Archive for the ‘Motorcycle demo rides’ Category

Riding a Dream Job? Maybe, Maybe Not

Monday, March 3rd, 2014
Ride leaders in front before the start of a demo ride.

Ride leaders in front before the start of a demo ride.

Consider this remark:

“People think it’s pretty glamorous, and it is. I’m doing a dream job, riding motorcycles. But it’s a hell of a lot of work.”

That summation comes from a motorcycle demo ride leader, someone paid to ride motorcycles all day and take other people for rides. A dream job indeed.

Until you consider the long hours, low pay, and general crud work it so often entails. This behind-the-scenes look at the world of demo riding comes via an experienced ride leader, who declines to be named, but whom we we call AJ.

Demo rides are a big tactic in motorcycle sales. When you buy a car you take it for a test drive. When you want to buy a motorcycle, generally you can’t just hop on it and go ride. Even experienced riders are more prone to accidents on an unfamiliar bike, and dealers are understandably reluctant to entrust an expensive new bike to a rider whose skill level is unknown. Thus, many motorcyclists end up buying a bike they have never ridden.

Would you buy a car you had never driven? That’s where demo rides come in. Some times a dealership will bring in a truckload of bikes that are sent around by the factory for the purpose of giving riders an opportunity to test ride them. At other times, one or more brands will send their trucks loaded with bikes to motorcycle rallies or other events. Prospective riders have to register, show their motorcycle-validated driver’s license, have a helmet and other required gear, and sign a waiver absolving the company if the rider gets hurt.

Once riders are assigned to their bikes for a particular demo ride, they follow a ride leader, who rides the designated route, controls the speed, and does what he or she can to ensure a safe, fun ride. In most cases there is also another ride guide at the rear–the sweep–to deal with any problems that might occur.

“We chat them up at registration,” says AJ, “trying to determine their riding skill. Sometimes we have to tactfully steer someone who is maybe five-foot-two away from a taller bike that they’re interested in to a shorter one that fits them better.”

Despite everyone’s best efforts, accidents sometimes do happen.

“Last season we had a rider who missed the curve and went straight off the road into the forest,” says AJ. “The bike bounced off a number of trees and was totaled, but the rider was OK. I had to consider the safety of the rest of the group and in the meantime, the riders in the next group had no idea what had happened. Crashes are difficult. We try to minimize them, but they do happen. It’s a dangerous sport.”

Not All Riders Are Trustworthy
And sometimes the riders simply lie about their ability.

AJ tells of one rider who signed up for the smallest bike, then rode very slowly, didn’t stay in the lane, and held up the group. Half-way through the ride the ride leader pulled over and asked him how it was going.

“Fine,” he said, “I’m just nervous.”

“Well, today’s your lucky day, you’re gonna get to ride with me,” she told him, ending his solo ride.

He climbed on behind her and while it is customary for the passenger to hold onto the rider, his hands kept sliding up over her breasts. She shoved them down repeatedly and when she recognized the same guy the following year she spread the word that no one should allow him to ride.

In another instance, says AJ, “I had one woman who signed up saying she had been riding for 15 years. Then she ended up looking to me more as an instructor. She started out starting out stalling the bike repeatedly, she nearly dropped it, and she got very flustered. In a situation like that you have to handle it tactfully, and not turn them against the brand. As the leader, I told her to come back at 5 p.m. and I’d do a solo ride with her. That defused it and got her out of the public eye. She came back at 5 and I took her for a couple laps around the parking lot.”

Of course, ultimately the ride leader’s job is to help sell motorcycles.

“I bend over backwards for a serious potential buyer,” says AJ. “In order to accommodate riders I’ll sometimes suck it up and do one more ride at end of day, whatever is necessary to make them feel important.”

Those days can be very long.

“We get there a couple hours before first ride goes out, check he bikes, warm them up, set everything up, and then we haul ass all day long.”

The work begins with unpacking the trailer and setting up awnings and the demo area. Every load is different, there are no diagrams, and, says AJ, “It’s a little bit of organized chaos.”

Once set up, it can be a challenge to keep things flowing smoothly. Every hour you must “get the ride out on time, deal with a group of riders of varying abilities, get them off the bikes, chat them up, and then get the next group out. There’s no time for anything, not even potty breaks. We barely have time to eat, and you can’t eat in front of the public. You’ll step behind the truck and grab two bites of a sandwich—if someone thought to provide food.”

