Did you by any chance read my articles on this site about the failings of the industry and the shortcomings of dealers? Well, let me just moved this mirror around a little here, because it’s our turn now.
You (and I) are not blameless for the stagnant state of the motorcycle business in our respective countries.
Let’s take a look at what is actually going on. Sales were down in both the US and Australia, two of the main consumers of this website, even before the Coronavirus hit. The rest of the world is down as well, and the reasons for market changes apart from COVID-19 are as varied as diets and politics. So, the US and Australia – what was happening before the health crisis hit?
The ‘feed’ of younger riders had slowed right down. Risk aversion is becoming a thing you simply can’t avoid. Grownups at school barbecues call me a ‘temporary Australian’ or a ‘voluntary organ donor’. Not surprisingly, they won’t let their kids ride bikes.
Motorcycling has lost its gloss for young people because it is no longer the obvious way of rebelling. How much trouble is it, and how much less does it cost, to get a tattoo, as against buying a bike and getting a license? You’ll blow the oldies’ minds both ways. At least you can hide a bike in a friend’s garage, I guess.
The disposable cash isn’t there. In the US, I suspect that most people are still not sure when — or even that — the good times are coming back, and that they’ll last. In Australia, the good times aren’t back – wages have stagnated for a decade.
Meanwhile, those oldies who are still riding bikes are probably on their last machine. Sure there are some amazing bikes for their demographic hitting the streets. Harley has never made better motorcycles than the current Softails; Indian introduces wonderful new models all the time; BMW is seriously tackling this market. But there are simply not all that many buyers out there any more.
Between callow youth and trembling age there is a gap. Manufacturers produce motorcycles with more and more electronics; can’t blame them, they need a reason to raise prices and support wonky profits. But many regular and loyal riders simply don’t want either the cost or the complexity, and buy an ‘80s machine to do up, instead.
Adventure bikes fill that gap to some extent, although they, too, are suffering from electronicitis. Is it really surprising that Royal Enfield is going gangbusters in so many countries? RE sales overall have been down because the Indian market has tanked. But they were up 124% in Britain.
But back to us, the riders. How well have we served our hobby, really?
How much of the motorcycle-related risk aversion shown by Mr and Mrs Middle Class is down to the misbehavior and boasting of the current crop of sports bike riders? They do listen to you, you know, and when you talk about how you just missed that 34-wheeler (18 in the US) they think – naw, I don’t want my kids doing that.
And hey, HOG members. Have you welcomed new riders – maybe even on the ‘wrong’ bike – or have you preened yourself behind your collection of badges and genuine Harley-Davidson sunglasses?
Dirt riders, canyon cutters, Iron Butters, even customisers: have you welcomed newbies to your numbers or have you basked in the knowledge that you’ve achieved some kind of elevated status that the noobs had better recognise and respect and bow down to?
It’s easy enough to ask what the industry has done for you. But what have you done for the industry? Have you badmouthed your local dealer, for whatever reason, or have you tried to help him improve? Have you poured disdain on one brand of motorcycle to the benefit of another? Do you have any idea, any idea at all, how stupid that looks to an outsider?
A motorcycle is above all a motorcycle, and a motorcyclist is above all a motorcyclist. I have two BMWs, a Ducati, a Harley-Davidson, a Honda and a Kawasaki. I also ride different bikes all the time as part of my duties at Australian Motorcyclist Magazine. Out on the road I am treated differently according to the bike I’m on – but only by motorcyclists. Joe Public, our target to create more motorcyclists, treats me much the same.
“Got a bike, have you? What’s it like? I always wanted a bike…”
Bingo! Got him! But not if you insist on pushing one brand or one type of motorcycling over all others. Ben Franklin said it well. “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” And that means all of us – all riders, everyone in the industry.
And I’m not ashamed to look into the mirror myself.
(Photos: The Bear)