Adventures As a Motorcycle Test Rider

Life as a Test Rider

One of the (many) unusual aspects of my job is that time is more or less not a factor. Salaried people in jobs where very few people know, care, or understand exactly what the job entails are available to other managers and staff for involvement in any project where there’s a good change they will do more good than harm.

This is a good thing for some, and certainly personally, as it has allowed me to dabble in projects and tasks I’d never take on by myself.  Usually, disaster does not ensue.

Curiousity is piqued and then peaks when the Service Department asks for assistance. If they cannot diagnose something immediately it’s most likely a really interesting problem.

Years ago at another dealership I was asked to ride a Triumph that a woman customer had crashed 3 times. “Well sure!” Who would turn that down?

She claimed the bike was cutting out in slow corners and crashing to the ground. How could this be? Here are the clues I was given – let’s see how you do:

1.       Rider is a short woman of little weight.

2.       A Triumph Thunderbird is somewhat tall (compared to her) and heavy.

3.       Rider is inexperienced.

4.       Rider has had the standard handlebars replaced with some narrow and curved “buckhorn” style handlebars often found on Harley-Davidson Sportsters.

5.       Rider rides at slower speeds.

That’s it.   That’s all you get to know.  You could ride the bike for an hour, as I did, and detect nothing out of the ordinary in any aspect of the bike’s performance. No clues to be found there.  So…  Your answer?  Ready?

Here’s what I surmised. As a novice rider, she was entering corners in far too high a gear; let’s say 3rd or 4th for a 1st or 2nd gear corner. When she got to the apex and twisted the throttle, the bike would protest at being asked to accelerate from too low an rpm and would stutter or start to stall. She would react with fear and yank on the bars, which were already turned in to the corner, and because of the shape of the “buckhorn” bars the effects were exacerbated. In short, she was causing herself to crash! 

I wrote a lengthy memo, writing gently around the fact that rider ineptitude was to blame (and a fine piece of writing it was), but she never got to read it.  The service department was able to explain to her that there was nothing wrong with the bike other than it was too big and heavy for her, and she traded it for the bike the Sales Department had recommended to her in the first place.  I at least felt good that I had diagnosed the problem correctly. I think.

At Ride West last month I was asked to replicate a situation a customer was having with the electrics cutting out at random intervals. This is the sort of thing that drives everyone round the bend. When you have a problem like this you can be sure it will definitely not occur while in the hands of the technician you are paying to repair it!

Frustration all around. The dealership does not want to spend hours of valuable shop time on a tech riding around to create what appears to be a phantom problem. The customer would not want to pay for it. On the other hand the customer wants the bike fixed, particularly with a long trip coming up.

The salaried “other” manager to the rescue. I was to ride the bike as long as I desired and try to make it cut out.  I tried putting the brakes on hard and pulling in the clutch at speed so an engine with a slightly too low idle speed would die. I tried shifting unevenly. I tried allowing the bike to idle and get quite warm and then pulling away sharply. I tried all sort of things.  No luck.  I recalled that I had once turned off all the electrics on a bike while adjusting the right hand mirror with my left hand – the gauntlet on my glove dragged on the kill switch hard enough to turn everything off – on the freeway in rush hour traffic at about 50mph – good times! I could not repeat that with this BMW, as the kill switch seemed designed with that sort of bungle in mind. I did not succeed in this case, and never did find out what the problem was, or if there ever was one.  The bike went off on a very long journey and never missed a beat. So goes life.

Last week’s was the most creative. I was asked to ride the Ride West demo of the 2013 BMW K 1300 GTL, a large and ultra-luxury 6 cylinder touring bike, and to get it as hot as possible to see if we could replicate a customer’s problem with hot starting.  It was not deemed necessary to tell me exactly what the problem was – why clutter a small mind with details?

I’ve never before ridden around looking for a traffic jam, have you? The U district on a sunny Friday afternoon will do just fine. I tried turning on things and turning them off  (there are a LOT of things you can turn on and off on a BMW K 1600 GTL), trolled through small residential areas, idled in circles in a large parking lot,  stopped and killed the engine and restarted, etc.  Eventually we returned as the bike was about as warm as it was going to get without a 95 degrees and a desert handy,  and the rider was definitely overheating. 

At the service entrance I left it idling, and they told me to turn it off and back on again. I did so, and it started right up.  I felt like a total failure until Thadeus said “That’s it.”  

“That’s it? What’s it?”

“That little stutter.”

Sure enough, when a K 1600 GTL is super hot and you turn it off and turn it back on again, there will be a little “chick chick” stutter before it starts.  It starts just fine, and if you wait for a minute or two it will start without the stutter, but that was what the customer was concerned with.

Not to sneer, as we all do that with a new motorcycle. We worry about phantom problems that probably do not exist.  This is particularly true when you’ve just laid out a substantial chunk of change for a technically advanced motorcycle. You may notice the same phenomenon when heading home on the last day of a trip. You’ll think you hear all sorts of strange noises the engine was not making before, imagine that a tire is going flat, etc.  Car racers have the same problem on the final lap if they have a good lead.

In this case, the Service department was able to aver with confidence, “Yes sir, it does do that. All of them do the same thing, and it is nothing to worry about.”

Case solved, and closed. Until next time….


David Preston                                                                     Copyright 2013

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?
This entry was posted in Motorcycles. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply