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DIY: The Next Thing in Moto-Shops?

Motoshop offers 4000 square feet of clean, well-lighted space for S. F. Bay Area do-it-yourselfers.

Nothing will take the place of a good motorcycle mechanic. No matter how much you know about your motorcycle, sometimes it takes the diagnostic skills of someone who spends 40 hours a week fixing bikes to figure out what’s wrong. But the rest of the time—most of the time—motorcycle service is maintenance—performing regularly scheduled adjustments and fluid changes, changing worn items like tires and brake pads, and bolting on accessories or upgraded components.

Those tasks, relatively simple as they are, can sometimes overwhelm the tools, workspace or mechanical abilities of home mechanics, many of whom, especially in dense urban areas, don’t have access to clean, well-lighted workspaces. You can unroll your tools in the gutter next to your bike and do a few things, but that’s not ideal, so you wind up paying $90 an hour or more for a professional to do simple jobs you could easily manage yourself.

Many military servicemembers have access to automotive hobby shops, do-it-yourself service bays stocked with tools and helpful personnel to answer questions. Users of the shops pay by the hour for the use of tools, stalls and lifts, and parts and supplies are usually offered for sale as well. Car drivers in several states also have access to DIY shops, which usually offer about the same program as the military hobby shops.

And now, at least two shops are offering this concept to motorcyclists. In Vancouver, British Columbia, Motomethod is offering local riders lifts, tools and classes on various aspects of motorcycle repair. After purchasing a $100 yearly membership, members can rent a lift for $25 an hour, and get discounts on tires and other parts.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, Wilder and Aleksandra Grippo have started Motoshop, the region’s first do-it-yourself facility. Located near San Francisco International Airport, the brand-new shop has 4000 square feet of rental bays, lifts, tools and specialized equipment for its customers, who can pay by the hour, day or month.

Motoshop also offers classes in basic subjects like oil changes, tire changing, brakes, chain and sprockets and installing electrical accessories. Are other shops edgy about Motoshop training potential customers and reducing the demand for repair shops? Not at all, according to Motoshop’s website: “The few [shops] we have spoken to are okay with the idea. We are not stealing away the big business and we have no intention of becoming a parts or bike dealer … The shops who are interested in working with us will benefit in many ways.”

It seems like a solid business model, if not a wildly profitable one. On one hand, there’s limited profit to be had in renting tools and service bays. On the other hand, if shop space is cheap enough—and every metropolis probably has a surplus of cheap commercial or light-industrial space these days—the overhead for this kind of thing must be low. And if it just provides a safe, clean space for do-it-yourselfers, people who would be unlikely to use a regular shop for simple tasks anyway, this could be a complimentary addition to the motorcycle industry.

34 Comments

  1. falcodoug says:

    Like the Falco.

  2. Jeremy in TX says:

    $75 per month is cheap, especially since it includes bike storage. I HAVE a garage and lots of tools but would gladly pay the $75 just to keep my POS bike out of the way until I can get it running again. Plus they would have better equipment and more specialized tools, too.

  3. Moto Shop says:

    Hi, co-owner of Moto Shop here. It’s nice to read the article and the feedback – after just a few months things are off to a great start for us! Just a few responses and clarifications:

    1) Yes, liability was our first concern when creating our business model and is the primary reason people give for this concept not working. It wasn’t easy to find, and it isn’t cheap, but we have a good solid policy that covers us in the event something should go wrong. We do also use liability waivers and surveillance cameras.

    2) No reason to carry tires in around your waste – simply order them online and have them shipped directly to our shop! We’ll call you when they come in. (you can do this with any other part too).

    3) Our rates are $25 for two hours. If you run long, it’s $10/hr after that, or $50 for the whole day. We also offer a month pass for $75, which includes motorcycle storage. For small fixes, we have a general work area where you can ride in and clean your chain, borrow a wrench, use the drill press, wash your bike, etc for FREE (pay what you can to our donation helmet to help keep this community shop alive).

    3) We are well aware of San Diego’s Privateers’ Garage that didn’t make it, but we are not “exactly” like them by any means. Our business model is different in many ways. Here at Moto Shop we are trying to create a community based shop where folks can learn and work on their bikes for a very reasonable cost. We have good quality tools, but our focus is on providing what’s needed to get the job done rather than the creating a super fancy shop with premium everything. But it has turned out to be a very cool place to work!

