Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Utah Trikes continues to suck

The story of how Utah Trikes sucks gets sadder. Today, my shifter cable stretched so much that I can't use the barrel screw to put it back into alignment. So I'm going to have to adjust the cable. I shouldn't already be needing to adjust the cable, to put it bluntly.

In addition, when I unpacked the crate, I found a screw that looked new. Well, I found where it goes, today. It was the screw that kept my right brake attached to the steering post. I tried to adjust it today, because it was wobbly, and went, "Huh, there's no screw there. But on the other side there's a screw just like the one I found when I uncrated the trike."

Boy, these guys suck.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Georges St-Pierre, Fighting Safe and It Takes Two

Recently, Chris Lytle submitted Dan Hardy. Even more recently, Jake Ellenburger knocked out Jake Shields. In both instances, part of the story was that Georges St-Pierre did neither. The narrative rules thus, “Because inferior fighters like Chris Lytle and Jake Ellenburger finished Dan Hardy and Jake Shields, this is proof that GSP fights ‘safe’.”

It’s a very interesting narrative because I don’t think it has much basis in fact.

The first time I noticed it was after Matt Serra knocked out GSP. The rumors abounded that GSP had no heart to be punched, and his subsequent fights didn’t dispel this notion. He dominated Josh Koscheck and submitted Matt Hughes so completely that one might think it was true GSP didn't want to be punched - so, great performances by GSP, his incredible defense, were transformed into strikes against him. I found this very bizarre. Like getting punched was, somehow, a virtue in MMA.

Serra vs. GSP II was pretty interesting in the context of the narrative around GSP. When GSP immediately took Serra down, Eddie Bravo (filling in for Joe Rogan) talked about how that was a conservative strategy. In Eddie Bravo’s world, ground fighting with a high level Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt trained by Renzo Gracie is “conservative” instead of, oh, a demonstration of GSP’s utter confidence in his ability to dominate Serra on the ground. Which GSP then proceeds to do.

It gets worse in the second around. Even while GSP is destroying Serra’s internal organs in alphabetical order with some of the most brutal knee strikes seen in MMA, Eddie Bravo is talking about how conservative GSP is fighting. Even as GSP crushed Matt Serra, this was the narrative, even though the evidence against that narrative was literally happening in front of Bravo.

Since then, that narrative has taken on a life of it’s own because GSP hasn’t finished four opponents, though he has often dominated them. The idea that he's fighting safe has simply become accepted by large parts of the MMA community, even though the evidence against it right there. But, like Eddie Bravo, they refuse to see it.

When you look at GSP's fights, the truth is you find an extremely active fighter with an arsenal of diverse MMA techniques second to none. He throws many standing strikes, he has great takedowns and ground and pound, he's good at submissions. Indeed, one of the characteristic elements of GSP's style is he often goes after a fighter where he's strong - so he'll stand up with fighters like Thiago Alves, but take fighters like Jon Fitch to the ground.

Still, I think I do know why GSP doesn't finish more opponents. It's not because he doesn't fight - it's because they don't fight. GSP's opponents since Jon Fitch have not meaningfully tried to mount an offense against GSP. Even if they're aggressive against other opponents, against GSP they become timid, if not outright cowardly.

Really, if you look at GSP’s fights, he throws a lot of risky techniques and often meets fighters were they’re strongest in order to overwhelm them. This is not a particularly conservative strategy, it is not being risk adverse. You can’t throw a spinning high kick in a risk adverse way! But it’s one of GSP’s favorite techniques.

Well, my friends, it takes two to tango. It was almost a foregone conclusion that GSP vs. Fitch would go the distance. Fitch is a grinder with a really hard head and great submission defense. His entire fighting style is to neutralize his opponent’s offense . . . which he managed to do just barely enough to stop getting knocked out or submitted.

But things get really interesting when you look at GSP vs. BJ Penn II. Many people thought that Penn beat GSP in their first fight, and even GSP fans would generally concede that Penn got the better of GSP in striking. A lot of people thought that Penn was a bad stylistic match-up for GSP - Penn's got a great takedown defense and really fast hands with knockout power. Penn is also a notoriously aggressive fighter.

And let's look at Penn's offense. In four rounds, BJ Penn threw 37 significant strikes. Oh, sure, you might say, but most of the fight took place with Penn on the ground and GSP grinding him out. Yet, of standing strikes, GSP threw 47 strikes (landing 30) and Penn . . . threw 27 strikes (landing a mere 8). GSP launched almost twice as many attacks, standing, as BJ Penn.

Penn was supposed to want the fight standing, but even standing, GSP just tore him apart. And GSP was the clear aggressor. Penn was the person avoiding GSP, not GSP avoiding Penn. That's not even counting that all the takedowns (4 total) and seven of the eight takedown attempts were by GSP.

So, really, who fought the conservative fight there? The guy doing the punching, kicking and takedowns, or the guy who didn't do those things? BJ Penn is supposed to be one of those iron willed fighters who always goes forward - but that's just not true in his fight against GSP. He fought timidly, refusing to engage GSP both on the feet and on the ground.

In GSP’s fight with Thiago Alves, Alves was timid. I mean, I love Alves. He’s got shotgun shells for shins. He turns over a low kick like no one else. And if he’d been willing to use that against GSP. . . but, no, during the stand-up, Alves attacked GSP often, but timidly. Alves was so frightened of GSP’s various abilities that he landed only 19% of his blows - about half his average. Like with Penn, Alves was supposed to have the advantage in striking.

It was a pretty sad spectacle, watching the normally aggressive Alves unwilling to commit to attacks. He threw a fair number of blows, more than GSP, but GSP hit much, much more - almost three times as much - because one of them was committing to the attack. It wasn't Alves.

Worthy of note, Alves has some of the best leg kicks in MMA. He threw only fifteen significant leg strikes at GSP during the whole fight - even though it is one of this best attacks and was landing half of them.

(Of all the fights I'm going to talk about, this one is the hardest to say that Alves was timid. I've watched many Alves fights, most of them several times, and Alves was timid against GSP, and often against wrestlers. You can see this same timidity in the first two rounds of Alves' fight with Rick Story. Rather than throwing aggressive techniques, Alves was active on paper but when you watch the fight it's clear he's holding back. How much he was holding back became clearer in the third round when Alves tore Story apart. Alves can get timid around wrestlers, generally, failing to commit to attacks because he doesn't want to be taken down. This is a serious flaw in his fighting style and lost him title contention for the near future.)

Hardy wasn’t particularly timid, but let’s face it, we all know it, he had no right being in the same cage with GSP. People wonder why GSP didn’t finish him, they say his armbar technique was sloppy . . . but I’ll tell you what I think. GSP pitied Dan Hardy. Hardy was the opposite of a threat to GSP, so rather than cripple the man, GSP went light.

But still, Hardy was in a cage fight against GSP. To win, you’ve got to attack. How often did Hardy attack? In 25 minutes, Hardy attempted 27 significant strikes - that’s slightly more than one a minute - and connected with 4. He tried no takedowns, no submission attempts. Hardy’s entire offensive output was one punch a minute. At no point did the Outlaw try to seriously fight GSP.

(And against Chris Lytle, Hardy was not the same fighter. Against GSP, he was the spunky underdog that had, through highlight reel comebacks, had earned a title shot against GSP. Against Lytle, Hardy was 0-3, not having won since before GSP. Saying Hardy was beaten before he ever got into the cage is, I think, fair.)

Next up was Josh Koscheck. GSP “conservatively” punched Koscheck, punishing Kos with 110 significant blows, 70 to the head. But a clear part of that fight was Koscheck’s lack of meaningful offense. While GSP launched his 136 significant strikes, Koscheck only attempted 30 and landed only 16 - less than one a minute. Remember, almost all of this fight was standing. Unlike the Hardy fight, you can't actually say that GSP used his wrestling to neutralize Koscheck's offense. Koscheck had as many attempts to strike at GSP as GSP had to strike at Koscheck. It's just Koscheck didn't take them.

