Steed: Built to Ride

Nobody Rides for Free - Well, maybe just once.

Tech Tip Index

You made up your mind. It wasn't easy, but you're ready to pull the trigger and write a check to get a new bike this week. You've done a ton of research and soul-searching to decide on exactly what kind of motorcycle you want to buy. First you thought you wanted to buy a Harley, and then you saw a long custom bike that caught your eye. A couple of weeks later your buddy bought a chopper, and he's all about convincing you that you could be the next Peter Fonda. Then, on your daily commute to the gravel pits you see one of those neo-bobber fat tire jobs. That's the bike you probably want to buy. No matter how emotional you may feel when you first lay your eyes on your dream bike, don't be intimidated to take the time to ride it before you buy it.

The real issue is: you only have a 3-car garage and just enough room and fun money for only one more toy this week. A decision must be made, and it's all good, but you just want to take couple a of these bikes for test rides before you make a commitment to buy, so you know which machine is right for you. There's nothing worse than being married to a machine you're not comfortable riding.

It's pretty plain and simple; some motorcycle dealers will never let you test ride, while others have a very strict qualification criteria prior to test riding, while some places will just let you hop on and go for a spin, no questions asked.

I'm a firm believer that you should be comfortable with the motorcycle before you buy it. This makes for quite a dilemma if there is only one dealership with your dream machine and they're reluctant to let you ride it before you buy it. It's the old 'Bad Apple' syndrome, and you're the guy who's going to bear the brunt for all the tire-kickers when you genuinely are ready to buy. Every weekend motorcycle dealerships are swarmed with Lookie-Lou's in search of a free joy ride. Here are a few pointers to help you get the test ride you're looking for.

To get to the point where you're ready to ride, hopefully you've carefully researched and inspected the brand model you've zoned in on. First ask permission and then sit on the bike on the showroom floor. How does it feel sitting there? Is it balanced; does it come off the side-stand easily? Do the foot controls seem comfortable? Do the throttle control cables actuate easily? How does the clutch lever feel? All of this inspection time, before you ask to ride it, will add a level of confidence with the dealership regarding your serious intentions to actually purchase the machine.

At this point you might want to ask a salesperson to roll the bike outside and fire it up for you. What does the engine sound like? Did it easily start? Are the exhaust pipes too loud or not loud enough for your neighbors? Are there any features or options that you want changed and what do those items cost? Most importantly, before you ask if you can ride it, can you afford it? If it's not in your budget, please don't ask to ride it. Your frivolous request makes it more difficult for the real buyers to get a test ride next time.

If you are going to finance your bike, make sure you've been pre-approved by your lender, and have the down payment ready to plunk down when you finally ask to test ride the bike. If it's a bike you really want, and need to save up for it because you believe in paying cash for your toys, then wait and ride it when you've scraped enough change out of your car's ashtray to pay for it. There might be an even better bike for you when you have the funds to actually purchase it. The whole point is; don't waste the dealership's time if you're not serious. They don't know what you do for a living, but I'll bet you don't appreciate people who waste your time while you're attempting to earn a living at work either.

You don't need to be an astrophysicist to understand that test-riding a motorcycle is a much more dangerous venture than test-driving a car. In a car the salesman can ride right beside you and explain some of the details and nuisances of the vehicle while you're driving. There is also a sense of security that you won't steal the vehicle when there is a representative of the dealership sitting right next to you. Still, every once and a while you hear about the auto salesperson that gets 'jacked' on a test ride. Finally, chances are, if you do get into a wreck during an automotive test drive, it normally won't produce life-threatening injuries.

On the other hand, chances are you'll be riding solo on a motorcycle test ride. You probably won't be familiar with the handling characteristics of the bike, and unless the salesman is going to follow and ride along with you on another motorcycle, you'll be on your own. This added level of risk leads to the common occurrence of the test-ridden bike along with the pilot never to be seen again, except maybe in a police line up. While the biggest exposure to the dealership is the opportunity for you to go out on their motorcycle, kill yourself or even cripple yourself for life.

Just because you know you're about ready to buy right after you ride, doesn't mean that there aren't 30 other guys in front of you that day at the dealership who want to joyride on a bike. Be prepared to run the gauntlet to prove to them that you're very serious about BUYING the motorcycle of your dreams, and don't get offended during the process while the sales team is qualifying you for your test ride.

Why in the world would any motorcycle shop want to place their business in this type of litigious exposure? To sell bikes, that's why.

If you have a longstanding relationship at a dealership you probably won't have any problems getting to the point where they slip a rider release form in front of you to sign. On the other hand, if they don't know you from Adam, you'll probably have to spend some time with their finance manager who will make sure you have the where-with-all to follow through with a commitment to purchase. Here are a few of the steps in the dance you'll need to do before you can expect to test ride a motorcycle:

So now you've ridden the first of your chosen bikes you want to test ride. Have the courtesy to sit with the salesperson and explain that you're going to be test riding some of his competitors' machines before you buy. Give him a chance to show you the differences between the bikes you're considering. A good salesperson knows what the other machines have to offer, and it will be worth your time to evaluate those items in your riding comparisons too.

Nobody rides for free. Ultimately every motorcycle manufacturer wants you to be riding their machine. Salesmen at a motorcycle dealership want you to buy your new machine from their store. The test ride shouldn't be the first thing on your mind when shopping for a bike, but it should make the list. If you can't ride it, you shouldn't buy it. At the same time, understanding the dynamics of how to ask a dealership to ride a bike before you purchase it is key. Hopefully this will help you have the opportunity to throw a leg over your next possible mount to see what it feels like rolling down the asphalt before you bust out your wallet.

Keep the rubber side down.
- John at Steeds

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