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How to get the best deal on a motorcycle

Motorcycle industry dealer showroom deal

After two recent controversial articles looking at improving the sales experience from the point of view of the customer and dealer, Motorbike Writer contributor and ex-dealer Marty Thompson gives his tips for getting the best deal:

A recent discussion on Facebook after those two MBW articles from a disgruntled female potential bike purchaser has prompted me to write a little about getting the best deal on a new or used bike purchase from a dealer. The person had complained that she had been ignored and the salesperson was misogynistic. While I cannot confirm nor deny that it was fact, I have seen the exact same behaviour from both female and male bike sale people over the years. Now, this article is not written to criticise bike sales people, who for the most part I believe get a bad wrap for various reasons. Having been in the industry all my life from humble beginnings, right through to general management and manufacturer and distributor training, I have seen both sides of the coin. So while it can be said that there is a proportion of poorly trained and behaved sales staff, there are also perhaps greater numbers of poorly behaved customers. If you believe the adage that the customer is always right, then you are most likely also someone who potentially may think this gives you the right to be rude to sales staff. Please, let me assure you, this is not the best way to obtain a fair deal. In fact, when I was at the coal face, those were the people who I always made the most money from. If a salesperson has to deal with an arsehole, then they need to be remunerated accordingly. The most polite customers were always treated fairly and looked after if there was a problem post sale. Let me assure you, the arseholes were never offered a loan bike or any other favours if a warranty problem occurred. So, to start with, be nice.

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But, what is a good deal? If you are the sort of person who would go and buy a bike from another dealer that is not local to you for the sake of $50, $100 or even $250, then you may as well stop reading now. You are the sort of person that a salesperson hates. They spend hours and hours of their time with you, give you all the information you need and then, you reward their efforts by buying elsewhere for a pittance. If that’s you, just remember, come warranty claim time, especially if the claim is borderline, you won’t be looked after. That is not to say, that a customer should expect to have to pay full retail price for a bike. It is after all 2016 and no one buys at full retail price anymore. You expect to be looked after. Given a deal. For the dealer to want to win your business with a fair price for both them and you and with polite and efficient service.

So, you have already determined that you want a bike. Plus, you have narrowed it down to a few possibles and maybe even one that really ticks all the boxes for you. Or alternatively, you have been pragmatic and taken a logical approach and arrived at a short list based on needs and maybe even some wants. Now it is time to take the step towards buying a bike.

Before entering or contacting a dealership, ensure you do some research about the potential bikes you are considering. Check out the advertised prices across print and electronic publications and classifieds. This will give you an understanding of what they are being advertised for. Remember though, that an advertised price, will rarely be the final price agreed to by you and the seller. Be that a private sale, or dealership sale. Let’s assume you have done due diligence and you know what’s available and you know what prices are being advertised. Then it’s time to go shopping.

Marty Thompson shows his style drone drones
Marty Thompson shows his racing style

While I would love to tell you that dealers make thousands out of each bike they sell, the realities are far from that. Top line bikes, even the hot sellers often sell with little to no profit in them. That’s not to say that there is no room for negotiation. It just means that based on your research, you will know when a dealer is trying hard to earn your business, as they will have exhausted their available profit margin in an attempt to earn your business. But, expecting a $5000 saving off a new or current model bike is fairy land stuff. Maybe on a $30,000+ bike which is being run out with some factory bonuses sure. But on most new bikes, the margins are very slim. I know most think this is not the case, but an available margin on a new bike varies from about4-7% of the retail price for most brands. So a $10,000 new bike, may only have a $400-$700 margin. Sometimes a little more, often a lot less. Bike dealers are not getting rich off selling you a new bike, trust me. I’ve seen the books! They are attempting to create service, parts, accessory and finance and insurance opportunities. Maybe trading in a good used bike they might make $1000 on after negotiations. But selling bikes isn’t going to make you rich. Believe me, don’t believe me I don’t really care, but having run dealerships, both two and four wheeled ones, I can tell you that the new vehicle sales department loses money almost every single month. Without the other dealership departments, there would be no dealerships as they would all be broke. Be aware also, that sometimes a factory offer will leave little or often nothing in the deal for the dealer. The hope being that you may finance the bike with them, or perhaps purchase some accessories. Both of which means they have an opportunity to make a profit. If you have done your research, then it is going to be easy for you to know if it is the bottom line, or the sales guy is holding out for a bit more profit. Once again, knowledge is power when negotiating.

