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#287 Cold shot of trouble at hand

Who wants to deal with a cranky six-year-old? Possibly not your local motorcycle dealer if you live in the Greater Toronto Area.

The heated grips on my old enduro might have signed off any time, but they did so last Wednesday night, at the beginning of the cold season. I was riding home on Ontario Highway 404 in temperatures that felt more like four than the reported 14. And we all know what wusses we become after acclimating to a hot steamy summer. Autumn cold hits hard.
It was my first cold ride of the season, and I had barely managed to sort what gear I needed to deal with the chill factor. It seems we go from tank tops to wool sweaters with nothing in between. I hadn’t worn enough. But I did have my winter jacket, chaps, and hand muffs—which make a world of difference. I didn’t turn the heated handgrips on until I was north of Toronto, riding in the sunshine.
I rode to the weekly barbecue at Freak-N-Leather in Newmarket, a small shop on Davis Drive, tucked in beside the train tracks. It has a really big parking lot!
You might be familiar with their famous logo of a motorcycle riding through flames. You might even buy a new sweatshirt like the one I did that night. The 13-year-old independent business vends at local bike shows, and has been feeding burgers to bikers on their patio on Wednesday nights for 12 years now. The proceeds go to local charities. This is a destination for some 200 motorcycles in summer, but only seasoned riders show up when the temperature drops.
I readily admit I’m a fair weather rider. But I’m also a cold weather rider. So you can imagine what went through my head on the way home when I started to question the comparative warmth of my handgrips. Something was wrong. Or was it simply my imagination? I’ve played this game many times, willing something to be warm that clearly is not. Once off the highway and at a red light I removed my glove to verify the truth. Sure enough, the left side was cold, the right side hot.
The next day I got in touch with my dealer because this was an emergency. I consider heated handgrips to be essential to cold weather riding, and the beginning of the season is no time to let that slide. Former parts manager now service manager Andrew Charters has always been very helpful. He knew me before BMW Toronto Motorrad opened its doors and knows my bike well enough to spot her parked in the most remote locations. Turns out he couldn’t produce. They didn’t have the parts I needed. That is, BMW Canada didn’t. I still have my crash bars on back order from Germany, and it’s been months.
I was ready to panic when Andrew offered me an alternative. He sourced a part in stock just over the US border at MAX BMW, which he explained is a Heritage Centre, something new for BMW in the States. They have parts in stock for older models, and work on and restore them for their clients.
I was greatly relieved. My parts were scheduled to arrive the weekend I was writing this column, and I was looking forward to promptly doing the installation. There’s no procrastinating when it comes to cold hands.
I’m thrilled to have the alternative. I’m also thrilled to be riding a brand that continues to manufacture parts even for its older models. This was one of the many reasons I bought one of the old R-series BMW enduros 25 years ago. Back then the company had a commitment to support its older models—I knew this from my friends at vintage bike rallies. For me, it was a strong selling point. Like Harley, BMW motorcycles didn’t change that much from year-to-year, which made many parts interchangeable.
Then came BMW’s K models. Then the water-cooled opposed Twins. Sometime later, the single cylinders that might have been Rotax engines until BMW started manufacturing its own. BMWs started looking more and more extreme, more modern, high tech, and very little on the new bikes would work on the old Rs. Perhaps some Bosch components might. Still, I get most of my parts directly from BMW. And I do most of the work myself.
This brings me to a point. What do you do if your bike is older? Really old is one thing. There are a couple of vintage bike mechanics around here in the GTA you can go to with an airhead. Chuck in Toronto or Al Blanchard east of Oshawa operate private shops. But they don’t work on the new bikes.
I learned last year that a friend who bought her first-ever new bike could no longer get it serviced because it was six years old. She was told at the dealer where she bought it that it was too old. And they offered no alternative.
Six is old? I realize some people buy new bikes every year, or every few years, though I don’t know where their old bikes go. But to me, six is still relatively new.
I asked a sales rep for BMW Toronto about this while at the Toronto Motorcycle Show last year, and he admitted that they were problems. In general, they would service a bike until it was 10, but this past year they were turning away customers with six-year-old machines, ones that were purchased there. I was astounded.
The new service manager assured me today that he will do everything he can to support motorcycles more than six years old, and that he was already doing so. He added that they scrutinize bikes off warranty because they do not wish to take on poorly maintained machines and then have customers faced with whopping bills.
Toronto Harley-Davidson closed its doors in the past year. Snow City Cycle still sells Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki, but no longer deals Honda. Parker Brother sells KTM and services other makes, but for a city this size to have so few dealers is dumbfounding. Yet, there are plenty of motorcycles in the street. Odd.
I think back to a time when we squawked about the high cost of insurance, and how it was affecting new bike sales. The big dealers all went out of business. The hole left by McBride’s closure was eventually filled, for me, by BMW Toronto Motorrad, which is tucked in the armpit of the swank car dealership. I hope I’ll be able to buy parts for years to come, but I wonder what will happen for others.
On that note, I think I’ll go for a ride. Autumn leaves are changing and the wind is calling. Time to toughen up, add layers, and get going. Like life, the season doesn’t end until we stop riding.


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