Last year we popped down to Unit5Motos to help them unload their haul of freshly imported classic motorcycles. We took some photos, ate their biscuits and dreamed about buying bikes we didn’t need. Since then we’ve followed their business online via their Facebook page, which gives you an early chance to see what gems they’ve fetched back from the latest of their trips to the Continent.
Over a cuppa at the Stafford show me and Tony Greenslade hatched a plan for him to go one better. Instead of using their page for showing us what they’ve purchased for retail, that he should post to his page during their trip!
Four days later and that’s exactly what he did. If you think that there’s a magic motorcycle tree where dealers arrive and pick up bargains you’ll be surprised to see just how much time, effort and attention it takes to go bike shopping in France.
Most of us were safely tucked up in bed on the morning of 18thOctober 2017, but not the Unit5 boys, their first of many posts was made dead on 4am.
“Morning all. 4am start and we are on our way to Folkestone”.
The roads from Romford to Folkestone were pretty clear, which meant before 6am the next post informed us they’d made the border.
“5.50am – Train to Calais. Quite busy this morning. 35 mins rest now, time to catch up on our emails, etc.”
Tony and his business partner Phillipe wouldn’t be getting many other opportunities to rest on their whistle stop trip to France.
“9am and we have just arrived at our first appointment of the day. Let’s hope the bike is as nice the sunrise.
Their optimism shines through, just like the cracking sunset photo they posted on their Facebook page. At around 9am many of you will just be starting your working day; the Unit5 team had already put in 5 hours, so it’s now time to start buying bikes!
“9.30am – Well a beautiful location to look at a bike. Today we are at Pony Club, a large stables housing some very fine horses. (These are for riding, not eating). The bike we have come to look at is a very low mileage Kawasaki KE125. Trouble is the owner can’t start it. He also has a very nice Yamaha DT400. This bike runs very well. However it was just to tease us. He does not want to sell this one. So first bike is a no go. Onto our next”
Oh, not the kind of start they wanted, but an early insight to how it’s not all rich pickings, but hang on what’s this?
“10am – The Kawasaki KE125 is in the van! As we were turning the van around to leave, the owner rode the bike out to us. Engine sounds fine. So some haggling later and a lot of form filling out. Sadly we could not persuade him to part with the DT400, but he has our card and never say never. From a negative it’s a positive outcome, so far so good.”
Most of the bikes they buy have been sourced via adverts in local French newspapers etc, as the French aren’t overly interested in the internet to help them sell bikes, and Ebay isn’t something that they flock to. They are also very cagey, as the next appointment confirms.
“10.46am – So many of our meetings start off like this. We have a meeting with a seller in a shopping centre car park so they can make sure we are genuine and not going to steal their bike. At times it feels like a secret arms sale, but i’m sure you could deal with the Russians with more ease”.
Another 40 minutes later and they finally get to see the goods
“11.30am – After our secret car park meeting, we passed the inspection and was lead to the bike. A nice DT125R, less than 10k Kilometres. Needs a bit of a clean, but new tyres fitted. Think we may be loading this one up very soon”.
With another transaction completed its time for lunch, the French are good at lunch!
“Midday – At last we have time to grab some breakfast/lunch and a drink. Then back on our way. Feeling safe, we have Le Starksy and Monsieur Hutch parked next to us”.
It gives the boys a chance to admire the local car park! Now, back to work.
“1.30pm – Our 3rd bike of the day. Visiting a guy who finds us a few bikes here in France. He has a nice little gem today. RD125LC with only 10k Kilometres on it. Not been used for a while, but all original”.
With a nice easy deal done and dusted its time to pop to a dealers in Paris.
“3.30pm – We are still here. Just driving around Paris on our way to an appointment with a dealership in the City. Hopefully they have some good bikes for us. On our way to view another DT125R. Don’t have high hopes of this one, but we are in the area and he has been trying to sell it to us for a while now”.
The gut feeling that Tony shared wasn’t down to a dodgy cheese baguette, having purchased almost a 1,000 bikes since forming Unit5Motos Tony can detect a good deal from a bad one, so the next status updates confirms his fears.
“4.31pm – Great view of Paris. Shame the DTR was not as good. As we suspected it was not worth buying. So onto the next one before it gets dark”.
A few bikes get left from previous trips, there’s only so many bikes that they can fit in the van and on their purpose built trailer, so the next stop is to scoop up one that they bought earlier, it also bagged them another bike and possibly some future purchases.
“7pm – Just picked up the RD80LC we bought last month. Great project for someone. Also got a RD125DX from the sellers Dad whilst we were there. Bit rough, but useful for parts or a serious restorer. Good news is he has been collecting bikes for 40 years. Therefore has quite a few more he wants us to buy. Have arranged to go back and spend a day with him. Even said he will get some cider and cheese in for us. Great guy and look forward to seeing his collection in the future. Onto our next appointment and the light is fading”.
It’s now dark in Paris, so there’s no photo to accompany the last purchase post of the day.
