After the big recession gullywumped motorcycle sales eight or so years ago, the industry was knocked down, if not quite out. As it recovered from the recession, another problem T-boned it almost as hard: an aging buyership. With some notable exceptions, people are eventually going to stop riding bikes as they get older. And there aren’t nearly as many young buyers coming in to fill the void. For an earlier generation, mine or yours, say, motorcycles were a constant thing. We all had one, or rode one at least and didn’t consider life without at least one motorcycle in the garage. Not so with today’s youth.
As the seven-event Progressive International Motorcycle Shows season kicked off in Long Beach, California, Friday, the industry gathered to consider what, exactly, it should do about its disappearing customers. While press conferences rolled along on the show floor in advance of the public opening of the first round of the cross-country moto-show season, a small group of industry insiders held a parley inside to discuss how to save themselves.
Part of the meeting was to present results of a survey of 300 industry insiders asking what they were all doing wrong. Most agreed they had to make motorcycles more affordable. Cost is still a problem long after the recession ended. They also have to reach out to younger buyers and those not traditionally targeted by the industry –- women and minorities in particular.
Full results of the meeting, including a sort of moto manifesto, will be out in about 10 days. But the seriousness of the problem was acknowledged, at the least.
The BMW G 310 R
One way manufacturers are hoping to attract new buyers is to offer more affordable bikes. Many motorcycle makers on hand at the Long Beach show are putting an emphasis on bikes of around 300 ccs of displacement, some single- and some dual-cylinders.
BMW has increased the number of entry-level bikes it offers. The G 310 R is a 313-cc street bike that stickers for $4,750 including ABS. It’s an easy first bike for someone wanting to try riding. The seat height is only 30.9 inches, the fully fueled weight is just 349 pounds and yet it offers 34 hp and 21 lb-ft of torque, and looks like a sport bike.
BMW also highlighted its even-easier-to-ride C Evolution electric scooter. The C Evolution’s all-electric powertrain means no shifting and easy regenerative braking. Electric range is 99 miles, BMW says. Of course, batteries are still not cheap things anywhere you put them, so the sticker price is $13,750, but you can get 0 percent APR on all 2016 and 2017 models till Dec. 31! And if you want internal combustion in your scooter, the gasoline-powered C 400 X scooter will be on sale here in the U.S. in third-quarter 2018 with a 34-hp 350-cc single cylinder.
You should buy a Suzuki Van Van 200 for the name alone
Suzuki introduced its Burgman 400 scooter to the U.S. market in Long Beach, along with four other more traditional entry motorcycles ranging from 200 to 250 ccs that each cost under $5,000: the GSX250 R, DR 200 S, TU 250 S and the Van Van 200.
“We think the Burgman 400 will be good for new riders and riders coming back into the sport,” said Suzuki spokesman Avery Innis. “We want to bring back a lot of folks who used to ride before, as well as a lot of new riders in urban areas.”
Piaggio announced an electric version of its popular Vespa scooter but gave no indication when it would arrive in U.S. showrooms. This is not a problem for entry-level bikers since the Vespa brand offers many small-displacement scooters with monthly payments as low as $68.70 on a Liberty 50 iGET ei or $53.38 a month on a FLY 150 3V. That’ll attract the youth.
Royal Enfield Interceptor 650
Royal Enfield, which has specialized in 500-cc single-cylinder bikes for years, debuted a couple twin-cylinder 650s at Long Beach, two weeks after they were unveiled at the EICMA show in Italy.
“This engine is exactly what we have to do to bring in younger riders to motorcycling,” said Rod Copes, president of Royal Enfield North America.
Both the new bikes will sticker for under $7,000 when they arrive here in the second half of 2018.
“The general trend among buyers is that they’re aging out,” said Copes, who used to be with Harley-Davidson. “What’s the next generation coming in? Millennials. A lot of us grew up on dirt bikes; that’s not their thing. A lot of people have an interest in motorcycles but to enter the sport on a 750-pound bike is intimidating.”
Speaking of which, Harley-Davidson, perhaps hit hardest by the dearth of youth, didn’t have a specific model to offer young buyers at Long Beach, but it does have a plan.
“Over the next 10 years, we will create a new generation of motorcycle riders,” said spokesman Matt King. “We will bring 2 million new riders, people of all generations … we are charging fast and furious into the future.”
The Ducati 959 Panigale Corse looks so delicious you don’t know whether to ride it or eat it
Even Ducati, the quintessential sport- and superbike maker, has some ideas. The new Scrambler was introduced in 2014 with an 803-cc engine and is still on sale starting under $9000, but it is joined now by an 1100 model. And the bigger, more powerful sport- and superbikes are even available on open-ended leases through Ducati Premier. You can get a Monster 821 for $1,999 down and $134 a month, for instance; the beautiful 959 Panigale Corse is just $212 a month; and the all-new Panigale V4 S “direct from MotoGP” is $262 a month after the down payment.
To get an idea of how the industry is going to do this, you can see these bikes, as well as a host of performance and cruiser models, at the seven remaining shows coming to a city near you: New York, Dec. 1-3; Minneapolis, Dec. 8-10; Cleveland, Jan. 26-28; Dallas, Feb. 2-4; Chicago, Feb. 9-11; Washington, D.C., Feb. 23-25.