How to Select People to Ride With

How to Select People to Ride With

I’ve been a motorcycle enthusiast since 1962, when I was given a ride on the back of a bike ridden by my older brother’s friend. I’ve been a rider for 50 years, and have ridden over 500 different motorcycles in that time.  (Notes on most of those are about three years ago on this site)  For 14 years I worked for two different motorcycle dealerships, and parts of my job (the best parts) were to ride to events, ride with other groups, and lead our own customers on rides.   Like the insurance commercial says, “I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.”

Many riders get into group rides by joining a club. Here you’ll find people who’ve done this before, and usually someone else will plan the ride and lead it. So far, so good. One caution would be that most clubs have a certain type and style of ride, which makes sense. Any group will gravitate toward activities that have proved successful for that group.

Harley-Davidson is famed, and rightly so, for their creation of and support of local HOG chapters.   The Harley Owners Group offers a lot of positives, and one of them is the “bible,” an appropriately black book that details how things should be done, and what should not, and may not, be done. It is amazingly detailed.

Sidetrack for a minute for a story I’m sure I’ve told before. One year the HOG director and I had a “brilliant” idea. The annual HOG picnic was coming up, and we had an idea for a fund raiser.  We’d get a bunch of water balloons and some industrial strength sling shots.  We’d ride our two Harleys back and forth at the end of the field, and people could purchase a water balloon for $2 or 3 of them for $5.  And launch them at us. We figured this would be hilarious, and raise a lot of money for the chapter.  To my shock I found that this was expressly forbidden in the HOG bible, in words that pretty much matched our discussion word for word.   I still think it was a good idea…

Anyway, HOG rides are extremely well organized. There’s always a “Road Captain” to lead the group, and another one at the rear.  The RCs had to go through a lengthy training process to earn their title.  They have also ridden the route prior to the ride. All members of the group are taught specific hand signals for various situations, and the rides usually go off without a hitch.

Goldwing club rides, in my experience, were a little less rigid.

Curiously, Valkyrie (essentially a stripped Goldwing) club rides tended much more toward a sport bike pace than a Goldwing pace.

At the bottom of the heap were some sport bike club rides that started out at risky and quickly elevated past dangerous to approach suicidal.

In my first ten years in the business I watched two sport bike clubs spring into existence, with matching vests and so forth. Both of them literally died out.  Both were fond of meeting up at a bar late at night and then tearing off in the moonlight when the bar closed. Guess what happened?   Not all sport bike clubs are like this, I hasten to add, as I led sport bike club rides for many years with very few problems.

But most…

Club rides also have some drawbacks.  Perhaps you would not like the pace of Harley club rides, which are utterly reasonable. Goldwing club rides tended to be on freeways, or at a very slow pace on back roads where many of the riders (again, in my experience) seemed to be uncomfortable.

And there are many other examples.

Perhaps you want to ride with a group of independent sorts. You hear about one and decide to give it a try. How do you evaluate the riders that show up?

Motorcycle make:  Makes utterly no difference. As long the bike is capable of freeway speeds it will be fine.

Motorcycle condition:  A key factor. Before the ride people tend to walk around and socialize and check out the rides. What do you see? The motorcycles do not need to be spotless, as mine usually is, but should show evidence that someone cares.  Bald tires, floppy chains, and other marks or mechanical indifference are red flags.  If many of the bikes are like this, perhaps you would do better to keep looking.

Age: Older riders tend to have “common sense,” some of it innate and much of it learned the hard way.  They’re more likely to accept other brands, and may eagerly look forward to the presence of other brands.  Having a young rider along will add some variety, and give the older folks someone new to tell stories to at lunch.  So you would like to see a mix of not only brands and models, but also age, perhaps skewed slightly toward the “more mature.”

On one occasion I had a young man new to riding, on his new basic black Triumph Bonneville. At the lunch stop he misjudged the entrance to the restaurant, hit a small curb, and dumped the bike.  Little damage to the bike, but crushing to his ego. He was embarrassed and ashamed, and assumed all would write him off as a total loser. Instead, the luncheon turned into a hilarious recitation of stories that all started with “You think that’s dumb? Here’s what I did…”  I had one or two of my own tales of woe to add. By the end of the meal the young man felt much better about his situation, and everyone had a better time than if he had not been there.

Women:  The presence of women in a ride group will ALWAYS improve the experience, unless you have a troglodyte sexist pig in attendance, and in motorcycling I have found those to be rare, at least on a motorcycle day. Some of the women will be highly experienced and skilled, but many will be new to riding or at least new to group riding.  Male chivalry arises from its cave and everyone wants to make the woman or women comfortable and welcome.  Your experience may vary – this has been mine.  In addition, the discussions at lunch will be more varied, in greater depth, and less profane.

Passengers:  Passengers are usually not a problem.  Some will bring a child with them, and the kid will have a marvelous day.  More often it will be a wife (I have never experienced a woman rider with a male passenger) and again, this will not be a concern, although the pace of a two-up bike will usually be slower.

Gear:  This is key. You can tell a lot about riders by what they chose to wear.  ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time) is a good indicator. People will vary in their interpretation of ATTGATT, but at a bare (pun!) minimum look for a helmet, gloves, and a sturdy jacket and boots. Even the new rider of limited means should be able to scrounge up a jacket and some hiking boots and a pair of gloves to go with the helmet. Helmets are mandatory in my state.

Curiously, there is a lot of data on the difference in accident outcomes between no helmet (not good) and helmet, but none that I know of on the difference between a high end helmet and the cheapo purchased at a discount outlet.  In my $700 Arai I am safer than the guy in the $100 helmet, but not by as much as you might think. Evidently. Several years ago, because of this, a state senator in Tennessee got a bill through that made bicycle helmets legal on motorcycles in that state. As a motorcyclist himself and experienced with Tennessee heat and humidity he thought this would work well.    It did not because motorcyclists did not like the look of bicycle helmets!

I once took part in organizing a free demo ride day for Harley, and therein lays a disclaimer to the above. People showed up with all manner of helmets, some of them appearing to be 30 years old and moth-eaten. They matched these with sweatpants and tennis shoes.  I spent the entire day in terror, especially after one man asked me to be sure to help his wife pick up the bike after she dropped it, as he was sure she would! The bikes were owned by Harley, not the dealership, and at the end of the day all survived.  A lucky day.

Pace:  Early on in the ride you will be able to discern if the leader of the ride, assuming there is one, has a clue. The pace needs to be determined by a quick scan of the riders.  I used to ride at a “sport bike” pace, a “touring pace,” or a “cruiser pace,” depending on my assessment of the group.  By the way, I discovered early on in leading rides that I enjoyed all three paces, which surprised me.

Some “leaders,” on the other hand, think that being the leader means they have to be the fastest bike in the bunch.  If that is the case, drop out before the carnage and enjoy your day on your own.

An experienced and/or caring leader will make a couple of alterations. For one, he or she will think before passing a slower vehicle on a winding back road.  How will this affect the others?  Sometimes waiting for a better opportunity makes a huge difference. At a stop sign, the leader may fiddle with gloves or face shield, or pause to comment to rider #2.  A delay of 10 seconds or less will usually bring the group back together, even the new rider on the 250 at the back or the couples riding two-up.

I think one of the most fun days I had was a group ride of ten to fifteen bikes I was leading, in the rain.  Most of them were on sport bikes, and I, for whatever reason, was on a 650cc Yamaha cruiser.  I did not want to hold the group up, so I thrashed the very willing Yamaha all day and had a wonderful time.  You have to adjust to the needs and capabilities of the group.

If you have a group where people are reasonable and friendly, wearing the right gear and of a mix of sexes and ages, you’ll have a fantastic day.

If things seem a bit off to you, be bold and announce you just remembered your daughter’s soccer game and you need to leave.  An actual daughter is not necessary for this.

Secret tip – if you do have a great day, suggest a breakfast meeting at a restaurant of choice every Friday, or whenever. This can grow and shrink as people come and go, but over time you will develop a go-to list of friends to ride with.  I started such a group when I retired, and it has been going strong for four years now.

At all times, ride your own bike and at your own pace.  There are lots of people out there who agree with you.  The brand or model of motorcycle they adore is irrelevant.

Cheers!

 

Copyright 2017                      David Preston

Posted in Motorcycles | Leave a comment

The Re-Evolution of the Standard Motorcycle

The Re-evolution of the Standard Motorcycle

(Caveat emptor:  I may have taken some liberties with history and facts on the way to a point. I presume my faithful readers will supply corrections and additions as needed.)  

To take an explanatory short cut, motorcycles began when some bright thinker chose to bolt a small engine into a bicycle frame. For a few years there were experiments with where and how to attach the engine, but eventually a position beneath the rider and between his (or her) legs seemed to be the easiest, most practical, and most marketable solution.

For several decades over the past century plus a bit manufacturers produced – motorcycles.   Not sport bikes or dirt bikes or tourers or cruisers – just motorcycles.

There were small outliers from this, of course, depending on how far off the beaten track of history you care to roam. Consider the short-lived mania for board track racing just about a century ago. The tracks were made of boards – literally, usually 2×4 boards or larger turned on their sides and attached to create a width of track deemed sufficient, in an oval or bowl shape of sizes ranging from small to two (!) miles.  The motorcycles raced were some of the purest motorcycles for purpose ever created.  No brakes, and no real throttle control. They were designed to operate at full throttle all the time, and could be slowed by a button that killed the ignition. Or not. Total loss oiling systems meant smoke everywhere all the time, and exhaust “pipes” about 6 inches long made for amazing sounds.  You can purchase a fresh replica of one of these today, used solely for display.

But most motorcycles were simply – motorcycles. Even in World War II, when Indian chose to produce 100% of their motorcycles for the armed forces, they differed from civilian spec by – not much. Perhaps more complicated air filtering for bikes meant for the desert or other slight mods.  This decision by Indian starved their dealers and was a major factor in their demise, whereas Harley made bikes for the military but with enough civilian bikes so keep their dealers alive – barely

And so to the late 1950s and early 1960s. The motorcycle industry grew after the war, producing more and more – motorcycles – with gradually increasing sales totals.

And then along came Soichiro Honda with small motorcycles that were inexpensive, dead reliable, and available all over the place to anyone, coupled with the “You Meet The Nicest People On A Honda” ad campaign. In due time, other Japanese companies followed his lead, including Yamaha (famed for musical instruments), Kawasaki (famed for the construction of large ships and large everything else), Suzuki, and several others.

The 1960’s were a time of explosive growth for motorcycles in all respects. More power, better suspensions, better brakes, and the proliferation of different models.  As time passed, motorcycles began to appear that were designed for more specific uses.  Motorcycles began to be referred to as dirt bikes, cruisers, tourers, sport bikes, and so on.

But history can be strange, and now appears to be in reverse in some ways, for a variety of reasons.

Most curious, to me, is the decline of interest in sport bikes.  I grew up lusting after sport bikes. Each year brought exponential improvements in all areas of performance. What I did not realize, or expect, was that sport bikes would eventually improve themselves out of practical use.

To wit, a modern sport bike of 600cc or large capacity is now so capable that it cannot be used to anywhere near its potential on any public road.  Our roads are, for the most part, the same roads that were first paved over 50 years ago.  But traffic is much heavier on most of them.  Any modern sport bike can top 100mph with ease, in some case so much so that the bike might be going much faster than the rider thinks. Even worse, they are now so capable that they cannot be ridden to their utmost, even on a race track, by all but a very small cadre of experienced and highly skilled riders.

I got to experience this first hand in 2009.  We had a used Kawasaki ZX12R that had been for sale for some time. It had not been ridden in quite a while, and so it was suggested that I ride it home and back the next day to make sure all was well.  This was a treat for me, as I had owned a ZX12R previously.   I loved that model. It was larger than most sport bikes, and a touch heavy, but it had real presence. Every ride was an occasion.  I rode it home in pleasure. During dinner, the dealership called to explain that a guy had just come in to purchase it, and could I rush back to the store?  I grabbed my helmet and jacket and was off, leaving the rest of dinner for later.  It was getting dark, but there was no time to swap off the tinted visor, and it looked like rain, but oh well.  I could take a hot shower when I returned if needed. 

I’ll always remember the look on the face of the new owner when I rode in. He’d been thinking about this bike for weeks, and had finally decided to go all in.  He and his wife and a baby stood there with huge grins on all of their faces as I rolled in, their bike all ready to go.  The paperwork was all done, and now he could ride home on this big beautiful black beast.

By now the dealership was closed, and all of the bikes stored inside. Fortunately, the service manager had thought ahead and knew I would need to get home. With impish humor he’d set aside an almost new Suzuki 1000 GSX-R, thinking that having me ride it in likely rain in the growing dark would be amusing. As usual, some of the younger employees sort of resented the fact that the old guy got to ride everything the store owned, and they did not.  It would have been churlish to explain that I was not likely to crash a bike, and they (as the dealership had learned over the years) were!

I set off for home on a bike that weighed at least 50 pounds less than the ZX12R and had equal or greater power.  And it did…nothing for me.  The sense I got was that I did not need to be there. At street speeds I would not do anything that the bike would even register as a demand. As I accelerated around and up a ramp onto the freeway for the blast to my exit, I turned the throttle casually.  When I looked down I was doing 95mph. The bike could care less.

So today, if you purchase a sport bike, what are you going to do with it? Track days?  Sure.  Do you want to spend 12k to 30k on a bike only for track days?  Commuting is not comfortable. Romping on back roads is boring at sane speeds, and quite likely lethal at speeds of interest to the bike.  In recent years the sales of large sport bikes have declined for this and other reasons.   Such as insurance.

Having said that, a modern sport bike is a lot of fun to ride at about 50 – 70% of its capability, (which is how I rode mine most of the time) and can be used to commute or even for light touring. But for most people there are better and less expensive routes to the same thing.

Touring bikes began to proliferate in the 1970s and are now so capable they are taken for granted.  They are also huge and heavy, and expensive.  It is always ironic to me to see Honda Goldwings out for a long ride – towing a trailer. How much stuff must you have with you?

Dirt bikes have also improved beyond expectation, but the disappearance of local empty lots and the liability concerns (justified) of land owners means that the purchase of a dirt-specific bike usually brings with it the necessity of pick-up truck and/or trailer ownership, and the hassle of loading and unloading.

Cue the development of the dual sport motorcycle that can be ridden on pavement to the dirt. Many of these are extremely competent at both, while usually not being as great as either a pure pavement or pure dirt bike on either surface.

Recently (aha! He may be about to make a point!), there is a trend in in reverse. The rise of the “standard” motorcycle.  People want a motorcycle to be simpler, more available, cheaper, and more basic.  Motorcycles (in this country) are usually purchased for fun, and complexity and expense often impinge on fun.

As a sort of parallel, I was interested in the Mecum Auction of motorcycles shown a couple of weeks ago. Their expert commentator was Paul D’Orleans, who knows more about motorcycles than anyone I’ve ever listened to. He referred, time and time again, to “the riding experience” as a way of describing how many bikes are a joy to ride even if they are not at the cutting edge of performance, either now or when they were new. I wonder if the “riding experience” is a new goal that is replacing whatever sort of performance used to be the goal.

I would modify his thought a bit to “owner experience.”  How much pleasure do you get from a bike simply by owning it? Certainly many Harley riders enjoy the bike just as it sits in the garage. It may represent a dream long deferred, or be cherished just for the look.

Whenever I do a serious cleaning of my bike I remove the seat to better access the side panels for (another) coat of wax. Each time I do I smile at the “MK” initials at the base of the tank that do not show when the seat is in place. MK are the initials of the worker who applied the gold pin stripes on the tank by hand.  Those little touches now mean a lot, and perhaps more than the horsepower rating or top speed, both of which are irrelevant to most of the riding almost all of the time.

So now we have “retro” as arguably the hottest segment of the motorcycle market. Cue Triumph.

