Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Lest it seem like blogs are solely a place to complain about things (see below) I should in all fairness use this space to at the same time praise one particular company (well, technically two).

Back in December 2003, I bought a new treadmill to replace one that, purchased in 1998, gave up the ghost. An exercise equipment store in the Clifton Park Mall was having a sale, so I picked up a Keys Fitness Milestone treadmill. And it's great (note present tense); my only beef was that the instruction manual was obviously automatically translated from its native language by Google and then proofread by a vision-impaired raccoon. (In fact, when I sent in the warranty card, they had a space for comments and I literally wrote "proofread your manual!") Still, that's fairly picayune stuff, and it turned out to be a good machine.

Flash forward 5+ years, and that's 5+ years of fairly rigorous use (about 45-60 minutes every day, once in a while skipping a day, admittedly). A few weeks ago, I was in the middle of a routine and an error message flashed on the control panel just as the unit shut down. Now, let me tell you, when a treadmill abruptly stops while you are running full speed, you develop a healthy respect for the laws of physics.

The instruction manual was of no help (big shock) so I went to the Keys Fitness Web site, where they have a "Contact Support" page, and described my problem--and, hey, they let me use more than 240 characters, so I could actually describe the problem fully. (Take note, Sony.) Less than a day later, I got a note back from a Robin Scott (not the Robin Scott who, under the moniker M, recorded the 1979 hit "Pop Muzik"--or at least I don't think) at a company called Maverick Service and Assembly. Turns out that Keys Fitness has filed for bankruptcy--I hope they proofread their court papers--and Maverick took over their customer support. So I was told that I needed to call them. Which I did.

I called Mr. Scott (no, not Montgomery Scott and, no, he did not talk about, pop muzik, talk about, pop muzik...) and we cracked open the motor cover and went through some things. I learned an awful lot about the inner workings of a treadmill. Although the error code I got could refer to any of a variety of related things, he seemed to think that it had something to do with a defective speed controller. This is a small, plastic tuning-fork-shaped structure that attaches to the motor. Connected to the motor is a fan, and around the base of the fan is a set of teeth that pass through the two prongs of the controller. Sensors in the controller count how many teeth pass per unit of time and that's how it calculates the speed. I never knew that. If the controller stops working, the unit gets confused and shuts down in a panic. Kind of like having any kind of contact with Sony. Anyway, he ordered me a new speed controller. (I also needed to replace the walking belt, which was getting a little frayed by this time.) He also told me to ensure that I use a spray lubricant on the walking belt at least every 30 days. I mentioned that the instruction manuel said not to, under any circumstances, use a lubricant on it, as it will dissolve the belt and the underlying board. Robin said, "I don't know why they print that. You shouldn't use WD-40 but instead a lubricant like NAPA 8300 that is safe for wood." Harrumph. I guess it was more like a destruction manual. No wonder they're bankrupt.

A few days later, everything arrived. Robin had sent detailed instructions (PDFs) of how to replace everything, which were actually not badly written, although there were a couple of steps that seem to have been written by someone in a Nyquil-induced haze or that kid from The Sixth Sense, as they apparently saw parts that weren't there. It did require a fair amount of contortion, and it would have helped to have fingers like those aliens in Close Encounters.

It was not easy to get the new controller on, and it took a few tries to get it seated properly. Once that was done, I started up the treadmill, and then it shut down with a different error message. Doh! So I called Robin back and he was flummoxed, since that error message referenced the same basic problem (who designs these things?). So we tried a few things, and I eventually ended up on a conference call with it seemed everyone else in the support department and I stumped all the experts. He said it may very well have been another defective speed controller, so he sent out a second one.

Overnight, I started mulling that over, and it didn't seem statistically likely. So the next day, I went back into the motor and took out the new controller and examined it in the light. I noticed that a small, sliver of plastic had somehow been shaved off the tip of one of the prongs, and was partially obscuring the thin groove where I suspected the sensor was located. So I pulled off this sliver, made sure the groove was clear, then reinstalled it. I started up the treadmill and success! It worked. Feeling lucky, I started my usual routine and had no problem--and, in the two weeks since, it has worked flawlessly. Knock wood.

So, a shout out to Maverick Service and Assembly and Robin Scott for exemplary customer service and to Keys Fitness for, despite all their woes--both financial and editorial--actually made a damn good treadmill that will hopefully keep--and keep me--running for 5+ more years.

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