The Stupid Price Triumph, and Other Failed Dreams

The Stupid Price Triumph, and Other Failed Dreams

I rode in to Triumph of Seattle today to have the “fly screen” installed on my Triumph T 120. It’s always a fun experience for me because I used to work for this dealer (in a different location) and I know most of the staff. 

The first bit of conversation involved a 2014 Triumph 800 Tiger dual sport model, one that salesman Andy described as having a “stupid” price – industry slang for a deal that is just amazing. Very low miles, and modified extensively with side cases, a huge top case at the rear, and a neat tank bag that clips into a bracket on the fuel cap.  Plus an Akrapovic exhaust system. All of which would have added mightily to the stock price, and today, three years later – $8,000.

Later my friend Toni took me back by her office to show me something even more astonishing. A 2010 Suzuki 650 V-Strom – also known as the “wee strom” to distinguish from it 1,000cc sibling. Also loaded to the max with side cases and a rear case, plus this and that other mod – and 216 miles! That would be 31 miles a year, or about the distance from my house to the dealer. And back. Once. I think the price was $6,000, or it could have been $5,000.

Either of these bikes could be used for commuting, touring, middling difficulty off-road work (which is all but the lunatic fringe ever attempt) or pretty much anything else you would want, for many many years.  They both appeared to be brand spanking new, with no evidence of ever being on the ground.

Both of these models are still in production, more or less unchanged, and both of them, equipped as these are, would cost about double the price for the used example with hardly any miles. I would urge any of my friends who wanted to get into a wonderful dual sport bike to hie themselves with alacrity to Triumph of Seattle and purchase either of them immediately.

Triumph of Seattle has a store policy that a used bike on the floor cannot be purchased by an employee for 30 days, so the clock is running on both of these.  The asking prices are too “stupid” to ignore. If I had the desire for a dual sport bike, my fly screen birthday gift would have become a few magnitudes more expensive.

How are prices like this possible?

I entered the motorcycle business in 2000, brought in as the fun guy who would be nice to customers, do e-mails and newsletters, represent the dealership at events, and lead customers on rides. I think most of the sales staff thought this was just another flight of fancy of the owner’s, and I was the idiot chosen to give it wings.  I added to this impression the first day, when I expressed astonishment to several sales staff that we had a lovely used Triumph for sale with less than 500 miles on it. How could such a thing be?  Someone finally explained that it was fairly common, as others walked away shaking their heads.  

Here are some of the reasons why this can occur.

Reason #1    In a few cases, you have a very wealthy customer who trades in one or more of his or her bikes every once in a while just for fun.  Sounds unlikely, but I purchased a bike of my own this way.  The customer traded in a Kawasaki ZX-12R, which at that time was either the fastest or second-fastest bike you could purchase, depending on whether the editors of the magazine you were reading like it better or less than the Suzuki Hayabusa.  The one I purchased had 535 miles on the odometer. It had been treated to a smoked windscreen, a titanium Akrapovic full exhaust system,  a power commander to smooth delivery of the over 160hp it delivered to the rear wheel, and mods to the tail to tidy it up a bit.   The first day it appeared on the sales floor it was priced at $8,295, which I thought was ridiculously low.  It almost sold that day, but the deal fell through.

Then I walked by it every day on my way to and from my desk, several times a day.   After two weeks I popped in to the sales managers office to ask what he would charge me if I wanted to but it.

“What would you think is fair?” he asked.



Really?  A brand new one with all of this stuff would have been about $16,000, and here I was getting the same thing for 50% off 535 miles later.  The bike had been ridden so few miles that the owner never realized it had a bad relay that did not allow the cooling fan to turn on, covered by warranty, of course. He’d never ridden it far enough at one time for it to get fully warm!

Turns out the original owner was extremely wealthy, owned about 5 bikes, and traded them whenever a whim struck.   I enjoyed the bike for two years and several thousand miles, during which it terrified me a time or two, and then sold it – for $8300.

