For the past few months, I've been scrolling through various online classifieds while enjoying my morning coffee. You see, I've decided to trade in my beloved 2015 Ducati 899 Panigale for something a bit more comfortable and practical. Last week, I happened upon what appeared to be just the thing—three years old and only 14,000 miles on the clock, which seems like not a lot of miles for something built to go fast over long distances.
Straight away, I called the dealership and talked to the salesman. “It was owned by an older gentleman who took great care of it,” he said. “We’ve got all the service records right here.”
“Great. I’ll bring a cashier’s check.”
If having a child was the first sign of the fading bloom of my youth, trading in my Panigale for something previously owned by a motorcyclist respectable enough to be termed “a gentleman” is certainly sign number two. Well, maybe sign number three; I’m pretty sure my hair used to be thicker in the front. Probably just from spending a lot of time in helmets, I tell myself.
Anyway, after a farewell polish and a pat on the tank, my friend Rob and I loaded up the Panigale in his Ford Transit moto-hauler (twin turbo V-6!) and drove 186 miles to the dealership. I’d love to buy local, but we don’t have a dealership around here, which is understandable considering the six months of inhospitable riding weather. Some dealers get creative: “Buy an RM-Z450 and get 30 percent off a pallet of hardwood fuel pellets.”
Full of excitement, I took one look at the thing and thought, "Gee, I'd hate to see what it looked like before you detailed it."
The plastics had that unmistakable patina that comes from a life of being left in the sun and wiped down with microfiber cloths riddled with bug carcasses. On the slippery slope of negligence, this sort of behavior registers somewhere between handing a friend a Corona without a lime wedge in it and leaving a crate full of puppies in a hot car.
“What do you expect? It has 14,000 miles on it,” the salesman said.
“Well, when you said, ‘It’s owned by an older gentleman,’ ” I replied, “I thought it was code for ‘the bike spent its life below 6,000 rpm and lived the good life in a tidy garage,’ but I guess I was mistaken. Let me think about it over lunch.”
Rob and I figured that while we gorged ourselves on beer and barbecue they’d have plenty of time to see if they could clean the bike up and salvage the sale.
It seemed like the dealership’s perspective was “It’s just a used bike. And if this guy doesn’t buy it, someone else will.”
I think it’s a perspective that’s status quo in the industry. It expresses two fundamental errors in thinking. One: that customers are expendable. And two: that a motorcycle isn’t any more special than a lawn mower or a snowblower.
When someone in my stage of life (when mortgage payments and keeping a child in diapers conflict with bike buying) shows up with cash in hand, a dealer should think to themselves, “Here’s someone who has 30 or 40 years of bike buying left in them. Let’s brew a fresh pot of Folgers, bring out a nearly unstale box of Entenmann’s, and do what it takes to make this guy a loyal customer.”
I don’t know what this dealership had tied up in the motorcycle, but that shouldn’t have prevented them from putting some time and effort into making it look its best in the first place. Someone should tell them there’s a whole strata of society who’d be thrilled to work for next to nothing, polish the motorcycles with their own drool, and pick up a few skills on the way: teenagers.
When I enter a motorcycle dealership, especially one selling high-end brands, I expect the staff to treat their inventory with the same appreciation as I do. Customers come to buy their dream bikes. The attitude that says, “What do you expect? It has 14,000 miles on it,” misses the bigger picture.
The way dealers treat a used motorcycle is a reflection of their perception of the brand they’re selling. By not putting any time into making a used bike look its best, it says that they don’t think the bike is worth it—or that a customer who’s buying used isn’t worth it. It’s an attitude you’d never find in the automotive world.
For the same asking price of said motorcycle, I could go to a Volkswagen dealership and get an uninspiring sedan of a similar age and it would look brand-new. Car dealerships employ people—often corruptible, hard-working youths—to man the orbital buffer and vacuum cleaner. They know people want to feel good about the money they’re spending. A used vehicle doesn’t have to look second-hand.
I’m not suggesting motorcycle dealerships become hoity-toity like shops that sell high-end audio equipment or fancy watches, but they should recognize that, like those places, they are selling luxury goods. Anyone buying a motorcycle for more than just cheap transportation (which is most of us) is buying it as a luxury.
So if anyone in the Upstate New York area is in the market for a super-clean 2015 899 Panigale with less than 10,000 miles on the clock, it’s owned by “an older gentleman.”