Shadow recently brought a serious concern to my attention that one of our contributors had about the state of the motorcycle culture. It seems that many rallies across the nation are closing in on closing down. Attendance numbers are way down and though there are young bikers out there the rallies are still dominated by aging-out boomers. Is the motorcycle industry itself on a decline or is it the entire moto culture in the U.S.? More importantly what do we do about all this? Is there anything we can do to reverse the current trends. Even though millennials now outnumber boomers, are enough of them even interested in motorcycles?
Let’s be clear that the motorcycle culture is changing; you can take that to the bank from someone who has been riding and working in the motorcycle industry for almost 50 years. The majority of boomers and their parents came from a strong blue-collar, hands-on background. The automobile provided a channel for exploration and freedom. Motorcycles were a natural extension for those on the fringe of society seeking their own form of freedom and individuality. Motorcycles provided returning veterans from World War II and bohemian outcasts of the ’60s and ’70s a definition of non-conformity. As the popularity of motorcycles grew through the ’90s into the turn of the century so grew the acceptance of motorcycles by a larger population and the interest from investment-minded outsiders. Trust me, I have nothing against capitalism but the larger an industry becomes the more eyes are on it, the more regulations, the more restrictions, and the less unique everything about it becomes. So goes the way of the industry goes the way of its rallies.
First off most rallies have not kept up with societal changes and secondly exhibitors struggle to stay engaged. The good news is not everyone is in this predicament. Some rally promoters are working hard to stay relevant with the addition of racing exhibitions, updated entertainment and creating a Kustom Kulture appeal to the lifestyle, drawing in bikers and interested non-biker millennials alike. The big issue is very few millennials know how to work with their hands or are even interested in getting greasy never mind riding a motorcycle. Thank God there are some young enthusiasts (we need to listen to them) who will carry the torch until our industry figures out the experience motorcycles provide is the key to future growth. Motorcycles are not going away; as matter of fact I believe we can expect a slow steady growth for the next nine years when the millennials will then have more disposable income and the desire to break away from tech will be gaining momentum. Yes, we will lose some more rallies and aftermarket manufacturing companies but we will also gain new ones and the ones that understand the motorcycle experience will thrive and lead us to a bright future.
There is an overriding concern that the entire moto culture is slipping away. I live by the Texas Motor Speedway and I can tell you from the lack of traffic congestion during Nascar races I am sure their attendance numbers are down too. I got my first car when I was 14 years old and by then I had already been into my go-cart and hydroplane engines. I am no longer amazed when I meet 18-to-20-year-olds that don’t even have their license. May I suggest again, for the one millionth time, the true responsibility to pass the torch is in our hands. We don’t need a passive involvement but a proactive grease-on-hands approach. For example I rebuilt a bike for my nephew; we were geographically too far apart to do it together. I brought him to Laconia and we are riding to Sturgis together this year. I helped my daughter get a Sportster for her new husband and someday I will finish her trike. While you may not have access to the same resources I have, you can take your nieces and nephews to the next motorcycle event you attend. Motorcycle video games will never be a substitute for your enthusiasm. Get your children to help you wash your bike, adjust your chain, do a pre-ride once over or just sit down and listen to a story about your motorcycle adventures. No one knows better than you what motorcycles mean to you so it is time for you to share that passion and open up the exciting world of motorcycles to all you meet.
Our whole Industry needs a wakeup call. It is so important that we all work through this together. Different events could co-promote each other. OEM manufacturers could work with custom builders to produce more concept bikes. We must remember to stop when we see a biker stranded on the roadside and that little peace sign to oncoming riders is more important than you think. As far as I am concerned if you are on two wheels you are a sister or brother of the wind. Whether you ride a R9T, a Gold Wing, a Bolt, an FXR, a bagger or a chopper we are still a minority and need to stick together. In fact I believe if we look outside the box we may find certain factions that are more alike than different. Just say, for example, we combined an ATV event like Red Necks with Paychecks—I know they have three or four wheels—and a biker event like ROT Rally into one massive good time. We both love our vehicles and after the purchase we tend to spend more money than we paid for the original unit on upgrades. We both love to drink beer and carry on. We both love rock ’n’ roll and country music. It could be better than we ever imagined. The Power of Intention mindset claims if you think the worst outcome is probable it will manifest itself but likewise if we all focus on the great rides, incredible camaraderie, exciting new models and the bright future of motorcycling, that, too, will be the reality.