No one wants to find themselves stuck by the side of the road—and especially not if you’re on a motorbike. If your car breaks down, it sucks—but at least you have some shelter if the weather is bad. If you’re very lucky, your vehicle may at least have the decency to leave you stranded in or near some shade—but still, having to wait for help sucks.
Sadly for me, that’s the situation I found myself in last weekend. I’d taken my 1985 Honda VF500F Interceptor out for its first proper ride after bypassing the fuel pump (which we thought was on its way out, causing problems, and thus better without). It was running seemingly trouble-free for 15 minutes or more after the pump was removed, so things looked (and sounded) pretty promising.
The ride started out well enough, with me on the VF500F and my partner on a 2013 Triumph Street Triple R. We’d been riding for maybe half an hour before stopping for fuel, and then going out on one of our regular routes. We were approaching an uphill bit when I noticed that my bike was losing power, and that opening the throttle didn’t seem to make any difference. To be fair, it had stalled once, earlier in the ride—but I was able to start it right back up again with no trouble. Not this time. This time, it totally refused to start.
Luckily, we were on a not-terribly-busy two-lane road, and there were lots of trees and shade around. There was also a bike lane and a grassy area on either side of the road, so we were able to make ourselves relatively safe. Getting stranded sucks, but in the grand scheme of things, it could have been much worse.
Here’s where the story gets very dumb, very quickly. We had Roadside Assistance on this bike, through Progressive. You’d think that would help, right? Let me tell you, it did not help even a little. The spectacular degree to which it did not help, in fact, might be hard to believe if I hadn’t experienced it.
First, we were told by one customer service agent that there would be an extra $100 fee, because a motorcycle (which is, after all, the vehicle we’d insured) was considered a “specialty vehicle.” We certainly weren’t told this when we signed up for Roadside Assistance. A second rep, on a later call, said there was no extra charge.
Now, from a completely different (but also recent) experience, which involved towing a completely different bike from almost the same location to our home, I can tell you that directly phoning and getting a pickup from a local towing company costs $145. To their immense credit, that tow truck also showed up in under half an hour.
Back to last weekend, and the stranded VF500F. There, going through the Roadside Assistance folks that wanted to charge us almost what it would cost to just call a tow truck directly—we were informed that due to heavy callout volume, we’d probably be waiting at least two hours for a tow truck to arrive.
(Sure, that doesn’t sound great—but it beats the OVER FOUR HOURS that we’d once spent waiting for a tow when we were much further out in the middle of nowhere and waiting for AAA after a drive belt snapped on my scooter. I digress. My point is, the bar was kind of low.)
Also, Progressive’s process for a customer opening a Roadside Assistance ticket involves them sending a link to your phone, so that you can go and use a web form to fill out the ticket for yourself. That’s what they want you to do after you call them. What if you have no internet access where you are, or are otherwise unable to access and/or fill out the form for any reason? It makes zero sense if you’re trying to actually serve your subscribers.
Anyway, my partner’s bike was working just fine, so he rode home to see if throwing a whole bunch of tools in the back of our car and coming back to do some roadside repairs wouldn’t be faster. In case THAT didn’t work, he even had a ramp and tie-downs in the back, so he could go to U-Haul and hook up a rental trailer to get the thing home as plan C. (Also, he brought me water and a snack. THE BEST.)
The problem, it turned out, boiled down to a vacuum petcock not allowing fuel to get through the system—which my partner was able to remedy with a vacuum bottle. A tense bit of roadside repair later, and I was able to successfully nurse it home. My partner followed me in the car, in case I had any other issues—and also called Roadside Assistance back to cancel our ticket.
All’s well that ends (sort of) well, right? Folks, we thought this story was over, too—only, it wasn’t.
Around 7:30 p.m. that night, we were sitting in our living room, watching a movie, when we got a call.
It was Roadside Assistance, on a three-way call with a local tow truck driver. They would be out to help us shortly at our previously reported location, they said!
We were absolutely flabbergasted. The call log showed that we’d first called for help at around a quarter after nine in the morning. That meant that they finally wanted to send help a full 10 hours later. That’s, um, that’s worse than that time we waited four hours for a tow—something I honestly didn’t expect to be possible, particularly since we weren’t out in the middle of nowhere this time.
The phone call was quickly ended, after informing them that we’d canceled the order hours ago, and that we no longer needed assistance. Seriously, though. TEN HOURS. WHAT EVEN.
Luckily, I’ve never needed Roadside Assistance for any other vehicle, so I can’t relay any personal experiences with non-bike vehicles. Maybe it’s better or more worthwhile, I don’t know. My question for you all is, in your experience, is it ever worthwhile for bikes, or is it almost always a ridiculous waste of time, money, and frustration?