in 2003 an article in Citybike ( http://citybike.com
) came out criticizing my attitude while operating my former BMW dealership BMW
of Marin. My first
reaction was to just ignore it for reasons that are obvious. Several asked
for my response. There is no need to defend my actions or position of 30
years ago, but I think that an interesting issue was brought up, however inadvertently.
I have pasted the article in its entirety for the purpose of
fairness. Following that are my comments. Basically they show the
priorities of a dealer and how they come into conflict with the public. It may
seem verbose, but I only hit the high points of the politics. If you care
for more info, catch me personally and you will find that I am not shy about
sharing the info.
|My R75/5 began
slowly shaking its head, then wobbled itself to full steering lock...
I Know How to Do That... This
piece is about my worst-ever encounter with a motorcycle guy, a BMW wizard named
Duane. I never met Duane, just talked to him on the phone, but I remember our
conversation crystal clear, 30 years later. Yup, 30 years. I know you're
wondering: Why write about it now?
When it happened, I had no column
in CityBike or Motorcycle
Sport and Leisure. I was just Joe Dude motorcycle rider. You could treat me
badly and all I could do was tell my friends. That's still so, but these days I
have more friends. In those days, the early '70s, I lived in Belmont, on the San
Francisco Peninsula. I bought street and dirt bikes from my friend Roger Selby
at Selby Motors in nearby Redwood City. I felt like a friend of the shop, like I
When the new, not-so-stodgy BMW twins came out,
I bought an R60/5 from Roger
and rode it happily. I must've lusted for still more power because I sold that
bike and bought a '72 R75. I loved it and could ride it pretty fast, for a slow
I put a Craven rack and cool Craven hard bags on the bike, and rode
it up and
down the state, to Alice's, on the Sunday Ride, everywhere. It was great.
One weekend I rode down to Southern Cal, spent the night
in Big Bear, then
started for home. I was on Highway 101 near King City, on a clear, breezy day,
traveling 15-over, about 85mph. The road was lightly brushed, not grooved. My
R75/5 began slowly shaking its head, then wobbled itself to full steering lock
and pitched me over the bars into the highway. As I rolled and flopped, I could
hear the road grind away the side of my helmet. I watched my bike flipping
behind me, sparks flying, bags breaking apart, their contents scattering over
the road. Wasn't big fun, any of it. Without sounding overly dramatic, I believe
I was never the same after that crash. I'd always trusted the machines, never
doubted that my bikes were stable and on my side. Now, if a bike shakes its head
even a little, I get spooked.
After I got out of the hospital, despite my clavicle strap
I began rebuilding
my battered BMW at Selby Motors. As we dismantled and replaced pieces, we
checked everything we thought might possibly have caused the crash. We found
nothing. The steering bearings were fine, the swing-arm bearings were fine, the
wheel bearings were fine. The frame was straight, the tires held proper
pressure, the forks and shocks worked fine, on and on. We were baffled.
Guys said I'd fallen asleep or somehow set this thing
in motion myself, this
wobble. I disagreed. No one had an explanation I trusted. I didn't know what to
do. Should I keep the bike and ride it, knowing we hadn't FIXED anything? Or
should I sell it after warning the buyer that it had been treacherous and we'd
never found the problem? Would it go out of control again?
At that point, I began to hear about other, similar bikes wobbling, putting
guys in emergency rooms and, for all I knew, morgues.
I heard about Duane, who was reputed to know all about those bikes,
especially about the wobbling. In those days he had a BMW store north of San
Francisco. I called him. Duane, I said, my name's Maynard Hershon. I live on the
Peninsula. My R75 wobbled and spit me off on the freeway. I'm hurt but I'm
rebuilding it and can't find anything to blame for the crash. I hear you know
how to fix these bikes.
I do, he said, I know how to do that.
I know why they wobble and how to fix
them. I fix all the bikes I sell here at the store. I don't tell people how to
fix the bikes, and I don't fix bikes other stores sold.
Duane, I explained, the bike banged me up pretty good.
I still want to ride
it; I really like it. If you want me to haul it to your shop in a truck, I'll do
that. You can fix it. I'm happy to pay for the work. I'm not trying to pick your
brain so I can fix it myself.
Duane repeated what he'd told me, just as you read
in the paragraph before
last. He said he knew how to do it, how to fix the bikes. He said he fixed the
ones he sold in his store but he wouldn't tell you how to fix them. And he
wouldn't fix your bike if you'd bought it someplace else.
