Behind Bars - Motorcycle Dealerships - Stealerships

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

The man in the grimy slicker and maroon Bell Star was displeasured. He wouldn't get his bike back that day and his estimate ran into serious money.

"I shoulda known better than to buy this [expletives too inappropriate even for Motorcyclist] BMW in the first place! Why can't you find me some used parts? You bloodsuckers are just trying to make money off me!"

I took a deep breath and gave it to him right between the eyes.

"That's right, sir. We employ certified master technicians to install new parts with a factory warranty."

I went over the estimate again, detailing acute repairs (final drive), safety necessities (brakes, tires), and recommended services (all of 'em).

"That's more than I paid for the [expletives continued] bike! It didn't need any maintenance before I came in here."

Four riders waiting behind him shuffled their boots and coughed encouragement.

In 2006, Customer X purchased his first motorcycle, a 1985 K100RS, out of someone's ex-wife's backyard for a smokin' low price. Five states from home, his pinion gear stripped. His front tire was cupped and the rear showed cord. A plug of dead mice with blow-dried hair choked the airbox. Scored almost transparent, the rear rotor screeched in harmony.

When X blew in, we had 32 bikes parked in the alley. I bumped my regulars and we got him back in the saddle in 42 hours flat, even after he griped to my service manager, the general manager, our owner and, for all I know, the Better Business Bureau-none of which made his parts arrive any faster or our work proceed any slower.

Just another day at the office: Embarrassed owners demand warranty coverage on scratched paint that couldn't possibly be crash damage; hot-rodding electrical engineers crisp their control modules and blame factory quality control; bikes clatter in with nothing in their crankcases but shrunken colloids of sludge. Mechanics snap on nitrile gloves and fix them all.

Yet the same guy who can't phone in his Visa number fast enough for a carbon-fiber codpiece sneers at factory-authorized service. Dude's way too smart to spend his hard-earned cabbage at a "stealership" when he can cadge an oil filter $3 cheaper from the pimply kid at Pep Boys. What kind of idiot pays dealer rates?

Meet the Idiot.

When I need a helmet, I don't figure my skull size in euros and email an account number to strangers. I go see Bill for a personal fitting at the dealership. It runs me about $40 more than buying a hat online, and for that I get personal attention.

Bill knows more about riding gear than you and me and the chirpy operator at the discount parts warehouse put together. Roll every magazine comparison, press release and safety study into one articulate database, and that's Bill. If I keep welching on his time only to phone my money out of town, Bill may not be there next time.

I can cross-reference cheesy Fram filters, or let Omar in Parts pull the right one every time. Omar knows bikes, knows parts and knows the Idiot well enough to remind me to pick up a crush washer.

Fresh donuts cost more from my dealer than from 1-800-CHI-NTZY, but mine get mounted, computer spin-balanced and properly torqued by Sandra or Ben. While smart guys wait four days for the UPS truck, the Idiot spends 40 minutes sipping Seattle's Best and lying to noobs. In kindly weather, I might ravish a testbike. Meanwhile, my tires materialize without nicked rims and the wheel weights don't hit me in the ass 10 miles down the road. Yeah, they're better wrenches than I am. Faster, too.

Well beyond what we can glom at a discount, motorcycling is our fraternité de la route. Things are tough all over, but when the economy stops burning I'd like a few bright signs left standing over the smoking landscape to invite you into my favorite dealership, and me into yours.

We all download a sexy deal once in a while, but nothing beats a solid, long-term relationship.

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