“8.15pm – Just loaded the van with our last purchase of the day. A very nice, original Suzuki TS125R in yellow as well with 10k Kilometres. A perfect bike to end our search on today.
Sorry too dark to get a photo, but will do one in the morning as need to load it in the van anyway. Heading to our hotel for the night now, but stuck in traffic as looks like an accident ahead from all the blues flashing”.
After a very long day the boys call it a day and find somewhere to rest their weary heads, well after a Chinese buffet first!
“9.20pm – Finally bags at the hotel and just sitting for dinner. The bright lights of the local Chinese have wooed us in. That and the fact the only other option was Mcdonalds”.
It gives them a chance to absorb the activities of the day, their posts have brightened up peoples dreary days at work and the feedback is positive, so with some sleep they will face day 2 fully recharged.
“Long day 1. Had loads of positive feedback from todays trip diary. So will carry on with the updates tomorrow on our return to Essex”.
Unlike the 4am start the day before it’s a more leisurely start to day 2. By 8am they are fed, watered and ready to roll
“8am – Just had breakfast, checked emails and today’s search begins. Onto our 1st bike of the day. Fingers crossed we have a good day. Just seen on the news today is a busy one on
The first port of call reveals some of the drama that’s involved when buying bikes in France.
“9.15am – Remember yesterday, how we explained the issues we experience trying to actually pass with our money and buy bikes that sellers want to part with. Well, our first bike of the day is a classic example.
We can only deal with this seller via email. No phone number given, he refuses to give it. An hour ago he finally gave us an address. So we are now stood outside the address. Number 74. There are two number 74’s in this street. Strange you might think, not in France!
Anyway of course the first number 74 knows nothing. Try the second 74 and no answer. In fact it looks like no one lives here. Again, not that strange. Often we are given addresses of abandoned properties, then the seller appears and meets us.
So back to the emailing. This time we are a little more forceful as it feels like we have been given the runaround. 5 mins later the seller has called us, of course withholding his number. Can’t be too careful can you! Anyway now he says he will be here to meet us in 45 mins. Lets just hope the hassle and wait is worth it”.
Sadly the day doesn’t start well, and flags up another issue.
“10.30am – well that was a waste of 2 hours. The seller eventually turned up to show us his bike. The bike was a Suzuki TS200R. A rare find and from the photos we had, it looked promising. Even better the bike was stored in his living room. So far, so good. First check frame number. Frame has been powder coated and number is barely visible. Ok we can deal with this. Logbook please, so we can check what we can make out. He has no logbook!
In France selling (or even owning) a bike with no logbook is a major issue. Fine in the UK, £29 and send a form to DVLA and you have a replacement. In France, well you can imagine the paperwork needed for this. So we have a bike with the numbers barely visible and no paperwork. We cannot listen to the engine unless we buy it as he doesn’t want to waste his time getting it out of the living room unless we are serious.
Serious? So we have spent days arranging the meeting via email, you have kept us waiting for an hour and then forgot to mention you have no paperwork. Then the bike has no ignition switch, clocks, horn and he didn’t even know if there was a switch to turn it on. And he asks us if we are serious!
I don’t speak French and Philippe regularly says I should take the time to learn some. Today he was glad I don’t, as I left telling him what I thought using some colourful Essex language…….”
Tony’s gut instinct is kicking in again, or was it the crispy duck from the Chinese buffet?
“11.30am – It’s going to be one of those days! 2nd bike a very nice original TS125R from an old gentlemen. We have had several phone calls with this seller and was confident it was just a case of checking it over and paying him. Hmmmmm we were wrong. He had problems starting it, only ran on choke. Engine rattled. But we can fix engines. What we can’t do is keep it original. The forks were rusty, side stand breaking, large scrape to the fuel tank. Then the seller tells us it is a limited edition TS with a blue frame. Don’t they all have blue frames?
So we walked away, again. Check out our video of the experience. Sorry if it is a bit shakey, was a bit covert”
So far so bad, the video that Tony posted to the Unit5Motos page gives us a real fly on the wall experience, and yes that engine didn’t sound too healthy. It really hits home how you need to focus on the bikes, and not rely on what the sellers have lead you to believe. Interesting for us watching, frustrating for Tony who just wants to buy bikes. Still, its time for lunch again.
“12.15pm – Its all glamour this job lol. Sat in a field in the middle of nowhere. Bit early for our next appointment. So time to check emails and messages. A lunch break with no lunch. The local shop is a thing of the past in France. For a country that is so behind with most things, they have taken to out of town shopping centres very well. Never mind at least we have a 4G signal”.
Next up they meet a guy who loves his bikes and cars, sadly he doesn’t love paperwork, so it’s another nil pointer.
“1pm – 3rd time lucky. What a refreshing change to meet a seller with a true passion for classic vehicles. He arrived to meet us in his Peugeot 205 GTI. The garage door opened to reveal a beautiful 1948 Peugeot 202. Lovely car and we got a guided tour of it. Ours for 10,000 euros if we wanted. In the other corner was a Mini being restored and a Yamaha DT50.