    4) So far we have had a good solid turnout with a lot of great people coming into the shop. We’ve been deeply involved with the SF Bay Area motorcycling community for many years, and as expected the shop has been very well received.

    If any of you are in the area, please stop by and check us out and say hi!
    Thanks for the write-up Gabe!

  4. dave says:

    We had one of these type of places down here in San Diego…It went under in about a year. It’s actually quite a poor concept. At least in this area of town, a decent size shop that can accomodate 3 or 4 bike lifts, tool chests, all the goods will cost about $3k a mo. Then figure in 2 full time employees to keep it open 8am to 6pm 7 days a week, plus the cost of everything…and a few tinkerers that come in to change a tire in 10 minutes off the bike and YAY!!! You’ve just made $4.25. Booorahhh!!! Yeah, that’s why our local DIY shop went under. That, and they were about 4-5 times more expensive than the military hobby shop which was only 2 miles away.

    As far as the story above, that particular DIY shop better rethink the selling of parts idea. They have a shop and a biz license…they better start selling parts. They expect people to ride in wearing tires around their waist? I don’t think so.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “As far as the story above, that particular DIY shop better rethink the selling of parts idea. They have a shop and a biz license…they better start selling parts.”

      the better trade off is they’re not incurring the costs of stocking parts (not yet anyway). inventory is akin to taking a bound stack of $100 dollar bills out of the bank (where it could be drawing interest) and setting it on a shelf where it then “draws dust”. at which point it either sells…? or it doesn’…? that’s a risk you won’t to hold off on as LONG as possible with consumers (ESPECIALLY motorcylists), even where you have a riding community as robust as the bay (note: the bay’s an exception, not the rule). i suspect that’s where their association with motosuperstore comes in. better to let THEM sit on and warehouse the inventory. they’re in oregon i think, so that’s gotta be next day shipping on everything…? that’s a win/win.

      • dave says:

        I used to manage a motorcycle shop. You only need a $1,000 order to open a Parts Unlimited Wholesale acct. And yes, you need to have some merchandise on hand, but you wouldn’t really be a retailer…Simply buy a few sets of tires to have on hand for those who need them and some common items like a couple chains and such and you’re in business. All the other sales would be special order from the catalog with payment up front. So, there’s nothing to lose. You just have to have enough merchandise on hand to keep the Parts Unlimited Rep off your ass and from threatening to pull your acct. I know cause I’ve done this before!!!

        But at the same time, the way PU’s discounts work, you get shitty deals on tires unless there a “special buy,” and it’s hard to compete against internet retailers who get massive quantity breaks and can whore shtuff out at a basic PU retailers cost. In other words, they’re getting 50% off most things and you’re only getting 35% off.

        • dave says:

          We just bought one section of gridwall and hung a few frame sliders and turn signals on the wall and VOILA!

  5. Norm G. says:

    this could work. absolutely. the insurance costs aren’t even that daunting. but like anything be it servicing a bike, attending motogp or whatever, the dealbreaker still comes full circle BACK to a valuing customer base. a customer base as markj eludes who recognizes the positive impact of things like cooperative economics and spending locally in support of small business. however this begs the question, if they actually HAD an understanding of these things, wouldn’t they already be supporting a nearby franchised dealer (or dealers)…?

  6. Gandalf says:

    The lift is a nice idea and makes working on bikes much, much easier but $25 per hour?? Come on, the average guy will take that long to do an oils and filter change. Buying the oil and filter and then the lift charge will be more than a dealer charges.

    I have a full size (car and truck) hydraulic lift and it is the best purchase I ever made and it makes things so much easier and safer.

    Litigious individuals would own the place in a few months, right after the first accident in the shop, causing injury or death. You can’t sign away your right to sue—so the paper you sign saying you won’t sue if you get hurt is useless.

    Sam:)

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “The lift is a nice idea and makes working on bikes much, much easier but $25 per hour?? Come on, the average guy will take that long to do an oils and filter change. Buying the oil and filter and then the lift charge will be more than a dealer charges.”

      like the wise man says about motorcycling… “you’re not doing it because it’s cheap, you’re doing it because it’s fun”.

