THOMASTON, CT – It’s a case of deja vu for Jason Pinette of Roost Power Sports, the Husqvarna motorcycle dealer in Thomaston. The storyline is simple. Husky gets purchased and the new owner eventually announces plans to expand the brand’s offerings to include street-only models in addition to dirt bikes. Pinette responds by gearing up for showroom expansion and a broader customer base from the strictly off-road crowd that he’s serving at the moment.
It happened after BMW bought Husqvarna from Cagiva in 2007 and it’s now happening again under KTM’s parent company, which bought Husqvarna from BMW in 2013. This time, though, the results may work out better both for Pinette and for area riders.
First, a little history on Husky…
Husqvarna originated in Sweden in 1689 when it began making muskets. The company’s logo even depicts a gun sight atop a rifle barrel. The manufacture of bicycles in the late 19th century segued into the building of motorcycles in 1903, the same year that Harley-Davidson was founded. By the 1960s and 1970s, it was a dominant brand worldwide in off-road competitions.
In buying Husqvarna, BMW figured to build on the off-road pedigree and create street bikes as well. News stories at the time suggested that Husky would become a two-wheeled version of what the Mini brand is to the BMW car line, a smaller but important niche. Roost Power Sports became a Husqvarna dealer in 2008 because Pinette saw potential in BMW’s ownership.
It took a few years, but BMW eventually came out with Husky-branded street models based on their existing BMW models. However, Pinette’s confidence in BMW was misplaced. “They changed the bikes completely and made them worse,” he said, referring to the off-road models.
While Husky’s Terra and Strada street models were fine, the dirt machines were “not up to par,” Pinette said, and getting parts for repairs sometimes took months. He recalled even pilfering parts off of new models on the showroom floor to get customers back on the dirt.
After becoming a Husky dealer, Pinette expanded his motorcycle operation at 323 S. Main St. by taking over space that was being used by the jointly-owned Thomaston Oil Co. It got turned into a separate showroom and he kept using it when BMW sold off Husky.
Since KTM’s acquisition, which resulted in the BMW derivative street models going away, Pinette said there’s been a massive turn-around in the reliability of Husqvarna’s off-road machines. “The bike holds up so well. Honda used to be the icon of longevity. Not anymore,” he said, suggesting that Husqvarna has surpassed Honda in quality. “I have not had any customers come back unhappy with their motorcycles.”
Pinette is now looking forward again to new street models and to further expansion – and possible relocation – of Roost Power Sports.
Husqvarna has announced two new street models that will use a 375cc single-cylinder engine – the cafe-style 401 Vitpilen and the scrambler-style 401 Svartpilen. Coming later will be the Vitpilen 701, using a 693cc single motor. “The new street models are going to be fantastic. We’ll be getting the 401s in January,” said Pinette, adding that the 701 model is expected to show up in late summer.
The bike names may seem odd and hard to pronounce, but make a bit more sense when translated from Swedish. Vitpilen is “white arrow” and Svartpilen is “black arrow.” “I have people who have already given me deposits,” Pinette said last weekend.
Like last go-round, what Roost Power Sports now needs is more space – not only for the new Husky models but for anticipated brand expansion. Pinette said he’s applied to become a Honda motorcycle dealer. The line became available when Adams of Oakville went out of business earlier this year.
“We’ve talked to them back and forth for six months,” he said of Honda, explaining that like all manufacturers these days, Honda has certain requirements of its dealers. “I need a bigger location. There is definitely not enough space here. They’re willing to work with me and give me a time frame.”
Putting up a new structure at his current location and razing the existing building is problematic because of cost and historical considerations, so he’s looking to possibly relocate the motorcycle dealership.
Pinette said he has also looked at adding the Alta Motors brand of electric on-road/off-road motorcycles, going so far as to meet with the company and test ride the bikes. “The bikes are great,” he said, adding that they are heavy when compared to gas competitors. He views electric motorcycles as being important down the road. “That’s the future. It’s coming,” he said.
The business approach that Pinette is taking to grow Roost Power Sports is cautious and conservative. “Make a little, spend a little” is his modus operandi. “We’re working on stuff but everything is in small increments,” he said.
The next steps – landing Honda and finding more space – seem logical given the lack of dealer competition in northwestern Connecticut; the area having lost Canton Cycles in Winsted, Cycle Performance in Litchfield and Adams of Oakville over the past decade or so.
While history is repeating itself, in Roost’s favor this time is the fact that it’s the only dealer of new motorcycles in Litchfield County, has an existing base of off-road customers, and is proceeding judiciously.
Pictures of Svartpilen 401 and Vitpilen 701 courtesy of Husqvarna