Somewhere, deep down inside, everyone feels the call of the ride. Whether it’s the freedom of the proverbial wind in their hair of a cruiser, the need for speed of a super sport or the thrill of temporary weightlessness associated with launching a 450 skyward over a sick triple — the call itself is all the same — a strong hand gripping the heart, squeezing like the wringing of a sponge and urging its captive to throw a leg over and give themselves fully unto the sport.
For the past couple of years, I’ve lived with the depressing feeling that I’d never be able to ride again. But then, several weeks ago, I was screwing around on the showroom floor, sitting on bike after bike and savoring the drool of anticipation, when I noticed that the forward-leaning position of a Yamaha R1 seemed to actually relieve the pressure from the damaged part of my spine. After an extended test ride, I was intoxicated with the understanding that, not only could I ride again, I could fly!
A cool morning presented itself a couple of weeks later, so I hopped on the bike to head over to a meeting some 60 miles away. Of course, checking the weather might’ve been a good idea, but I wasn’t thinking straight. After all, I was a born-again rider with a new lease on life and, given the chance to ride — by golly — I was gonna ride!
So that afternoon, as I looked out the window while pedestrians rushed by on the shiny-wet sidewalks below, shielding themselves against a heavy rain and an obvious wind that was wreaking havoc on their umbrellas, I glanced at the boots, jeans and t-shirt I was wearing, and a sinking feeling overtook me.
I found a break in the storms on my computer’s radar screen, and I decided that if I was lucky, I might just make it back unscathed. Of course, I’ve never really minded riding in the rain, but not having a rain suit with me somewhat changed my view.
Screaming west on I-44, I could see the rain falling very near the dealership in the distance. A heavy scratching of horizon pulled down from the dark bottoms of clouds, blurring the world into distortion, and my only thought was of racing the storm head-on to stay dry. Dropping two gears, I opened the R1 and suddenly realized what the term “scary-fast” is all about.
As I passed a row of cars on the right, I noticed the lead vehicle swerve in behind me and begin pacing me several lengths back. A young kid, from what I could tell, driving a beat-up Dodge Neon with the front bumper hanging desperately on one side — probably the result of the last time he decided to race a sport bike on the highway. But, with the rain in front of me and a challenger behind, the race took over and my wrist reflexively twisted, launching the bike into hyperdrive.
Glancing at my mirror, I noticed that the hanging front bumper of the Neon was closing in, flapping horribly in the wind as though it were wagging its tongue in mock salute. Behind the windshield, a huge smile painted the kid’s face and I had to laugh, knowing that he was feeling the call of the ride. He was powerless against it, pushing his beat-up Neon well beyond what it should have been able to do, wanting desperately to keep pace with the wicked-fast bike ahead.
A second later, a wild fluttering caught my eye in the mirror, and I instinctively let off the throttle to watch. Horror filled the kid’s face as his front left quarter-panel dislodged from the car and flipped in a high arc toward the median; a giant, spasmodic butterfly on crack. The kid pulled to the side of the road and ahead, I did the same, if only to make sure that he was OK. I watched as he got out of his car, and I felt sorry for him as he assessed the further destruction to his steed. He stood, looked up at me then waved to let me know he was fine.
I clicked the bike in gear and hit the road again, just as a sudden downpour overtook me, less than a mile from the dealership. Had I not stopped to check on the kid, I’d have arrived dry. Instead, I felt the battering of water against my bare skin and my underwear began to bind. “No good deed shall go unpunished,” I thought.
Sure, the economy sucks and sales may be slow, but one constant remains: The call of the ride is still present in every potential customer out there. Harnessing that eagerness to ride, recreating the feeling that overtook Neon-kid on the interstate within your showroom walls is still the key to success or at least survival in this market. Find a way to nurture your customer’s willingness to drive the skin off of their Neons, and you should gain their business. If nothing else, you’ll remember why you got into this industry in the first place.