In the fourth and fifth rounds, Koscheck only attempted one significant strike. In ten minutes, he tried to punch GSP once. And takedowns? Koscheck tried only 4 times, all of them in the first round. Which means in rounds four and five, Koscheck’s entirely offensive activity consisted of one punch. But the whole fight was Koscheck tentatively approaching GSP, getting hit and backing off - pretty much the whole damn fight.

After that it was Jake Shields and Shields wasn’t timid. He just cheated. Gouging your opponent is a good way to win, but a serious part of Shield’s strategy was to keep GSP off of him. He fought with his hand out, his fingers out towards GSP’s eyes, making it hard for GSP to approach without getting gouged. And GSP did get gouged. Five times. This fight was a travesty, let’s face it. It should have been stopped and Shields disqualified for his repeated gouges and then kicked out of the UFC for willfully endangering another fight.

To sum up, it takes two to fight. GSP is an aggressive fighter. He throws a lot of strikes, he does a lot of takedowns - but what if the other fighter only wants to survive the fight? What if you’re Thiago Alves and you refuse to use your strongest weapon? Or you’re Dan Hardy or Josh Koscheck or BJ Penn and you’re barely in the fight at all? Or you’re Jake Shields who just cheats.

Oh, and what about GSP’s “heart”. Sure, he doesn’t get hit very often, because no one seriously attacks him. When one fighter refuses to attack another, it’s very hard for the aggressive fighter to knock his opponent out. A perfect example of this are Anderson Silva's fights against Demian Maia and Thales Leites. Silva couldn’t put either away - and both Leites and Demian Maia had a greater offensive output than Dan Hardy and Josh Koscheck. Or Nate Quarry vs. Kalib Starnes. There was no possible way that Quarry could have finished Starnes . . . but Starnes fought harder than Hardy and Koscheck, given the fight was three rounds.

GSP doesn’t finish guys because they do not, in general, fight him. They either fight him timidly, failing to commit to their attacks, which is how Alves fought. Or they don’t mount any serious offense at all, such as with Penn, Koscheck and Hardy. Or they fight dirty, like Shields did.

GSP has broken the will of the entire welterweight division. Since GSP brutally punished Jon Fitch, his opponents have gone into the cage trying to survive, that’s all.

Unlike a grinder, who takes an opponent down and uses top control wrestling to shut down their foe’s offense, GSP is quite willing to stand up and trade blows. He did it with Alves, he did it with Koscheck and Shields. But he’s usually the only guy seriously throwing. He’s trying to get into a fight, and he gets timidity, backpedalling and lack of any serious offense at all - or cheating.

So, a shadow of Dan Hardy got submitted by Chris Lytle. Yes. But Hardy fought a totally different fight against Lytle. To wit, Hardy fought it. Against GSP, Hardy threw a meager 27 significant strikes. Against Lytle, Hardy threw 238 significant strikes. Naturally, with Hardy winging blows with abandon, with no defense, it shouldn’t be surprising that Lytle was able to submit him. Hardy fought a stupid fight and he lost.

Likewise with Shields and Ellenburger. I’m guessing fighters and referees are now watching for the eye pokes. But instead of trying to keeping Ellenburger away, Shields instead charged in for takedowns with no attempt at defense. He fought stupid and got knocked out. How does that reflect on GSP? Shields fought a totally different fight - a cleaner, dumber fight - and got caught. (Not to mention that Shields’ dad died three weeks before. It is hard for me to count that loss too much against Shields, and I think the dude should have been kicked out of the UFC when the amount of cheating he performed against GSP became evident.)

Fighters fight timidly against GSP, so he can’t finish them. Just like Anderson Silva could not finish Thales Leites or Demian Maia and Nate Quarry could not finish Kalib Starnes; it’s hard to fight a guy running away from you. You watch Carlos Condit, next. Watch how he comes out. What he’s learning from Winklejohn, right now, is that there is nothing he does that GSP doesn’t do better. Condit will have to make a decision. He will have to decide either to fight GSP like he has fought everyone else, in which case we’ll see Condit go out on his shield, or he will spend the whole fight looking for a weak spot that simply is not there . . . the fight will go long, and Condit will probably see all five rounds. (I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope Condit tries to win, I seriously do, rather than meekly pressing the attack and hoping for GSP to make a mistake. But I believe that what we'll factually see is a timid, meek Condit.)

If you look at the numbers and kinds of attacks GSP uses, he is an extremely active fighter against unusually timid opponents. He does not grind. He throws a lot of leather, he does takedowns, he tries submissions. But when the other guy is focusing solely on surviving the fight, well, these are the best fighters in the world. They’re probably going to make it.

However, the narrative is that GSP is a conservative fighter. He’s a “safe” fighter. Perhaps so. I don’t think this is a slur. The guy is almost impossible to hit or take down and that’s a testament to his incredible skill. But if the other fighters don’t launch a sustained offense, how on earth can GSP finish them? It takes two to fight.

It also means that when someone else finishes a fighter GSP did not finish, it means nothing. The narrative that GSP is somehow a timid fighter is bizarre and absurd. It’s his opponents who are timid, when fighting him.

PS with Anderson Silva. And, in comparison, Anderson Silva is lucky in his opponents. Yushin Okami, after getting rocked twice by Anderson Silva, pressed ahead, anyway, winging clumsy blows at Silva. As one BEer said, the secret hero of UFC Rio was Okami. He decided to go out on his shield. Vitor Belfort stuck right in the pocket, right in front of Anderson Silva, and paid the price for his aggression.

You can even see it happen. In Silva’s fight with Forrest Griffin, Silva goaded Griffin into the attacks that allowed the counterpunch that drove Forrest’s will to fight right out of his body, never to return. Silva did the same thing against Hendo - instead of sticking to the gameplan, Dan Henderson decided to get into a punching match with Silva and paid the price.

Silva is an incredible fighter, but much of his legend must be attributed to the people he fights. As a rule, they are there to fight. The come forward, even when it’s foolish or even hopeless to do so.

But when faced with fighters who fight like the fighters GSP fights - people like Maia and Leites, except GSP's opponents are more generally skilled than Maia or Leites - Silva fares no better than GSP. Indeed, he fares worse because Silva is a more defensive fighter than GSP and, unlike many of his opponents, Silva can not be swayed from his game plan. Even if it makes him look ridiculous.

It really takes two to fight. Silva is fortunate that his weight class is filled with so many brawlers and tough guys. That Silva can get matched up against Rich Franklins and Forrest Griffins and and Dan Hendersons instead of Josh Koschecks, Dan Hardys and Thiago Alveses.

Which is why after GSP takes apart Condit, I hope he goes up in weight. I think Chris Leben would be a good first fight for GSP. It would draw an instant comparison with Anderson Silva, who’s first UFC fight was with Leben, it would be exciting because Leben is definitely a “go out on your shield” type of fighter, and we would get to see how GSP handles a brawler. My guess would be “easily”. I believe that GSP at middleweight would produce more interesting fights . . . until GSP crushed the division’s will to fight, too.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Utah Trikes and their (lack) of customer service

I mostly don’t talk about places I buy from that fail to deliver good customer service, but I’m going to make an exception to talk about Utah Trikes.

I went to Utah Trikes to buy my trike because they seemed to have almost everything that I wanted in a trike - so rather than having to order to half a dozen places, I could just go to one place, order it all and they’d even assemble it. Furthermore, I liked the site - they seemed helpful, they’d do special orders and work on trikes for, say, the handicapped. So I ordered from them.

The bad customer service started almost immediately. If it was just this that happened, well, I’d’ve shrugged it off as that’s the way business sometimes goes. I was told that they had all the components in stock but when the trike was shipped (a couple of days later than they said it would), all the components were not shipped. Four hundred dollars worth of things - including a flag which is a safety feature and fairly important in Miami’s busy streets, and panniers that I wanted so I could do proper shopping - were not included. They also put on the wrong thing, in one case - a long mudguard instead of the small one I ordered . . . and which costs $10 more. Mind you, they kept the money . . .

