Inside A Motorcycle Auction

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In the course of business a few years ago, I met a guy who’d just taken delivery of a very special highly modified Ducati Desmosedici – one of three Desmos he owned, along with a huge warehouse full of a bunch of other great vehicles. Movie star? Saudi prince? Drug czar? Motojournalist? None of the above.

He’s a partner in a big auction house that liquidates repos and all sorts of other motorcycles and ATVs and watercraft that fall through the mercantile cracks. When a dealer friend asked if I’d like to drive down to one of the auctions near San Diego, I jumped at the chance to get a smoking deal on, well, something?

National Powersports Auctions are for dealers only, and happen once a month in San Diego, Dallas, Cincinnati and Atlanta on rotating Fridays. If you’re a registered dealer, you can go to NPA’s site the day before and see the wares ahead of time, along with mileage or hours, the NPA’s rankings of each machine’s condition broken down by engine cosmetic, engine mechanical, overall condition, etc.

It’s nearly motorcycle overload, really, and most of them are really clean.

It’s nearly motorcycle overload, really, and most of them are really clean.

After registering and helping ourselves to a free donut and coffee, we stepped into a huge warehouse with many long rows of motorcycles. According to the 25-page smallish-type sale catalog I was handed that morning, about 1100 motorcycles would be sold that day. You’ve got four auctions going at once in fact, with four three-man auctioneer daises on wheels rolling slowly down the line in a cloud of amplified auctioneer gibberish. One’s selling watercraft, ATVs, MX and dual-sport bikes, side-by-sides and golf carts, while the other three are auctioning off Metric Cruisers, Metric Sportbikes and Harley/Domestic motorcycles. The place is big enough for all four auctioneers to bark simultaneously, with no auditory overload, no problem.

There seem to be a lot of current-generation Yamaha R1s and R6s. It really is a shame the R1 loses all the shootouts, because the same things that cost it a few tenths around the racetrack are what make it excellent on the street; a few extra pounds takes the form of a cush seat and greater bump-smotherment. That crossplane crank is heavy too, but its growl makes up for all of it in my book. In any case, super-clean near-new R1s go for $9 to 10,000 – a bargain maybe, since new ones are north of $14k – but certainly not the bloody baby-harp-seal clubbing deal I was hoping for.

Will the dealer who bought these Yamaha Champions School retirees mention the low miles were all around Miller Motorsports Park? Maybe if you ask …

Will the dealer who bought these Yamaha Champions School retirees mention the low miles were all around Miller Motorsports Park? Maybe if you ask …

In addition to a slew of clean bone-stock R6s, there are 10 or 15 super-low miles ones wearing Yamaha Champions School stickers and frame sliders. Ohhh, racetrack miles. They all go for around $8k, give or take. My buddy tells me 600s sell for a premium here, though sales of new ones are supposed to be stagnant. Strangely, a sweet newish ZX-6R with just 12,000 miles sells for only $5500. Dealers must know things we don’t when it comes to the public.

Resale value is the redoubt the Harley guys always retreat to, and they’re right. Shiny Harley-Davidsons bring in big bucks, and the repo man has brought in row upon row of them in states ranging from nearly stock to full-on custom. Banners hang from the ceiling for Honda Remarketing. BMW has its own “remarketing” arm, so does H-D. In the automotive world, remarketing became a thing when people started leasing cars and returning them. Nobody leases motorcycles and ATVs far as I know, but a whole new mini-industry seems to have sprung up around “reobtaining” these toys from luckless consumers and selling them again.

“Remarketing” is the word of the day.

“Remarketing” is the word of the day.

A big part of the NPA appeal to dealers involves factory financing and convenience. An ad for HDFS (H-D Financial Services) on my program offers authorized dealers free financing on units bought at the auction. Maybe you could find better deals on individual bikes on Craigslist or eBay, but when your job is to move lots of refrigerators, well, the NPA and its associates seem like the Costco of motorcycles: Buy in bulk and save.

My savvy dealer buddy clued me into the fact that the real deals are to be had on the orphans nobody wants. Your Aprilia Falco has a book value of $3500, says NPA’s guide, but it sold for less. There were four Buells; I almost wanted the XB9S Lightning until I saw its awesome tea-steeper tailpiece had been hacked off, and other questionable modifications. It sold for $3400 anyway. The one bike that had us salivating was a nearly unmolested ’98 Ducati 748 with 169 miles on the clock. Bellissima. NPA’s book value was $2765, and I was ready to throw down. In the end, it sold for $5100, which is a good deal but not a great one.

Oh yes, this was the little lovely we wanted to take home: 1998 Ducati 748 with just 169 miles on its perfect little clock. The $5100 it sold for was no great bargain in the end.

Oh yes, this was the little lovely we wanted to take home: 1998 Ducati 748 with just 169 miles on its perfect little clock. The $5100 it sold for was no great bargain in the end.

