I intended to follow up my explanation of the different motorcycle cultures with some of the examples of the cultural clashes that developed during each period. We will get to that later but for now there is something bugging me that I just have to address. There is a major concern that the motorcycle industry is fading away as the boomers age out. First off we may not be growing as fast as some (investment companies, bankers, large corporations) would like but we are far from fading away. There seems to be an incredible realization we need new riders (no kidding) and we can get them by letting them just sit on a bike, ride on a simulator, or somehow just touch the world we live in and be sold on buying a motorcycle. All the current research tells us that millennials would rather accumulate experiences than things. Motorcycling has always been about experiences, in the garage, on the track, on the road and together with friends. The other thing about the motorcycle experience is being a bit of rebel, bucking authority or just plain being your independent self. Through it all the camaraderie and brotherhood of like-minded bikers is what has made motorcycling special—the willingness to help a brother or sister stranded on the side of the road, the unselfish donation of money and time to the less fortunate, a loyalty to fellow bikers and the freedom of the road.
I know we are not seeing the number of new unit sales we saw through the ’90s and into the turn of the century but we are still selling a lot more bikes than we did when I started this game in 1971. There has to be a realization of the actual business out there and what it is. Too many companies are projecting sales to meet unattainable targets and setting themselves and their associates up for failure. We do not need any more motorcycle businesses going away. In terms of new unit sales it is pretty obvious we need more affordable bikes to penetrate the millennial and younger demographics. Millennials are saddled with student loans, lower starting salaries and a million other distractions that just don’t allow them to invest in motorcycles that cost more than four-wheel transportation alternatives.
While the aftermarket may be the source of innovation they still need new bikes to develop accessories for. I know everyone is concerned about keeping their own businesses afloat but it would seem to me if we could step back and create more collaboration between riders, the aftermarket and the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) we could all move ahead faster as we enter the new future the market is dictating. Our industry is facing its biggest change in history; we cannot expect to grow by doing business the same way we always have expecting a different result.
So how do we add new riders? You and I have to bring new riders to the world of motorcycling. It is great that the OEMs (Harley, Indian, Triumph, etc.) have their initiatives, and organizations like the MIC and the AMA are creating more ways to attract new riders but in the end they cannot do what we can. We can invite our nephews and nieces to join us on our annual rides to Daytona and Sturgis. I had the privilege of putting a bike together for my nephew after his father passed away. My brother Steve, my buddy Kyle and I delivered it to him and we all rode up to Laconia Motorcycle Week with friends. Let me tell you, he is now a lifelong biker and I guarantee you he will be investing in a newer bike when his budget allows. It was not just the bike and the ride. It was the fun we all had together especially at night around the campfire telling stories and the gut-busting laughter messing with each other.
Only you can show what it means to pull over to help a fellow rider. Only you can help someone younger place value on the importance of donating to the MDA or helping a disabled veteran. Only you can explain cresting the horizon as the sun was rising in the Rockies. I was lucky my grandfather was a hardcore rider and passed the love of motorcycles on to my father. More than motorcycles my father taught me the code of the road and life for that matter. We were not a race family or even in the industry until me, but the love of motorcycles runs deep in our family. My daughter recently bought her new husband a Sportster for his wedding present. Not everyone can build or buy someone a bike but encouragement from the family means a lot more than a sales presentation from someone getting paid to talk to you.
Let’s face it, non-conformity is a big part of the biker/motorcycle attraction. Even the most conservative rider will let their freak flag fly when they are out cruising their motorcycle. While business promotes a certain conformity because it helps in the production and the promotion of motorcycles, that conformity must be kept in the background, otherwise, we tend to blend in with all the other choices consumers have to invest their disposable income. One of my biggest issues with the current dealership experience is that it is no longer a unique experience. As each new shop opens or a new owner takes over, the uniqueness or quirkiness of that shop tends to fade away. It may be OK for every McDonald’s to be the same but it is the beginning of the end if all the motorcycle shops feel the same. I understand the need for progress but enthusiasts did not start collecting T-shirts from shops all over the world just because of their geographical location. It was because of their different experiences in each shop and the specialty focus of that shop they wanted to remember.
So let me close this with where I started. Only we can grow the motorcycle industry for future generations to value as we do. We are not restricted by financial targets and boardroom directions of what they think the future should be. Our only motivation is to promote the freedom of the road as it can only be enjoyed on two wheels.