The secret to getting test rides

With a bit of careful planning and knowing exactly what to say, you could be test-riding the bike of your dreams this afternoon. John Hogan went deep undercover to see just how easily he could blag rides on some seriously hot bikes

This weekend you could be riding the bike of your dreams, and it won't cost you a penny. All you need to do it dress right, talk right and head into your local dealer armed with a good attitude and he will give you a bike with a full tank of petrol to play on for at least two hours.

How do I know this? Simple, I did it myself at six dealers around the south-east of England. I'm not rich, there is no way on earth I could afford to buy any of the bikes I tested, but the dealers didn't know this and nor did they know I work for this magazine. I did my homework, got the necessary paperwork together and at each dealer  turned up on a GPZ500 worth £1,400 wearing battered kit and wearing a cheap helmet. But this didn't stop them lending them me the latest bikes, some worth more than £15,000.

So if you fancy throwing your leg over something rather special next weekend, here's the lowdown to getting your arse on the bike of your dreams. Well, for a while anyway...

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Mission 1: ZX-10R

Mission 1: ZX-10R

First on my list of bikes was a litre superbike. I picked Laguna Motorcycles in Maidstone, knowing that they had demo GSX-Rs and ZX-10Rs. A phone call a week before I went in to chat proved essential. When I arrived I knew the name of the guy I wanted to speak to and more importantly he knew me. I didn't hang around when I got in there, I approached the first salesman I saw and introduced myself over a handshake "Hi, I spoke to Steve the other day, I am interested in a GSX-R or a ZX-10R."

I had a firm grip on my nerves and had planned answers to the obvious questions he would ask, only he didn't ask them. After Steve asked to see my licence, passport and a gas bill he handed over the keys to a brand new ZX-10R. "The tank is full John, go and enjoy yourself while the weather is good!" From walking in to riding out took less than 10 minutes and was a great start to the day, no questions about trading in the GPZ I arrived on or finance options, just a bike, the keys and sunshine.

After returning the bike I owned up that I was a journalist and asked his opinion of test rides and who he gives them to. "I obviously use my own judgement to decide who rides our demo bikes, but once I'm happy I let our insurance do the worrying," he says. Steve fields phone calls and enquiries while we discuss the complications of a test ride. "When people come in to ride a demo bike they don't want me blabbing on in their ear, they want to get on the bikes and go. With litre sports bikes we have a brilliant sales rate from demo rides, and we'll give them if we can."

Once people get back from their ride, Steve works his magic to close deals. If he has no joy after an hour he resigns himself to the fact that the person in question needs more time, so he hands out his business cards and waits. "Some people may have test-ridden last year's model and haven't been back since, but they remember the experience, and when they eventually decide to buy it's my card in their wallet." So, Mission One a complete success and surprisingly simple. Time to up the ante a bit.

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Mission 2: KTM990

Mission 2: KTM990

The KTM990 Super Duke is one of the most radical and fun sports motorcycles you can buy. Very expensive (£8,495) and extremely desireable. Powerhouse Motorcycles in Ashford had the bike and I drummed-up the bottle to go in and pretend that I was ready to buy. This was my first cold call of the day, not something I would recommend, as although I knew they had a demo-bike I didn't know if it was available.

Walking in called for a different approach to Laguna. I needed to come across as someone who was interested that just happened to be in the area, not a ready-to-spend buyer. I was soon approached by a member of staff and sat down with Brad, a salesman. I told him I told him the GPZ500 was my workaday shitter, that I also had a Pan European and an R6 track bike, but was looking for a new bike with plenty of excitement.

Rather than just chucking me the keys we discussed the merits of a big, scary streetbike. "This bike rocks, if you want 3rd gear wheelies this is your bike. If you want big rolling stoppies step this way." I was surprised at his candour and steered the conversation to fuel economy. Eventually he asked me if I had time to ride the bike, sucking through my teeth I glanced at my watch. "Go on then, but I can't take it for too long I have to collect the kids from school," I said.

