I remember living by this credo along with “Don’t trust anyone with a trimmed beard.” Somehow when you turn 18 you also gain all the knowledge of the world. The 30-year mark has to do with most people settling into conformity, compromise and budgetary restraints. The current age of conformity may be older but the point is the same. I bring this up to help explain the current state of affairs in the motorcycle industry and where we are headed. The millennial movement, doesn’t matter if you are a hipster, into vintage or a rider of the open road, brought the effects of the changing age demographic to the new reality we are all adjusting to. The good news is as the millennials are cresting their age of conformity. They are actually looking back to move forward and finding new creative ways to utilize technology to make our world a better place. It may not be the same way we would do it but then we solved our challenges differently than our previous generation.
Part of our industry’s struggle right now is everyone’s focus on monetizing their efforts. This focus has created a mistrust among young riders just wanting to enjoy the motorcycle experience. Many factors of legacy rallies, races, consumer events and trade shows have become cost prohibitive and too restrictive. How and why should a small custom entrepreneur expense themselves out of business when there is a low-cost, better-targeted alternative? The no-fear attribute of the young along with the millennial desire to be part of something and not accepting status quo has brought us great events like Born Free, Handbuilt and Mama Tried. These new events are low or no cost, a social gathering of like minds and a new appreciation for form and function. Yes, I know the industry needs to be profitable to survive but we cannot forget the drivers of motorcycle desire come from adventure, independence and freedom. Make sure you let vendors and exhibitors at these events, old and new, know what you want in exchange for your patronage and we will all share a bright future.
So why is the millennial thing such a big deal? Many attributes of the young are counter to the boomers. The young are moving back to the cities, they value experiences more than things and they have a stronger social conscience. This translates to the need for smaller, more utilitarian bikes at a lower cost, more intimate regional events and purpose-designed specialty vehicles and equipment. The other big change is millennials now outnumber boomers and the majority rules. They also care more than we boomers; let’s face it—most of us are just happy to get up and ride every chance we get. Part of the industry struggle is the resistance to let the young take over. I have been preaching for years to listen to the young but now is the time to let the young’s energy, civic duty, technical expertise and passion lead us into the future. Best I can tell these young ’uns have figured there is nothing better than Class C roundy-round racing. In the dirt, on the ice or on syrup-drenched cement it doesn’t matter; nothing is more fun or more American. I like the vintage guys featuring those old board trackers, the side shifters and dressing up to look the part. Another great revelation is the fact that custom bikes don’t have to be V-twins. Not only do they not have to be V-twins but they don’t have to be choppers. I still prefer Harley V-Twins and choppers but I have been duly impressed with creativity from some of these young builders and their recreated junk finds.
My point is we took over for our parents and now our children are going to take over for us. They will find new ways to entertain and service our needs. In this world of technology who would have ever thought we would see the popularity of Hooligan racing? How about the art and photography on display at custom bike shows? I am positive the old standards like Sturgis and Daytona are not going away but will evolve like society itself. What is required is for all of us to work and ride together. Motorcycling is not going away either but is it really changing or is the essence of our sport just be rediscovered? Did we forget why we love motorcycles or did we just get lazy and take our freedoms of the road for granted? I, for one, have been privileged to meet so many capable, younger enthusiasts that I am more than willing to entrust the future of our sport to. I believe we are on the right track with the focus on short track-style racing, multi-platform motorcycle events, specialty equipment development and the appeal to a broader base of new enthusiasts. Our future lies in the young; it is the nature of the sport. It is not just the millennials about to take over the business and direction of motorcycling but their children. Balance bikes, electric scooters and mini bikes need to be introduced at an early age but don’t forget to give them a wrench and teach them righty tighty, lefty loosey.