When industrialist and real estate developer John Bloor decided to renew the Triumph brand, the first few years were spent with “modular” bikes that came with either three or four cylinders depending on the design but with a lot of commonality between the engines.  By 2000 they had succeeded to the extent that they could produce a “new” Triumph Bonneville with a vertical twin engine. It looked much like the classic models of the 1960s, except for an upward kink in the exhaust that drove the purists utterly crazy.  For many years the “basic black Bonnie,” the least expensive model, sold out every year. Triumph seemed to spend most of their promo efforts on their line of three cylinder bikes – the 675 models, the bigger Speed Triples, and the gargantuan 2300cc Rocket.  The Bonnevilles simply sold to the limit of what they produced.  Quietly. The bike gained fuel injection during all of this, with the fuel injection units cleverly disguised to look like carburetors.  The lunatic fringe can tell the difference because the fuel tank is slightly more rounded on the top.

You could make the argument that Harley has been making a retro bike for decades in the form of the Sportster. A cynic would apply that to all Harley models, a much harder claim to support, as the others have been steadily improved ala the Porsche 911 – self cancelling turn signals, a cruise control that works well, top gear indicator, and other modern improvements, in some cases well before other “modern” motorcycle designs could boast these improvements.

But the Sportster is less retro and more original – pretty much the same in most regards as it has been for decades.  A good thing about a Sportster is that it will remind you of where motorcycles came from. The simplicity of a reasonably simple air-cooled V-twin in the middle of the frame, just as was done many decades ago. They are fun to ride.

What always frustrated me about Sportsters was the placement of the foot pegs. You would bang your ankle on them every time you stopped.  I sort of believe they were designed that way to increase the profits from Harley’s accessory forward mounts for the foot controls, many of them installed before the bike left the showroom floor.

In 2016 Triumph threw down the modern retro gauntlet with a re-designed line of several Bonnevilles in two different engine sizes.  All of them looked (intentionally) almost identical to a late 1960’s model, and the exhaust system had lost the dreaded kink.   But what was really important was the host of modern electro-tech goodies baked into the pie so seamlessly.  When I first saw a 1200cc T120 on the showroom floor in late March of 2016 I was stunned by the looks. I ran through the list of “oh well” statements you often have in mind to talk yourself out of a purchase

Oh well, I’d want ABS, which would cost more.   Oops – standard equipment.

I’d want those cool knee pads on the tank.  Standard.

I insist on a center stand. Standard.

Heated grips.  Standard.

Several options for what the instruments were showing, fuel injections, triple disc brakes, ride modes, a smart phone charger plug in under the seat  (on a Triumph!) and on and on.  

I bought mine the next day, which proved wise, as they pretty much sold out by mid-summer.

Keep in mind that Triumph is a very small manufacturer, but their success did not sneak by other manufacturers. Moto Guzzi followed with a retro, and then BMW, and then – I can’t keep track of all the new offerings.

By “new” I mean bikes that look like motorcycles of 30 years ago, but come with all the mod-cons computer technology has given us.

The result is a swarm of bikes that look old but have modern technology, in most cases hidden from view.  Because they are designed for “the riding experience” as opposed to “maximum performance,” they do not need (or even want) the last word in suspensions or engine power. And thus they become less expensive to manufacture.

When I was purchasing mine I spent some time watching the promo videos on the Triumph web site. It amused me that all of them showed “hipster” riders.  Tight jeans, a tattoo or three, open face helmets, and perhaps a two day beard – except for the women. Snazzy marketing, but I suspect that the actual buyers are a mix of two demographics. The younger riders who want the classic looks and the more reasonable price, and older riders who have been there and done that. Riders who have owned a ridden high performance bikes to the edge of their own ability, and sometimes past it. Riders who have enjoyed big luxo-tourers or bikes capable to riding around the world on pavement or dirt, or cruisers laden with chrome and paint and graphics – and expense.  Riders who now just want to have a bike they like to look at and to ride – period.

In this class of bike you know you have reverted to the “old days,” and it is wonderful.  Here is just one example.

2016 Triumph Bonneville T 120 in local ride mode – for nice days when I’m sure the weather will stay consistent and I do not need to carry anything with me and do not intend to bring anything home. The only alteration from stock is the addition of the “fly screen” windshield.  It does offer some protection from the wind, but it’s there mostly for looks

 

 

2016 Triumph Bonneville T 120 in day ride mode. The tank bag can brings the ability to add or remove a layer of clothing, plus a hat and sunglasses, etc.

 

2016 Triumph Bonneville T120 in “full touring” mode.  With the Cortech saddlebags and top bag on the rear I can be gone for up to two weeks with changes of clothes, first aid kit, air compressor, tire repair kit, etc.  Compared to any of the large luxo tourers, this is almost silly, and yet the bike outfitted this way has more capacity for stuff than the several bikes I rode all over America in the early 1970s.

 

Each month the moto-mags offer teasers of coming retro models from other manufacturers, and I welcome them all.

 

Copyright 2017                      David Preston

Posted in Education, Equipment, Marketing, Motorcycles, Travel | 3 Comments

Good Customer Service

Good Customer Service, on the other hand…

Is rather common, really. We live in a service economy, and for most of us I suspect that good customer service is often not as hailed with shouts of joy as it should be. 

I am used to friendly and helpful people at my local Safeway store, but I do not comment on it. Most of the stores I shop at have people who are polite and informed, and I don’t think that is unusual.

But there are some who go above and beyond what is expected, and they deserve praise. Do you have business contacts in your life you should be more appreciative of?

We have a yard service fellow who comes by our home about once every other year and creates, with a small crew, truly astonishing improvements to our yard and shrubbery and planting errors.  We do make a bit of a fuss with him, in terms of my wife drastically over-paying him.  That is probably the finest form of thanks for great service.  Words are fine, but money talks!

My best example of customer service is, to my sorrow, no longer with us.  I met Marty in 1989 when he was a mechanic at a Corvette shop, and the head wrench on a pretty serious Trans Am Corvette racing effort.  I spent a few evenings “working” with him. He was doing the real work, while I performed exotic tasks like – wash the wheels.  The high point of my efforts was the evening where I spent about an hour on the grinder with a small piece of metal shaped like a sand clock.  It was a piece that would be welded in between two of the exhaust pipes on the custom headers Marty was creating.  Later I asked the shop owner/driver to never crash the car on the left side – because that was where “my” part was.

Marty eventually grew exasperated with the mood swings of the owner, and struck out on his own.  He developed a good business working on hot rods, classic Corvettes, and other forms of cool stuff.  I took my business to him whenever I could.  Just walking through the shop was a treat.  Sometimes I would drop by just to chat, and he and his lovely wife (who ran the shop) said they enjoyed my various stories.

However, there was a problem. Most of the time the work I needed had to do with the 1973 AMC Concours sedan that I had purchased for my children to drive. This was far from the mean for the value of the cars in his shop, and Marty did not really want to advertise that he could work on such gray porridge.  When something was needed, I would park the car on his lot and drop a note of what was needed through the slot in the door, along with the key.  The next morning Marty would get the car into the shop and out again as rapidly as possible, so his customers would not see him working on it!  My car was always done in the minimum amount of time.   When done, he would park it outside with the key on top of the left front tire, and I would pick it up at my convenience.  A couple of days later I would drop by to pay the bill.

As a twist, and because of our shared sense of humor, he would also, each time, fix something wrong with the car that either I did not know about or had not asked to be repaired. He would take care of the problem, and not tell me or bill me for the work.  Then he would wait in delight until I figured it out!

At one point I was having trouble with the door handles. They were made of cast pot metal, and various pieces would break. I would cannibalize here and there until I reached a point where the driver’s door was the only one that would open from the outside.  Marty fixed whatever I had requested, and then parked the car with the driver’s door parked up against a fence. When I came by to pick up the car I was so dismayed, until I got the joke. He had fixed all four door handles.

In later years, our Honda CR-V developed a habit of snuffing out the right front headlight. It was held in by a tricky clip that had to be twisted the correct way with your arm and hand bent in three ways.  I could not do it.  We developed a system where I would purchase a new bulb, and he would replace it in 5 minutes.  There was no bill for this service. but I insisted on providing a 6 pack of high quality beer.

He passed away from a massive heart attack two years ago and I do so miss his laughter.

