The San Diego area has undeniable advantages for both the motorcycle enthusiast and the motorcycle dealer. It never snows, and the summer heat of the inland desert areas can be easily avoided by sticking to the coast. It is possible to commute year-round on a bike. Adventure awaits over the border on the Baja Peninsula, and sport bike enthusiasts can improve skills on the hills to the east and the Chuckwalla racetrack.
Paul Lima and a friend were riding and racing in the San Diego area in the early 1990s. They liked British and European motorcycles and envisioned a shop that could be a center for their many friends who also liked European bikes. They pooled their money, located a storefront and started to fix it up. “At some point, we realized that we only had $15 in the bank, and we had to open shop in order to make some money,” Lima says.
When they first opened, the partners concentrated on repairs and parts for the British motorcycles of the 1970s and European motorcycles of any vintage. Word spread that they did quality work, and the business grew. In 1995, GP Motorcycles took on its first OEM, MZ from Germany, who is now no longer exporting. Moto Guzzi soon followed. In 1997, Ducati was considering granting GP a franchise, along with Husqvarna, but wanted the dealership to move to a larger facility. The franchise was granted after the move. GP moved once more in 2009 and is still at this third location. Lima’s partner moved out of the area some years ago, leaving Lima to run the business as a family operation, with several of his relatives actively involved.
In addition to Moto Guzzi, Husqvarna and Ducati, GP Motorcycles now also sells KTM (on board in 2009) Aprilia (GP is often the top U.S. Aprilia dealer, as well as a many-time top U.S. Moto Guzzi dealer) Gas Gas and MV Agusta. “We are San Diego’s all-European dealer,” Lima stresses.
Lima’s philosophy of running a motorcycle business is one of balance. “Our customers are enthusiasts. They like to go out on group rides — the Ducati Club regularly starts its rides from the shop — and do track days. People want to be part of something,” he says. “However, you still have to do business. People want to be around motorcycles, but you have to be smart about it. There has to be a balance between enthusiasm and business.”
Like most other motorcycle dealerships, GP Motorcycles saw numbers of new riders as the pandemic wore on. They are still coming in, but in lower numbers. Lima is concerned that newcomers who show up at the dealership start off on the right foot. “We want people to ride long term. We tell people that their first bike is a stepping stone. It takes riding a while to figure out what you like to do on two wheels — off-road, adventure biking, sport biking or touring. We also explain that a low mileage, recent model of many of our motorcycles can be traded in for another machine without losing much on the trade. We try to be honest about people’s abilities; however, some folks want what they want. I give my opinion one time and then leave it,” Lima explains.
GP Motorcycles also has a significant number of female riders coming through the doors. “Women make up 15% to 20% of our customers. Seat height is a challenge: We often suggest people start out on a KTM 390, but that bike is too tall for many women. We have found that it is vitally important for women to feel confident on a motorcycle. Confidence is king. Part of that is being able to put both feet down at stops,” Lima notes.
Children make up a large percentage of the off-road community, and GP has found that StaCyc electric push bikes are the best way to introduce a child to two wheels. “It’s a stepping stone and a home run for kids,” he says. GP sells StaCyc bikes in Husqvarna and KTM team colors, so kids can ride a bike that matches what Mom and Dad ride.
The GP dealership, like many successful dealerships, does very little traditional advertising. Used bikes get posted on Craigslist and Cycle Trader. Lima says, “We fish where the fish are.” GP’s excellent online reviews are a big help, as is GP’s good relationship with the local clubs. “We treat people like we want to be treated and take care of people who support us.” The shop sponsors track days and a New Year’s Day ride (the average Jan. 1 temperature is between 50 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit). GP used to advertise a monthly ride; however, Lima is now disabled from a racing accident and can’t ride on the street, although he has a specially set up Ducati for track days. He explains that he is somewhat short staffed and can’t justify the expense of hiring someone to lead a ride.
GP started an online store 10 years ago. “We did it organically,” says Lima. The online store grew a little at a time. “You have to be careful with the bottom line. It’s easy to lose money with online retail,” he adds. The online shop supports search by make and model of motorcycle, by category and by aftermarket manufacturer. It concentrates on specialty items, including Camel ADV products, Dainese wearable airbags and other gear, Ferodo competition brake pads and WP suspension kits. GP will also special-order parts from Europe and states that in-stock items will appear in two weeks. Clearance items go on eBay for a larger audience. GP also says that it will ship bikes out of state for a flat rate of $650. “We ship bikes weekly!” the site proclaims.
Lima does not see the industry changing that much in the next five years and especially does not see an immediate upsurge in electric motorcycles. He thinks the transition will take longer than some industry experts think it will. He does think that electric dirt bikes are best for kids. “Small electric motorcycles are the best for starting kids. Kids can rip around in the back yard and not disturb the neighbors. Parents don’t have to work on the bikes as much. It’s a home run,” he says.
“When we started, all of our brands were niche. Now, they are mainstream. Motorcycles are exciting and bring with them a sense of freedom. It’s a visceral sensation. You really can’t explain it,” Lima concludes.
3617 India St., Ste. B
San Diego, CA 92103
OEM: Moto Guzzi, Husqvarna, Ducati, KTM, Aprilia, Gas Gas, MV Agusta and StaCyc
Aftermarket: Rizoma, Pitbull Stands, Alpinestar, Dainese, Camel ADV Products, Motion Pro, Parts Unlimited and WP Suspension.