Wednesday 20 January 2016


One of the things I have tried to avoid about riding motorcycles is any form of prejudice for one brand over another. To me, it is important to treat all motorcyclists equally and to treat them all as is they were a brother, no matter what the name badge on the tank says. I have tried to always respect the choice we all have when choosing which brand we each ride and so I really don’t like the “my bike is better than you bike” brigade who are so blind as to not be able to see anything beyond their own handlebars.

However, those principles took a bit of a shaking today when I visited a BMW dealership.

I must have seen my local BMW motorcycle dealership dozens of times as I rode / drove past, but until today, I just kept going. This morning however, curiosity got the better of me and I swung around and went to see what it was all about.

The motorcycles were stunning.

With different types of bike to suit every form of riding, be that on-road, off-road, commuting, race bike lookalikes, scooters and even a few with sidecars, every taste was catered for. I marveled at the technology, the sweeping lines, the clean and crisp designs and the cleanliness of just about every aspect of the bikes. Deep down, each one is probably exceeding well designed, with handing, power and performance that is unequaled. It was very impressive stuff.

The sales person who spoke to me knew everything there was to know about every motorcycle – a real powerhouse of information.

Then it struck me.

Everything about the dealership was so perfect, it was dull. The bikes were displayed in an order that made perfect sense. The marketing materials were absolutely factual. Even the china coffee cups were laid out in a symmetrical pattern that likely needed a surveyors tape to be so precise. The clothing department (really just a few rails) had only really dull t-shirts and the same suits that all GS riders seem to wear. The range of helmets on sale were boring, with just a teaspoon of design flair added to each one.

What was missing was any sense of fun or enjoyment. There was no music playing. I was the only customer in the building. Nobody was smiling and there was no banter, but each member of staff had an immaculate desk and a shiny computer that they were fixated to. Groan.

The place had as much character as the local branch of my bank. I couldn’t wait to leave.

I walked outside and noticed about fifteen of the nearest car parking spaces to the building entrance were all marked as reserved for staff. All of those spaces were full, meaning the building was full of people working there. I had needed to park furthest away from the building. Does the dealership really mean to annoy its customers like this even before they park?

I have to say that everything about the place was depressing.

I am so glad I ride a Harley.

Yes, BMW riders can and probably do claim that their motorcycles are superior in many ways to the ones that I ride, but that isn’t the point. Motorcycling should be fun, embracing, inclusive and dealerships should be inviting places where you are made to feel welcome and can fit in whatever your background. So, I say this to BMW. Even if you want to make one of the best performing motorcycles in the world, please make your dealerships less perfect, then you will get more people walking through your doors.

I won’t be going back soon.


Nikos said...

Happy New Year to you!

I'm not quite sure that I get your drift Gary - my experience of HD dealerships is that they are extremely brand conscious and perfect in this respect. Chester BMW Motorrad is colocated with HD and the BMW section is shabby and imperfect in many ways!

PS BMW motorcycles are not perfect - it's just the riders who are....


Gary France said...

That's funny Nikos - I am glad your experience is of a shabby BMW dealership. My local one is just too perfect. Yes, Harley-Davidson dealers are brand conscious, but in a much more friendly and customer focused way. At least, in my experience they are. I laughed about BMW riders being perfect, as for certain, Harley-Davidson riders are not!

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on each shop. Mine is very friendly. They chat and visit. There are always people in there looking or just hanging out. A few guys outside checking out each others rides. They have bbq's on the random weekend...

redlegsrides said...

I believe, Gary, the word you were looking for was: Sterile.

Seen my share of BMW dealerships, and yeah, what you describe is a common theme. I prefer my '87 R80 Beemer, you meet like-minded riders at informal tech day events, swap ride stories and mechanical repair don't get the same at BMW rider gatherings with "modern" motorcycles ironically.

Gary France said...

James, sadly the big difference is I am talking about dealers in the UK and you are talking about US dealers. We have a lot to learn from you!

Gary France said...

Charlie6 - spot on. I actually thought of you and your old beemer when I wrote that post. Somehow, I didn't see you fitting to well into the sterile nature of some dealerships.