Price Brothers is a repair facility in Totem Lake, and with Marty’s passing I needed a “go to” for any service I was not going to have done by a dealer or do myself. My in-laws had been using them for years and thought highly of them. After father-in-law John passed away, Dorine would go to them for oil changes and any of the other minimal needs for her Ford Taurus. I was so impressed with them, because Dorine was the poster child for a person to be taken advantage of.  They could have told her that the “frammus bifurcation actuation valve” was defective, and she would have paid the bill for the replacement of a non-existent part in utter ignorance.  Being a nosy sort, I kept track of when she took her car in and for what work, and they never did more than necessary.  The bills seemed utterly reasonable.  On one occasion, she showed up with some problem that was serious enough that the car needed to stay there.  We were not available by phone for whatever reason, and she faced a long walk home or the confusion of ordering a cab, which is not easy when you are over 85 years old and have never done that.  Uber?  I don’t think so.   So what did Price Brothers do?  Someone put down their tools and drove her home!   That is customer service.

I now go to Price Brothers for work.

My last example of customer service is more in the nature of marketing.  I have had all the service work on my last two personally owned motorcycles done by (now) Triumph of Seattle.  When I retired in 2013 I took the Speed Triple I owned at that time, which had pretty much not been ridden for three years while I had a “company” bike from another manufacturer, and had them go through the Speed Triple from front to back and replace the tires, change the oil, take care of a niggling electric issue or two, and so on. It was a long list, and I knew it would be expensive.  When I went to pick it up the bill was less than predicted.  It has been that way every time since. I think they create a “worst case” estimate, which the customer signs off on, and then charge for what was actually done.  I don’t think most dealerships do that. Could be because I worked for them at one time and pretty much know the entire staff, but my guess is that this is standard practice. And a good practice it is as well.

Guess what dealership I recommend to everyone who asks?

Good customer service does exist. Do take the time to be aware of it and appreciative. 

 

Copyright 2017                        David Preston

 

 

Posted in Cars, Marketing, Motorcycles | Leave a comment

How to Lose a Good Customer

How to Lose a Good Customer

Isn’t it amazing what efforts some companies put in to drive customers away?  They’re usually successful. 

Fear not, this is not just another screed about how I was done wrong.  No, mine has a twist at the end (no fair cheating and reading ahead!) and turns out to be amusing, at least to me.

Unlike most customer service ranters, I’ve actually worked in customer service. It ain’t easy. For fourteen years I handled many of the complaints that came in to the two different motorcycle dealerships I worked for, and some of them were amazing.

Some were people trying to rip off the dealership by deliberately damaging their own motorcycles and claiming the service department did it.  One customer took pictures of a bunch of screws and nuts in the air box – the ones he had put there. There was the customer who got angry because the service department would not verify an insurance claim for hit and run damage – on a motorcycle he himself had crashed in the parking lot on a test ride all by himself.

More often there were customers who simply got things mixed up. A customer was enraged because the service department had no record of the reservation he’d made three weeks before.  Eventually it was discovered that he had indeed made a service reservation – at a competing dealership a few blocks away. A customer was outraged that his front tire had been mounted backwards, (yes, you can do that on motorcycles) until the computer showed that he’d never had a front tire service. Then he remembered the flat and the repair by a shop in Arizona the previous summer.

Occasionally you’d get a person who was just someone who liked to get mad over anything, or someone who seemed a little disconnected.

One customer was screaming at a tech that the tech did not know how to operate a dyno, which had given results he did not like.  The tech was one of the leading experts on this and taught others his skills on occasion.

Some customers simply enjoyed sending hostile e-mails, and really did not want the problem solved at all. One customer e-mailed me a simple question about the cost of having a tire mounted.  I replied that all dealerships sold thousands of products, and shopping around would usually offer a variety of choices.  If the dealer he mentioned was charging a lot less, he could have it done there.   Was followed was a hostile response, which I replied to politely. And then another one. And again. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that responding to him was not working.  I stopped. 

But he didn’t.  The hostile e-mails continued, almost one a day, and I had no idea of what to do.  Eventually the owner heard and asked me about it, and I sent him the file, as I had kept all of the e-mails.  Tada!  I did one smart thing.   When the owner read through the file he called me in and asked me to find out what we needed to do to dump a member of our HOG chapter.  It was a Harley customer, but that is really not important.  Ranting customers are not brand specific.

I replied, “But, but… this guy has purchased five new Harleys from us in the past five years.”

The owner’s eyes narrowed, and I knew I’d offended.   “What’s your point?”

Lesson learned – customers who abuse staff are to be excised.  It turned out, from a reading of the “HOG Bible,” that all members served at the pleasure of the owner, and a simple letter would be enough.   I wrote the letter for the owner, very carefully, and the owner signed it and sent it, and that was it.   Except, of course, that it wasn’t. This fellow had a lot of friends in the HOG chapter, and I got blamed for his expulsion.  There are times when you are simply not going to win,

But sometimes – the customer was right. The dealership had screwed up, and there was no question about it.

What now? When I first entered the business from education, I read a couple of the marketing 101 and marketing for dummies sort of books.  Most of the info seemed pretty obvious (partly because teaching English to teen agers sometimes devolves into customer service with parents who have not been told the complete story by little Jimmy). Can you imagine that happens?  But it seems some companies, and company owners, simply cannot be bothered to look into customer service at all.

What to do when something has gone wrong?  One thing I was taught by a savvy sales manager was to simply ask the customer what could be done to make things right.  The customer ALWAYS came up with a plan that was easier and much cheaper than anything I could come up with.

There was the customer who left his bike for a complete tune-up and mentioned that he would be out of town on business for several weeks, so the job could be done when time allowed.  Very thoughtful of him.  When he eventually returned, the bike could not be found!  The service manager, fighting off that sick feeling of panic, explained that at times bikes were transferred to our warehouse, (which had the chance of actually being true) and that if the customer returned the following Tuesday we would have it.  Also very thoughtful, and I appreciated his taking the time to mention the situation to me, as it seemed highly likely I would be dealing with this sooner rather than later.

A major investigation was launched, and it transpired that an employee had stolen the bike!  He had walked it very carefully out the back, next to the fence, so as to not turn on the security cameras.   His plan was foiled by a technician sneaking out for a cigarette who had triggered the cameras just in time to catch the employee exiting the camera shot to the left.   And now, the bike was evidence in a theft case!  How do you solve this problem?  The sales manager offered the customer an unbelievable deal on a trade-in for a new model, creating a very happy customer and saving the dealership all sorts of time and money.

On another occasion, I was not told what the screw-up was, but the sales manager offered the customer a guest slot on my radio show!  The customer was an MSF instructor, and was thrilled to drive 400 miles down and back to Bellingham to appear on a radio show with a very small audience to talk about motorcycle safety.   All would have been terrific; except that it turned out that the man did not like to talk. This is a severe impediment for a radio show.   Longest hour of my life. 

Here’s a sample.

“So Bob, how could people learn more about your classes?”  Pause.

“They could call the phone number.”   Pause.

“And what would that number be?”

When I got home my wife, who usually listened to the show, said “You were really working hard, weren’t you?”  Yeah.

And on to my recent experience.   I took my lawn mower in for a full tune-up last June, with a company I’d been dealing with for years.  The wait was a couple of weeks, because they were very busy.  When I got the mower home, it had an odd problem. Sometimes it would start, and sometimes not.  Once running, it would occasionally die.  I guessed maybe the gas can had absorbed some water vapor. After a frustrating month, and some new gas,  that was obviously not the problem. Back to the repair folks.

They discovered that the throttle cable had frayed to the point of intermittent function, and had to wait for a new one to arrive. I was surprised that a “full tune-up” did not include examining the throttle cable, but oh well.

Once home from that, the mower started with ease, but now there was a new problem.  The self-propelled feature did not work, although it was just fine when I took it in.  This time I guessed that someone had disconnected that cable and not hooked it up.  I called to report this, and told them I would wait for winter to bring it in to have that fixed.

Over the winter I developed some fun issues with my back, such that I was not able to return the mower until April.  Expected time frame to repair this problem, which had occurred while in their hands?  Two and a half weeks.   OK, I’m beginning to lose patience.