Duane, I said slowly, (still
in my clavicle strap, still all scraped up from
the crash, still unaware of how badly I'd been traumatized) the bike tried to
KILL me. I'm not jerking you around, I want to get my bike fixed. Will you help
Duane repeated what he'd told me twice previously. He knew how to do
I couldn't get over it. I was a motorcyclist, a BMW rider even. Evidently, ol' Duane didn't care
if my bike wobbled or didn't wobble. If I'd bought the
bike elsewhere, he couldn't care less about my motorcycle or my safety.
Thanks, Duane, I said, and hung up.
I don't know to this day if Duane knew a damn thing about why those bikes
were unstable and dangerous. He may have wanted you to THINK that he did, that
he knew things you didn't know so he could deny you the information or help you
As I reflect on it now, I feel he didn't know anything. All his claims to
special knowledge were merest fabrication, purest bullshit so he could feel and
I hadn't heard Duane's name for years. Recently
I noticed he was mentioned on
some BMW-focused Internet site. He's still involved, still making pronouncements
In my four decades of motorcycling, Duane made the standout worst
My distaste for him has lasted three decades, full-strength.
I admit I've made mistakes myself, not been as nice as
I could've been or as
attentive. Sometimes, I'm sorry to say, my life has been too much about me.
But I've never turned away a kindred spirit who came to me for help.
Especially if that person asked me to do what
I did anyway or did for a
living, and offered to pay me for my services.
Turning away someone who's in need and asking for your help... Well,
to forgive that kinda behavior. I've never forgiven ol' Duane.
You'd have forgiven him, I know. Hey,
in 30 years...
If I were a better guy, I'd forgive him too.
I'd hate the sin but love the
sinner. I'd try to think the best of Duane and put the outrage and distaste
I know how to do that, but...
- by Maynard Hershon
no memory of this conversation or hundreds of others that were similar. I
will therefore assume that what is reported is basically true. It easily
could be true as far as it was reported. I do have memory of the technical
and political situation of that time and how this issue worked. I have
reported on various aspects of it on a few BMW forums on the Internet and on my
own web site.
BMW of Marin "mission"
BMW of Marin was my project
and I was in control of it. Even though I had a partner, Gene
Shirley, during part of the
time I was involved in it, I was totally responsible for any good/bad
aspect of its operation. Blame me.
We worked only on BMW motorcycles, there was never another
shop for service. The mechanics all rode BMWs, even our accountant learned
to ride one. Gail and Kari Prager, current owners of California BMW in
Mountain View, Ca. were employees of mine and trained under me. Bryan
Hilton, our young mechanic, became a legend for his genius at mechanics.
The employees were all loyal and wonderful.
While the greater San Francisco Bay Area had 6 BMW dealers,
no others were exclusively BMW. A couple were famous crooks and the rest had
multiple brands with which to deal. My goal was to be the very best in any
market anywhere. Others may judge whether that goal was realized.
I had 4 full time mechanics and that was year around.
To keep fully trained mechanics it was necessary to keep them all year.
also took a year to train a mechanic to become profitable, so I couldn't let one
go. All of my local competitors hired for summer and laid off for
winter. The huge Honda shop next door had 6-7 mechanics during summer and
only 1 during the slow season. During summer we simply didn't have enough
mechanics to do the work. Often we worked 60 hour weeks to try to keep
up. I bought up all of the wrecks possible to provide work during the
winter time. We had at least 20 transmissions that we would rebuild during
the winter and just swap them during the summer. In this way we
transferred summer work to winter. A customer could ride in with a bad
transmission and ride out in an hour with a rebuilt one. Nobody else
could provide that service. It wasn't just limited to transmissions, but several aspects of
BMW motorcycle repair.
I had to set priorities
During the riding season, we always had more service work than
we could possibly do. Which ones should be repaired? Here is how we
1. Touring riders got nearly instant
service and repair. We would stay up till the wee hours to get a touring
rider back on the road. One example; The BMW dealer in Merced had a touring
rider that needed a straight frame, due to an accident. It takes a few weeks to
strip a frame, send it out for straightening and then remount the parts. We just happened to
have a new one in stock. He brought his customer's bike in on a pick up
truck early and I assigned two mechanics to do the job. By late afternoon
the bike was finished and loaded up on the truck. No other dealer in the
country could have done that job. (Other dealers were smart enough to not
stock a new frame)
2. Buyers of new and used BMW
motorcycles. We felt a greater loyalty to these buyers than
others. We sold new bikes for full price. Our competitors sold for
whatever they could get. Many bikes were heavily discounted by other
3. Long time service customers of bikes
bought from private parties and dealers. During busy summer season (about
6 months) we kept a list of persons in this group that were waiting for
service. That list was often a month behind.
