It has been a while since I’ve been to the shop. You know, the shop. What? You don’t know what I’m talking about? Okay, fine: the motorcycle shop. Happy now? I’ve been hanging out and kicking tires at motorcycle shops since before I was old enough to drive and once I got my license, the shop was one of my favorite places to go.
In the 70’s I was hanging out at the local Suzuki shop. It was a small building chocked full of Katanas, GS machines (no, not the BMW version) and motocross bikes. During my teens I guess you could say I was a Suzuki man. Mainly because my focus was on dirt bikes and Roger DeCoster rode Suzuki…and Roger was “the Man!”
I also spent some time at the local Kawasaki dealer, where a classmate of mine had the baddest KZ650 on the planet. Eventually I bought another Honda and started making friends with Rayce Guthrie and the crew at Bloomington Power Sports. Over time they became more than shop owners to me; they became friends. Friends who shared a common bond, the love for motorcycles. Rayce didn’t care if you came by just to chat and hang out, knowing full well that you were not going to spend any money. Heck, they encouraged it by showing races and giving away popcorn. We were all part of the local motorcycle family.
In the 90’s I started riding BMW and soon discovered an even tighter knit group. The BMW shops in my region were always warm, open and inviting. They were anywhere from 60 to 120 miles from my house, so they became destinations. I’ve spent many days hanging out at the counter at Revard’s in Indianapolis, Tri-State in Cincinnati and Jeff Cooke’s BMW of Louisville. Each of these shops had one thing in common: they treated their customers like family. It didn’t matter if I walked into Jeff’s shop, Bill Revard’s or the guys at Tri-State, each one treated me the same. As soon as I walked in the door they greeted me by name, asked how things were and what bike did I want to demo today? Then they’d toss me the keys to practically anything in the shop and say, “We close at 5:00.” Sooner or later every one of them sold me bikes. In fact, without making an official tally, I can safely say I’ve purchased over 50 motorcycles in my life and I’m pretty sure I’m not done yet.
Somewhere along the way I got a case of the Italian Lust and had to have my first Ducati. These shops were even more few and far between than the BMW shops. I found one in Eastern Indiana and purchased my first Ducati. Even though it was not signature red, I would walk out into the garage just to look at the curves and listen to it’s musical lope. The bike was great; the shop not so much.
And then, on a ride to the Louisville BMW shop, I discovered they had a Ducati shop too so I went to check it out. It was a humble building that greeted me with a room full of Suzukis as I crossed the threshold. But I came to see Ducatis. As I walked toward the counter I discovered another pocket of bikes…red, sleek and sexy as Hell…and a short, balding guy with a lot of energy named Ed. I didn’t buy a bike that day but I got an education…and began making a new friend.
That was more than 15 years ago. Today I live in Louisville and Commonwealth Motorcycles is The Shop. Bikes shops like Commonwealth are rare these days. It is rare to be treated like a friend and be offered ‘the keys to the kingdom” any more. And even more rare to be greeted by the same people year after year. Not so at Commonwealth. Amanda has been at the counter for as long as I can remember. Her husband, Chad, is the best mechanic I know and the only person I want touching my bikes. Tony has been selling bikes there for years and Ed, well Ed is the good will ambassador of all things exotic: Ducati, KTM, Triumph, MV and now Aprilia.
In this modern world of Internet shopping I know it has to be tough to run a bike shop. Competition is very different and I will admit that not every one of my moto dollars ends up in their register either. However, they offer something that the competition cannot touch: a real relationship.
I’m writing this blog today for a reason. A couple weeks ago I got an email from Ed and the shop. Normally I visit them a couple times a month just to kick tires, shoot the breeze and annoy them about what bike I want next. They tolerate it well. However, I have not been there to visit for several months now. While I have chosen not to detail the experience in print, my immediate family has once again been forced to face a serious health crisis. This situation has changed my focus for now, making bikes more of a temporary stress reliever than anything else. Ed and the shop are aware of my situation and have been very supportive, always asking how things are.
Then, out of the blue a couple weeks ago I get this Email (I’m paraphrasing): “Jamie, we have not seen you in a while. Get in touch and let us know how things are. We are concerned about you.” Do you have any idea what those 3 lines meant to me? The world, that’s what.
Many of you who read this blog are not motorcycle riders, but I hope you have place where you feel like you belong. A place where strangers become friends. For me, it always has been and will be, The Shop.