Well, then, the first day I had the trike, it broke. I described the problems in an email - that the trike would not shift, not at all, into any gear - and the response was “the shifter is stiff”. It wasn’t stiff. It wasn’t shifting. On my own, I was able to troubleshoot the problem - the shifter cable had popped out of the socket inside the shifter. I put it back on, no problem, but I was pretty disappointed in their lack of willingness to engage in troubleshooting. Additionally, the problem with the wrong mudguard was simply not discussed. Oh, I brought it up but . . . hey, I guess that they shipped the wrong part, a part I didn’t want and the part they did ship cost less than the part I paid for doesn’t matter.

During that time, I also asked about the items that hadn’t been shipped. The guy said that he’d ship the items, and work out a trade with something I accidentally ordered and replace it with the thing I actually wanted, but I received no communication that the items had actually shipped. This was vexing because I’d also said in that email communication that I was moving, soon, so if the items didn’t get here by the end of the month then we’d need to wait until the beginning of October to be able to ship them to the proper address. So, another little bit of lousy customer service - it was reasonably important to me to know the time the package would arrive. Additionally, it was important because I need to know when the package will get here so I can be there to pick it up. I live in a lousy apartment and UPS and cargo carriers have trouble getting in - so without knowing when the package will arrive, I didn’t know when I should be on the lookout for it’s arrival. So, like I said, lousy service.

The next to last bit of lousy customer service is when I wanted to register my trike with the National Bicycle Registry. Something like half of all stolen bikes are recovered - and then auctioned off by the cops because they can’t find the bike’s owner. So, the NBR exists to help people get their bikes back. To register, however, you need to give them the serial number of the bike.

My trike, a TerraTrike Path, has it hidden. You’ve literally got to disassemble the trike to get to it. The TerraTrike website says that the serial number is with your packing slip. Damn. I’d thrown that out, already! If you don’t have that, the TerraTrike site advises you contact the retailer of the trike to get it, because they realize taking apart the trike is fairly difficult.

So I do. I write to TerraTrike explaining the situation, that I want to register my bike with the NBR and I need the serial number. The letter I get back tells me to take my trike apart to get the serial number. Uh-huh. So, I write back - and I admit I’m now a little snarky because I’m getting upset - in a disbelieving tone that they can’t actually expect that to be the solution. Well, I get a very terse letter back saying that TerraTrike has never provided them with serial number information - which would have been nice to know in the first letter, but, hey, why bother explaining things to customers!

In the letter where I asked about the serial number, I also asked for the status on the items that I hadn’t received. Neither of the letters I got after I asked that told me about the status of those items.

So, I made a decision. It was now time for me to cut off business dealings with Utah Trikes. I wrote back saying that I no longer wanted their assistance and I would like the charges reversed for the items they had not sent. I was terse because I was no longer looking for engagement with them. Like I said, I’d made a decision. I had decided I would rather get the pieces separately and assemble them myself than continue to deal with Utah Trikes. I think this was a rational decision on my part. I was frustrated and upset and why continue to deal with uncommunicative people who have not done what they said they’d do?

Then I got a call from Brice down at Utah Trikes. This was the last bit of bad customer service and, lordy, it was awful. I knew what he was trying to do. He was trying to save the account. But I’d decided, like I said, and all you who know me can verify that when I have decided on something, when I’ve really decided, it is hard to get me to go back on that decision - when I have decided, it is unilateral. I am no longer looking to engage. I get that Brice didn’t know this, so after a bit, I said to him, “Look, I don’t want anything to do with your company, anymore. I just want to close my accounts with you so I don’t have to deal with you ever again.”

Then he said something like, “Well, then you won’t be wanting our customer service?” And I said, “I’m not getting any customer service!” Then he said, “I don’t see what the problem is.” And I said,”That’s the problem.” Then he tried to get me to tell him the problem, but he wouldn’t shut the hell up. I swore because rather than shutting up and letting me explain the situation, well, I dunno why he shouldn’t shut up, but he wouldn’t, but that got him angry, and after a bit of me saying, “Shut up and I’ll tell you” and him saying, “You can’t talk to me like that”, he agreed it was best that I not deal with Utah Trikes and hung up.

