Seattle-area fans of BMW, Ducati and other high-end motorcycles got a rude shock last week when five local dealerships were shuttered by their owner, a Microsoft executive who is described as an avid motorcycle racer with little apparent experience in the industry.
On Thursday, workers at the five NobleRush dealerships — a joint BMW-Ducati-KTM location at 8100 Lake City Way in Seattle; a Ducati dealership in Redmond, and two multibrand dealerships in Auburn — learned that the businesses had been closed indefinitely, according to former employees, the previous owner of one of the dealerships, and social media posts by customers.
“The doors are closed until further notice,” a former employee confirmed Monday morning. There were also reports over the weekend that motorcycles were being removed from several of the shuttered dealerships.
The dealerships’ owner, Microsoft group program manager Howard Crow, couldn’t be reached for comment. A search of local court records found no related lawsuits or liens against Crow, or any bankruptcy filings.
The closures shook the local motorcycling world. “I cannot stress enough how huge a hit this is for the Seattle motorcycle community,” said Keith Thye, whose wife, Ann Thye, sold Crow the Seattle BMW dealership in 2015.
“Dealers come and go, but to have five go down all in one fell swoop is unheard of,” said Keith Thye, who was president of the dealership before the sale to Crow.
The closures also sparked panicked questions online from customers who had purchased new motorcycles and were now unsure when, or if, they would actually get their bikes.
“I just paid cash for a new bike there 2 weeks ago,” one customer of Ducati Redmond wrote on Facebook Saturday. “Was supposed to pick it up this weekend. Can’t get hold of anyone.”
Over the weekend, former employees at several NobleRush locations were working, without pay, to deliver bikes to customers and return bikes that had been brought in for repairs. “We are following through with our obligations to the existing customers,” the former employee said.
But as of Monday afternoon, there were still reports of some bikes being repossessed from several dealerships. Shortly before 3 p.m. Monday, a former customer emailed to report that a semi truck had backed up to one of the Lake City dealerships “and is loading bikes up now.”
It is unclear whether any locations will reopen or what the future holds for dozens of former employees or local riders who will now need to go elsewhere for service, parts and accessories.
In the Seattle-area motorcycle community, Crow is something of a mystery man. According to online reports, he was an enthusiastic racer; his LinkedIn profile shows that he has been at Microsoft since 1997, most recently as a manager of teams for Microsoft Planner, Project, Project Server and Project Online, but shows no motorcycle industry background.
Crow in 2012 bought Ducati Seattle, then located near South Lake Union, according to Tom Mehren, who publishes Sound Rider, a monthly motorcycling magazine. Crow also bought Bellevue Ducati (which he then relocated to Redmond), along with the Thyes’ BMW dealership, which then also became the new joint location for the Seattle Ducati dealership.
Crow’s biggest move came around 2017, with the purchase of Hinshaw’s Motorcycle Store and Indian Motorcycle, both in Auburn, according to the Thyes.
Some members of the local biking community had criticized Crow as an inexperienced, absentee manager who drove off longtime employees and reduced his dealerships’ cash flow by slashing prices in order to boost sales.
But the entire motorcycle business has been struggling in an era of low-cost online competition and “show-rooming” consumers who try out bikes and accessories in showrooms only to make their purchases online.
Those worsening conditions have some wondering about the future of the industry in the Seattle area.
Although there are other regional dealers — such as BMW Motorcycles of Lynnwood or South Sound Motorcycles in Tacoma — it’s not clear whether there are would-be dealers eager to replace the five NobleRush locations.
As Keith Thye put it, “if you had a couple of million dollars sitting around, is that where you’d want to invest it?”