After a couple of forms and a check of my licence I was hooning round Ashford ring-road like a man posessed. Back at Powerhouse I came clean with Brad. "It's all about making customers feel relaxed, I may not have anything in common with customers when they come in, so I chat with them until I find something we can both talk about," he says. How do they filter out tyre-kicking timewasters? "We used to charge a non-returnable £20 deposit before people could ride the bikes. If they bought one they got the money back, the problem was we were losing sales from genuine buyers who felt that they shouldn't have to pay to test ride bikes. So now we just use our judgement."

How does Brad gauge if demo-bike riders have enough experience to test ride a bike that could flip them over in less than a second? "I enquire about the types of bike they own, and where they ride," he says.  "It sounds obvious but I am listening to how they present their riding. You may try and hide it but if you have a massive ego it shines out even when you are talking about your daily commute, and that will send alarm bells ringing in my head." So resist the urge to show-off and think about every question they could ask you. All good so far, two attempts and two successes. Now it was time to aim really big: could I swindle a ride on a stunning new Ducati 1098?

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Mission 3: Ducati 1098

Mission 3: Ducati 1098

I didn't want to chance anything with the Ducati so had called Motorline Ducati an hour before I went in. I walked into what felt like a hospital with Ducati posters on the walls, the shop was clinically clean and I began to wonder if I would get rumbled as I was dressed in my old riding gear and had pulled up on a bike that was worth less than an all-inclusive holiday in Cancun. I got lucky though, very lucky. Ducati racing legend Paul Smart was in the dealership that day so the manager was tied up with him, and the receptionist didn't seem to know much about bikes. She did know about diaries though and when she looked in hers and saw my name she handed me the keys like she was handing me a Kleenex. No paperwork, no chat, nothing.

Within minutes I was on one of the best road bikes money (or even the pretence of having money) can buy. After a few bad wheelies for the camera I took the bike back and had a chat with Paul Kinnear, manager of the store. "People generally assume we are unapproachable, they see the pristine showroom and the stunning bikes we have and think that they almost have to be invited in. This couldn't be further from the truth," he said, sounding almost a bit upset at this perceived image.

I wondered how someone might get on if they came in wearing battered one-piece leathers and asked for a test ride. "We sell bikes to guys who love riding on track, sometimes they come in here in leathers, you could say it looks like they are going to go out there and ride like lunatics, but to me it says they are thinking about safety by wearing the correct protective clothing for a bike such as a Ducati. If you are spending a huge amount of money on a bike you want to know that it is going to do everything you want it to, the 1098 does that so we don't feel the need to push a hard sell. We're pretty easy-going here. Take the bike, enjoy it, and then we will talk numbers."

This was all turning out to be too easy. It seems test rides are the same as handing out drugs for free on a street corner. You can guarantee a couple of things: firstly everyone who tries them will have a good time, secondly lots of those people are going to come back for more, even if they have to pay.

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Mission 4: Rocket III

Mission 4: Rocket III

With three gloriously sexy bikes ridden before lunchtime and buoyed by my success, I next had my heart set on a Speed Triple. Laguna Triumph of Ashford had what I was after so I dropped in to see what they could do. Rob Lee, the salesman, threw a spanner in the works when he mentioned that the demo Speed Triple was out. Thinking fast about my options I dropped into the conversation that I might be swayed by a Rocket.

This was a risky manoeuvre as the two bikes couldn't be any different and I was running the risk of being rumbled as a tyre kicker. "We do have a Rocket on the demo fleet and it's available today." I kept my cool while I swapped tactics and we discussed the merits of Triumph's rebirth as a brand. I told him I had a lump of cash to burn, fancied a Triumph and after a 25-minute chat Rob wanted me to have a proper ride on the bike. He'd made me work for it and had definitely sounded me out, but it shows what you can do if you maintain your composure and don't shout "cor, yeah!" if an offer this good comes up. "Take it up to Dover and ride it on as many different roads as you can find," continued Rob. "I want you to be happy that the bike will do everything you want it to." I rode out for a full hour and flicked into full poser mode, even managing to stop at a pub for a smoke, hanging my helmet off the bars and nodding at people in a 'yeah, that's my cool bike' kind of way.