Better yet, the last time I saw the bike it had 96,000 miles on an engine that had never been apart. The exhaust system had been replaced at no charge by Akrapovic after the owner ran so much nitrous oxide through the bike drag racing it that he burned through the downpipes!

Reason #2     Hubby likes to ride motorcycles.   I am not being sexist here, because women are not enthusiastic/stupid enough to do what follows.   Wife says she likes riding on the back.  Hubby reasons that if she likes riding on the back, she would like riding her own even more.  I may have exaggerated with the term “reasons.”   Hubby runs out and purchases a brand new Harley Sportster for his wife as a surprise.  Well, yes, she is surprised. They are intelligent people, so they sign up wife for a rider safety course.

While taking the course the wife learns one of the most valuable lessons the courses teach, although it is not listed in the description.  Not everyone is meant to ride a motorcycle.  And, there are many people who actually (I know, it strains credulity), do not even like to ride a motorcycle.

What happens next, depending on the level of honest communication in the marriage, is that the bike is sold back to the dealer immediately, for a few thousand less than it cost to purchase, or it sits in the garage for about a year, is ridden twice, and then is returned to the dealer for even less money.

In the ten years I worked at that dealership there was always a used Harley Sportster on the floor with almost no miles, and usually one or two other makes and models as well.

Reason #3           When the dream fades. You have a customer who has always loved the concept of riding a motorcycle.  He or she has no experience, and often does not bother to do any research with friends or relatives who ride.  If the person has money, the salespeople are so happy to deal with them.  Instead of purchasing a mid-size used bike and riding it for a year to see what direction they want to go in (as in sport bike, off-road, cruiser, touring, commuter, etc.), which is what I or many other experienced riders would recommend, our enthusiast walks into the dealership and rides out with a beautiful brand new motorcycle of some sort that happened to be in stock.   The sales person recommends they take a safety course ASAP, and the dealership may offer a discount or even pay for it as a purchase incentive.

Then the customer learns that, once in a while, it rains.  Sometimes it’s cold.  Wearing all the gear everyone keeps yammering about takes time to put on and off, and it is expensive.  Maybe there is gravel in a corner.  And hey, that ski boat looks fun!  And the bike is brought back with very few miles.

Reason #4           Divorce.  Woman has little choice but to sell the bike back to the dealer to get out from under the monthly payments, because the alimony she has to pay her husband after her affair with her secretary is killing her.

Reason #5           Life happens. I watched a woman come in late one Saturday afternoon on a Honda cruiser with few miles.   She had just flown back from a trip to Atlanta, where she had been offered, and accepted, a new job. She was moving Monday, and wanted to sell the bike to the dealership in the next 30 minutes.   Which she did.  For cash. I hope her new job did not require negotiation skills.

Reason #6           One marital partner, let’s say the wife, decides to purchase a new motorcycle, without discussing this beforehand with the husband.  An argument starts, and then escalates, culminating in a choice being offered. It is either the marriage or the motorcycle.

The marriage remains intact when the motorcycle is returned,  but I always wondered how those situations morphed over time.

And of course there are other reasons as well.

So why is the price so low?   Motorcycles have a very short shelf life.  In this country most motorcycles are used as toys, and who wants to buy a used toy for themselves? The dealer does not want to offer much for a trade-in because he or she knows the bike may sit on the floor for a while.  The seller does not want to endure the lengthy agony of selling a used bike to a market that diminishes every month.   The dealer has more floor space than the owner, and that allows the dealer some time to be patient for the sale.

Point being, if you have the itch for a motorcycle, I would go against all the advice to check the want-ads and the Internet.  I would first go to a couple of dealers and look for extremely low mileage gems the dealer wants to sell.

What sort of rider wants a three to seven year old bike?  With very low miles?  With most of the extras you’d add anyway to a model that is still in production and essentially unchanged?

A smart one.

Happy hunting!


Copyright 2016                      David Preston

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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