Packing up at the end is also, in AJ’s words, “a real drag. They don’t want to pay for an extra day so we have to pack up everything after a full day of demo rides, then hope they don’t fly you home on the red eye. I’m pretty wiped out after an event.”
The employment arrangement for ride leaders varies by manufacturer. One brand may hire contractors directly to staff their programs, while another may outsource the function to a company that itself brings in contractors. One company, Yamaha, has hired employees specifically to do demo rides and, at least at times, Harley-Davidson has held lotteries in their factories, with the winners getting paid to go out on the road with the demo trucks.

Despite the negatives, however, AJ does still describe this as “a dream job.”

“We do get to go to cool places and ride motorcycles—if you have the energy to do that after working all day. But there is much that goes on behind the scenes that the riders just don’t know.”

Perhaps not so much now.

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Biker Quote for Today

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Bicycle Race Aborts Ride To Estes Park

Monday, August 27th, 2012

It shows you what can happen if you ignore other events going on around you. I don’t care about bicycle racing, so I didn’t pay any attention to the USA Pro Challenge races that were going on around the state last week. Apparently neither did Judy or Friggs.

Motorcycle on the Peak to Peak Highway

Cruising on the Peak to Peak Highway.

So we met up on Saturday morning, took a ride up to Black Hawk to have breakfast, and then headed north on the Peak to Peak Highway headed for Estes Park. What a beautiful day for a ride in the mountains.

Then we reached Nederland. Coming into town the traffic was stopped, advancing slowly, car length by car length. As we worked our way ahead we could finally see some flashing lights, so we thought maybe there was an accident.

Getting even closer we were now seeing a lot of cars pulling out and turning around or else taking a left turn into the business district. There was nobody coming the other direction so some braver folks just pulled into the oncoming lane and drove a block or so to get across the creek that divides the town. Then they turned left.

OK, we’re on motorcycles, and motorcycles ought to be allowed to lane split, regardless of whether our legislators think so. I pulled out and cruised along and we made the turn. Now (I thought) we’ll be able to skirt around the roundabout in the center of town where the blockage was centered and get onto the road going west before it swings north again.

Wrong. All access to the highway was blocked by tape. It was apparently part of the route of the bicycle race. But it didn’t make a lot of sense. We could see that the highway was open to the north and the road was then shut down just barely to the west of where we could get to. If they had positioned the barricade about 50 yards further east, everyone could have come that way and gotten through. Couldn’t they have possibly modified the route that much?

Oh well. Nothing to do but go back the way we had come and head down Coal Creek Canyon. Still a beautiful day for a ride in the hills, just not quite the ride we planned.

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All too easy to dump money into these . . . but smile per $ is up there.

MP3: A Three-Wheeled Scooter of the Leaning Variety

Monday, August 1st, 2011

I’ve ridden motorcycle trikes before and I’ve never cared much for them. They don’t lean and they’re too much like driving a car for my taste. So I’ve been very interested for a long time in trying out the Piaggio MP3 scooter, which has three wheels but is not at all the same as a trike in its handling.

Piaggio MP3 above the Coors Brewery in Golden.With abundant thanks to Tai Beldock at Erico Motorsports, I can now report that I have ridden an MP3 and it really is everything I expected it to be.

The difference with an MP3 is what Piaggio calls its “parallelogram suspension.” What they’re saying is that whether you’re leaning into a turn, one wheel’s going into a pothole, or whatever, those two front wheels remain parallel to each other. It’s like having one wheel in front in terms of handling, but two wheels in terms of stability.

That’s not to say that, trike-like, the MP3 won’t fall over; it will. Remember, it handles just like a two-wheeled motorcycle. If you come up to a stop on a regular bike and don’t put your feet down you’d better have exceptionally good balance. Same with the MP3, except that the MP3 has a button you can push at below 5 mph that will lock the fork and keep you upright. The lock disengages as soon as you start rolling again. Still, I found it easier to just treat it like any other bike and put my feet down.

Thanks to the elements I had a good chance to test the MP3’s stability. Going up and down Lookout Mountain there was gravel in many of the curves and having three wheels was very comforting. Later it rained heavily and splashing through puddles and turning on rain-slicked streets the MP3 again felt very secure.

This scoot–and it is a scooter, no gear-shifting going on here–comes in three engine sizes, 250cc, 400cc, and 500cc. While the 250 will theoretically run at interstate speeds, when I tried it I felt best in the right-hand lane. The bigger models do go faster, though not much. The main thing the bigger engines offer is increased acceleration and carrying capacity.

Now, I’m not about to go adding a scooter to my garage any time soon, but presumably decades in the future these big bikes I ride now are going to be a bit much for me. A lot of guys I know say they figure someday they’ll have a trike. Not me. Come that time I’d rather move down to something lighter, whether it’s a motorcycle or a scooter. And the MP3, or whatever like it is on the market at that point, would definitely be an option I would consider. Meanwhile, for anyone today who finds the stability of three wheels appealing, the MP3 is definitely something I would suggest looking at.

