Millennials and Motorcycles- Motorcycles may be dying out, but who’s to blame?

Posted by Wild Ride Radio Crew October 5, 2017 Comments are off

Millennials and Motorcycles

Motorcycles may be dying out, but who’s to blame?

By Dallas Hageman, Wild Ride Radio Host | Image by Wild Ride Radio

I need a drink. If you are anything like me then no doubt you have read numerous articles in the past month pumped out from the major news publications regarding motorcycles and where the industry is headed. Going by these you’d think that motorcycles and the entirety of the riding culture are doomed. I’ve seen at least 20 separate pieces written in the past month on the death (or possibility) of the riding culture in the U.S. Reading these you would think that somebody lit these authors hair on fire, sent them down a steep hill and off a cliff on a skateboard and then told them to write a piece on Millennials and motorcycles… while enjoying the ride. It’s crazy. Literally crazy. So in the name of sobriety and sanity I have decided to take to the keyboard and chime in, with an attempt to clear the air and hopefully give you some hope about motorcycles and their future. Also included is a friendly note to motorcycle manufacturers… enjoy.

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First things first: Motorcycles are cool, and always will be

Since the very first individuals slapped an internal combustion engine on two wheels and took it out on a dirt road, motorcycles have been cool. One of the things I appreciate about the two wheeled contraptions is that they do not require much to stay in play with any culture. Motorcycles are just cool, period. It may seem weird that, out of all the machines contrived there are only a few that remain cool no matter what. Think about it. Lawn mowers are not cool, neither are Volkswagens, nor vans… actually vans are downright creepy. In fact, if you own a van, please part it out and buy something else. Let’s be real, with all of the vehicular choices available today, people in vans look like, well, someone who should probably be profiled by the police. Anyway, back to my main point… humans seem to be drawn to motorcycles and like them for many reasons, one being that they are extremely enjoyable and a little bit dangerous. In fact, it does not take any bells and whistles to make a scoot a fun and enjoyable part life. Just fill up the tank and the fun begins.

Millennials seem to be wimps

In my attempted protection of Millennials I will concede that SOME of this generation is fairly pitiful when talking about dangerous and exciting activities. In their defense, they’ve grown up in a culture where instructions are written on shampoo bottles and a definition of an exciting and fulfilling weekend is purchasing the newest video game while butt-chugging microbrews (yes, that is a real thing and no, do not Google it). They are products of an over protective and over bearing parental generation that kissed every boo-boo, gave trophies for participation and cancelled recess in the name of safety. It’s sad really and some of the blame for raising these types of Millennials lies on their parent’s shoulders. But there is hope…

Much to dismay of their parents and professors is one inherent trait that humans have which cannot be bred or taught out of existence and that is a love of true adventure and a natural draw to risk. We all have it. Some have had it buried deep inside by a parent, professor or spouse and have had everything done to try and suffocate this naturalistic desire, but that need for danger and excitement is still there, through it all. Yes, even in Millennials. Just because they aren’t ALL purchasing motorcycles and riding doesn’t mean the culture is dying. Hell, motorcycles used to be a subset of culture anyway… and that is not changing. Just because motorcycles are more prevalent today and numbers might be adjusting a little does not mean Millennials are not taking to the saddle. Some will ride, most will not. This concept is nothing new and actually a tradition that the motorcycle culture has had since the beginning of motors being strapped to two wheels.

New motorcycle registrations are down, but there’s a catch

The sticking point of a lot of articles I have seen about Millennials killing motorcycles is that registration of new motorcycles is down. The reports coming out are in regards to registrations of new and bigger engine motorcycles are down and this causes some in the media to have a knee jerk reaction; a reaction which incorrectly concludes that Millennials are simply not interested in riding… so the industry must be in decline, right? WRONG. This mode of thinking is patently absurd for many reasons. New motorcycle registrations are indeed down; however USED registrations are staying either solid or increasing a tad. Also, registrations for smaller engine and/ or smaller sized bikes are right on track as well. While the numbers could be greater and many in the industry would like to see ridership increase, registrations are, for all intents and purposes, fairly steady with growth in the used and smaller engine categories.