Be as honest as you can. Sales people have built in bullshit detectors and can smell an answer which doesn’t sit right. If you have done your research, you will know confidently what a good deal is, so there is no need to lie. Be frank and open. Tell the salesperson what you want to buy and that you are there to negotiate the best price. If satisfied, you are ready to sign. That is not to say that you will buy it from them if they offer you their best price. It’s all about you being satisfied that it is. While on the subject of being truthful, if you have read one of those books that says don’t tell the dealer about your trade in until you have worked out a price on the new bike, forget it. Your used bike is worth what the market place dictates. Sure, you might again be able to negotiate a little more for it, but it is worth what it is worth, no more and no less. Don’t be silly by looking at similar bikes that are advertised privately with similar kilometres, age and condition to yours, pick the highest priced examples and expect that for yours. You’re just going to end up frustrated and disappointed. A  dealer can only sell your bike for what it is worth in the market place. Perhaps a little more than private as it may come with a warranty and be workshop checked and prepared. Good dealers can spend an average of $800 preparing a used bike for sale. Owners often don’t see the little things that need doing to a bike and of course, because we know our own bike, we think it is the best in the world. But trust me, even the best looking bikes often need money spent on them. But don’t spring the trade in on them after negotiations. It’s not being truthful and I am pretty confident that if a sales person lied to you in that manner, it would leave a very sour taste in your mouth.

The next thing I would highly recommend, is to actually develop a relationship with one dealer. I know that the easiest sales over the years are to those customers who are repeat customers. As a salesperson, you know that if you look after them, they will buy and you have no hesitation giving them a great price as you know if you do, they will buy now. So get to know a dealer. Buy from them regularly. Accessories, parts, servicing. Then when it comes time to buy a new bike, I bet London to a brick you will be looked after. I know those dealers which I have developed long term relationships with, always looked after me. A phone call to buy a bike was usually a 5 minute affair, culminating with me giving them a credit card deposit over the phone and going in a few days later to sign the documents. Simple and easy for both parties and I never got ripped off. Again, knowing a good deal from a bad deal was the key. Today, this information is very simple to obtain, just do a few hours internet surfing and you will know what is and what isn’t a great deal.

Now, I am well aware that not all dealers have professional sales staff and even within one shop, there can be great sales staff and absolute plonkers who should have got out of the business in 1974. So don’t accept poor behaviour. Any sales person who is evasive or especially uses that old line when asked for a price, “I can only give you a price if you are buying it now”, just walk away. That crap went out of the car industry in the 1980s. But there are still some relics who persist with this style of approach despite the fact that it just no longer works. A professional sales person will be more than happy to offer you a good price, once they have worked out exactly what you want and when you want it. Keep your eye out for manufacturer runouts or sales programs where they offer price or add on incentives for bikes sold and delivered by a certain date. Pushing forward your decision may save some additional money in these circumstances.  Also, if you need new gear, it is another avenue for negotiations. You may save that $500 that is stopping you from saying yes, by throwing in a new suit, helmet, gloves or boots into the negotiations. Sometimes there is more margin in the accessories, than there is in the bike they are selling. Finance and insurance can also be another avenue for price concessions which may sway your decision.

Whatever you do, try not to let a poor experience from a sales person taint your next interaction with the next sales person. remain polite and you are far more likely to be looked after than by being rude.

Marty Thompson
Marty Thompson shows his style

Marty Thompson’s Bio:

In terms of industry experience, I was the National Sales, Sales Manager and Service trainer for Subaru Australia for eight years, as well as Chrysler Jeep Australia/NZ. My last position was Group Training & Development Manager for the Stillwell Motor Group in Melbourne for two years. Prior to that, I ran Cosway Kawasaki in the mid ’90s and was the new vehicle manager for Ken Morgan Toyota in the early ’90s.

1988-92 Bayford of Preston new and used vehicle sales

1992-1994 – Ken Morgan Toyota Nunawading Victoria- New Vehicle Manager

1994- WFO distributors- Dealer representative

1995-1996 Cosway Kawasaki Melbourne- New and used sales, accessories, spare parts.

1997-2009- Auto Inspirations- Managing Director- Sales training, Recruitment, Marketing & retail development for the automotive industry. National trainer for Subaru Australia Sales, service and management, Chrysler Jeep Australia/New Zealand, National trainer Inchcape Automotive Retail sales, service & management, National Trainer QBE Insurance automotive division, as well as sales & management training and retail development for hundreds of automotive Dealerships nationally.

2009-2011- Group training and retail development manager Stillwell Motor Group Melbourne.

  1. Very well written Marty,

    My biggest peeve with customers is when they come in, test ride your demo (which is quite a large expense for the dealership to carry) then buy the bike down the road to save $100. I once gave a WR200 to a customer for the weekend to compete in an enduro, complete with fresh tyres, and a jerry can full of pre-mixed fuel because we wanted the correct oil to be used. He loved the bike and bought a WR200. But…because the dealer down the road, who didn’t have a demo, was $100 cheaper, he bought it there. And customers wonder why dealers don’t have a demo of every bike in the range.