After three weeks, when I was beginning to call every day, came word that the problem was a bad cable (again?), and that the new one had just been delivered, and she would call back in a few minutes.

Guess what happened?    Two points if you go with “Nothing.”

When I called again I was told the cable was on, and now they had discovered that the transmission was locked up.  They would have to see if they had another used one they could swap in.

Fifteen minutes later I called back and told them I would donate the mower to them. The engine was fine, and most of the other pieces were usable.  They agreed to this.

How could I be so generous?  About seven years or so ago I had taken in my previous mower for a check-up.  Once again the wait was long, and repeated calls provided no joy. Finally I called one Friday and said that I would be in on Monday. It my mower was ready I would pay the bill and take the mower.  If it was not ready, I would take the mower elsewhere.  I was asked to wait a minute.

The owner came on the phone and told me she had a Toro she would like to offer me as a trade for mine.  Confused, I said “You mean you don’t know where mine is?”   Turns out my mower had either been stolen, or they had erred and sold it.  All they knew was that it was a Toro mower. She did not ask what model it was, (minimum spec) or how old (ancient), and I was irritated enough not to offer any facts.

When I got there I found that she was offering me a brand new 5hp self-propelled Toro, a gigantic leap upward from mine. I accepted her offer, and had a spot of panic when the yard tech came out to load it in to my Ford Focus.  The new mower was much larger.  What would happen if it did not fit?   But it did.

So the mower I donated to them was one I had never actually paid for.   I have not purchased a lawn mower in over 25 years.

I can probably afford a new mower… and a new repair shop.


David Preston                        Copyright 201

Posted in Marketing, Motorcycles | 2 Comments

The 200 Mile Triumph Touring Warm-Up

The 200 Mile Triumph Touring Warm-Up

I have the hard won advantage of being able to take a few week-long rides in summer and fall. Retirement will do that for you.  In my 50th year of motorcycling, I’ve noticed that my choices for bike and gear on longer rides have changed over the years.

In the beginning, things were simple. You toured on what you owned – in my case a Yamaha YDS-3 250cc two stroke that I rode from Minneapolis and Seattle and back – camping. Gear was simple, because there was pretty much was none available specifically designed for motorcycles. I had a snazzy black “Webco” motorcycle jacket – in vinyl, some hiking boots, and the best Bell helmet money could purchase. I had some heavier gloves, and also a pair of white handball gloves.  Why white?  (This will test the memories of the elderly!)  Because the bike had no turn signals, and I would wear the white gloves at night so people could see my signals for turns!   My “camping” gear was a small tent and mattress and sleeping bag in a surplus US Army ammo bag.  And so on.

I kept things really simple for years, riding a Honda 450 Street Scrambler to Florida, among other rides, with the Army ammo bag as the “luggage,” but I indulged in motels for that one.

Over the years things became more complex and I was better prepared and equipped. The best bike for this was probably the Triumph Sprint ST I owned for a couple of years. With the hard saddle bags and a large tank bag, I was living in luxury!

For the 14 years I worked in the motorsports industry, I had the opportunity to ride almost all of the large touring motorcycles on offer.  The Harley Ultra Classic (ugh), the Road King, (a favorite), several Honda Goldwings and Valkyries (also a big like), the BMW 6 cylinder, and so on.  All were impressive, but for me they were all too large and seemed to be too much of a steamroller ethic. I prefer a more nimble mount for my journeys, which usually meander along winding two lane roads.

I noticed when attending Goldwing club events, for example, that many of the riders covered huge mileages, but mostly on freeways. They were often uncomfortable on the roads I craved. Watching a slew of them try to turn around on a crowned two lane road after the leader made a wrong turn was a tragicomic spectacle.

For me, simplicity remained a theme.  In recent years I’ve become even more fond of “less is more.”  With thousands of miles on bikes with 130 to 165 horsepower, I’ve been there and done that, and now I love to be a little less awe-inspiring and a lot more relaxed. Thus the 2016 Triumph Bonneville T 120 I purchased a year ago.  I used it for a trip from Seattle to northern California and back, bone stock, and had a great time. No windshield or anything other than how it was delivered to the dealer, plus a tank bag and Cortech saddle bags I borrowed, and a large gym bag bungied across the street.   Full report on that on this site from about 8 months ago.

Once home I ordered my own set of the Cortech bags, plus the matching top bag that plugs into the side bags.  This spring I added the Triumph accessory fly screen, and I think I’m done.  Bar end mirrors are a possibility, but the stock ones are OK.   They’re not terrific, but a lot better than the useless ones I was used to on more sporting machinery.

Now the spring cometh, and thus a good time to “test” my gear for the coming adventures of summer.  The biggest change from last year is the addition of a Triumph flyscreen, in the gorgeous cinnamon pearl color of the stripes on the tank.  I knew from the first ride that it had more of a salubrious effect on wind blast that could be believed, but how about – in rain?

An opportunity presented itself.  A group of Triumph enthusiasts enthuses in the Portland area, and Soren Winslow invites all Triumph riders (and anyone else) to a north meets south gathering in Chehalis each spring.  The size of the event has dwindled in recent years, as have the number of Triumph dealers. Those dealers that remain are the cream of the crop, and seem to be doing quite well, but there’s less enthusiasm for dealer support of rides or riding groups, exacerbated by Triumph walking away from support of their “RAT” enthusiast program almost ten years ago. 

I meant to go to Soren’s lunch last year, when my bike was less than a week old, but the rain was so intense that all those who were going to ride with me bailed, and eventually their better minds prevailed. I listened to reason and rode back home from the meeting spot a mile from my house.  The weather forecast looked equally grim this year, and once again I would be alone, but I had testing to do!

I also wanted to test me.  An exciting adventure into our local medical infrastructure had kept me off the bike for three months over the winter. Lurid details, for those who enjoy exciting medical sagas, are two months back on this site.  I wanted to see how I would do on a longer ride. This would be 105 miles each way, all on the freeway, so if my back began to protest I could find a rest area or fuel stop and re-assess.

I rigged the bike for a much longer distance with the all three of the Cortech bags plus a Nelson-Rigg tank bag. For me, I donned my Triumph “waterproof” jeans, my Rev’It boots, a liner from my old Vanson jacket, and a Fieldsheer coat, finished off with some Olympia middle weight gloves and of course my Arai helmet. A second pair of Olympia rain gloves sat in one of the bags.

For test reasons, I also loaded the bags with the first aid kit, the tire compressor, a Go Pro, a camera, and everything else I would carry during the summer, except for several days’ worth of clothes.

At least it wasn’t raining at the start, a good sign.  After a stop to top off the fuel tank, and a pause at the meeting location I’d chosen, where (as expected) nobody joined me, I was off.

With temps in the low 50’s, the flyscreen and the heated grips on “lo” kept me comfy, and I sailed along.  Occasionally it would spit rain for a bit, but the fresh coat of wax I’d applied to my Arai allowed the water to stream off the visor with alacrity.

Along the way I recalled the items I should have packed for the test. For longer rides I wear a “Road ID” bracelet for the day we hope never comes, and for events I wear a Riders for Health bracelet in hopes someone will ask me about my favorite charity.   It takes a while to get back into summer touring readiness.

In 40 miles or so I reached Tacoma, and the rain began in earnest. Now we shall see!

First thing I noticed was that the flyscreen also deflected wind and rain to the sides, so my gloves were not getting wet. Cool!  As I journeyed south past Olympia the rain got serious, and soon I was sailing along at about 70 mph in a world of spray and puddles.

 South of Chehalis I pulled off for the restaurant, and since I was early, chose to pause at a station to fill up the tank for the return ride home. As I got off the bike I noticed three things.  One, the aerodynamics were such that water pooled in front of the rear bag, so I was sitting in a large puddle in the seat.   Secondly, although my Triumph jeans were utterly waterproof when I purchased them, that was ten years ago. Now, not so much.  My butt was damp, at least.  Third, even though my gloves did not show water on the outer surfaces, the surroundings for 100 miles had been so humid that they were now about 75% soaked.  You know when you pull off your gloves and the inner lining wants to invert itself, so that putting them back on is difficult?  Like that. So in the bag they went, replaced by the rain gloves.