Test rides give you the opportunity to try bikes that you'd never know you might like, and just because it's a cruiser doesn't mean you won't enjoy the ride. Back at the showroom I admitted to Rob what I was up to and he told me what he thought of people test riding their demo bikes. "Generally we don't get timewasters coming in here due to the type of bikes we sell, the average Triumph buyer is on their fourth or fifth bike, so they know what they are doing."

Any bad experiences? "I once had a guy that came in with a few mates, was fairly aggressive about the fact he wanted a test ride, but something just didn't seem right so I let him know that it was standard procedure for us to ride behind people on our demo bikes. He suddenly changed his mind and left." The Laguna Showroom is fairly new but the image Triumph want to get across of being relaxed and sociable comes across. "Lots of people ride down this way from London at the weekends," says Rob. "We want those people to feel that they can use this showroom as a stop-off point for a coffee and a chat, but we don't try and sell bikes to people the instant they step through the door." So the advice if you want to try a Rocket is to have a measured, intelligent approach, and be prepared to answer quietly probing questions.

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Mission 5: Gold Wing

Mission 5: Gold Wing

At £17,499, the Honda Goldwing is a whole lot of money for a whole lot of bike. I was really cocky and confident, but really pushing my luck now. Dobles Honda in Croydon had a demo Wing and I gambled on a cold call approach to see if I could get a ride. I arrived on the GPZ, looked like a tramp and this dealership in particular was very busy, if I was going to fail anywhere surely this would be it. I hung around the jackets and helmets looking helpless but was approached within a few minutes, though unfortunately it was a Visordown reader who had spotted me. At high risk of my cover being blown I hid in the toilets until the fellow went away - sorry I couldn't talk but I was on secret assignment!

Eventually I made contact with dealer director Paul. He was very direct in his approach and went straight into it, within seconds I was in a chair looking at finance options and choosing colours. My bullshit meter was running into overdrive as I told him I had loads of money to spend and had always fancied a Wing. "What do you want to do with it?" asked Paul. "I just want to own one," I said, trying to keep things brief. The less you have to lie, the easier things are.

But I could feel sweat trickling down my neck and I wasn't enjoying this at all. I was also looking at a copy of TWO that was on Paul's desk - this was getting exciting. Again, I told him that I had a Pan European, a track bike, an off-road bike and my GPZ hack. This seemed to convince him that I had not only the money, but also the experience needed to handle his Wing demo bike. I'd been in Dobles for 50 minutes when I asked for a test-ride, but either he didn't hear my request or he wanted to see a little bit more commitment from me that I was serious about buying. I stood my ground and again requested a test ride right then. "No problem," he said. "I will have the bike prepped and you can ride it for 20 minutes or so." Sweet Jesus, that had been hard. 20 minutes on a Wing in the sun is better than nothing at all, and I needed to calm down after all that so I took the ride.

Back at Dobles and it was confession time. "We are happy for people to ride our bikes," said Paul. "Unless they're completely daft they will get a demo, after all that's what they're there for." The biggest problem I faced with this bike was the fact that I was about 20 years younger than a typical Gold Winger. Basically I had to dress myself up as a blasè city boy with a pocket full of cash, but I couldn't add 20 years to my age. What did Paul think of my act? "When you reeled of the list of bikes you owned I just assumed that you had won the lottery."

