Motorcycle Buyers Getting Older

Motorcycle Commentary

In response to the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 U.S. Motorcycle Competitive Information Study, which reveals that the average rider age has increased from 40 in 2001 to 49 in 2010, and the percentage of first-time motorcycle buyers has declined for a second consecutive year, Jim Gianatsis of wrote the following piece:

This is a devastating statistic for the motorcycle industry. With the median age of motorcycle buyers (and hence riders) going up by one year of age, in each of the last nine years.

That essentially means no young new riders are coming into the sport, and sales are dropping at a devastating rate of 5-10% per year, no matter what the economy does to improve.

If this trend continues, in 10-20 years when the current median rider age of 49 years old reaches 60-70 years old, and riders die off/stopping buying motorcycles, there will be effectively no new motorcycles sold in America.

New motorcycle sales have already dropped some 30-70% among manufacturers in the last three years because of the economic collapse in America. This new riders Median Age statistic report means that even if the U.S. economy improves 5-10% per year in the coming years, new motorcycle and product sales will never increase from where they have fallen today, because of the demographics growing older in age at a similar rate–a very disconcerting prognosis.

The only way to turn this around is to sell affordable priced, financed, and insured entry level motorcycles and scooters to teen angers with their parent’s blessing that are as cheap and easy to purchase, insure and operate as $2,000 used car.

We don’t see that happening with TV shows like Stunt Rider on The Speed Channel serving as the only street bike role model for kids, and the statistic that motorcyclists are seven-times more likely to killed in a road accident compared to automobile drivers.

Not since the "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda" ad campaign of the 1960s has a motorcycle manufacturer really targeted the entry level / new rider market.

And all of us in the motorcycle media are guilty of perpetuating this decline in new riders, because we only feature high end and middleweight motorcycles that only affluent older riders can afford to buy.

When is the last time a U.S. motorcycle publication ran a cover feature story on motor scooters and practical 125cc street bikes that a high school/college kid could afford to buy? Never.

We have all helped to kill off the entry-level motorcycle market. It’s all our faults and the industry is coming down around us because of it.

Kudos to Honda for introducing the new $3,995 affordable CBR250R street sportbike for 2011, but it’s still may be too expensive and sporty for what most entry level riders need. It needs to have scooter practicality for carrying school books, gym gear, and a passenger.

Like many of you I was at the IMS Long Beach Show this past weekend. I think I remember seeing about five 20-something-year-olds the day I was there–no one under 20 years. Mostly everyone was 35 years and older. The Los Angles International Auto Show two weeks earlier had a much younger demographic.

We all need to think about promoting and selling entry-level motorcycles in America before the sport dies off, and we put ourselves out of business.

Jim Gianatsis, Gianatsis Design Associates

Ultimate MotorCycling Editor’s Reply:

Lots of things to think about. Thanks, Jim, for spurring a conversation.

Jim took the collective motorcycle media to task for not putting 125cc street bikes on the covers of our magazines. Ultimate MotorCycling doesn’t cater to that demographic, but I have to come to the defense of those who do.

Even the rider who might be persuaded to buy a 125cc street bike won’t be inspired to buy a magazine with that sort of cover material. He’ll be interested in a Kawasaki ZX-14, and buy a magazine to read about it, even as he settles for a more-practical Ninja 250R.

Sales figures are already tough for the print media, and putting out low-selling covers is not a viable solution for saving the industry. Certainly, advertising campaigns like the one suggested by Jim

In fact, fast sexy bikes and blinged out chrome machines are what get non-riders interested in the sport–Jim, I don’t see to many 125cc street bikes in your calendars. Very few people buy motorcycles in America because then need one–they buy one because they want one. It is a discretionary purchase in the vast majority of cases.

Our challenge is to get younger riders into the saddle. Right now, economic times make that difficult. The days of easy loans are gone for the time being for those 20-somethings Jim mentioned. Not too many young riders have the loose cash floating around to buy a motorcycle outright.

If he doesn’t have new-bike cash available, he’s not likely going to be buying a new bike. Instead, he is likely to go to the well-stocked used market–as I did when buying my first street bike, a Honda CB360–and the older guy selling it to him will show up at the dealer with the proceeds of the sale, along with the ability to secure credit.

In fact, based on my own non-scientific personal observations around Los Angeles, the number of younger street bike riders has skyrocketed in the last year, and they aren’t riding new bikes. The hipsters seem to have latched on early 1970s Japanese street bike and turned them into café racers.

Cruise around downtown LA well after sunset and you’ll see them. Just the other night, I saw a group of four girls(!) in leather jackets, shorts, wild stripped leggings, boots and pudding basin helmets on ’70s café racers roaring around between Union Station and Chinatown. It was very cool (as long as they don’t crash in those leggings).

So, the interest in motorcycles may be increasing in the young. These girls, and guys I’ve seen doing the same thing, are likely to tell their friends. As they get tired of working on old bikes (or paying to have them serviced), they may start thinking about new bikes and the process of renewal will be in full swing.

One thing we do need to watch out for is the loss of kids riding dirt bikes. Many current-day street riders started out as kids riding around in the woods or desert. With the Federal Government making insane rulings about the "safety" of youth off-road machines, we’re going to see fewer dirt riders migrate to the street as they age.

There’s also the growing fear in parents regarding any sort of activity that may result in so much as a bruise for their precious offspring. Add to this the reduction of riding areas anywhere near urban areas, and we do have a problem with feeding new riders to the streets.

There’s not much we can do about the economy on our own. It will work itself out–it always has–but in the meantime we won’t see lots of sales of bikes to new, young riders.

The aging of the motorcycling population is another issue. But, remember, today’s young non-riders are tomorrow’s older new riders when the potent mixture of free time and abundant cash becomes available.

In the meantime, there will always be the hippest of the young who will understand and gravitate to motorcycles. Certainly, motorcycles being perceived as cool on a more mainstream level is a great thing. Gangs of girls on café racers are a great way to make that happen!

Let’s ride or feel free comment below!

Don Williams, Editor
Ultimate MotorCycling magazine

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