 Then I rode the 100 yards to the restaurant, and joined an intrepid dozen or so Triumph riders. Most were from Portland and had a shorter ride there, but one was from Bellingham, 90 miles north of my home. He’d left home at 4:30am!  Ah, the enthusiasm of youth.

 The ride home proved a much sterner test. Both the rain and the traffic had increased exponentially, so now we had some 70mph cruising with dangerously reduced visibility alternating with 5mph or less stagnating crawls.  

 Now I realized that the waterproof gloves were also several years old, and their ability to repel water had been drastically reduced. The heated grips meant that my hands were soaked but not all that cold.  And then the boots also began to advertise their age. They had always been utterly impervious to water, but now I was running along with my feet in containers of ice cold water.

 As I rode I was reminded of the old joke about ham and eggs. To ride in this stuff you need to be involved. To actually enjoy it you need to be committed.  Or perhaps should be.

 I also mused that I was glad I did not have the GoPro running or some sort of video feed. Although the situation was dire, I was comfy and wholly engaged.  Someone watching it would most likely have been horrified.

Once in Federal Way the traffic cleared, and I was rushing toward home, visions of a long hot shower dancing in my head.

 I hung up my Fieldsheer jacket, which proceeded to drip several pounds of water on the garage floor.   But it had kept me dry.

I peeled off my soaked boots and sodden socks, and laid out everything on various surfaces in the garage to dry.

Some will ask – what about Aerostich or similar?  I have friends who are devotees of such suits, and they are fine products. Of course there was my friend who had a zipper suffer a catastrophic failure in the middle of a 9 day ride. For the rest of the trip he would bind himself up like a chicken with a long piece of rope. He looked like Bibendum preparing for 50 shades of gray.

 Alas, I have never really been moved by such suits. I don’t know why. Just not for me.

So the test results are in.  Clearly, the fly screen works very well.  With equal clarity, I can see that it is high time to spray my gear with Scotch Guard or a similar product to really prepare for summer.

On the other hand, on summer tours I’m wearing my Vanson leather pants.  They’re usually able to stay dry for a few hours of rain, which rain is a rarity at that time.  I’m also usually wearing a Rev’It riding jacket, because it has copious vents for cooling, so in some ways my test results are not that telling.

It was cold, it was wet, the visibility got worse as the wax wore off the visor, and hypothermia was getting to be a concern. In other words – a great ride!

 

David Preston                        Copyright 2017

Posted in Equipment, Motorcycles, Travel | Leave a comment

The Start of the Northwest Motorcycle Season

The Northwest Motorcycle Events Season Starts!

This weekend seems to be the unofficial start of the motorcycle “events” season for 2017. You’ll have an excellent excuse to blow off chores, work, and family commitments pretty much every weekend from now to October.  (Your decisions may vary)  This weekend offers: 

Saturday, April 23rd

The annual Washington Vintage Motorcycle club’s annual motorcycle and car show and swap meet.  This is an excellent opportunity to ride to Mt. Vernon, pay a few bucks, and wander about looking at fully restored vintage motorcycles, unrestored “projects,” and piles upon piles of parts and various oddities of petroliana. Most items are for sale.  Riding a motorcycle there reduces your chances of making a purchase. Both motorcycles and cars and their iterations of completion and wholeness are present.  Polish it all off with a cheeseburger and you’re good.

Alas, I cannot attend this one this year due to a family party in Tacoma with relatives I really enjoy!

Sunday, April 23rd – two choices!

Sunday offers The Tulip Ride, a large charity ride that focuses on, (surprise) the rambunctious glory of the vast tulip fields around LaConner.  Mostly a Harley event, but not entirely, and you will be welcome on anything with an engine and two or three wheels. Google the event name for registration details.

OR…

The annual RAT Pack luncheon in Chehalis.  RAT is the “Riders Association of Triumph,” an enthusiast group sponsored and supported by Triumph rather sporadically until about 10 years ago, when a change of marketing focus led to its demise. At least officially.  Triumph types being the independent sorts they are, RAT soldiers on all over the world through the efforts of a devoted few.  

In the Northwest that would be Portlander Soren Winslow, who organizes an annual meet up and lunch deal somewhere between Portland and Seattle.   This one will be held at Ramblin’ Jacks in Chehalis, at around 1pm, although the time is really not important.   You end up with a huge parking lot with dozens and perhaps hundreds of motorcycles, most of them Triumphs, and you wander about and make wise comments about other people’s choices.   Again, most of the motorcycles will be Triumphs, but I have found in the past that most Triumph riders are open to anything anyone chooses to ride.

I get to go to this one!  I intended to go last year, when my Bonneville was one day old, but the weather was so awful that all of the sane friends who were going to ride with me opted out, and after waiting for them for a while in a torrential downpour with high winds I had to agree with them.  Hoping for a better day this year.

I’ll be at the Park ‘N Ride at the 160th exit off I-405 (just South of Bothell) at 10:30am, with a hoped for leave time of 10:45 or so.  My intent is to freeway slog it there, and then take a more interesting route I will make up on the fly for the ride home – weather permitting.

Care to join me?

 

Ride safe, ride fast, and ride often!

 

 

 

David Preston                        Copyright 2017

Posted in Motorcycles | Leave a comment

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.

“8,000.”

“OK.”

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

Posted in Equipment, Marketing, Motorcycles | Leave a comment

Microphones And The Wonder That Is Sean Spicer

I first got into announcing in my first year of teaching.   Our Rose Hill Junior High wrestling and basketball games were full house affairs  (life was different back then) and the coaches were two of my best friends. I did not have to be very good, and I am sure I wasn’t,  but I did learn that I had no fear of speaking into a microphone. In fact, I’m more confident speaking with a microphone than without – which seems weird, doesn’t it?

When I moved to Juanita High in 1989 they needed a new announcer for the football games. I had not attended a high school football game since 1965, my senior year of high school, but what the heck?  Famed coach Chuck Tarbox had listened to me speak at various events when I was the president of the local teachers union, and he thought I would be great for the job. 

The reason WHY they needed a new announcer was not mentioned, nor did I ask, but turns out my predecessor had been arrested before school started and charged with the rape of one of my former students!   Just as well I did not know that. To be fair, one whole year and two hung juries later, nothing happened. 

Anyway, with no example to follow, and with an extremely limited wage, I did what I wanted to do, and it worked out very well. 

Tarbox always told me that my announcing was worth about 7 points a game.  He was a great promoter, and not above grotesque exaggeration, but I learned that the voice and enthusiasm you employed for a first down or touch down or whatever for the home team could be toned back to placid calm for the other team. It did have an effect on the crowd, and a small one on the field of play. Tarbox was sure of it, and I would never argue with him about football strategy.

I did have fun from time to time. On one occasion all the lights failed, which could be a disaster in a crowded stadium. I urged the crowd to remain where they were, and explained that the lights needed to be recycled and would come on gradually over the next few minutes.  While we were waiting, I noticed that the scoreboard lights were still on.  I asked the scorekeeper next to me to add a touchdown for Juanita.  When the lights were back on and play ready to resume, the official on the field looked at the scoreboard, and then cast a steely glare up at the press box – but he was smiling as we re-set the score correctly. 

My absolute favorite trick relied on the design of the press box. The scorekeeper and I sat in the middle.  To our right were assistant coaches from the opposing team. The Juanita assistants were through a doorway to the left. The Juanita coaches heard what I said over the PA, but the opposing coaches heard it from my mouth.

After a failed Juanita play, I would sometimes turn off the mike and then say in a loud voice “And we’d sure like to know who called that dumb ass play!”  The opposing coaches heads would swivel toward me in horror, and we would all laugh as I turned the microphone back on.  It occurred to me that this would end in disaster if I forgot to turn the microphone off at the right time, but I never did.  I announced all but two of the football games and most of the boys and girls basketball games for 11 years.  I made some mistakes along the way, like the time a basketball ref came to the bench and said “One more remark like that and I will kick you out of the gym.”  Oops.  He was correct to reprimand me, of course, but it was really a bad call!

