I bought a new pair of riding gloves last month. Normally, I wait for the motorcycle show to come to town and then choose a pair there from the billions and billions spread out on tables, but there’ve been no shows this year. You know why.
I bought my last main pair at the bike show at least 10 years ago and they’ve been the most comfortable gloves I’ve ever owned, but the gel inside the palms has shifted. I say “main” pair because I own plenty of gloves: summer mesh gloves, fingerless gloves, dirt bike gloves, sport bike gloves, winter gloves, rain gloves. But my main gloves, which I wear for at least half of my riding, needed replacing.
As soon as I could go inside a bike shop and actually try on gloves, I started shopping around. I have large hands and if a glove is too tight (they’re rarely too loose), it’s just not going to work. I visited half-a-dozen stores until I wandered into my local Harley-Davidson dealership and found a pair I really liked.
Harley stuff isn’t cheap but it’s always very good quality. Most of the time, it has the Harley logo splashed across it and I don’t like that, but there’s usually a subtle alternative and these gloves, called “Brawlers,” were discreet. It was a toss-up between the XL and the 2XL for size, and I went with the larger pair that seemed just a little more comfortable.
But this column isn’t about gloves. It’s about the sad corporatization (if that’s a word) of the modern motorcycle shop, because after I bought the gloves, I went back to exchange them for the smaller XL size.
The problem, totally on me, was that I got home from the store and put the gloves in a drawer in the hallway for my next ride and promptly forgot where I’d put them. I didn’t find them for a couple of weeks, and then I didn’t have reason to wear them for another week. When I did so, they were still as comfortable as I remembered, but the pinkie finger on the left glove was just slightly too long. It would clip the clutch lever every time I used the clutch and it was really annoying.
A First World problem, I know, but honestly – Every. Time. Reaching for the clutch. Letting go of the clutch. I tried holding the grip differently. I tried adjusting the clutch lever out. Nothing worked.
So when I got home from that 200-kilometre ride, I put the gloves away and found the receipt and the cardboard holder they’d been attached to. A few days later, when I was next near the Harley store, I went in to talk to the manager of the clothing department.
The receipt was very clear that the gloves had to be returned within 15 days of purchase. It was also very clear that “items that have been washed, worn, have pet hair on them, smell of smoke, perfume or any other odours will not be accepted for return or exchange.”
Fair enough. But this was a motorcycle shop, not a car dealership or a box store or a department chain. I wanted to try on the next size down, and if the pinkie finger didn’t clip against the clutch lever of one of the bikes on the showroom floor, I hoped the manager would let me exchange the gloves. After all, I’d only worn them once, and it had been the only way to find out the size wasn’t right for me.
Most important: this was a motorcycle shop. I think of motorcycle shops like being family, staffed by people with the same values and the same mindset as me. I think of them as the equivalent of the mom-and-pop variety store on the corner, where you know the owners and they know your name. Motorcycles are a passion, not an appliance. There’s something special about them, and there’s something special about the people who care about them. Something a little different from most everyone else, more in line with who I believe myself to be.
There was not a smaller pair still in stock, however, and when I told the manager of my dilemma, he looked pained. If I’d not removed the gloves from their cardboard holder – if he could just hang them back on the hook and pretend they’d never left the store – then he said he might be willing to forgive the late return. But he turned my pair inside and out and declared that they looked worn, and that went against the return policy, and there was nothing he could do.
The store recently changed hands and is now owned by a group of investors, including a Harley dealership out west and a local car dealership group. “The previous owners, they’d have let me take these back and work something out, but I can’t do that anymore,” he said. “Sorry.”
I understand, really I do. I left with my gloves – the most expensive pair I’ve ever bought and which I will rarely wear – and I felt a little sad. I remember motorcycle shops with a discount table, where you could pick up a pair of gloves for $20 off that had some slight defect, or had obviously been returned. I remember store staff who would say, “let’s make this right.” I remember shops where you’d walk in and feel like family.
I guess all that’s passed. After all, it’s better business to stick to corporate guidelines that exist for a reason. Those mom-and-pop shops just can’t make a go of it these days when the only rules are to sell for less, or to upscale the buying experience. As they find themselves shuttered by corporate efficiency, something’s been lost.
For now, though, I’ll wear my decade-old gloves for the rest of this season. I’ll wait for the motorcycle show. There’ll be billions of gloves there, and I’ll hang out with people who share my values.