I love to go shop hopping. You know, you hop on your bike, go from bike shop to bike place sampling the wares and thereby fill up a Saturday on the cheap (unless of course you happen to weaken and buy something). Infinitely more fun and useful than mowing the lawn. Shop hopping is good way to meet up with friends, make new ones, sit on some bikes, dream a little, see what's new, and just absorb some bikeness. With any luck a good lunch happens along the way too.
My recent bike shop wanderings have left me feeling that it's a wonder motorcycle dealerships sell any bikes at all. That they do make sales is more a testament to the moto-lust of motorcycle enthusiasts who will endure an excruciating sales experience in order to obtain the object of their desire. In ye olden tymes buying a bike meant going to a motorcycle shop, probably located in a less desirable part of the business neighborhood, and then hoping to be accepted into the fraternity without too much hazing. This of course leads me to a small story:
I had decided at the tender age of 19 years to buy a new Harley Sportster. Young whelps of today sneer at the modern Sporty's performance and think of it as a chick bike but long ago there was no more fearsome performance machine readily available than the Harley-Davidson Sportster. And you'd better be able to kick start it, punk, 'cause only wusses buy the electric start version.
(yeah, I know it's not a Sportster)
So I walked into Oceanside Harley-Davidson, in those days a corrugated metal industrial building reeking of oil, and the huge, burly guy behind the counter asked loudly "Whattdya want, kid??" Clearly he had better things to do than talk to me. There was probably a town to be pillaged somewhere. I, the skinny, squeaky voiced 19 year old kid (with money in his pocket) replied. "I think I want to buy a Sportster." "Har har har har!!" laughed the man mountain counter ape. Looking to somewhere in the black nether reaches of the building the guy said "Hey Louie!! Da kid thinks wants A SPORTSTER!!! HAR HAR HAR HAR!!" Sufficiently intimidated, I turned and left and took my money to a Suzuki dealer who was happy to sell me a new T500 Titan (2-cylinder, two-stroke) that was probably faster than the Sportster if less fearsome in reputation.
My then new Suzuki T500 Titan. Cheaper than a Sportster, no hassle to buy.
The more common buying experience these days is the so called "powersports store." They sell bikes, they sell accessories, they sell watercraft, they sell generators, they sell gaudy clothing more worthy of a peacock than a motorcycle rider (whatever happened to buying your new motorcycle gloves at the Army Surplus store?). They will sell you any blessed thing you want and it will all be handled by a salesman who knows less about the range of products than many of the customers walking through the door. Yes, I know, that not ALL shops and sales people are that way. I'm sure in the vast expanse of America there is a dealer somewhere that has a knowledgeable sales staff. Things are actually a bit better at a few BMW or H-D dealers but not all.
My favorite game when visiting a bike shop, especially the powersports stores, is to ask the salesman what he rides. Most often I'll get the answer "I don't have a bike right now but…" As it happens though, when you work in a bike shop it can be pretty tough to afford to buy what you sell. I spoke with one of the top sales kids at a big store a while back and he was making $22,000 a year. Great money if you are still living with your parents. He didn't have a bike either.
How or why this misbegotten sales system survives is a mystery to me but then it survives pretty much in the same, much larger form, in the world of automobile sales from which it sprung. I grew up in car dealerships, my dad was in the business, and I know how that business works. But bikes are not cars, they are better than cars and deserve a better sales situation for the potential buyer.
Of course car buyers at least can get a demo drive whereas the potential motorcycle buyer gets only a laugh or a sneer from most motorcycle dealers if he asks for a demo ride. Imagine a customer walking into a car dealership, finding out his new luxo-barge SUV is on the show floor but no, you can't take it for a drive. In fact, out of courtesy to the future owner, don't even sit on it. Or touch it. And no, we don't have a brochure for you. Cars dealers would perish under such a system but frequently motorcycle dealers think nothing of treating a potential customer as if it's an honor to be allowed to buy.
Regardless of the scewed up sales system shops use, the modern motorcycle customer is treated far more courteously than I was long ago in that tin building hawg shop but not really treated any better. New riders, often sold bikes that are too big for them and at inflated prices no less, are merely a sheep to be fleeced and shown the way into the wider confinement along with the rest of the flock living the motorcycle "lifestyle." I personally always thought of motorcycling as a way of life, not a style statement.
The man mountain behind the counter long ago was, I suspect, at least knowledgeable about the motorcycle he was selling, owned one, and rode it. Regardless of the modern hassles, going and looking at bikes on a Saturday is a great way to pass the time.