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As previously mentioned I needed some new bearings for my Specialized bikes headset.  The type I have at present are ball bearings enclosed in a cage.  I took a look on e-bay and wasn’t sure what size I needed so I thought I would take a trip to my local’ish bike shop (LBS).  It is quite a prestige shop and I decided to ride over there, a ride of about 12 miles but it was a nice day so I made the effort and was feeling very righteous about the fact I was making the effort to support a LBS and not take the easy and cheap way out and getting the parts online.

I duly arrived at the shop and enquired of the young man behind the counter as to what size he thought I needed?  So far so good.  However he didn’t know and referred me to the guy in the workshop.  I stated my problem again but he wasn’t at all interested in selling me some bearings, he said I needed a new headset as it is ‘bound to be worn out’ despite the fact he had no idea how often the bike had been ridden or how far.  I knew this wasn’t the case as I had the headset apart the other day, but he was adamant.  I don’t think he realised I had been building bikes and taking them apart since before he was born and maybe had a little more knowledge than he thought.  I guess they are not used to anybody questioning them and just accepting their word about repairs and if they are really necessary, then pocketing loads of money in the process.  Undaunted he took me to the sales counter and dragged out a box of bottom brackets the starting price of which was £31 and upwards to as much as you would like to pay. That was without the probable fitting charge too, as fitting a whole new headset requires some specialised tools.  I knew I could get a set of bearings online for under £3 but I wasn’t sure what size I needed.  At those prices I could afford to get both sizes and throw one away and still be plenty in pocket if I chose.  It is precisely to avoid having to replace complete parts too often that I do these little maintenance jobs myself.

The upshot was that I left him there with his box of bottom brackets as I indignantly left the shop.  Indignant at the thought that he was trying to rip me off and I expect nine times out of ten it succeeds but not with me buddy!  I knew I was always going to pay more for what I bought in the shop than online but have sometimes felt guilty about getting stuff online and not supporting the local shop.

I should mention that it wasn’t the proprietor of the shop that I spoke to, I do know the him quite well and maybe things would have been different if I had but he wasn’t around.  However, on such customer experiences are reputations made and lost.

I consider I gave them a chance and they failed.  I left there muttering away to myself as I rode off and then hit on the idea of dropping in to another shop, that if took a little diversion, could be on my way home.  I went through the same procedure as before but he didn’t try to sell me a new headset but did inform me that the bearings in cages were difficult to get hold of and he recommended that I buy some loose bearings and fit those instead.  However, short of stripping the headset down there and then it was hard to know what size bearings were required but I thanked him for his advice and headed home.  The cage is only really there to stop the bearings falling out all over the floor when you strip it down.  Apart from that it serves no useful purpose.  In fact, without the cage I will probably be able to get 2 or 3 more ball bearings in the spare space, thus improving the situation all round.  The grease will hold them in place for me during assembly.

Since getting home I have had the headset off again, checked on the bearing size and reassembled it.  I have ordered a pack of bearings for less than £2, online of course !!  No more will I feel guilty about getting stuff where I can at the right price and doing the job myself.  In fact I might feel quite smug!