How can I make money
with my motorcycle?
Sell your bike | Courier work | Private investigations | Bike hire | Motorcycle skills training
Is making money more difficult than it was ten or twenty years ago? At times it certainly seems so. But then, we were all younger. We had more energy, and more drive, and—without wanting to be negative or morbid—we had more years ahead of us to develop that small, or large, business plan and coax it into an empire.
Filthy rich by forty, huh?
But clearly things have changed, not least in the UK. Many old industries are mostly gone; exported to other nations where labour costs are lower, and where the local economies are expanding.
Back home, new industries have arisen, many of which have pretty much sidelined members of the baby boomer generation who are now in their 60s, 70s and 80s. And the internet steamroller has soundly flattened many erstwhile opportunities and polarised much of the commercial world for everyone else.
You know how it is.
On the other hand, age brings experience and perspective. And there are still a few possible routes left to making a little money—but you have to be shrewd, patient, persistent and imaginative. And maybe desperate.
Here we've thrown together a few ideas on how you might (and we did say "might") make a little money with your motorcycle or motorcycles. We should say immediately that some of these ideas are more realistic (and certainly more palatable) than others. But if we can't summon up exactly the right genie from the bottle, maybe we can at least stoke your boiler and fan the flames of your own creativity and initiative.
So see if any of these notions fire your plugs...
1. Sell your motorcycle. Yes, that's a cheeky and provocative opening suggestion. But we make no apologies for it. Generally speaking, if you want to make a little honest money, you'll need what the old time US gold prospectors used to call a "grub stake". Meaning ready cash—or, at least, ready credit (which amounts to the same thing). So if you've got a truly great idea (whatever that is to you), you might need to consider first unloading that motorcycle. Yes, it might well be a treasured asset, and it might well be a wrench. But needs must. Making money is often all about taking chances and making sacrifices.
And if it's any consolation, you can (perhaps) always buy another bike when you've made your fortune (or even buy back the same motorcycle if there's a lot of sentiment involved). However, that motorcycle is a tangible asset, and if you hardly ride it anymore (possibly because it's a "sunshine only" classic, or a second bike, or because you're too skint to actually put fuel in it), you might need to remind yourself that liquidating that asset is the best—or only—way forward. So think the unthinkable.
2. Courier work. Yes, the UK motorcycle courier industry is largely dead, supplanted by high tech delivery solutions. It used to be that there was plenty of work for despatch riders in most of the major UK cities. So okay, London had about 75% of the national courier business (that statistic is just our guess, note). But Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle-upon-Tyne—and other metropolitan conurbations—also had despatch industries; industries that generally faced a high turnover of riders. Consequently, with a little persistence a biker could usually find a suitable gig and slot into it for a few months or years.
Harder to do now.
However, our general feeling is that if you fancy trying a little despatching, you might be better starting your own courier business rather than work for someone else. There's not much money out there as it is, and therefore perhaps not enough to have someone else (i.e an existing despatch firm) take a slice of your pie. Moreover, modern communications make it easier to take calls on the move and be your own controller.
You should consider targeting specialised interests such as the advertising industry, the legal industry, the estate agent industry, the medical industry, and similar professions. All these groups routinely need to move documents, contracts, keys, medicines and suchlike. And they need reliable messengers who understand their needs.
The trick, perhaps, is to up-your-game and present a very professional image. A bow tie might be overdoing it. But forget any ideas of turning up like an "oik" with a filthy uniform, a mouthful of missing teeth and a clapped out motorcycle (apologies to any passing oiks). Professionals generally have higher aspirations and more highly polished commercial or social personas. So you'll want a nice modern bike, nice motorcycle gear, a quality approach and so on. Might take a while to build up a client base, but this could suit a few riders who fit the "professional" criteria.
And if the cut of your jib isn't quite so high class, there is probably still a little work out there. But either way, it's no good sitting at home in front of the TV waiting for a reply to your downmarket advert in the Law Gazette or Estate Agent Weekly. You need to print some business cards and flyers, knock on LOTS of doors, introduce yourself to your would-be clients, and make yourself a player. Tip: offer the first couple of jobs for free—provided those jobs are reasonably local, that is. Why free? Because if a company uses you once or twice, there's a better chance they'll use you again. Also, a free ride (or two) shows that you have confidence.