    • Moto Shop says:

      Hi – Moto Shop owner here. It’s great to see hear all the good feedback, thanks! Actually we charge $25 for TWO hours, meaning you can easily get your oil and filter changed for $25. If you don’t know how we have a class that will teach you. And if you have more work, we have a daily price of $50. And if you have even more work, we offer a MONTH PASS for $75, including storage space so you can leave your bike at the shop.

      • Norm G. says:

        don’t be pressured. i’ve been to and ridden in the bay area. from infineon out to concord down redwood up to alice’s there’s no such thing as cheap overhead. $25 bucks for a SINGLE hour is MORE than reasonable (maybe needs to go higher). any motorcyclist living in the bay who’s not willing (or unable) to afford that probably needs to just stay working outside in the lot of their apartment complex.

  7. mickey says:

    We have 13 family members who ride ( Mostly Hondas & Yamahas, but also a Suzuki,a Kawasaki a Triumph,a KTM, a Harley and a Ducati). Two have garages and lifts. One is an ex factory trained Yamaha mechanic, so we do a lot of the work on our bikes ourselves/together. We still try and give local dealerships some business, but at $90 per hour labor rate and a several week wait from March to September, it’s hard to go to a dealership for anything but major service.

  8. Motowarrior says:

    I understand that we all want to save money and get to know our bikes together. Today, however, when bike sales a generally poor, many dealerships survive on their service work. You may want to think twice about taking your bike to a DYI shop or working on it in your back yard if you want to keep your local dealer in business. A bunch of them have folded in this poor economy. It’s a tough choice, but something to consider.

  9. Brandon says:

    I do wish there was a good alternative for the new biker, or the cost conscious biker. Shop rates are out the roof! A simple thing like new fork seals is hundreds of dollars, and that is if you bring your own seals. And most major shops, at least in my area of ohio don’t work on older bikes. There are a few local smaller shops, but the quality is hit/ miss. I’ve done all my own maintenance on my bikes and cars for years, but I have a garage and a bike lift. I help my friends, and neighbors with their small tractors and small engine repairs when I have time. I thought about this idea years ago, but the liability was a huge turnoff. I wish them luck, and I recommend everyone to find a local group or forum and maybe you can find a local “expert” to help you out. Just don’t take advantage of the good guys.

  10. Mark J says:

    This idea has been tried before, both in the motorcycle and automotive service areas, and unless the people using the space have some common bond (e.g., church, military, housing, etc.), it just doesn’t work. There is just no way to cover the costs while charging something that the general public is willing to pay. The overhead, insurance, security, and loss expenses are overwhelming. It can work if there is a group of dedicated and like-minded responsible individuals who trust each other and are willing to volunteer their time.

    For motorcycles there is also the huge issue that many repairs run into unexpected problems are get hung up waiting for parts. The idea that you can always predictably roll your bike onto a lift and 2-hours later roll it off after the repair just isn’t reality.

    I wish anyone trying this luck. Mostly this is a good way to make a small fortune out of a big one.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “It can work if there is a group of dedicated and like-minded responsible individuals”

      BEHOLD, THE MOST POWERFUL SENTENCE EVER POSTED IN THE CONTEXT OF MOTORCYCLING…!!!

      in the 15 words quoted above lies the cure for all that ails the industry. again, when you’re scramblin’ around (searching high and low for an answer) don’t say nobody has given you one.

  11. tmaxgixxerblur says:

    a friend and i was there a few weeks ago for a class. i totally recommend it. the owner, Wilder, was a great guy and instructor. this is a perfect place if you live in an apartment and you don’t have the space, and you want to save some money and just do stuff on your own. Wilder will lend a hand and give you pointers while you’re at it.

  12. Steve says:

    Motorcycles are an excellent place to start learning mechanics. It takes little space and everything is a lot lighter than working on an automobile. The single biggest factor making this possible is the online forums that specialize in particular bikes. You can put a question out there on a GL1000 and within minutes you will have several answers.

  13. Superhawk says:

    Hey, I figure everyone knows a buddy with good tools that is the Group Mechanic sort of speak and that is who gets all my work at a CHEAP discount. Support your local shop when possible, but support your GM (group mechanic) always. They always have your best interest at heart!!!