Buyers of bikes from my
competitors had surveyed the market and made a decision about which dealer could
best provide for the needs as a buyer. We always encouraged them to take
the bike back to the selling dealer for warranty, service and repairs.
During the slow season (November thru February) we would take any bike that was
out of warranty for service or repair.
You have bought a new bike from a dealer. You gave him
your money. When you take it back for service, are you happy to wait while his shop
servicing bikes bought at a discount from another dealer. How do you feel
about waiting for a week or two for service? Maybe you felt that you were
paying a premium price for super service.
Any dealer that wants to stay in business must give special
attention to the most important of customers, the buyer of a new bike.
Maybe it is different today, but that is how it was and how I did it.
The economics of warranty work
A new /5 had a 6 month
warranty as I remember. In 1972 our shop labor rate was $16 per
hour. The mechanics were paid from $4.50 to $5.50 per hour. Butler
and Smith, (B&S) the BMW importers paid us $4 per hour for warranty
work. Our shop overhead was about $6-$7 per hour. That included the
accounting, insurance, rent, utilities, service writer labor etc. The shop
had about $11-$13 per hour in a job. It would then appear that we lost
$$7-$9 per hour while working on warranty problems. This "loss"
came out of the profit on the original sale.
There is more to the story. B&S had to pay
for warranty work directly out of their profit. It wasn't reimbursable by
BMW. Their solution was to "reject" warranty
claims from dealers. In 1972 my rejection rate was 75%. This means
that only 1/4 of the warranty work was paid. So instead of $4 per hour, we
were really getting about $1 per hour for warranty work. My paper work
time to fill out the warranty claim cost more than this. In 73 I didn't
turn in a single warranty. It was cheaper to just do the work and chalk it
up to the sale.
That policy resulted in a big fire storm from B&S.
When they confronted me on this issue it was at the dealer meeting and several
totally silent BMW factory people were in the room. I asked why they cared and
was told that how could BMW know what is wrong with the machines if they didn't
get warranty claim information. I was in heaven at this point. My
answer was more or less "When I complained about your refusal to pay
warranty claims, I was told to just assign the job to whatever jobs were being
allowed at that time. How could fake warranty claims help the factory know
what technical problems there were?" The subject was quickly
changed. Later one of the factory people followed me into the restroom
(not what you think) to let me know that they could hardly keep from laughing as
they already knew exactly what was going on the whole time. The next
contract with B&S wasn't renewed.
That is one of the reasons why other dealers were reluctant
to do warranty work. The other reason was that they seldom knew how to
"fix" the problem and often ended up in a morass of quicksand with the
resulting "callback" work. It would cost them even more
"loss" than us because they often didn't know the
"fix." Clearly they were better off by "stalling" the
customer. The only recourse open to the owner was to complain to Butler
and Smith. Lots of good that did. Some owners wrote directly to BMW in
Germany and complained. BMW was obligated by contract to refer them to
Butler and Smith. A very frustrating catch 22. It was, however, not
unnoticed by the factory, I learned later.
You, the public, must judge this, should a dealer lose
money to basically subsidize B&S and the buyer from another shop in order to try to keep
everybody happy. How much would you be willing to pay to work on
"other's" machines? While we were largely a hobby shop, we also
had to make a profit to stay in business in order to continue to take care of
It is now well known that the
early /5 had a problem with stability. In short, many wobbled.
was injuring and killing people, BMW had lawsuits from many countries.
This isn't the place for the long story about this issue, so I will only skim
over it as it pertains to this article.
When we discovered the factory caused reason for the wobble,
I called B&S and told them. They refused to cover them under
warranty. They even refused to cover the one that wobbled when new and was
owned by my parts man. They said that there was no problem and the bikes
We had to recall all of our new sales in 72 and correct
them. Fortunately we discovered this early and only had to recall a dozen
or so. We corrected the rest as they came into the shop and no further
risk to riders occurred on bikes that were sold by us. No other BMW dealer
in the USA fixed the wobbles.
Somewhere in this time period I was called by B&S and
asked, by them, to fix a wobble on a bike that had been sold by Selby
Motors. Selby had tried many times to fix it and couldn't.
was stunned. Here is how it went as I remember;
1. Duane, How can I fix what doesn't exist?
2. B&S, This one has a wobble and it needs to be fixed.
3. Duane, Let me get this straight, you want me to fix a motorcycle,
sold by another dealer, with a problem that doesn't exist and I lose money on it
4. B&S, Oh, we will pay warranty on it.
5. Duane, Oh, the $4 per hour, the same as you wouldn't pay me to
fix our own bike.