3. Private detective. Sounds far fetched, but we've actually done this, albeit many years ago. A couple of us here at Sump actually worked for a detective agency; or enquiry agent, if you prefer. Most of the work was serving summonses and similar court papers. No special skills required (but you get threatened occasionally). However, there's also some surveillance work at hand, both static and mobile.
Yes, it can be a bit ... well, disreputable; following wives and husbands and snooping into private lives. And dustbins. But if you're absolutely desperate for work, your morals might have to take a hit.
That's the reality of life.
Then again, some private eye work is perfectly reputable. For instance, sometimes companies need to check out clients who are looking for business loans or an expensive credit line and suchlike. The bank or loan company wants to be sure that the applicant has the right "credentials"—meaning are they who they say they are? And do they live the right lifestyle? And do they even live where they say they live? Etc. So private eyes check 'em out, and then make their report, and usually the applicant gets the loan, and everyone's happy. There are all kinds of variations on this theme, and much of it is very reputable and positive. But like we said, some isn't. So make your mind up carefully.
And how do you get started? Well phone a few private eye agencies. Tell them that you have a bike, and will travel. Tell them that you'll work unsocial hours. Tell them that you're a quick-change artist and can stay up with pretty much anyone in traffic—and that you can tail people discreetly (who notices motorcycles except other motorcyclists?). As before, if they use you once, and if you don't foul up, they'll probably use you many times thereafter. Getting started is the trick. So offer that free trial. It can work.
4. Hire out your motorcycle or motorcycles. We're not talking necessarily about people riding your bike for pleasure, such as Sunday joyrides to a motorcycle event (but don't rule that out). And we should caution you against hiring out your million megawatt sports bike to guys (or girls) in their late forties onward who cheerfully tell you that after years behind a steering wheel, they're taking their first tentative steps back onto bikes. You already know the dangers here, of course. So c heck out your clients carefully.
Also consider renting out your bike to shops for display purposes. Motorcycles are always cool and fashionable. So if you've got something that you feel might adorn a shop window, try it on. And if you don't know who actually wants a motorcycle as part of their latest window display, just suggest it to them. The shop might be inspired by your twice-round-the-globe Brough-Superior, or BSA Bantam, or customised Ducati Diavel or Harley-Davidson bagger and decide that that's exactly what's needed for their new range of lingerie, or leather goods or maternity wear or whatever (and yes, we're kidding about the maternity wear—but then again...).
If you've got three bikes, and if they've got three windows, make a discount deal.
If you've got a military bike, talk to your local army surplus store (they probably won't have a big budget for anything like that; but try anyway). If you've got a sports bike, try a sports shop. If you've got a sidecar outfit, try a travel agency or something. Just dream up a display idea with your bike at the centre. Everyone needs promotion. And don't forget the undertakers. A nice black mournful Vincent might be a great send off for some.
And talk to film studios and local photographers, both of whom from time to time need props. Just be realistic with your prices. If you get greedy, they'll simply drift off to other (cheaper) notions. One more thing (and this applies to everything on this page), make sure you have the right insurance. Repeat: Get the right insurance.
5. Teach others your motorcycling skills. If you're the kind of rider who's just as happy on one wheel as two, or if you like burning tyre rubber on the tarmac, or sliding around on mud, or climbing your bike over unlikely obstacles, you might consider capitalising on your motorised athletic abilities. You could perhaps market these antics as fun days or pure entertainment frolics at shows and events, or maybe hitch your wagon to a road safety theme and see if you can mentor (don't you just hate that word?) new riders—or even not so new riders.
Either way, there could be a few folk out there who'd love to acquire superior control skills when astride their bikes. Or maybe there's something else here you could capitalise on. Such as building a one man/woman stunt show. Or maybe there's some kind of virtual reality type experience here that can be explored. In other words, perhaps you could mix established motorcycle tech with up-to-the-minute virtual stuff (we're way out of our depth here, so talk to some 18 year olds and see if there's something you can adapt).