  14. Dave says:

    The reason the military auto hobby shops work is because the overhead (building, utilities, tools, etc.) are all provided by tax funding. Even the employees are federal employees. Not to disparage the quality and convenience though – I used the one on base when I was a federal employee too. Great bunch of knowledgeable, helpful guys running the shop! Just doesn’t make a good private industry business model unless you lean more towards the monthly storage or “while in storage, we can do that (minor maintenance item) for you too” angle. Most hobbyists (myself included) avoid the repair shops and do our own work to keep costs at the bargain basement level.

    • Joe Bar says:

      Dave, you are right about the building, but the employees, tools, supplies, and equipment are provided by MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) which is self funding.

  15. MGNorge says:

    I too remember these from years ago in the auto arena. Great idea but few of had the money then to make use of them. All too often we would work on cars and bikes in someone’s driveway, even with rain water running down our backs. I wish them well but I think this will be a tough sell.

  16. 39 y/o says:

    http://www.privateersgarage.com/

    An exact shop in San Diego folded several years ago.

  17. Barkeep says:

    the fact that motoshop offers workshops is priceless. i would go just for the classes as i learn better by watching someone than from a chilton’s. plus by offering classes in how to do the level of maintenance the place is set up for they are educating their customers. hopefully a knowledgeable demographic is a more respectful one. thanks for the cool article.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “hopefully a knowledgeable demographic is a more respectful one.”

      from your mouth to god’s ears.

  18. Kit Halsted says:

    Don’t forget MotorGrrl in Brooklyn! At least as much parking and storage as DIY space, but it’s where I pulled the head off my ’96 Trident after the head gasket went.

  19. Al says:

    I remember the automotive versions of this a number of years ago. They pretty much all failed for the same reasons these companies will probably fail. As the technology became more and more complicated, everything except very basic tasks became beyond the capabilities of the average owner. Motorcycles are following the same path as cars with complex anti-lock braking, traction control, multi-program fuel injection systems etc., add in liability insurance and I simply can’t see this as a viable business. I give these folks credit for trying though and I’ll be delighted if they prove me wrong.

    • Gabe says:

      That’s what I thought, but when it comes to Moto Shop at least, they have a few things going for them: low labor overhead (it’s a husband and wife team), low rent (it’s in a really hard-to-find industrial park) and being in an area with a huge concetration of urban motorcyclists who lack workspace. We’ll see.

    • Steve says:

      There was a garage/lift rental place near me when I was a kid back in the early 70′s in Levittown, Pa. We used to take my neighbors ’66 GTO Convetible there so we could use the lift, replace brakes, tires, wheels, etc….. too expensive for us back then… we could barely afford to keep gas in the car let alone pay the rent for the bay. Plus, as noted… it was simple to pop off the stock carb & replace with a 780 Holley…. cars & bikes today are all computer driven so without the technical equipment & knowledge to use it, I don’t see this as a successful business model.
      I have had to improvise on DIY/storage space over the years from 10×10 Amish built sheds to houses with attched garages…. much more convienient.

  20. Steve D says:

    And if you’re in Jacksonville Fl stop by the Ton-Up shop (http://tonupjax.com/garage/) First rate DIY shop. Been there about a year now and they’re growing steadily.

  21. Mike D says:

    There is another cost – liability insurance. Back in 1998, some friends and I looked into an idea like this in the SF Bay Area. Everything is possible, and the investment isn’t that bad if you are OK with a small return. The part we couldn’t get around was the liability insurance. The lawyers we talked to convinced us that someone getting hurt in our “shop”, regardless of the releases we would require, would bankrupt the company. I wonder how Motoshop has gotten around this hidden cost?

    • GBL says:

      I would be more concerned with the idiot that rents a lift, does something stupid and then rides off only to have the front wheel fall off and he gets seriously hurt or killed. Then he sues motoshop and alleges that since he did it the way they taught him in their workshop, they are responsible.

      Idiot may lose the lawsuit due to various reasons, but motoshop will spend many thousands in attorney fees defending themselves.

      I hope they have liability insurance and lots of written waivers and video surveillance so they can show a video of the idiot screwing up before he left…

      • Aleks says:

        Hi — Owner of Moto Shop here — in fact we DO have Liability Insurance…. LOTS OF IT! This is the most common question and concern we are asked about. I just hope we never have to use it.

        Thanks for the support!