This went on for awhile and I finally relented when they
offered me some freebie. I insisted on a somewhat unusual procedure.
I required the owner himself to bring the bike in, not Selby Motors. I was
trying to force the hand of B&S to admit that there was a problem, it could
be fixed and that we knew how to do it. The politically correct procedure
was to keep all of this hidden away from the public and just "take care of
it" quietly. I think that this was the fall of 72. We fixed the
bike and the owner was happy. It was stable as a rock when it left our
shop and we never heard of it again.
At about the same time two board members of BMWMOA came to my
shop and told me of a great concern that they had. The wobbles were so
dangerous and commonly reported to them that they were considering a class action law
suit. I explained what the problem was and how to fix it. I further
explained that B&S had been told and was "doing something" with
this issue. What B&S was doing was ignoring it, but that wouldn't
sound good. The result was that they decided to not file the suit.
In January of 72 I went to Germany for business.
I had been personally invited to tour the production facility at Spandau Werke in Berlin by the director of the entire BMW motorcycle division, Horst Spindtler, during
a personal visit to my shop in the previous year.
I got a great tour and at the end four engineers took me
a conference room for some discussion. They fully admitted the wobble
problem and told me of the great number of lawsuits worldwide. No surprise
there. One of the engineers owned a R60/5 and it wobbled so badly that he
couldn't ride it. Nobody at the factory could fix it. I was in
shock, the factory couldn't even fix them. They had heard that I was
fixing them and wanted to know how.
We spent a few hours going over the issue. We went back
into the production line and observed the failure(s) that I had noticed earlier.
I showed them the parts that were mis-machined new and
couldn't work. I showed them that they had no quality control test for the
fork alignment. After all of this, they gave up and said that there was no
way that they could correct the source of the problem, the forks. The
production line "timing" didn't allow for it. In less than a
year, they found and implemented a "fix" of sorts. They lengthened the swing arm
2" and that increased the amount of stability enough that it was hard to
get a wobble started. We refer to it today as the LWB, or long wheel
base. It came out in the middle of production of the 1973 model and we
called it the 73 1/2 model back then. The previous one is the SWB, or
short wheel base.
I felt torn by my interest in safety, knowledge of the
problem and solution and my attempts to get the proper authorities
attention. I have several times wondered if the problem would have gotten
fixed faster if I hadn't discouraged the class action suit. Hard to say
now because the factory wanted to fix them, but didn't know how.
If I failed to disclose any information on this issue to the
general public, it was to
keep the masses from going bonkers over this very serious issue while doing what
I could to assist B&S and BMW in implementing a solution. This was one of many fixes
to various mechanical problems that we knew
about, but did not disclose the solution to our competitors. Most didn't concern a
safety issue and why should I arm my competition with the secrets that we
learned with our hard work. Part of our success was that we were the only
ones that knew certain things. We charged top dollar at that time and
promised top quality work. The wobble issue and resolution was never one of us trying to hide
the info, only our choice of how to approach it can now be questioned. You
decide if that was the correct avenue.
That was the background behind my
policy for shop work. I am sure that hundreds of owners were told that we
wouldn't/couldn't work on their bike. I tried to always explain our
position and priorities. I used this as a sales tool. If we sold the
bike, then it would get instant service. We would be happy to work on the
machine after it is out of warranty and during the slow season. Since we
were in business to service BMWs and make money, we were able to often
"convert" an owner to being our customer.
Was Maynard informed by his shop
that they very well knew that I had fixed one previously that they couldn't
fix? Where during this mess with B&S did Maynard call? I have no
idea. Did I explain anything about why? I have no idea. Did he
forget some of the conversation? I have no idea. If I was too busy
at the time to explain better, I apologize at this way
too late date. I am also sorry that he was injured by a fault caused by
the brand I represented. Was I supposed to deny knowing anything about the
The technical solution is still today somewhat
controversial. Back then, it was unheard of. No mechanic or dealer
that I spoke with had ever heard of the precision needed in the fork and didn't
believe me. We were the only ones that could, or would fix them?
To see someone so traumatized by an accident and be so
tormented by this experience is unfortunate. To write about it after 30
years amazes me. I think it is time for some counseling.
I hope that this article will put this issue
to rest. Please don't respond to this on the various forums, it will only
add to the "clutter" that many detest. Please direct any
comments to me personally
with the subject "Citybike"
Now that 3 years have passed since this article, I have received
over 50 email letters. One blamed me, one was neutral and all of the rest
were totally supportive. Several explained that they had been in the same situation
in another industry. They understood my position completely.