up and roll.

from the road.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pine bark beetle damage and breakfast cookingj

All through Colorado I saw the damage this bug is doing. Around Breckinridge 3 of every 5 pines are dead and brown. Up by Lynx Pass, it's more like 9 of 10.
Breakfast that morning was oatmeal and cocoa made from the cold, sparkling waters of French Creek, bubbling by 15 feet from my tent, and beef jerky (not shown)

from the road.

Not many pics today

Too much rain - besides, stopping meant getting even colder.

from the road.

Utah seems to be a little behind the curve

Has nobody told them that summer is supposed to be sunny and over 52 degrees? I'm in Vernal UT, with thanks to Brian and Susan, who took pity on a suffering wretch. When they spotted me near the state line, it was in the 40's, windy, pouring, with bad visibility and a narrow shoulder. They made room on the bike rack and in the car, and gave me a lift into town.

Leaving Maybell, headed for Vernal.

It's raining,  but the lightning has passed. Should be mid-50s with favorable winds, so I'm rolling out. 90 miles of not much between here and Vernal.

from the road.

Agility course in tiny Maybell

Agility course in tiny Maybell, CO.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Good find!

I spent the late afternoon dodging thunderstorms. Rain, I can handle,  but I take no pleasure in being tall and conductive, when there's lightning around. When it got within '4-mississippi', I took cover under the flatbed of a truck, while the front edge passed. Only thing around except a cattle pen, but that would have involved trespassing. I wound up stopping in Maybell, pop. @30. Tiny as it is,  it's a qualifying venue for agility dog trials. Camping in the park is $10, 2 more if you want a shower.  So maybe I'll learn a little about agility tonight, from tomorrow's competitors
from the road.

Steaming toward Utah

After enjoying a delicious eggs benedict with Lambo, he rode out the 1st 20 miles with me out hwy 40 to Hayden. The road follows the Yampa river and though the terrain is flattening out, still beautiful and full of wildlife,  including a porcupine that didn't make it across the road.  Outside of Craigs, I ran across Urdin and Ibarra, from the Basque region, 6 weeks into a 3 month tour. Once I finish lunch and post this, I'm heading out. I'm hopeful I'll sleep somewhere between Maybell and Dinosaur tonight.

from the road.

Heading out of Steamboat. Had a great visit with Lambo, Sally and Shane. Time to head West to parts unknown.

from the road.

Safe in Steamboat

So the last 2 days have been heavy on riding and pictures,  but light on phone service and wifi connections.  Here are some photos...

from the road.