“A h, the GS lady!” exclaimed Ruth Richter-Stever as I walked in the door. Never mind that we’d never met in person, nor had I ridden that particular bike to her shop. That she remembered my riding GS was both incredibly flattering and a little surreal. It made me feel special, notable in a minor sort of way, and I am not even one of her customers. Richter-Stever is West Valley Cycle Sales’ special sauce, even when she abhors the title of “owner,” and simply prefers to be called ‘Ruth.’
Richter-Stever’s parents, Jay and Ruth Richter, founded the business in 1950, selling Cushman scooters, Mustang motorcycles and other brands such as BSA, Velocette, Moto Guzzi and NSU. A few years later they added the BMW motorcycle line and now they are the oldest continuous BMW motorcycle dealer in the United States. In fact, the Richter family started selling BMW motorcycles before BMW North America came into existence. Richter-Stever can tell you: they sold their first bike in 1953 to Art Pearce.
The dealership is still at the same location in Winnetka, CA, in the west San Fernando Valley, northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The original 30 x 30 footprint building contained sales, service and parts all in the same space, sharing the same land as the family home and several out structures as well as about a half acre of dirt. The dirt is put to good use now as a practice demonstration area to learn balancing skills on BMW GS models. You can walk through the different spaces of the complex and feel the history there. By repurposing some existing buildings West Valley Cycle Sales has been able to incorporate finance and warranty, parts and a large service department while retaining the family’s heritage.
Richter-Stever literally grew up in West Valley Cycle Sales and fondly remembers learning to ride in the “dirt.” Her parents spent nearly every day at the shop and brought the family. Richter-Stever left home when she was 18 to pursue a career in journalism, which morphed into banking for 35 years. Her sister, Laurie, never left home and helped run the business, taking it over completely in 1985, when their parents retired. Laurie and her husband Don Watson were joined later by Richter-Stever’s son, Jay Carlson. Both Ruth and Jay Richter passed away in 2012, with Laurie passing the following year. That was when Richter-Stever and her husband John came back to the dealership and took the lead on the family business.
The second and third generations of Richters/Carlsons are now running West Valley Cycle Sales, with Richter-Stever at the helm. She and young Jay are building a team of BMW Certified staff. The dealership’s service techs are fortunate to not only be BMW Certified, they also experience “hands on” training from young Jay (now 20 years certified), who was mentored by his grandfather who truly was “factory trained” in Munich.
The shop is old school — they still don’t have a computer system — yet that hasn’t stopped West Valley Cycle Sales from thriving. They’ve doubled sales in the past four years.
“We went from the dismal years of 2009-2013 when everyone was sick, and now we’re rising like a Phoenix from the ashes,” Richter-Stever said.
In 2015, West Valley Cycle Sales remodeled and expanded the original building into a 1,500-sq.-ft. showroom to include BMW’s apparel line, thus closing the loop and turning into a one-stop destination welcoming and servicing BMW motorcycles from the 1950s through today. Their original 1953 Coke machine serving 38-degree glass bottle beverages stands next to the 2018 S1000RR HP accessorized beauty.
Word of mouth is the way most new customers find their way to West Valley Cycle Sales.
“Last week we had a woman call us from Nipomo looking for an R9T scrambler,” Richter-Stever said. “She said that they have friends in the (San Fernando) Valley and everyone said to go to West Valley. That’s the kind of reputation you want and that’s the type of reputation we’re getting.”
There are heaps of memorabilia on the walls including a picture of founder Jay Richter graduating from the BMW factory mechanic training in Munich dated Feb. 1, 1960. There’s also some nostalgia on the sales floor: a 1958 BMW/2, one of many from Richter-Stever’s father’s collection. The legendary dealership conforms to BMW’s corporate standards and she lauds BMW North America staff for their patience and creativity by miniaturizing components, ensuring the building’s heritage. “BMWNA had everything customized to honor our heritage” Richter-Stever said.
There’s no doubt that she is putting her own special touches into the dealership.
“My personal outreach emphasizes education and safety,” Richter-Stever said. I offer a complimentary membership in the BMW Club of SoCal for purchasers of new bikes or offer discounts to GS training with local Black Swan Moto to new GS purchasers.”
The famous “dirt” in the back provided a perfect site to teach basic balance to a dozen West Valley Cycle Sales GS riders last January.
“When customers walk in the door, they are treated like family. They come into a warm, low-key environment. It’s like an extension of my home,” Richter-Stever said. Between her engaging personality and her strong memory of people and their rides, there’s no doubt that she’ll convert them into long-time customers of the dealership.
“The best part is fulfilling someone’s wish,” Richter-Stever said as we parted. “That’s why we’re here after 60 years when others have come and gone.”