You know the saying, right? When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade out of them. Ha!
If I sum up the motorcycling industry talk of the last couple of years, we would be having a bumper crop of lemons to deal with. Gloom and doom, magazines folding up, dealers closing or merging, true-blue mechanics retiring without successors, models not available or discontinued …
“There are less and less riders like us”
“Motorcycles sales are in the dumps”
“The big manufacturers didn’t even bother to show up at our local show”
Let’s not fight the facts, these statements are mostly true. However, they are only a part of the whole picture.
Riders Like Us?
That is correct. People with enough play money to keep on the hook, expect an unquestionably better bike every year (or every other year) and then just buy it, are less and less common. To the point that this market niche has become unsustainable for many manufacturers.
The riders of the early 2000’s who have maintained their riding habits and buying patterns are now relatively more affluent buyers, not so middle-middle class, and they want more exclusive, more exotic motorcycles. Since they can afford to drop $20k on a new motorcycle, might as well finance $35k and go for the dream.
For many more riders who feel like the famous frog in the slowly but definitely warming jar of water, income often has not followed the cost of the machines. In fact, disposable income sometimes hasn’t even quite followed the cost of living, and living comes before riding. (Well, for some.) For the stubborn, a lot of the OEM’s have followed the path of auto makers and turned to financing their sales themselves.
But Indeed, There Are Less Riders
Then we hear that “motorcycles sales are declining”, regardless of incentives. Again, most American buyers will not put themselves in financial dire straits over a hobby or pastime and will eliminate or seriously slow their purchases of non-essential goods like a motorcycle (unlike other parts of the world, we do not really consider motorcycling as a primary means of transportation).
Sales for the “big manufacturers”, those whose brands we have grown used to see on the roads, certainly are declining. Hard facts. OEMs provide those statistics every season.
Thing is, the less motorcycles you sell, the more expensive they have to be to keep shareholders happy (see financing above). So, in a bid to keep their market alive, OEMs may reduce the number of models, go for innovation every 3 of 4 years instead of every year, and cost-reduce everything they can.
That brings in our third lemon: why big manufacturers don’t even bother to come and bring all the new goodies to the many American shows that used to be the launch of the year-models – not only the 4 big Japanese, but also the Italian, German, and Brits. Gone are the days when we had our choice of 7 or 8 world-class manufacturer’s competing best-in-class machines to choose from, at a nearby venue, every year.
So, let us collect our lemons: we may no longer be the world-wide leading market for powersports, no matter how hard the manufacturers try to press us for more juice, and no matter their stubborn insistence to try and sell us their biggest and most expensive flagships.
Indeed, the primacy of the American market may have come and gone, and we may well become another price-point market that will be nice to cover for its sales volume, but that is becoming too price- sensitive for the leading-edge-technology products. I am doing pretty good so far for the gloom and doom, am I not?
But wait, here is the lemonade recipe.
First Off, About The New Crop Of Riders
The pleasure and freedom of riding is certainly not lost on the up-and-coming riders, but they often come to riding more by way of convenience, of financial necessity, by consideration to the environment, by the space they have for a vehicle, by the budget they have for maintenance and repairs, and by the traffic they have to contend with, rather than by virtue of having excess disposable income. So yes, they don’t look like us and are not quite after the same gratifications with regards to starting to ride.
Often, their ability to ride and the simple capacity to do their own maintenance is a subject of great pride among their peers, because they come from a generation that tinkered much less, growing up, and as a cohort, were rarely faced with physical or mechanical failure–they spent much more of their youth than us in the virtual world.
Compared to us, flaunting their non-essential possessions seems less common with new riders. They may be less well paid and have more debt than we do, so they prefer to take pride in events in their lives, in their skills & exploits, rather than in farkles, which they cannot afford and may not even value in the first place.
As I mentioned in a prior column, there are more and more women in the ranks of riders, and in general women do not ride to show off or pull rank, but more often to share and enjoy the wonderful experiences, gorgeous sceneries; if they influence the industry in any way, it is mostly toward cooperation instead of aggression. They will help others to start and keep riding.
New riders, when they buy a motorcycle, often tend to buy smaller bikes than 20 years ago, and to become better than the bike, faster than we did, on average. Did I mention it? A 600-cc sportbike is not a beginner’s bike. On the other hand, a Vespa, a Puch moped or a Ninja 250 will quickly develop a confident and skilled rider.
Which Brings Us Again To Motorcycle Sales
I think that the need for motorcycles as a mode of transportation is as high as it ever was, possibly even higher, having become as much a need as a want. With all these considerations, it comes to reason that the sales most likely to increase in the near future, are those of smaller and cheaper motorcycles. This in turn will favor an increase in the number of riders, which in turn will drive more influence on the industry, the average skills of the riders, and on motorsports regulations.
We should embrace the change in our market status and welcome alternate manufacturers from South America, Korea, China, Vietnam, India. Let’s have competition again, let’s promote affordable riding, let’s develop the skills and the talent of riding (and wrenching!) again instead of just ownership for its own sake.
Some of these new imports are often 150cc, 200cc standards that sell anywhere between $1200 and $2200, brand new. Right there is a big factor that could lead to an increase in the number of riders.
These sales are absolutely not interchangeable with used bikes sales.
Think About It
While new motorcycles are usually financed, most used motorcycles are sold by private citizens who demand payment in full at the time of sales–on average, much more capital is required to buy a good used bike than a new one.
If the number of riders entering the market increases, then the entry-level bike market will be more competitive. This in turn will make buying a new first bike easier for beginners. Which in turn will make it easier to have something to trade in for those who want to graduate to sport/sport-touring.
As well, having smaller and simpler motorcycles, devoid of the plethora of rider’s aids that nearly doubled the price of motorcycles in the last decade, may promote skills, competence and responsibility at the handlebar.
Then who knows, we may yet re-start our homegrown industry, this time on a broad basis, and with possibly more rational requirements. In sum, I think that a time of significant transformation is upon us, so let us drink delicious lemonade!