Over the holidays I spent a lot of time thinking about the future of Moto Adventurer and where the blog, and subsequent social media outlets, are going from here. A lot of folks have asked if I was going to do more videos or perhaps start Vlogging (Video Blogging). I’ve struggled to get my head wrapped around the best way to use YouTube, but after a lot of back and forth with my buddy Flynch, and stumbling on an interesting format, I’ve decided to try something new up on the Moto Adventurer channel. Humor me and take a peak at the latest video, let me know what you think, and most importantly, post your opinion on the topic in the comment section on YouTube. For my traditional followers, don’t fret, I’ve included the “transcript” below as a regular blog post. Video is growing on me, but I too, still enjoy reading.
Over the past two years, we’ve seen Victory, Motus, and Alta close their doors; meanwhile Harley-Davidson is shutting down their Kansas City plant as part of a consolidation plan. Considering the endless stories about the Motor Company’s falling margins, it seems obvious that motorcycle sales have not been what they once were. Without spending hours going through the finite details, it’s fair to say sales are about half of what they were prior to the market crash in ’09. Until just recently, automotive sales have steadily climbed since the bottom fell out, while motorcycle sales have remained mostly stagnant. Stories of this “Doom and gloom” were quite the persistent theme in the motorcycle media for the last year or so. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time reading these articles, especially regarding Victory’s closure, and naturally couldn’t help asking myself, “What’s the future of motorcycling?”
I have to tell you, I don’t see myself as a person that normally subscribes to negative news. I think most of us have heard the expression “if it bleeds, it leads” in reference to the nightly news; a mantra that I believe has led to the sensationalized 24-hour news cycle, and sadly, I fear has led to a negative mob mentality that has arguably affected the social culture of this country. For that reason, I don’t subscribe to it, and generally tune-out the news outlets and their scare tactics. However, when it comes to motorcycles, it’s difficult to ignore these negative messages, considering the riding community’s small size. So, I ask the question, assuming this information is true, why are motorcycle sales declining?
Are Millennials to blame for declining sales?
Many of those before mentioned articles included no shortage of opinions from various members of the motorcycle community, from the familiar faces of the moto-media, to the CEO of Harley Davidson. Beyond the two-wheeled world, after downgrading the Motor Company’s financial outlook, analysts from Alliance Bernstein blamed Generation Y’s lack of interest in motorcycling as the cause of Harley’s decreased sales. This naturally spread like wildfire throughout the media, be it two-wheeled or otherwise. It is said that the Baby Boomer generation embraced motorcycling more than any other, and now that generation is simply aging out of the sport. Generation X appears to have been ignored in much of this commentary, overshadowed by the fact that the Millennials, AKA Generation Y, now outnumbers all other generations in the country. Again skeptical, I ask, are Millennial buying habits actually the reason the motorcycle market is shrinking? If that’s true, that Millennials are not adopting motorcycling like their predecessors, is this just a timing thing, or is it an interest problem?
Are the costs too high?
Exclusive of the generation gap, many have suggested that motorcycles simply cost too much. (On the blog) I’ve probably discussed the topic of motorcycle cost ad nauseum, but I will say that it’s hard to believe there’s not some sticker shock going on at the local motorcycle dealerships. For many, the staple “first motorcycle” of yore was arguably the Honda Rebel 250; which, in recent history was upgraded to the new Rebel 300 and will set you back about five grand or so out the door. That price range is easily “reliable used car” territory, possibly remodel the bathroom money, and unquestionably fix the car, buy diapers and groceries money. I’m not trying to suggest that the new Rebel 300 is overpriced, I’m simply agreeing with comments I’ve seen elsewhere, Americans have no shortage of places to spend their hard-earned money. Therein lies the rub, I’ve heard folks say they want to give motorcycling a try, but they simply can’t justify the cost. Are sales in a slump because new motorcycles cost too much, or is it a matter of return on investment? Or have Americans simply decided to spend their disposable income on cheaper leisure activities?
Are manufacturers not selling bikes people want?
Others have suggested that there are not enough appropriate motorcycles for first time riders available. Per my comment about the recent upgrade of the Honda Rebel, in the past 3 years it seems there’s been somewhat of a mad rush to expand the offerings in lower displacement ranges. That said, there’s also been a significant boom in the retro, scrambler, and adventure segments. I’ve read opinions that suggest these retro bikes are targeted at older riders that are looking to downsize and are captivated by the nostalgia of their youth; meanwhile the transformer like sport-naked and beaked adventure bike styling is modernized to fault. Which begs to question, are manufacturers simply not building motorcycles people want to buy?
Are motorcycles simply too dangerous?
Putting on my journalist hat on, I took to Facebook to interview my non-motorcycling friends.While I would ultimately like to write an article on this topic, I went ahead and asked my friends and family, “Why Don’t you ride a motorcycle?” The responses to this question were, of course, as unique as the individuals supplying the answers, but there’s no question that safety was a very common theme. Considering I’ve specifically written about motorcycle safety, my opinion on this topic is likely known by many; however, we cannot deny the non-riding community’s perception that motorcycles are less than safe. I’ll admit, my opinion about the dangers of motorcycles may be wrong, so with respect to the possible decline in the sport, I ask, “Is motorcycling simply too dangerous for most people?”
If you read my blog or regularly tune into the YouTube channel, my passion for everything two-wheels is evident. A motorcycle is my daily commuter as often as it is transportation to most social occasions. Long-time followers of Moto Adventurer obviously know that the motorcycle is my preferred means of travel and leisure, be it urban exploring, or the deep backcountry adventures. Motorcycling has put me in contact with some of THE MOST genuine people; and in many ways, helped me reintegrate to civilian life after my career in the military. While I don’t fear that motorcycles will suddenly be wiped from the landscape, there’s no denying that I do in fact believe that motorcycles are in the midst of a potentially major market shift; with cars not too far behind. As I’m obviously heavily invested in this… uh… “lifestyle” if you will, I want to help curb its possible demise, meanwhile, welcoming new members into such a rewarding community. If we’re going to promote the future of the sport, we first need to understand what’s actually happening by asking the right questions.
So again, I ask these questions: Is the Millennial generation responsible for declining motorcycle sales? Are manufacturers not selling bikes people want to buy? Has riding become too expensive compared to other leisure activities? Or has motorcycling simply become too dangerous?
Ultimately, I suspect that we will find truth behind each of these accusations, to some degree or another. The apparent decline of motorcycling is obviously a complex problem with a myriad of contributing factors. Which levies the final, and most important question, what do we need to change, as motorcyclists, manufacturers, and ultimately a culture to help grow the sport? Or in short, “What is the future of motorcycling?”