Bikes, as anyone who has ridden them for more than a few miles will agree, have a way of getting under your skin, of making you twist your life around in order to accommodate a lifestyle that most outsiders see as silly or suicidal, or both. But those idiots don’t ride, so ignore them. The point of the matter here is that certain bikes often defy your head and go straight for the heart. That darling motorbike you’re thinking about right now almost certainly had some flaws. It might have been hard to work on; maybe it had a wildly inconsistent power curve or awkward handling. It probably wasn’t perfect straight out of the box, needing mods or farkles to better suite you. But the end result is a bike you fell in love with.
For our Editor-in-Chief Dennis Johnson, a certain Triumph Thruxton stole its way into his garage and now will never leave. For me, I have a well-known weakness for Honda’s V4s, notable the RC46-engined bikes from 1998 through 2009. I have just purchased my third, a 2000 VFR800 to be exact.
This bike reaffirms my belief in how your favorite bike can make no sense. The VFR800 is heavy, complicated and touchy. Some service tasks (like changing spark plugs) become remarkably easy thanks to the unusual side-mounted radiators. But if you’d like to replace the thermostat, you might want to sell the bike in frustration. The linked brakes are infamous, with most folks happy to argue about their (de)merits for hours. Either way, to stop the bike quickly requires both hands and feet, unnecessary for most sport bikes. And the electrical system is infamous for eating itself under load.
But when it all comes together… wow. The VFR800 boasts a perfect V4 soundtrack with the capability to ride across the country or rail at your local track day. To me, it’s perfect.
While thinking warm thoughts about your favorite bike is a great way to pass the time, try to remember that we all have that one favorite bike. So don’t criticize another rider’s choice of machine. Leave the Internet flame-free.
And be prepared for seemingly irrational customers riding older machines to come to your service bay looking for help. With riders keeping bikes longer, service providers need to be sensitive to the fact that one man’s rat bike is another’s crown jewel on two wheels.
Many shops maintain policies regarding working on older machines, such as not servicing a machine over a certain number of years. As a former service writer, I understand the issues that quickly arise when servicing and repairing an old bike becomes a major problem due to discontinued parts. But instead of simply turning away these potential customers, turn them into better educated riders and work with them.
A 20-year-old bike needing more work than the bike’s value probably isn’t worth writing an RO but if you explain to the customer why you can’t take the bike in, they might not leave in a huff. Then make sure to take the opportunity to sell them a service manual and let them know that you can still work on certain aspects of the bike, like checking valve clearances on the engine out of the bike or truing wheels. Answer their questions and help them order the tools they’ll need.
The idea is to work with and assist the customer is such a way where they get to keep their older machine and you can still provide service without exposing your shop to the potential liability of getting deep into a “basketcase” machine. You won’t be able to convert every older bike you turn away in this way, but the ones you keep might become that next “customer for life.”
And if nothing else, at least be tactful enough not to tell them that their old bike is only fit for the scrap yard.