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Biker Quote for Today

I am in the relentless pursuit of 6th gear. I keep trying and it still isn’t there.

Be Prepared When You Go Demo Riding

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Triumph demo rides

Demo rides are a great way to try out different motorcycles, whether you’re looking to buy a new bike soon or just want to see what you like for whenever the time comes. Just don’t show up without proper gear.

Of course, the problem is that no two manufacturers seem to have exactly the same list of what they consider proper gear. Play it safe and go the ATGATT route. That way you’ll be covered (ha, ha–pun intended).

I went over to Foothills BMW yesterday to demo ride some Triumphs. It was a nice day and I didn’t feel the need to wear gloves, but they were in my pocket. When I saw the list of what Triumph was requiring, there they were on the list, gloves. Glad I had them.

I met up with my friend Randy there, and he had also come to ride some Triumphs. Randy had his helmet but he didn’t have a jacket or gloves. It never crossed his mind. Fortunately, one of the guys running the demos was just his size and loaned Randy his own jacket and gloves, so Randy got to ride.

There really is no consistency. You’d think all manufacturers would require a helmet at a minimum, but I’ve been to demo ride events where they were optional. Also, Triumph was requiring simply “no open toe shoes.” Sneakers were OK. That surprised me, considering I had just done this RiderCoach training recently where one paying student was turned away because he only had sneakers, not boots that fully covered his ankles.

Sometimes they want you to have a jacket or long-sleeve shirt at least. For the MSF rider courses that’s the requirement, though lord knows a long-sleeve shirt isn’t going to do you any more good in a get-off than a simple T-shirt. And other times I’ve seen just T-shirts to be OK.

The bottom line is that you just can’t tell. Better to go to the demo ride event with ALL your gear. Then if they don’t require it and you don’t want to wear it, don’t. But don’t put yourself in a position where you come all this way only to be turned away.

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Biker Quote for Today

Don’t run your fingers over my bike and I won’t run my bike over your fingers.

The Progress of Electric Motorcycles

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Stunt rider circles Hooters girls

It was cold, and later it got wet, but I went over to the Fay Myers spring Open House Saturday as planned, to enjoy the show and ride some Zero motorcycles. It was worth it.

The stunt riders did the sort of stunts that by now I’ve seen many times, so even though I can’t come close to doing what they do it’s just not that big a thrill. However, there was a guy doing trials demos and he was definitely impressive. I want to see more of that.

My main reason for going was to demo ride some Zero electric motorcycles. I rode a few about a year ago and the improvements in that year are amazing. Last year we stayed in a parking lot and considering the capabilities of the machines, that was adequate. This year we got out on the street and that just had to be. There’s no way you can experience the power of the new S (street) and DS (dual sport) Zeros in a parking lot. They go fast!

And the Zero guys tell me they also go farther. I can’t wait to see what electrics can do in five years.

So I chatted with a couple of the Zero guys a bit and they filled me in on where things are headed. I asked first if Zero is planning to offer bikes with gears, as Brammo is now doing. There are issues with that, I was told. Adding gears would add weight, which is something they definitely don’t want to do until battery power is better. And I haven’t checked this out so it’s just hearsay, but they guy told me they recently had a race where the new Zeros outran the new geared Brammo. So why add gears?

The Zero SHe also told me that in this race they were competing against gas-powered bikes and the electrics just smoked the gas bikes. Even giving them a head start–I can’t remember how much, three minutes?–he said the electrics all overtook the gassers by the third lap.

One of the bikes I rode was the Zero XU, which in truth seems to be pretty much a scooter. It doesn’t have the power or range of the S and DS and is only intended for running around town. So I asked if Zero was considering selling a scooter. The issue there, I was told, is that it costs in terms of design, production lines, and warehouse space every time you add a new model. There’s a lot the company would like to do but until they can ramp up sales significantly those things are just not going to happen.

One aspect of doing this demoing at Fay Myers is that Zero is looking to sign up dealers to carry their bikes. They’re especially interested in the Colorado market because of the terrific tax credits this state offers for electric vehicles. The highest price Zero is the DS, which has an MSRP of $10,495. With state and federal tax credits, we can buy them here for $5,395. With that bike’s improvements, that’s something worth considering, especially since operating the thing costs about a penny a mile in electricity. How does that measure up to your $3.67 a gallon gas?

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Biker Quote for Today

If loud pipes save lives imagine what learning to ride that thing would do!!!