~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

"That's A Boat, Isn't It?"

It used to be you got your bike serviced for about $20 and $25 if something needed extra attention. The engine had only one or two cylinders to bother with, maybe two carbs, and a total of four valves if it had valves at all and a set of ignition points. The ignition points were easily set with a dwell meter and a feeler gauge and you were good to go. It's been down hill ever since.

Long ago I learned to set ignition points with a feeler gauge, fiddle Amal carburetors into working for a little while, and bleed brakes on bikes with the new-fangled disk brakes. These days, according to the ST1300 owner's manual, just removing and replacing the front wheel on the ST1300 calls for a feeler gauge (which I found in the Honda's tool kit). Times change, both monetary and technical inflation happen.

New bikes are usually heavily discounted in their retail price (H-D excepted) and the dealer has to make his money somewhere so the real cost of ownership has been moved from the sales floor to the service and parts area. In the effort of the dealer to secure some profit I think the cost of service work has grown too far out of proportion to the price of the bike.

Maybe I should have bought and old airhead Beemer and serviced it myself? No, the magic of 118 HP would definitely not be there and the fact is my trusty R100RT used to cost as much to have serviced as the new R1200RT does. Horsepower can make one forget many other shortcomings in bike ownership but horsepower has always been a complex and expensive proposition. A friend of mine years ago used to do some top notch tuning and guys would call him and ask him how much it would call to go fast. Lee's answer was "How fast do you want to spend?"

Having taken the plunge on the ST1300 I decided to look at service costs for each 4,000 mile service interval. In the past I never paid much attention to service costs, at least until I bought a BMW, but service has gotten to be a big issue and has to be figured into the budget. The typical mechanic / technician may not be growing rich in his vocation but that doesn't stop the dealer from charging $65 - $80 an hour for the wrench time.

With bikes getting more sophisticated services should be costing less because nearly everything about the engine is controlled by computer now and there is less real tuning to do but services are actually getting more expensive under the guise of "complexity." Cars are complicated also but the service costs for those seem to be going down, not up. For example, I just had my 2004 VW Jetta serviced at 15,000 miles. Under the hood hides a computer controlled four cylinder water cooled engine, air conditioning, power steering, etc, etc. The 15k service cost was $37 at Berge VW in Mesa. The Honda ST1300, also powered by a four cylinder, water cooled, computer controlled engine, and costs a bit more to service. Quotes from Honda dealers I phoned run from $280 to $800 for the 16k service. That's a fair bit of distance from $37 for the VW.

The highlight of my calls to get service costs on the Honda was the service guy at one of the "Motorsports" chain of bike stores owned by a local car dealer. When asked about service prices on the ST1300 the service guy asked me "That's a boat, isn't it?" No, it's a bike. "Uh...just a sec...what was it again?" Honda ST1300 motorcycle. "Oh...lemme see...what did you want to know?" The service costs for routine and major services. [Sounds of pages flipping] "Yeah, uh the 600 mile service is about $210, the 4k services are about $140 and the....uh...16k service is $360." Oh yeah, I want that place to work on my boat...er..bike.

One wonders what is being left out or overdone in the disparity between $280 at one dealer and $800 at another or for that matter the $37 the VW cost me. Only two dealers that I called offered up extra comment and accurate information on the servicing of the bike. The service guys seemed friendly and competent on the phone. The bike will be going back for service to where I bought it, Western Honda. Spare me the Western Honda horror stories if you have them, I can find find horror stories about every single dealer around here although none until the other day seemed to include asking the customer if his sport touring motorcycle is a boat.

Looking at the long term maintenance cost picture the Honda actually winds up with significantly higher service costs than the BMW (which costs between $250 and $300 per service) assuming one keeps either bike for 100,000 miles. Regardless, it's not likely to play out that way in my world where I change bikes often than I have a date with a woman.

I feel good about the Honda ST1300 as a motorcycle and in it's capabilities to do what I want it to. I feel less positive about the service situation and it has nothing to do with the brand of the bike. The BMW would have been serviced at Iron Horse Motorcycles in Tucson and I know them and how they work; they serviced my '92 R100RT for me a number of times and I know they were doing all that they were paid to do. Buyers remorse? Shoulda bought the Beemer? No, the up front price was just too high for me. As "Dirty Harry" said, "A man's got to know his limitations" even when in the throws of moto-lust. Motorcycle ownership is much more pleasant despite the on going expense when you can deal with people who you can respect for their professional commitment.

Dealing with erratic, dubious, or over priced motorcycle maintenance seems to be a fact of life but it would be easier to part with the money if I could have some confidence in the shop doing the work and the guy turning the wrenches. I'll be watching Western Honda closely to see if things go as they ought. I'm hoping to develop a rapport with the service guys similar to what I had with Iron Horse Motorcycles in Tucson. The the scariest moments in motorcycling should not be happening when you take your bike in for service and then wait to see the bill.

1 comment:

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