That kind of sums up my NPA experience, really, and reminds me of a thing I wish I’d known when I was a callow youth trying to figure out what to do for a living. Not many gold miners struck it rich during the California Gold Rush, but Levi Strauss did. The biggest winners in every war are Krupp and General Dynamics. The surest way to Wall Street riches is to be a broker.

It would be hard for me to believe NPA didn’t make at least a thousand bucks off every vehicle it sold that day, on average. And if it sold all 1100 vehicles on the block, that’s $1.1-million, and not a bad day’s work. Especially if you can pull it off once a week.

The moral of the story for me is, if you’re feeling guilty or downhearted because the repo man took your motorcycle (or your house), just stop it right now. Somehow, somewhere, the gavel falls – and you just helped a very smart guy get another Desmosedici. It’s good to be the middleman.

It’s hard to find an unclean MV Agusta. OCD owners clean them with Q-tips. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

It’s hard to find an unclean MV Agusta. OCD owners clean them with Q-tips. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Quite a few of these went for a bit more than NPA’s “book” price — usually roughly on par with Kelley Blue Book and NADA trade-in values.

Quite a few of these went for a bit more than NPA’s “book” price — usually roughly on par with Kelley Blue Book and NADA trade-in values.

I really didn’t pay too much attention to the custom choppers, but I’m going to guess they don’t sell for quite as much as people “invested” in them during the heyday.

I really didn’t pay too much attention to the custom choppers, but I’m going to guess they don’t sell for quite as much as people “invested” in them during the heyday.

I almost wanted this Buell XB9S, which sold for $3400, but wasn’t crazy about some of the mods inflicted upon it. My son’s dying for a Harley; I thought about buying him the never-titled Buell Blast, but decided I’m not that cruel a father.

I almost wanted this Buell XB9S, which sold for $3400, but wasn’t crazy about some of the mods inflicted upon it. My son’s dying for a Harley; I thought about buying him the never-titled Buell Blast, but decided I’m not that cruel a father.

Maybe an amphibious, ahhh, whatever this is?

Maybe an amphibious, ahhh, whatever this is?

If a Polaris Razor’s too rich for your blood, how about a vintage purple/yellow Banshee?

If a Polaris Razor’s too rich for your blood, how about a vintage purple/yellow Banshee?

Once upon a time, this Venture Royale was somebody’s baby. With only 54,000 miles, maybe it will be again?

Once upon a time, this Venture Royale was somebody’s baby. With only 54,000 miles, maybe it will be again?

One of four auctioneer chariots moving down the line. NPA listed about 1100 units to be sold on the first Friday in February, and there was no time to waste.

One of four auctioneer chariots moving down the line. NPA listed about 1100 units to be sold on the first Friday in February, and there was no time to waste.

Yet another tasty R6.

Yet another tasty R6.

There were quite a few tasty V-Rods, but maybe it only seemed that way because Harleys made up the bulk of the bikes for sale in San Diego.

There were quite a few tasty V-Rods, but maybe it only seemed that way because Harleys made up the bulk of the bikes for sale in San Diego.

Everything’s sold as is. Some will need a little elbow grease.

Everything’s sold as is. Some will need a little elbow grease.

Let’s hope little Billy was done playing with this sweet KX85.

Let’s hope little Billy was done playing with this sweet KX85.

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  • Jason

    I got a dealers license to attend the NPA auctions in Atlanta. I was amazed at the pace of the auction, it took me 30 bikes or so just to figure out what was happening. Bikes were selling in less than a minute start to finish and the auctioneer didn’t even take a breath before moving on to the next bike. I was also shocked at the prices bikes were selling for at this dealer’s only wholesale auction. The first 1/3 sold for well above retail blue book values, the middle 1/3 at retail value, and the last 1/3 didn’t meet reserve and would be first in line for the next months auction. The Atlanta location had several exporters that were paying top dollar for low mileage sportbikes to ship to Europe.

    I only kept my license for 2 years, there just wasn’t enough money to be made selling used bikes. I only averaged $250 per bike and that was before the expense of maintaining the licenses, insurances, and bonds. From talking to some of the other dealers it was clear that they didn’t make money on the sale of the actual bike. Instead the money was made on selling financing and accessories to go with that used bike and of course in the difference between what they paid for a trade-in and what it brought at auction. BTW, NPA’s fees are spelled out on the dealer only section of their website. They don’t make $1000 per vehicle but they do make a couple of hundred.

  • JMDonald

    Free donut and coffee. Access to a dealer only auction. I’m sure you conveniently left out the personal after party with super intelligent and lovely umbrella girls. The goodies made available to moto journalists has no limits. Keep up the good work.

  • COBRACHOPPERGIRL

    An auction has to be the absolute worst place to buy anything. Everything always sells for way over what it is worth, because people are stupid and competitive. Save your entrance fee and don’t even go…