    Of course then there are the “I want warranty liars”. These commonly own PW50, LT50, and similar kid’s bikes. They come into the shop “demanding” warranty because the bike seized on the weekend while little Johnny was riding it. Suspiciously “No it didn’t run out of oil” is almost the first thing they say. Sure enough, when you check the oil tank, it’s full, to the brim. Of course a simple check of the oil pump and the line between the pump and the motor reveals no oil what so ever. Yes, run out of oil.

    The there was the RGV owner who was a gun rider. He came in telling me his shock was f***** and his bike was handling like a pig after only a month of ownership. As soon as I jumped on it to take it to the workshop, I could feel that he back tyre was so under inflated that it was indeed handling like a pig. A few PSI fixed his “shock” issue.

    One of the best was a guy who bought a new helmet and crashed a week later, smacking his head on the road. He wanted warranty on the helmet because the fiberglass had fractured where the helmet hit the road. I kid you not.

    And the list just goes on and on.

    It would be easy to write a book because people in the bike trade encounter this sort of thing EVERY day, but I prefer to focus on my nice customers. The ones who are always welcome in the shop and drop in for a coffee and a chat. The ones who always get a loan bike and their bike given that little bit extra care when they come in for a service. The ones who bring in a carton of beer on a Friday afternoon, then hang around after work and have a drink with the staff. But most importantly, the ones who I still call friends after 20 tears of riding together.

    Cheers guys, and girls.

    1. Hi Simon. Yes, those types of people are still out there. But, we still have to treat them all as real buyers until they prove themselves to be liars and dudders. Then they can go buy elsewhere till they run out of dealers they have used up and burnt. They are also the ones who complain the most aren’t they!!! 🙂 🙂 Like you, most of my long term customers are still great friends and we catch up regularly. They are the ones who developed a relationship with the dealership and who we go above and beyond for. The ones we go and open the shop for on a Sunday to get them a part, or do a small repair. The ones who we push the manufacturer hard to approve a warranty claim that might be outside warranty period and the same people who we also have no hesitation in giving a ripper deal to on any new or used bike, parts and accessories.

  2. Sorry but all these comments about arsehole customers could be made
    by any business from real estate to your local plumber or pharmacist
    If you don’t like it. get a job where you don’t have to deal with the public
    Lets face it dealers would not be doing it if it wasn’t good money.
    Whatever they may say to the contrary

    1. I’ve run dealerships and worked at Manufacturer level Pete no name. Have you? If so, state your full name and credentials as I have, don’t hide behind an anonymous comment.
      To clarify my position…..Dealing with a difficult customer is par for the course in retail and something staff do on a daily basis. But I was making comment on rude customers. There is a difference. I never allowed a rude customer to brow beat any of my staff. They were politely shown the front door by me personally and asked not to return. Yet, we always were among the top two or three dealers in sales and customer satisfaction. I hope this provides a little more information to give clarity to my comment. As for your comment about dealers making good money, you have very obviously never run a dealership.

  3. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and politeness if only for self interest (because you catch a lot more flies with honey than vinegar), so it’s very disappointing that so many people on both sides of the counter in retail are rude and insulting.

    I would like to ask Simon if the customer who bought cheaper down the road gave him a chance to match the lower price? If not then fair enough Simon should feel aggrieved, but if they did then I don’t think Simon should expect the customer to pay more than he has to just because Simon gave him a test ride. I think test rides are a buyer’s right (can you think of a car manufacturer that won’t give buyers a test drive? ) . $100 is several hours – or more – work for most people and the buyer has the right to value his hard earned money and not have to pay for a test ride.

    There is a dealer in my area that won’t offer test rides (no demo bikes) and doesn’t take trade ins. It makes it very hard to find any reason to prefer them over any other dealer out of my area who will.

  4. This article was written like a true salesman. I have a lot of experience negotiating, including walking out of negotiations only to be rang even before I got home with a substantially lower offer that minutes before the manager brought in to the negotiations said couldn’t be done.

    The reality is that the salesman’s job is to achieve the highest possible price while trying to make the customer think that he got a great deal and walks out happy. If as a customer you understand that, then you are well on the way to saving money.

    The only thing I agree with this article is that one should not be rude. Sales people have a job to do. Sometimes that job is a push over and other times is difficult to impossible. Loyalty to dealerships is a sure way to spend more money than you should. Loyalty should not have a price on it. I will be loyal to a dealer if I achieved a real outcome, not because I settled because they wouldn’t be. I will always test a dealer’s price by shopping widely, only then will I be in a position to know. And that includes hard nosed (but always polite) negotiating with multiple dealers.

    There are always reasons why one dealer will offer a lower price than another. If you don’t negotiate with others you will never know how much your loyalty is costing you.

  5. I really like what was said about making sure you know what you want before you go to a dealer. A few years ago I lived down the street from a motorcycle dealer and I had never considered riding before. I ended up buying a motorcycle from the dealer and it was just a great experience!

