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Spare Parts: A stitch in time

By Ernie Copper

The demands of the riding season are many. Where to eat, where to stay and what to squeeze in are usually at the top of the list when it comes to pre-rally planning. Hopefully, your pre-ride bike maintenance isn’t forgotten in all the excitement. Even if you’re diligent in your bike’s prep, things can and do go wrong on the road and the less time you have, the more likely it seems that things will go wrong. When planning my rally experience, I’ve never even considered adding downtime for unexpected service on a Saturday afternoon instead of participating in the poker run.

This past summer, I returned home from a blissful trip to Roar on the Shore in Erie, Pennsylvania, and unpacked my Heritage. West Virginia Mountainfest was the following weekend and I planned to attend that too, so I washed up the bike on a sunny Sunday evening. I’ve always used wash time to give things a once-over in the maintenance department. So, when I discovered during this cleanup that I’d ridden a hundred miles or so on a rear wheel with three broken spokes I was mortified. First, I like to think that I pay closer attention than that and second, how was I going to get this issue turned around in less than five days at the peak of the riding season so I could ride to the next event?

Enter New Castle Harley-Davidson, my hometown dealership and the place my ’95 Heritage calls home when anyone checks its papers. One quick call to the service department garnered a same-day appointment with no guarantees that they could turn it around in time for me to ride to the next event, but they’d do their best. That was good enough for me. I’ve mellowed in my old age and if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I didn’t call them every day to check on it and was pleasantly surprised to hear from them on Thursday when the “your bike is ready” call came. That was just four days beginning to end. Also noteworthy is the fact that I just didn’t have time to pull the rear wheel. I’d ridden it in so that makes this level of quick service even more impressive. They had me back up on two wheels with time to pack.

While enjoying the roads in and around Mountainfest between rain drops, my speedo cable broke. This also disabled the self-cancelling turn signals on a bike of this age. Non-essential parking lot repairs are not high on my list of rally activities, so I was eager to get this issue fixed once I got home. One call later and the service desk at Thunder Harley-Davidson just up the road in Sharon, Pennsylvania, offered to check the H-D version of a parts locator and they turned up two cables at McMahon’s Harley-Davidson in nearby Beaver Falls. A short ride and less than 40 bucks later scored a new old stock cable. Less than an hour later, I’d successfully installed the new cable and was back in business with a speedo that worked and turn signals that shut themselves off.

When the chips were down, my local dealerships came through with flying colors and not that I’m anybody, but there was no “do you know who I am” involved to get special favors or access to the parts vault. I have every reason to believe this is how they treat all customers and this is a reminder why riding is special and why riding a Harley-Davidson is even better.

There aren’t many accessories on the walls for my old Heritage in the dealerships anymore, so the sport of shopping for bolt covers or chrome covers isn’t something I spend much time on these days. There was a time when I was a weekly or at least monthly visitor. But my accessory needs peaked in about 2002! However, the folks at the parts counter and in the service departments earn their keep and my respect for helping to keep guys like me on the road. When you’re broken and feeling low, there’s no place like home and a good visit to the dealership parts and service department may be just what the doctor ordered to get you back on the road and remind you of why you ride what you ride.

My experience as an unofficial secret shopper was great. I don’t know how it could have been better and it reflected well on the three dealerships closest to my home. Good news doesn’t often make the news, but at a time of year when we’re all feeling a little extra warm and fuzzy toward our fellow man, I hope this encourages the men and women in parts and service to keep up the good work. Thanks for keeping me on the road another year. Who knew that all that “freedom” we talk about starts in the service department?

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