 In my second career as a motorsports maven I got to announce several motorcycle events and charity auctions and so forth, but the most interesting were three weekends of announcing kart races.  The first one was a three day event in Denton, Texas  (just North of Dallas) and consisted of the national championship races for the Rotax Max spec kart series.  Each day the owner of Cycle Barn would drop me off at the track and go off to visit friends.  I would walk into the pits and be handed a microphone and start talking. 

One limitation was that I had driven a kart, once, 35 years earlier, and had never raced one! 

However, I had edited the user’s manual and the rule book for the Rotax Max series, so I sounded like I knew about chassis set-up, weight jacking and other things. 

I had a wonderful time, highlighted by walking to the men’s room and realizing, as I was relieving myself, than the microphone was still on!  I thought that was pretty funny, but I was topped by one of the pros doing the videotaping of the event.  He told me he had done the same thing once, but had a video camera on his shoulder, and of course he looked down, and of course it was on

 I also hosted a call-in motorsports radio talk show for three years. Talking into a live microphone can be challenging, and I occasionally muffed a word or a sentence (Susan would term these “word boogers). And then once in a while I would say something I should not have said.

Highlight for me was a caller who responded to a request for trivia who relayed that he used to own a Ferrari Daytona, and wondered if I knew what the owner’s manual listed as the top speed of the car – in 5th gear.  And reverse.   I guessed 192 and 168 and he got very quiet. I think I was off by 1 mph on each end. Of course I was just tossing off a wild stab of a guess. 

This was a live show, and a CD was made of it while I was on the air. I would listen to my own show in my car on the way home.  I noticed that, during the show, I was so intent on what the guest was saying, what the next question should be, (we did not have questions sent in ahead of time) and when the next commercial break was coming up, that I often had no recollection of anything I had said myself. Often I would be surprised on the way home by something I had said, but not remembered, that was really funny. To me. Or something that I wished I could do over. I wonder if Sean Spicer, who is under several tons or pressure more than I have ever been, ever actually hears his own words.

My point  (oh, you were wondering if there would be one of those?)  is that talking into a microphone can be a lot of fun, for some people. An utter horror for most. Even for people who enjoy it, mistakes will happen, and unlike a modern computer, you can’t simply backspace to delete your gaffe and start over. 

Stuff happens.  It’s out there.

But – but – but – Sean Spicer. Are you kidding me?  He issued three printed statements today, in 19 minutes, each of them trying to explain his latest episode of foot in mouth, and it was a whopper. So offensive I won’t repeat it. This guy is essentially a Saturday Night Live skit, and does not need to worry about writers. He is absolutely stunning in his idiocy, totally ill-suited to have a microphone in his face, and ironically  … the perfect spokesperson for this train wreck of an administration. 

Speak it loud, my friends!   Resist!

 

Copyright 2017  David Preston

 

 

 

 

Posted in Marketing, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Motorcycle Windshields and Screens

On Motorcycle Windshields

Ah, the wind in your face. Perhaps bugs in your teeth if you are wearing an open face helmet. Or none.  And dust, and sand, and mud. And rain?  Hail?

I was once following a friend on our motorcycles. He was wearing a full face helmet and glasses, but had left the visor at home. All of a trice I saw twin streams of yellow goo streaming around the sides of his helmet. He slowed and stopped at the edge of the road. When I pulled up next to him he was laughing so hard he was crying.  He had hit some sort of very juicy bug right on the bridge of his nose. The resulting bug death had left his entire face and glasses covered in glorious yellow slime. Oh, I wish I’d taken a picture.

A number of years ago I was bombing along at an illegal rate of speed when suddenly a rock appeared in the air, right in front of me. It bounced off the Lexan face shield on my Arai helmet.  I never figured out where it could have come from, and I reflected on what would have happened decades ago with my first full face helmet. That was an early Bell Star model, and the visor was some sort of thin and clear plastic. Such a rock would have gone right through it.

Then there was the bee that hit me in the throat at a good speed, and stung me in his death throes. That hurt, although he more than me.

So yes, there are arguments to be made in favor of having some sort of windshield on your motorcycle.  But what kind?  Your selection will be based on your perceived needs combined with your model and style of bike, and probably your sense of what looks “right.”    You have several types to choose from, and we will go from small to large in order.

None at all.   To me, a lot of bikes look best when they are simplest.  Think of classic designs such as the Harley Sportster, any of the British bikes, most Ducatis, and early BMWs, at least as delivered.  They are cooler on hot days, and cooler looking on any day.

Flyscreen.  This is the smallest, and is almost entirely non-functional. It came to fame, I think, back in the late 1950s and early 1960’s, as they were attached to many British sporting models, particularly the “café racers” of the day. This is simply a clear or painted small shield of two to six inches high that sticks up from the upper edge of the windshield.  Some are merely a three or four inch “lip” added to the top of the headlight. Having said they are useless, they do make a noticeable difference in wind blast, much more than you would expect.  If you also have a tank bag on your bag, the combo provides some protection.

But not much.

Of course, this is my favorite.  I had one on my Speed Triple, that was sort of a cross between a fly screen and a bikini fairing (next section) and I felt that with the bug eye headlights of the Speed Triple it was an absolute necessity.  I just ordered a fly screen for my new Bonneville, in the same killer cranberry metallic color that is on the fuel tank.

At times a manufacturer will put a fly screen on to give the bike a racier appearance. One example is the Harley-Davidson XLCR of 1977.

Every once in a while Harley produces a “sports bike” and they usually miss the mark. 

By a lot. 

It seems that the finer minds in Milwaukee just cannot wrap their minds around the concept of cornering and a forward lean position.  They made a sporting version of the V-Rod a few years ago and it was a very nice bike, but too heavy and much too expensive compared to the competition.  We had one at Cycle Barn that had been crashed very early on, and the custom shop recreated it with some Aprilia and other parts, and it was what Harley should have been aiming for. Still too expensive, although I was tempted. In any case, Harley customers never buy these forays in large numbers anyway.

Harley even went so far as to produce a drag racing bike that came from the factory with wheelie bars and a drag slick. It was not street legal, and the intent was that thousands of loyal customers would purchase them as a way to get into drag racing at a reasonable cost. Can you imagine that customers did not define $42,000 as a “reasonable” cost?  I recall that the sales manager at the time ordered one and nearly had his head removed. It was there for a long time before disappearing without a murmur.

Back to the XLCR. It looked the business, with a very small screen, blacked out mufflers, and other accoutrements. To my surprise, a customer at the aftermarket shop where I was working in 1978 offered it to me for a ride.  I was on the bike in a flash before he could change his mind. First thing I noticed was that Harley had reached into the Honda parts bin for the instruments, which was disappointing.   I got to the first corner and leaned in, and nothing happened.  As the pavement began to run out I eventually wrestled the bike around the corner. I had not been going all that fast, but I rode the bike back to the shop at a sedate rate.  I gave the key back to the owner and told him I was surprised that it did not want to turn – at all.  His laconic comment:  “Yeah. I should have mentioned that.”

Bikini fairing. Next up in order is the bikini, which is about half of a race fairing. It wraps around the headlight and usually but not always has sides that extend back toward the tank.   These will usually require clip-on handlebars, or at least lower ones. You can find them on several Ducatis of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Best known is probably the BMW fairing used on the R90S. A masterpiece of minimalist design, and sold as aftermarket copies even today. 

I purchased one from a fellow who had installed it on his Ducati Darmah for a mad dash to New York and back for his sister’s wedding.  He installed the fairing and an air bladder seat pad, rode almost non-stop to New York, put on a tux for the wedding, and rode back.  Then he sold it to me for $100, with 6,000 miles of bugs added for free.  With small brackets made by a handy friend, it served my Yamaha 750 triple very well for over 20 years, and was still in place the last time I saw it.

Full race fairing.  This stretches the concept of “fairing” a bit, as these are used on road racers where aerodynamics is a key factor.  They do provide a little bit of protection if the rider is in a full racing crouch. Of course, when so positioned, the racer has little forward vision at all, but hey, it’s all about the speed. Far more often, it’s all about the look of speed. Certainly for me when I owned a very rare Muzzy 750 Raptor. To see at all I had to change from a Shoei helmet to an Arai, because the viewing port is higher in an Arai.  I also had to avoid a lot of clothing at the back of my neck, to allow me to bend my head back far enough to see where I was going. Not practical at all, but wow – did I LOOK fast!