Here are the caveats. I have worked retail jobs and I have done customer service over the phone. As a result, I know how hard and weird and demanding customers can be. I try not to be that person and I largely succeed. Which is why I didn’t make a fuss of things when Utah Trikes lied about having the parts in stock. Business is hard, I know. It’s why I didn’t make a fuss when the troubleshooter blew off my problems with the shifter. Troubleshooting over email is hard, I know tihs. But after a while, it just became clear their customer service, at least their phone and email service, sucks. And, even then, what I wanted to do was a clean break - they give me back the money I gave them for the things they didn’t ship, and we’ll call it even. But, no. They had an representative that was clearly untrained in how to handle upset customers give me a call and made the problems worse.

So, that’s my story with Utah Trikes. I’m not even saying don’t buy from them - I’m just saying if you do, be warned that their customer service can, particularly on email and on the phone, can really, really stink.

Later that day: ld refund the money for the items not sent and said, "They only wanted to help." So I sent him a copy of the post above.

The response was that, y'know, it was just a mix-up in the tone of the email! Not sending the items I paid for it a mix-up in tone? Failure to answer my direct questions is a mix-up in tone? Je-zuz KEE-rist. Sure, dude, whatever. And now I've got to fix my eyes, which are rolled so far back into their sockets I can't see properly.

The next day: Other ways Utah Trike’s customer service blew chunks.

They violated many of the rock bottom elements of customer service - they didn’t deliver on their word (they said they had all the times in stock and would ship them promptly, but that did not happen, the trike arrived missing several things and another thing totally wrong), they didn’t keep me in the loop with communication, they ignored my direct questions.

But when Brice called me, he cold called me. That’s another little violation of customer service - you never call a person unless you have their expression permission to call. And when he did call, he did not immediately identify himself. Rather brusquely, he said, “I want to speak to Chris Bradley.” When cold calling people, the first thing you always do is identify yourself. And then, after having called me, when I spoke in a tone he didn’t like, he tried to get me to stop. Fuck you, motherfucker! You called me! You can’t call me, cold call me, and expect me to conform to your rules!

Also, something I forgot. One of the things I ordered, a Double Century Hydration Pack, doesn’t work on the actual trike I bought. The seat is the wrong shape. So, they sold it to me ($90) and didn’t bother to tell me that it doesn’t work on mesh seats. This information is not on their website for the Double Century Hydration Pack, I should add. So there was no way I could have known that. On the other hand, it’s very much the sort of thing that they should know - and when I contacted the TerraTrike people asking for a way to install it (you have to buy a $30 widget to put over the top of your seat that has connectors to hang things off of - I am certainly not blaming TerraTrike and I almost certainly would have gotten the other widget if I’d known, but I didn’t know and I should have been told. Rather than buying a $90 gadget that wouldn’t work with the trike I bought.

The same thing happened with the water bladders for the hydration pack. It takes two 2 liter bladders. I accidentally ordered 3 liter bladders. But at no point did anyone think to ask why I’d order a Double Century Hydration Pack and two 3L bladders.

As one of my friends said to me, “You spent three thousand dollars there and they still treat you like this?” Indeed.

Lastly, when the owner of the shop, Ashley, got around to emailing me, he did not apologize for his employee’s behavior. That’s also basic customer service - when your people screw up, you acknowledge it. That not only goes a long way to mollify angry consumers, it’s the right thing to do. When a customer has been wronged, they really like to have it acknowledged that they were wronged - and then assured that it was a mistake and they’ll honestly try not to do it in the future. Well, I didn’t get that from Ashley. What I got instead is prevarication about the “tone” of email, ignoring the numerous instances where his people either provided me with false information, didn’t do what they said they’d do and ignored direct questions. That isn’t tone.

Again, I do not think I’m particularly harsh on customer service. I’ve been there. I know it’s a rough job. But it’s gets a lot rougher if you don’t treat people well. I don’t demand perfect service, I am not one of those people who freaks out with every little thing that goes wrong. When they didn’t ship everything they said they’d ship, I didn’t freak out. When they didn’t engage me to fix the broken shifter, I didn’t freak out. But things just kept piling on up. It stopped being a mere mistake and became, in my eyes, poor business practice.

Just documenting it all.