Obviously if you buy a new bike, main dealer stamps in your service book are a consideration, as it may influence how a manufacturer deals with any warranty type issues, or component failures.
If this is not a concern, you are free to pick from either main dealership garages, which theoretically should provide factory trained and professional mechanics, albeit at a price, or independent garages, which can vary wildly in both cost and standard of work.
So if you have a bike that’s well out of warranty, how do you find an independent garage to carry out your work? Google reviews aren’t a reliable source of information, so I would suggest checking out owner’s club reviews for your marque as well as local bike groups and of course, word of mouth.
Even then, it’s hard to tell the difference between a talented amateur with a small garage and a shyster who is simply out to take your cash.
From experience, independent garages are more likely to take the piss, especially if you are a woman, and don’t give the details of the work to be carried out in prescriptive detail. An example to give here was a bill for almost £500 that I was presented for an oil seal change.
“You don’t seem surprised at the bill, I should have made it higher, ha ha ha”.
I never went back.
Another more recent example was a bill that I was presented with that had a charge of £150 under the Parts section for fuel pump repair. It’s a sealed unit. Also the list of niggles I took the bike in with such as the wobbling on hard braking were not addressed. I was informed the bill was over £400 and I had to collect the bike the following day, regardless of not being given an estimate of the length of time for the work to be carried out.
On top of that, they managed to not reconnect the low fuel light, yet had to fill the tank as it was almost empty, and hadn’t thought it odd that the light hadn’t come on? After complaining, I had to waste another afternoon in there having them take several attempts to rectify the fault that they’d caused. No refund for the waste of my time.
There’s a few issues here. You might get one really knowledgeable and skilled person running the place, and less skilled people carrying out the work. You still pay the same labour rate. If it was a hairdresser for example you choose the skill level of who is working on your hair and pay accordingly.
If you see a “tits calendar” go elsewhere. It’s a big warning light.
The best thing you can do is educate yourself. I did a fantastic Motorcycle Maintenance Course at Hackney Community College, which at least gave me a basic idea of how to do the maintenance and how the bike works, and it makes a massive difference going in with a rough idea of the problem.
Also agree the work to be done up front. Insist anything outside that remit has to be explained and agreed with a cost before the work is carried out. You should have the right to change your mind and take the bike elsewhere if you want.
Obviously the best option is to do as much of the work yourself as time, space, skills and tools allow. Fortunately in London I have access to Oval Motorcycle Centre, where you can rent a bench and have use of the tools, and there’s a very skilled garage manager who can advise on specific jobs.
Earlier this year I carried out my interim service and changed my fuel tank, for a fraction of what I was quoted elsewhere. More money to buy shiny things for your bike, plus a massive sense of achievement that, with assistance, I’d managed it myself.
So the golden rules are:-
1. Educate yourself both on your bike, and the performance of the garages in your area.
2. A Motorcycle Maintenance Course might be the best £100 you will spend, and save you thousands in both stuff you do yourself, and knowing what exactly is wrong with your bike up front.
3. Beware the tits calendar in a garage. They clearly don’t respect women, and will be more likely to try rip you off. This is 20 years of dealing with independent garages speaking. I can manage to do a days work without looking at a naked person, if they can’t, I would be worried about things like concentration, respect, attitudes etc.
4. Never have an affair with your mechanic. Your bike will develop strange faults during the affair and the repair bills will double when it ends.