So to the DT125MX we came to see. It started 1st kick. Not great condition, but a worthy project for someone. So I check the frame number. Bingo! I can read it. Engine number, again fine, but sadly not matching the frame. So its had an engine swap. Not the end of the world, we are not buying a mint bike anyway. So a deal is done, finally money has changed hands.
For about 2 minutes we were happy. The seller brings us the logbook. We check it, and it doesn’t match the bike! The number plate on the bike matches it. Closer inspection and the frame number on the logbook is the engine number. So it becomes clear now this bike has had a frame swap. Why? No one knows. We have seen this before. The average French owner never looks at the frame number. With no MOT on motorcycles in France, it is a part of the bike no one seems to look at. Yet it is the most important. So our money comes back to us and we are now half way through the day with nothing to show for our hard work”.
Some days are better than others clearly and we’re seeing the highs and lows of bike dealing. When things appear to be going one way there’s always a sure fire way to cheer things up, that involves cake!
“1.50pm – Things are on the up. We have found a very nice patisserie and can enjoy a decent lunch today. Even got some treats for Claire who is working hard back in the UK office for us today”.
The bake off break proves to pay off, things are looking up, but again there’s another fly in the ointment, and another couldn’t make it up twist to what should be a straight forward deal.
“4pm – At last we have bought a bike. A . Not all easy. The photo we had was before the owner started to restore it. So bit of a shock to see it in bits However a good genuine bike. The sellers uncle bought it new and raced it. Even some spares in the Yamaha box from new. Many years stored by the family. So an emotional sale for him”.
With our thoughts now well and truly on the weekend the Unit5Motos boys are still hard at it in France. Their technique of buying bikes upfront and collecting them on later trips pays off. With not so many bikes from this venture they take a detour to pick up not one but two that they’d sourced earlier.
“6pm – Another two bikes loaded and on their way to the UK. Bought these a few weeks ago and used today’s run of bad luck to our advantage and finally collected them. Both in need of restoration, but a mark 1 DT125LC and a DT80LC are always worth the work”.
With light fading fast it doesn’t help when checking out the condition of used bikes; what bike buying trip wouldn’t be complete without a barn find bike. The last bike of the load sees this mission concluded, but there’s still time for one more meal!
“8pm – We have the last bike we can get to today. Its dark and getting quite windy now. The bike is a Kawasaki KDX125 SR. Only 3k kilometres on it and although it looks very good it does need some tidying up. Sat unused for 17 years in a barn. It has been bought back to life, just sadly the damp has got to parts like the forks and swingarm. Still a very nice genuine bike. About an hour or so away from Calais, so just gone online and moved our crossing back an hour. That way we may get a chance to grab some dinner before we head back to the UK”.
After a few hours heading back to Calais and a few more French calories, all that’s left is to double check the ratchet straps, dig out tickets for the train and await to be called. The boys can reflect on their trip and poke around their latest stock. The last push home awaits and they will hit the sack but there’s no lay-ins in this game. I’ll let them talk you through what happens next.
“10.40pm – On our way home. The trip is over, well apart from the 90 minute drive once we are back in the UK. Maybe a traffic jam on the M25, there normally is. How does that happen in the small hours? Drop the van back at the workshop and get ourselves home for some much needed sleep. Should be sound asleep by 1am I think.
Then back into the workshop for 9am so we can unload the van, wash and clean the bikes. Then log all the bikes and their details in our stock book, process the NOVA applications and arrange dating certificates should any require them. That is Saturday sorted. Monday we will start checking the bikes over and let our mechanic start going over each and every one. Then we can assess the bikes and make sure we are happy to put them up for sale.
This trip has not been our most successful in terms of volume of bikes, however certainly not been our worse! Ten bikes on board tonight, but we have 3 empty spaces. You can see we have to look at a lot of bikes to find ones we are happy to import. It’s a lot of driving and time spent meeting these sellers. It can be a lot of fun, and we meet many interesting people. It can also be very testing at times. But when we are able to find the right bike for a buyer in the UK it is worth it. Thanks for following our trip. Tony and Philippe.
Thanks to the virtual insight and this round up of their trip it’s been an education in what’s really involved in buying bikes from another country, it’s not just the language and currency that’s different, but also the general approach to selling. Picking up 10 classic bikes in under 48 hours is in my book really good going, but like Tony explains that’s really just the start of the hard work. Unit5Motos work on a quick turnaround, that’s not just on getting the bikes bought, back in the UK and unloaded, it’s more involved than that.
Every purchase as the potential to hide something that they’ve missed at the kerb side transaction, and their mechanic double checks every bike before it’s offered for sale.
Their operation is slick and it’s also made lots of people happy, by offering hand picked classics at a reasonable price, having seen the labour and risks involved you’d be brave to go through all this yourself!