Change is coming but it’s not necessarily bad

Where I find a point of contention with this new mantra of Millennials “Ted Bundy-ing” the motorcycle culture is that some media outlets are looking only to one company in particular (Harley Davidson). They view this singular company, and none other, as the barometer of the temperature from the riding culture. They seem to use this company as a singular signal for motorcycles and growth in the U.S. as a whole. Now, Harley Davidson has been, and still is the motorcycle of choice for riders in the United States. However, just because Harley is doing poorly right now does not necessarily mean the industry as a whole is. Stick with me on this…

Think back to when you were a kid. You had your own friends, culture, and lifestyle that you formulated around your own, unique personality. You grew up in a different time with different economic statues and political patterns. You at some point probably began drifting, even a little bit, from what your parents and grandparents were like. Heck, your parents did the same thing with their parents and so on and so forth… The point is, each generation will like different things. While motorcycles are cool and will always be, it is patently absurd to assume they will like the same make/ model/ designs as their parents. Going historically off of where each generation has gone, one would surmise that the brand of the past will not necessarily be the brand of the future.

For the past 20 years motorcycle manufacturers have been cranking out big, gaudy, overpriced models that worked well with baby boomers, but not so much with Millennials. There is a reason for making these specific models too… these models have a HUGE profit margin for the manufacturers. Companies have enjoyed decades of fattened growth off of their aging demographic and are not prepared for what is to come from this newer generation entering the market. Studies have shown that this new generation does not like to take on too much debt (excluding student loan debt of course) and is less interested with stuff that routinely clutters their parent’s house and garage (read- name brand bikes). They are also looking for stripped down and simple rides, something that provides a much thinner profit margin for manufacturers.

Millennials want affordable motorcycles that are also dependable and they do not give two mouse poops about brand (one thing H-D has depended on for years). Enter the used bike market. Right now, if you own a motorcycle then you are in a good position to sell. Used bikes are hard to come by because many people, including Millennials, are looking for a deal. Without caring for brand names as well as big and expensive bikes, this generation is changing the landscape of ridership everywhere.

The future was yesterday

The problem now is that most manufacturers could not, or refused to read the Millennial writing on the wall. For too long some builders (mainly a company rhyming with Barley Bavidson) sat on their backsides with arms folded, proudly proclaiming they weren’t lowering prices because they did not want to “water the brand down”. Well, when you have a new generation not interested in a brand and not willing to sign their life away on an 80,000 month loan with 200% interest for a motorcycle they do not really even like, corporations cannot whine and complain that the industry is in decline. Barley’s tactic of sticking to high price points has cost, and is continuing to cost them big with huge losses in new bikes sales coupled with massive dips in stock prices. Also, their employees are suffering due to projected layoffs from said losses. These companies need to STOP BLAMING PEOPLE for not purchasing their products and get back to affordable quality. In fact, I will take this one step further…. If the industry is in decline from lack of new sales and manufacturers are not meeting their bottom lines I lay the full blame not at the feet of riders and a new generation, but at the feet of those manufacturers. So, what do we do to keep things going on two wheels… Well, I spent about two weeks on my radio show ranting against what I think is the real source of the stranglehold in motorcycles and motorcyclists. Below you’ll find my heartfelt plea to the perpetrators of this problem.

(I would like to write this paragraph as an open letter to any and all of the current motorcycle manufacturers in the U.S.:) Look motorcycle companies, if people are not willing to buy your products it is not their fault… it is yours. Drop your prices. Make better quality bikes. Stop charging $600.00+ for a damn oil change or $55.00 for a freakin’ t-shirt and then act like you did us, the customer, a favor. Unlike the older generation that is rapidly stepping off your rides, Millennials are not impressed with you. Quit trying to relive your yesteryears like a sad 45 year old attempting to relive the glory days of a high school football win. The industry is changing and if you are not on board it is not any generations fault… it is yours. YOU have forgotten how to provide quality and affordability and now focus purely on the bottom line. People will always ride motorcycles, regardless if YOU provide them or not. Quit throwing a tantrum and arrogantly claiming the industry will die without you all while clamoring to any microphone or camera within 150 miles to tell of your industry woes. Get with the program. The new generations is changing the landscape, with or without you.

… and there you have it, my two (or three) cents on the issue. The point is, no generation is at fault for a falling interest in motorcycles because there is no falling interest. The interest and participation in motorcycles is there, just like it always has been. In fact, there are more riders than ever before. Just because one or two companies are not managing to sell their overpriced and technically challenged rides does not mean that people in general are not riding, it just means people are not riding those particular makes and models. Don’t let the media warp the good news that people are riding and now more than ever are interested in quality and affordability. Keep your head up and knees in the breeze, it is only going to get better.

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