Explaining Motorcycle Sales Patterns: Motorcycle Commentary
Of late I have been hearing doom-and-gloom predictions of the demise of the motorcycle market. In all facets of mankind, the apocalypse is a common theme—people always think they’re around for the end of the world. When it comes to motorcycling in the United States, rest assured that is not the case.
This column is going to involve numbers. If charts help, take a look at this Statista chart of U.S. motorcycle sales from 1990 to 2016.
In 1992, according to the MIC and Powersports Business, 278,000 motorcycles were sold. In 2016, we were up to 487,000, a slight drop from a half-million in 2015. While a compound annual growth rate of about 2.36 percent over 24 years isn’t cause for huge celebrations, the overall picture is better than that.
United States motorcycle sales peaked out in 2006 at over 1.1 million. That’s a staggering number, and part of a bubble that started forming in 1998 and then popped a decade later when the Great Recession hit.
From 1999 to 2009, annual motorcycle sales were higher than in any year since. If you look at motorcycle sales from the standpoint of the bubble, you will be forever disappointed. However, if you look at sales from 1992 to 2016, there is no cause for alarm, and plenty of reason to see opportunities for growth.
I’ve been hearing about concerns about the aging of the motorcycle market for decades. It certainly didn’t stop the early-’00s bubble from inflating. So, I think that’s a red herring that misdirects attention.
Growing motorcycle sales is about two things—accessibility and desirability. Without those two needs being fulfilled, sales are going to plummet.
We’ve seen plenty of new models over the last decade that make motorcycles more accessible to new riders, in terms of price and ease of use. From the Kawasaki Z125 Pro to the Honda Rebel 300 to the Suzuki VanVan 200, if you want to start riding and you want an agreeable motorcycle at easily digested price, you have a nice variety of choices.
Unlike the old days, you no longer have to be a tough guy to ride motorcycles, and neither do you have to be a mechanic. We have reached appliance-level reliability for most brands, so if you simply follow the recommended maintenance issues, getting six figures worth of trouble-free miles out of a new motorcycle is not unreasonable.
The trickier challenge is desirability. We have a new generation of potential young motorcyclists who have not been indoctrinated into the cult of the wheel. They are driven everywhere by their parents as children, and quite possibly they have never ridden a bicycle.
As these young people are chauffeured by their parents, the kids’ eyes are glued to an electronic device. Instead of observing the driver and learning for the future, they see Uber as the next step, or a self-driving car. From the standpoint of the motorcycle business, that’s a bit troubling.
At the same time, we have had a nice surge of young new riders on roughly modified vintage motorcycles, as they were perfect accessories for their faux lumberjack beards and professionally coiffed manbuns—and that’s not a bad thing. Rest assured, they will grow out of their amusing fashion choices, and we’ll be left with a nice chuck of dedicated motorcycle riders for life.
Ultimate Motorcycling’s place in all of this is to make available to motorcyclists, and potential motorcyclists, the information needed to buy the right bike. While getting the “wrong” motorcycle is hardly a tragedy, we think that if you select the perfect motorcycle for your needs and desires, that you will be hooked for life—like we are.
So, the sky is not falling and the world of motorcycles will be with us for the foreseeable future. Plus, there’s room for growth—Ultimate Motorcycling’s more than doubling of our readership since we went all-digital is undeniable evidence of that. Let’s all work together to get everyone on a motorcycle who wants to be—the more the merrier!
From the latest digital issue of Ultimate Motorcycling, hosted on an interactive app. Subscribe to the Ultimate Motorcycling app today.