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Scuderia West

A Moto Shop That Welcomes Rather than Intimidates

If ever you've had qualms about setting foot in a motorcycle shop for fear of elitism, pretentiousness and attitude, lay your trepidation to the grave. San Francisco's own Scuderia West is an inviting and invaluable resource for novice riders, racers and bike collectors alike.

My knowledge of motorcycles was pretty much nonexistent prior to visiting Scuderia (Italian for "racing stable" or "race shop"). A lone ride as a passenger on my friend's Yamaha R1 propelled me beyond my previous state of mooning passively over classic vintage Hondas and BMWs from the '70s. Though my interest was piqued and the itch was begging to be scratched I found myself strangely nervous and humbled at the thought of visiting a dealer when I knew so little about the sport. It turns out Scuderia's owner Don Lemelin had people like myself in mind. Lemelin himself started riding as a kid but brushed with major attitude when going into shops and not knowing his bike parts inside out.

Armed with these experiences, he opened shop in 1991 next door to Zeitgeist with visions of a friendlier customer service-oriented environment. Nearly 15-years later and a move to an expanded space at 69 Duboce, Lemelin and his knowledgeable staff still demonstrate that original intent and manage to avoid pressing sales pressure with unfailingly charismatic and approachable execution.

To start, the shop carries several styles and three main brands of new motorcycles and scooters: Aprilia, KTM and Kymco. These vary in engine displacement from 50cc to over 1000cc; the greater the displacement, the more powerful the engine. You also have to decide which style of bike you want to go with -- a sportbike, cruiser, touring bike, off road (dirt) bike, supermoto bike, or scooter? If you are shopping for your first bike, you will want to head to the back room which houses Scuderia's used vehicles. Lemelin advises first-time buyers to go the used route because many will change bikes after one or two years and buying used saves you new vehicle fees. These fees include setup cost (essentially dealer assembly), freight, tax and licensing and can range from 10-15% in excess of a bike's sticker price.

Lemelin also has three main guidelines for choosing your first bike -- one, make sure that it holds its value to minimize monetary losses when trading for a new bike. Two, make sure the bike is reliable. You won't be getting anywhere if the bike isn't ready to go when you are. Lastly, like the style of bike you get. You won't be motivated to ride if you had your heart set on a sportbike but got a cruiser instead. At any one time Scuderia may have up to 40 used vehicles for sale; a brief perusal of the back room revealed Aprilia scooters and sportbikes, Honda sportbikes, dirtbikes, a beautiful classic BMW, cruisers and more. Scuderia lists used vehicles on the web (www.scuderia.com) so you can even browse before visiting.

If you do decide you must have a new bike, Scuderia's prices start at approximately $1900 for a scooter to $19,000 for their most "radical" sport bike. Many scooters fall into the $2500-$5000 range and big bikes (1000 cc and larger) are mostly in the $9000-$14000 range. Financing options are available and Scuderia also offers a popular trade-in program.

Once you've picked out your bike you can also pick up all your safety gear and accessories here, from the essential helmet and gloves to fashionable yet functional boots to protect against possible leg and ankle injuries. Much of the clothing was on sale -- Dainese super moto suits were marked down to $825 from $999 and I saw some ladies' motorcycle jackets marked down to $359 from $559. Not bad. There are many add-ons to choose from for your new toy and you can top it off with a Timbuk2 bag.

Countless options and mods may be a bit overwhelming but Scuderia's staff members are very attentive and pleasant in offering advice and assistance. If you know what you want but can't find it at Scuderia, or if the staff thinks a bike is perfect for you but don't happen to carry that brand, utilize the Wishbook and you may find your wishes answered. The back of the shop is also a full service performance shop. With mechanics working six days a week, you can have pretty much anything done to your bike. There might even be hope for finding a bike to fit my 5'3 frame with options like lowering and tweaking the suspension. The shop also preps bikes for the race track and a Dynomometer allows mechanics to effectively measure your horse power and torque for maintenance and power upgrades.

Scuderia dispelled my intimidation of moto shops and made my distant dream of possessing a speed demon accessible and realistic. Even after spending nearly an hour introducing me to motorcycle basics and ascertaining my interests and needs to recommend some bikes, Lemelin exerted no sales pressure and did not rush me to get on so he could service the next affluent or seasoned customer. Whether you go in knowing exactly what you want or with nothing but passion and eagerness to learn, Scuderia will take great care of you. When I finally take the plunge I know where I'm going to start.