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Common Tread

If you're buying a motorcycle, do it in February

Jan 25, 2017

I have held a theory for many years that February is the time to buy a motorcycle.

Irrespective of whether you’re buying new or used, for about a month every year, motorcycle buyers call the shots. A confluence of factors makes February arguably the best time to put a scooter in your garage.

February is a short month

Sometimes sales commissions aren’t structured very well. If a motorcycle salesman has a minimum quota to meet or some sort of commission plan that favors units sold over profit dollars, he might be a little more willing to cut a deal since his sales month is (on average) eight percent shorter right off the bat. If he needs to move a set number of units during a shorter month, he needs to hustle.

Price tag
Is that the sound of snowflakes falling? Or prices? They sound similar to me. Photo by Lemmy.

The tail end of February in particular might have the salesman “on the bubble” in terms of sales. It might be a chicken dinner, and it could just as easily be feathers. Perhaps cruelly, his rent or mortgage could well be due. There is no guarantee your salesman is paid this way, but the calendar may be working in your favor. Don’t be blind to that fact.

It’s winter

I'm a regular Al Roker, ain't I? From the middle of America and all points north, the weather sucks. Generally, February is composed of cold and short days, which means a few things. First, motorcycle showrooms in dealers are a graveyard. Motorcycles are not what people are thinking about when they’re shoveling snow and spreading salt. Dealers are often willing to slash prices. Previous-year models are starting to look not-so-fresh, and sometimes just moving a unit, even at little profit, can help carry a shop through the lean winter months. Each month a bike sits on a dealer’s floor is costing that dealer money, and they know it. A bird in the hand (a buyer in the midst of winter) often beats two in the bush (potential customers down the road in April who might pay more). The short days also really take a toll on selling, just like the short month does, too. I don't care even if the weather is clear and warm. Nobody — but nobody — takes a test ride in the dark.

Snowy bike
Consider the lower sale price "hazard pay." Photo by Lemmy.

If you’re shopping used bikes, the weather can also work to your advantage. Cold winters generally result in an uptick of home heating costs, which some folks don’t plan for. Similarly, a winter with heavy snowfall often carries with it snow removal costs for commercial and residential customers alike. Often, weather-related misfortunes can precipitate the sale of a bike. Those bikes are often of high quality. They’re not the product of a profit-hungry flipper saving for the spring rush. Often, they were bikes meant to be kept for personal use.

Transporting a bike in the cold is a pain in the ass, too, which doesn't bode well for the customer pool. If you’re willing to take a cold ride or hook up a trailer when the weather’s crappy, your temerity may save you quite a few bones.

A February motorcycle
"Yep, just picked it up. Got a good deal, too!" Photo by Dan Venditto.

Most of the holidays are over

Most of the profit at a dealer doesn’t come from the sale of the bikes — it’s actually in service and accessories. Most of the big winter jobs have come in and gone. The pre-Christmas pop of parts, accessories, and clothing (PAC) is now in the rearview mirror. Unless that shop is located in a temperate climate or sells sleds, PAC items won’t start selling again until riders wake up their bikes and walk in the door for new gloves or a graphics kit.

And for private sellers? At this time of year, Christmas bills are rolling in for many people. For the cash-strapped, that often means a beloved bike gets put up for sale to pay off the credit card. Sadly, there are also some people who plan poorly who are in seasonal industries. This, like the cost of toys for the kids, heatin’ the house, and plowing the snow, is unfortunate. If you don’t buy it, someone else will.

No windfall yet

The IRS gives employers until January 31 of each year to send out W-2 forms so workers can file their tax returns. And they also say “most refunds will be issued in less than 21 days.” Even if we presume that those who expect a return are racing to drop a 1040 in the mail, for most of February tax returns are still a fleeting dream.

“Some refunds could be even later,” according to Andrew Zumwalt, an Assistant Extension Professor with University of Missouri Extension. “The IRS is delaying all early refunds with the Earned Income Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit to February 15. But the IRS is cautioning that those returns might be further delayed until the end of February,” warns Zumwalt. So the flush of tax refunds may be later this year, peaking in March.

As a buyer in either a private or dealer transaction, you’re a lot less special if you’re waiting in a line of potential buyers just like you. Warmer weather and more tax refunds rolling in mean more people on the floor, willing to meet a price. Make sure you already got a screamin’ deal before those people walk in the door.

According to lore, if a customer sees his shadow, there are six more weeks of winter. Or something like that. Photo by Lemmy.

Speaking of taxes…

Does your state have personal property tax? Many localities that do assess it on a calendar-year basis with no pro-rating. A Christmas present to yourself might carry a whole year’s worth of tax! If you push it off until at least into the new year, you can save yourself a whole year of tax. It’s not February-specific, but coupling this bang-for-the-buck move with some of the other reasons to buy in February makes fiscal sense.

Were you planning on trading?

Many dealerships are looking for used bikes to buy in February, anticipating the swell of new and returning riders who generally pay higher prices to purchase bikes right as the weather starts warming up. A good bike always has a value, but if your local dealer needs used bikes and yours is in good shape, you might get a little more money for it just prior to the big rush of people who find out their credit isn’t quite good enough for a new bike.

There’s still time left

This means a few things. First, regardless of whether you’re buying new or used, there is likely a greater supply of bikes than demand. Warm weather spurs demand, which also send prices north. It also means if you’re buying a used bike and it needs the brakes rebuilt and a set of tires, you still have time to order parts and get wrenchin’. Similarly, if you find a used machine and need help to get it fixed up, a shop will also likely have time. The big overhaul projects are being wrapped up and the smaller menial jobs haven’t started rolling in the door yet.

I have bought an awful lotta bikes in February, and those are a few of the reasons why. Month Number Two is Number One in my book.