Anorak note: Craig Vetter is usually credited with creating the touring market with his “Windjammer” large fairing, back in the 1970’s. What few recall was that this was not his first product.  The initial batch was essentially full race fairings with an extended windscreen that rose up several inches higher. I thought it was terrific, and as an impecunious college student I spent $140 of my meager funds on, if I recall, Vetter fairing #43.  I mounted it on my Yamaha 250 YD-S 3. 

I also purchased a small diamond engagement ring at the same time for almost the same cost. The engagement lasted two weeks, which in retrospect turned out to be a very good thing.

The fairing contacted the brace on the back of the front fender, so I simply took off the fender. Even racier!   In white, it matched the white on the fuel tank. To pick up on the blue on the tank, I mounted two large blue decals, one to each side, which displayed the Yamaha crossed tuning forks logo – the original company logo. Gorgeous! 

A proud moment in my life came when I was outside of the house where I rented a room, waxing the bike for the 43rd time. A fellow on a BSA roared up and stopped. He asked me if I was entering the road race that weekend and I think my ego swelled my head to twice its size.  

After two years and several thousand miles, including a memorable ride from Minneapolis to Seattle and back in 1968, I moved all of my meager possessions, and the Yamaha, to Seattle, using a two axle Hertz enclosed trailer.

Once in Seattle, I removed the fairing for (another) thorough cleaning.

Then I took my pristine machine out for a test ride and promptly threw it into a ditch at about 60 mph, my only serious crash in 50 years. 

So far.

I sold the remains of the bike and the still pristine fairing to a guy who lived next door and promptly lost track of the guy, the bike, and the fairing. A pity, as that fairing is now probably worth some serious bucks to a collector of the odd and unusual.

Bar mounted fairings.  By far the most well-known is the Harley-Davidson “bat wing” fairing, in use for far more than a half a century. I’ve always thought them ugly, but what do I know? People keep buying them, and you can tell what kind of bike it is immediately.

Twenty or so years ago I was romping up Lolo Pass in Idaho, riding behind my friend on his Norton. In the bar end mirror of my Yamaha triple I could see a bat wing fairing far behind us. Knowing how fast we were going (Lolo Pass was less patrolled by the Idaho State Patrol than it is today) I was shocked to see that the bat wing was gaining on us. I had never seen a Harley ridden at speed before – ever.   Eventually the bike caught us, and then swept around both of us on the outside of a sweeping curve. No helmet, no shirt, and sparks coming off the floorboards. At the top of the pass there was a long wait for a construction project.  We pulled up next to the shirtless speedster and nodded hello. He reached down, flipped up a saddlebag lid, and said “Want a beer?”

“Er, no thank you.” 

I have no idea how many beers he had consumed, but that dude could ride!

Windshields.  Here is a conundrum.  Many of my friends swear by these, but more often I swear at them. In my experience, almost all of them trade protection from wind and rain and cold for snapping and turbulence and a lot of noise.  This is an improvement?

Really notable exceptions are the windshields on Harleys.  A Road King offers all the benefits of the windshield with no downsides. I do not know why Harley seemingly alone can figure out the ergonomic requirements for a screen that offers protection with no drawbacks, but they obviously know something others don’t.

I’m always amused by people who dump all over Harleys as slow bikes with antiquated technology.  Most of them have never ridden a Harley, and my guess is that many have never ridden a motorcycle. A Road King on a winding back road is a sublime experience. Harleys also had smooth and simple cruise controls long before others offered them, as well as other little techno goodies.

Touring fairings.  Sport touring bikes such as the Yamaha FJR and Kawasaki Concours now offer a windscreen that is adjustable, either manually or electrically.  The BMW version is pretty trick in that when the ignition is turned off the windscreen comes down and provides protection and security for the navigation system.   Others, such as the Honda Goldwing, offer a windshield that is adjustable only by hand, which seems odd until you see how simple it is.

In today’s market there are a myriad of variants on all of these themes.  Odd ball takes, variants, outliers, taller, shorter, and that is before you check the aftermarket suppliers.

So there you have it.  How much coverage do you need? Or, how much do you want?   Me personally, the visor of my Arai is about it. I always know where the wind is coming from.

Forward!

Copyright 2017                      David Preston

 

Posted in Marketing, Motorcycles | 3 Comments

A Relaxing Break from Bad News and Stress

A Relaxing Break from Bad News and Stress

In these troubled times for our country it is all too easy to get stressed/upset/depressed by the constant onslaught of news that varies from bad to bizarre to you’ve got to be kidding me.  I have a solution:  the small town paper.

When I was a lad living just outside Minneapolis, my parents had a subscription to a small town paper. The town of Preston was located in southern Minnesota (and I presume still is) and my parents subscribed to the local newspaper on a whim because of our shared name.  There is no connection between my family and the town that I know of.

I delighted myself each week with a scan of what was happening in Preston.   If you had company for dinner, it would be in the paper, including the first and last names of all present. The same for people who had guests for cribbage, welcomed relatives from other states,  and other issues of local import.

I have a similar treat today, over a half a century later. My brother in law is the prosecuting attorney for Whitman County in southeast Washington.  He provided a subscription to the Whitman County Gazette for his mother, who lived a mile away from us.  It was always fun to look through it, particularly when Denis was featured in the reportage of a felony trial.  When Dorine passed away the subscription came to us, and now every Friday I have a break from the dreary news of the week, whether it be the latest atrocity committed by Trump or one of his minions, the receipt of the bill for a license plate tab for my motorcycle reflecting the astonishing increase in cost, and other financial and political detritus of our lives. 

Pause with me now for a review of the news from Whitman County this week.  Just the headlines make me smile.

“Endicott Residents Petition to Allow Chickens.”  Now that gets my attention!  It seems that it is illegal in the small town of Endicott to keep chickens, and that demands change, and 115 good souls signed a petition as such.  To allay concerns over noise, no roosters would be allowed.   Left untouched were the bans on geese and turkeys. The matter is under consideration.

“St. Ignatius Hospital Building Officially Deemed Unsafe.”  This seems alarming, but it turns out that this Colfax building has not been used as a hospital for years.  The issue is that the building has been used for the past two years for Haunted Halloween tours and has generated “substantial income” for the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Association.  What piques my interest is that the town of Colfax, know to me previously primarily as a speed trap, has both a Chamber of Commerce and a Downtown Association.  For the record, I have never received a speeding ticket in Colfax.

“Garfield Town Council Surpluses Three Vehicles.”   Your chance for a deal, after the town determines a fair minimum bid. If no bids are received the town council can negotiate with any interested buyer. So what is on offer?  A police car that has not been used on patrol for 13 years, being parked as a decoy at the entrance to the town instead. They did not give little details such as the make and model and year of the car, but I would bet it is a Ford Crown Victoria from about 1990 or so.  Or, a John Deere “Gator” which “has problems running.”  Last, a 1970’s International diesel truck (size not given) originally purchased as surplus from the state.   The mayor is quoted as saying “Our current guys can’t seem to get it to run.”

“Dusty Reunion Produces 400 Pounds of Sausage.”  If you are not from the area, it is helpful to know that Dusty is the name of a town. The Riedner family hosts a family reunion each year where all who attend take part in sausage making.  What a fun idea! This year the group, all of whom are listed in the paper with their home town of origin, created 400 pounds of sausage in a family and comradely atmosphere. I’m impressed. …and hungry.

I’ve also been following the trend of the editorial pages in the Gazette since last summer. Eastern Washington is a very conservative area. If you’re running for elected office you can choose to run as a Republican, or you can lose.  Last fall the editorials were hammering away at the real or imagined faults of Hillary Clinton, and hailing the potential of Trump as President.  Things began to change a bit after the election, and now the reversal is complete. This issue featured three scathing editorials regarding the infinite number of fallacies, bungles, broken promises, and other horrors of the new administration.  

Feel better?

I do.

Copyright 2017                      David Preston

 

Posted in Rants and Raves | 1 Comment