Trobairitz said...

An interesting experience.

I've never felt comfortable going into any of our BMW dealerships (the closest is 45 miles away). they don't really talk to us and it feels a little sterile. Maybe we look like we can't afford one.

VStar Lady said...

Sterility and motorcycles? Two words not heard often in the same sentence - too bad for them!

Gary France said...

Trobairitz - Maybe the BMW motorcycle dealerships have been set up to be like their car dealerships by somebody in a suit who doesn't understand the differences between car drivers and motorcycle riders attitudes? Just a guess, but the motorcycle dealership I went into felt like a car showroom. I chuckled at you can't afford one comment.

Gary France said...

VSL - Perhaps the image they want to portray is deliberately different from the image most people (wrongly) have of bikers. Maybe they want to appeal to a market that is more professional and more affluent. It must be working for them, otherwise they would change it.

The City Mouse in the Country said...

I had a similiar experience with a Triumph dealership recently. After about 10 minutes of feeling brushed aside I left in a huff.

Interestingly enough the next dealership I went to I spent nearly an hour in just chatting with the sales people about bikes, rides and life in general. Guess who is getting my business in the future?

Gary France said...

Robert - that is exactly how I feel, but not only would it put me off buying from that dealer, but it could put me off the brand entirely.

RichardM said...

Here, the Harley, BMW, Victory and Honda dealerships are co-located. And all of them are very clean and nicely laid out. Back in 2007, I was shopping for an 883 Sportster and was trying to decide if I wanted new or used. The salesman on the Harley side came up and suggested that maybe I should be looking on the BMW side. I guess I didn't look like Harley material. I ended up getting an older BMW that was there on consignment. The BMW salesman was more stereotypical biker i.e. long braided hair and beard, leather vest, etc. But all of the sales staff was pleasant, talkative and made you feel welcome.

Oz said...

I live in a high population area (and growth continues :( ) and there are several dealerships nearby. I can easily ride to 8 in 30 to 40 minutes. Two are "sterile" (to use the description from Charlie6). Three are a little closer to "sterile" than fun & welcoming and three are fun, welcoming and lively. The three "sterile" are all different brands (HD, Victory & Kawasaki/Suzuki).

Seems to me the leadership of the dealership makes the difference. However, BMW does seem to have a inclination to precision & sterility more than some brands, but that is part their appeal.

Sorry your experience was bad, but I have two shops that I don't visit unless I am meeting someone there and my money is spent elsewhere.

Gary France said...

Richard - Having brands co-located like that sounds both good, and potentially bad. Yes, the flexibility is good, in that you have a greater choice, but somebody promoting another brand while you were looking at one in particular would tend to make me suspicious and have me wondering why they would do that. More profit, or promoting a harder-to-sell bike? Who knows, but the up side is likely very good.

Gary France said...

Thomas - Yes, I agree the leadership of the dealership makes all the difference. The sterility of BMW must have an appeal, but not to this guy. Each to their own I guess. It is interesting that you have found other brands to be sterile too. I think I may go visit a few more brands over here, just to see the differences. Anything that has me going into bike dealers must be a good thing!

Greybeard said...

I know EXACTLY what you mean.
I've been snubbed by H-D riders because I'm not part of the "club".
Their loss not mine. For me, it boils down to this:
What do I want in a machine?
I want lack of vibration for long rides. I want reliability. I want good gas mileage, power to spare, and ease of maintenance. I want a dealership close as possible. I want a bike that doesn't have a thousand clones when I go on a Patriot Guard ride. All other things being equal, cost is a factor... up front and later while maintaining.
I own six motorcycles. Four are Japanese, one German and one Italian. They all bring me pleasure and I don't give a flip what others think about them.
But if I have to mount one and drive across the country, there IS one that stands above the others. (It has six cylinders and is driven by a shaft.)

Grumpy The Biker said...

I am not prejudice about the bikes at all, but one thing Harley-Davidson does so well that the other dealers could really work on is creating that sense of community within there store. Even back when I had a V-Star I used to hang out at the Harley Shop.