  6. You tell the same story as all dealers do. I even suspect that it is all true. What really grinds my gears is lying salesmen. Painting a rosy deal on what to expect when “just having a chat” and then, when it gets down to putting it all on paper … a VERY different story. Classic sales “fishing technique”. It reflects very badly on what might be an otherwise good dealership too. A dealership that employs salespeople who (try to) use that technique with me, will not see my money. Ever.

  7. It was a great piece of advice to know finance and insurance can also be another avenue for price concessions which may sway your decision. My husband and I want to get a motorcycle to go on a long road trip this summer. We will be sure to get a great motorcycle so that we can have a great time on our road trip!

  8. I’m shopping for a 2017 MV Agusta 675RC but there is no MV Agusta dealer in my home state. I been looking at them online and they all have the same MSRP price. How does this work with the MSRP price? Is this something that I can negotiate below the MSRP? I will have to buy the bike over the phone or I have to head out of town (over 250miles) and have it shipped to my door step.

  9. I want to buy a 2017 R6 this week which I have been watching for a while now. The dealerships have not sold them and have been sitting since they got them in. The MSRP is 12199 and i have that in cash. I don’t want to pay that price as it would take all my money I have saved. Is there anything I can do to get them down at least to 11,500?

    1. Hi Leo,
      Have you tried being honest and just asking them for the price you are prepared to pay?
      Sales have slumped in the past six months so dealers are desperate to move floor stock. You might
      just be lucky!



  11. Thanks for the tip to be as honest as you can when looking to get a good deal on a motorcycle. I’ve been talking with some friends, and I’ve been thinking that I would like to check out a motorcycle trade with them and see if I can find a bike. Developing a relationship with a dealer while at the trade might be something I try out to better my chances at getting a good deal.

  12. My wife and I have been looking a motorcycle, and I think that getting some tips would be good. I’m glad you talked about being able to trade in a good used bike, and how that could help. I’m going to have to look at some different motorcycles and see what I can find! Thanks!

  13. I’ve been looking at touring bikes and what I have found is location of purchase makes a big difference. Our local Honda dealer in Albuquerque will not wiggle of the list price for a 2 year old 2016 “new” Gold Wing that has been decorating his showroom but I can get the same bike in a 2017 model on the east coast for $4700 less. That $4700 makes it worth flying to the East Coast and taking a riding vacation back. He also told me they can only sell bikes to residents of that particular state which is a load of crap. You have to fly there and sign the paperwork at the dealership in person but it can be done for less than the $4700 difference.

    1. I would have it shipped. And I would even get the bike discount a couple more grand.

  14. I thought it was interesting that you talked about how even the best motorcycles will need work done on them. My older brother is looking to find a motorcycle dealership so he can buy a motorcycle for the summer. I’ll be sure to talk to him about being prepared to do work on it to keep it in good condition.

  15. I,m looking to purchase a new bike. I’ve done lots of research and settled on the 2015 Honda VFR Interceptor. I found a new bike for sale at over $4000 less than MSRP, but its at a dealership over 1000 miles away. Would it be wise to get a bike from that distance away?


  16. It is important to understand that when purchasing any new mode of transport, preparation is crucial. So when purchasing your motorbike of choice, don’t forget essentials such as motorbike insurance, checking you have a valid licence and ensuring you have the right equipment.

  17. I have been looking into getting a motorcycle and wanted some tips before I go in. One thing that stood out to me is to be as honest as I can because the salespeople can tell whats true or not. This will be really helpful so I don’t back myself into a corner.

  18. I really appreciate your advice to do prior research before looking at motorcycles at a dealership. It sounds like it would be a lot easier to know what a good deal is and you will be able to find a bike that fits your needs the best. Since I would like to use one for commuting, I would like to buy one that is comfortable and has good gas mileage.

  19. Ok article. I understand but will not believe that the mark up is that low. I understand that the building cost, phone bill, electric bill, salary’s, greeters, cashiers, etc… all add up and that maybe why you want to state that low profit margin after everything. But what they pay vs what the bike sells for is thousands apart (if a dealership did not cover that cost per bike they would be out of business). The real question is weather a dealership is willing to deal vs just give you the finger and tell you MSRP or get out of the dealership. I worked for a car dealership, They backed out almost all profit for sales to Police Officers, Fire Fighters, members of the clergy etc… to the point that the salesman that wrote the deal only got a “mini deal” that paid the salesman $25.00 for writing it up. I am in the market for a new HD Heritage. I am obviously not buying it during a blizzard outside, so the dealership will not be giving it away. I will attempt to negotiate the best deal or I will reluctantly wait until next winter, JUST TO GET THE DEAL I WANT, so hopefully I will get lucky. Hopefully the fact that I am ready to take delivery NOW, if I can get an unbelievable deal might make the deal.

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