Your Ticket to Ride

Story by Marcus Martellacci// Photos by Marcus Martellacci and Martin van der Staay
September 1 2015

“Ride before you buy” has never been easier

“We’d just like to thank everybody once again for coming out early this morning and also remind you all that safety is the number one priority today.” From experience, I know that’s manufacturer speak for “Don’t make us take your toy away!”

Our hosts run through the rules for the day, and just minutes later everyone is geared up and huddled in a small group, eyes transfixed on the man in the neon vest. “Now that everyone has heard the briefings, are there any questions?” asks the vested one. “No? Okay, let’s head to our bikes and get familiarized with the controls. If you have any questions, just put your hand up and one of the demo ride staff will be right over to help you out.” The group around me is positively buzzing. Some even break stride and cover the last few metres to the motorcycles with a hop, skip and a jump.

This is not my first demo ride. I’ve spent many days delivering the same speech to motorcyclists, trying to pick out those in need of guidance and those in need of strict supervision (there’s always one). But these nice people, whom I’ve never met – all appearing to have the youthful exuberance I lack until after my third coffee – have just been handed keys to brand new Kawasaki motorcycles and are about to be released onto a racetrack!

That’s right. Regular everyday motorcyclists have gathered at Toronto Motorsports Park, just outside of Cayuga, Ontario, to participate in the Ninja Experience Tour demo ride on the racetrack. To take part, attendees had to sign up in advance and come prepared with proper gear and a valid motorcycle licence; simple as that.

Big Investment

Indian motorcycle Each year, manufacturers invest huge amounts of resources to give the motorcycling public a chance to sample their model lines. Carny-like caravans criss-cross the country, visiting dealers and events, shaking babies and kissing hands, winning the hearts and minds (and sometimes deposit cheques) of future customers.
Since the economic cluster bomb of a few years ago levelled most of the motorcycle landscape, manufacturers have been crawling out of the crater left behind. Many have identified customer engagement as a key factor to recovery, and I’m of the opinion that’s why we’ve seen a significant increase in demo ride events all across Canada, some of which we’ve had the pleasure of attending over the last few months.

During this year’s Toronto Molson Indy, Honda Canada transformed a large area just outside the entrance to BMO Field into a display for its motorcycle line-up and a demo ride area for its Junior Red Riders program. Kids were suited up in brand new motocross gear and taught everything they needed to know about operating a small-displacement Honda dirtbike. After some introductory lessons and a series of exercises, they were set free to rip around on a massive dirt and woodchip surface created specifically for the event and just metres from the penultimate corner of the Indy track. On Sunday when the rain came down endlessly and most everyone looked for cover, the Honda staff pulled on their plastic ponchos and kept the party going all day to make sure every child had his or her turn. The majority of the parents I spoke to told me it was their family’s first interaction with motorcycles. Just standing in the sign-up area, watching kids literally bounce off the walls with excitement, made it obvious these parents were going to have some big-ticket gift requests in their future.


honda test areaA month earlier, I had swung by the Yamaha demo day at Dewildt Marine and Powersports in Barrie, Ontario, to tag along for a ride. At the time, I was testing the Yamaha Bolt C-Spec (see page 18 for my review) and thought it would make for a good photo opportunity. Seeing a couple scouting out a new ride while moving from sport tourer to adventure tourer to cruiser exemplified the modern consumer: concerned as much with practicality and value as appearance and performance.

Events like this are costly to put on for both the dealers and the manufacturers, so if you find something you like and are considering a purchase, give the host dealership a chance to earn your business, even if you came from another area. Your interest could make the difference when they’re deciding on hosting future rides at their dealership.

Also falling under the dealer demo ride category was St. Onge Recreation’s Suzuki demo day, again just a few minutes from Motorcycle Mojo’s Thornton, Ontario, office. Oftentimes, the staffing at an event like this is made up of people from both the dealership and manufacturer, but it may surprise you to learn that managers and executives from the manufacturer’s head office are usually on hand, essentially volunteering their time. So, when you ask a question about one of the products, you could be getting the answer from the head of service or the director of the entire powersports division, or possibly even the president of the company himself.

Coast to Coast

Over on the West Coast, our own Misti Hurst was among the first media representatives in the country to get a demo ride on the new Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle. That story ran in our August issue and shed a whole new light on the industry’s future. There’s perhaps no company that invests as much time, energy and money into demo rides as Harley-Davidson. I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to a lot of the company’s events and have spent many a day watching anxious riders queue up for a chance to ride a shining new Harley. Its demo fleet and staff cover a staggering amount of ground each year and never fail to have every inch of chrome gleaming.

So far in 2015, Mojo has also managed to squeeze in visits to the Victory demo ride at this year’s Atlanticade Rally in Moncton, New Brunswick, the KTM/Husqvarna demo rides at Lawrence Hacking’s 2015 Overland Adventure Rally in Campbellville, Ontario, and, also in Ontario, the Indian Motorcycles event at the new Indian of Oakville store.

Aside from adding a few prospective purchases to my wish list, all this sampling has made one thing terribly obvious: the manufacturers are trying harder than ever to get you on their products. “Try before you buy” is the standard practice in the car industry, so why buy blind when it comes to a bike? The opportunity is out there – you just have to visit the website of your favourite brand and check out its events schedule. All the manufacturers list dates and guidelines for rides in your area. Chances are you’ll meet some good people and maybe even find the bike you’ve been looking for. At worst, you’ll ride some motorcycles and talk bikes for a little while. Now that’s a win-win proposition.


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