The trick largely lies in the marketing. A small/timid advert in a bike magazine or a local newspaper probably won't inspire too many people. You might instead want to develop something more potent and memorable. Such as the Darth Vader on Wheels Show. Or dress up like Elvis Presley. Or Evel Knievel. Or Charlie Chaplin. Or Adolf Hitler. And always look for a news angle of some kind. Get the press on board. Invite some local competition. Think Bike, Think Big.
6. Start a food stall. What, with a motorcycle? Well yeah, with a motorcycle. People like different stuff. They like novelty. So if you've got a big bike capable of towing a big trailer, or a big sidecar rig, scratch your head for a while and see what you can sell from that trailer—and food or drink is probably high on the list of suitable products to retail.
People need to keep eating. It's a well known fact.
Coffee'n'donuts. Roast chestnuts. Sandwiches. Bowls of chilli. Tacos. Burgers. Or hot dogs. The list is probably not endless, but the choice is no doubt huge. And no, we don't really know what were talking about when it comes to mobile (or static) food stalls. Licensing issues and suitable pitches, etc. But we know a little about motorcycles, and that's really the focal point here; making your bike the people magnet.
Not all motorcycles will suit this concept. The bike needs to be interesting, and maybe colourful, so the bigger the better. And you'll probably need to rig up an awning and stuff. Just be imaginative. Inventive. Target shows, gatherings, protest marches, or anything where folk routinely gather. Check with the local authority. Jump their hoops. Think big.
That image immediately above, by the way, is from Paul & Ernst. Makers of mobile food stalls. This company is based in Austria, and they appear to serve the needs only of vendors on pushbikes. But maybe they can at least solve some of your problems. Or maybe you can suggest a new line of food carts and get something much bigger started. Check 'em out. And check out online for other motorcycle food stall ideas. There are hundreds out there.
One more thing. Consider flogging cut flowers, and maybe chocolates. Find a lay-by. Stake your claim (lawfully). And work your pitch. There are plenty of guilty motorists out there. And people are always having birthdays and babies and stuff. So tap into that market. And your motorcycle could be the way in.
7. Mobile mechanic. If you've got the spannering skills, you might be able to earn a few bob repairing/servicing bikes at people's homes. Or fixing punctures. Ideally, you'd be better off with a van. But a bike is different; it suggests commitment. It says that you're a daily biker, not merely an ex-biker. That helps your marketing.
Once again, you could really use a sidecar or a trailer or a trike'n'trailer. But plenty of routine serving work actually needs few tools.
The key is to have a memorable presence. Or maybe a motorcycle valeting gig would suit you better. As with all the ideas on this page, it could be that you'll need to try a few things at once and stay flexible. It's certainly hard to see how any of these suggestions will make you rich; not in the short term, anyway. But people do this kind of stuff already. There's probably scope for a few more back street entrepreneurs.
Any remember this too; your motorcycle might simply be the starting point until you can afford to buy something more suitable. Richard Branson, the Virgin millionaire, famously began by selling records from a London phone box. Makes you think.
8. Sell your bike and buy another. The trick, naturally, is to buy low and sell high, and the best way to do this is to stay on the alert. There are always people out there needing quick money. You could be one of them. So this business idea requires studying as many FOR SALE adverts as possible. eBay. Gumtree. The motorcycle magazines. And the auction houses. But check out other publications such as local papers, and adverts in shop windows. Some folk won't advertise on anything too high tech. Keep that in mind. We've picked up some bargains that way.
You need to study the market, set your limits, put in the mileage and haggle like hell. There are risks here, of course. You're probably going to get burned a few times. So naturally, you'll want to look for bikes that are easy to repair; bikes that don't have too many expensive parts.
Meanwhile, simply valeting a used motorcycle really can add hundreds of pounds to it. And adding a few carefully selected accessories can help clinch a sale and boost your profits. Tip: Be prepared to deliver. That can make all the difference to a buyer who has the money, but is too lazy to get off his or her fat sofa.
And finally, if you go this route, make sure that advertisers know you're willing to travel anywhere, anytime. Sellers don't want time wasters. They're often happier to make that deal with the guy who goes the distance.
Be that guy. Or girl.
Other quick-fire suggestions
1. Organise green lane rides
2. Organise motorcycle tours, either nationwide or further afield
3. Motorcycle taxi service (might work in some areas)
Check Sump's Classic Bikes For Sale page.
Check Sump's Classic Bike Guides page.
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