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Final Mission: Tuono

Final Mission: Tuono

The Wing was tricky, but I'd pulled it off. What I needed to do next was push things to the limit and find out how far you have to go before you get rejected (or in my case ejected) from a dealer when asking for a test ride. I turned the dial on my head to 'Complete Cock' and headed to Inmoto Aprilia based in Croydon.
This a family run Italian business. Father, Roberto, is known for having a heart of gold, as well as a typically Italian temper, ie. fiery and short.

Sticking my head round the door with a fag on the go I behaved like an utter turd. "Fuck me mate, is that one of them new Tuonos?" I blustered. "My mates reckon they're rubbish but I don't think they're that bad." Roberto quite rightly looked at me like I had two heads. "What do you want?" He scowled. "I wanna fackin' ride it mate, I've got all me stuff," and with that I started dropping my licence, passport and a gas bill on the floor in the doorway and swore loudly while I picked it up. Roberto was fuming already. "What do you ride at the minute?" he asked. "Nothing mate, got me old man's GPZ500 outside but I wouldn't trade that in, he would bleedin' kill me."

If you've never acted like a nobber for the sake of your job, I can tell you now it's excruciatingly painful.  Roberto disappeared and I guessed he was leaving me to stew, so I tried on an Aprilia jacket, left it hanging over one of the bikes, filled my bag with his brochures and kicked the front tyre on every bike in the shop. Eventually he re-appeared with his son not far behind. "The demo bike is off the road today, why don't you come back in some other time?" On the way out I started moaning about how the bike looked okay to me and finished with an idiotic reply of "stupid bike, didn't want to ride it anyway."

After five minutes I went back in, apologised to Roberto and his wife for my behaviour and Roberto put me in the picture as to who he lets on his bikes. "I have had people in here that claim to own 24 bikes or something. These jokers are wasting my time so I tell them where to go." I really admired the passion that Roberto has for bikes, "Then I have guys come in here that openly admit to not being able to afford a certain bike, but I can see they are good people so I let them take the bike for a 10 minute ride. Sometimes it means more to me to make someone's day than it does to sell a bike."

Roberto gives me some valuable tips about how people should behave to get the test-ride they want. "I hate it when people come in and can't even be bothered to take off their helmet, I tell them to get out and start again only this time with some manners." As I was leaving Roberto made one of the most important points to think about if you want to get on the test bike of your dreams. "Speak to people how you would want to be spoken to, if you are a nice guy you will get a ride, if you are an idiot then expect nothing."
With a bit of planning, polite manners and the right attitude, I had ridden an incredible £60,788-worth of hot-poop motorcycles in one day. All in all, not bad for a day's fixing.
 
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Now it's your turn

Now it's your turn

Don't be embarrassed about asking and go ride something amazing next weekend. The bottom line is that if you ride a bike - any bike - you have a pretty solid case to ask for, and get, a test-ride. Just because you can't afford the bike of your dreams right now doesn't mean that'll be the case next year, and dealers are prepared to take that risk. If you appear honest, have a plausible story and don't obviously lie through your teeth, there's little doubt you'll be handed the keys. Dealers just want to get people to ride their demo-bikes, because one out of every 10 casual test rides turns into a sale.

Top 10 Test Ride Tips

  1. Always phone ahead of your visit
  2. Pick one bike in particular and stick to it 
  3. If you can, go mid-week when dealers are at their quietest. Weekends are chaos. 
  4. Treat the dealers and the bikes with respect, you never know when you could end up back in there trying to buy a bike for real
  5. Take as much proof of ID as possible. Both parts of your licence, a utility bill and your passport will do just fine
  6. Always check the small print on the demo ride form, they usually state how high the excess is should you bend the bike
  7. Be confident and a bit ballsy, you won't get anything if you don't ask
  8. Never, ever go in with your mates
  9. White lies about when you are ready to buy are fine, leaving false documents and dodgy phone numbers equals a test ride in the back of a police car - don't be stupid
  10. Enjoy yourself. Dealers actually want the right people to go in and ride their bikes

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