Over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of discussions here on ADV Rider trying to gauge why young people don’t ride motorcycles. There was a poll trying to determine what’s the best way to bring young people into motorcycling; a piece suggesting bikes need to become cool again to be attractive to youngsters; and, most recently, an idea that all young people need is a little bit of encouragement.
While a lot of opinions and ideas in these articles make sense – at least on paper – they’re all based on the same notion that young people don’t ride. Or, at least, not as much as the Boomers. Or not as often. Not as far. The millennials and Gen Z’ers, essentially, are doomed; stuck behind screens, forever glued to their smartphones, unable to tell a sprocket from a Frisbee, these poor souls are missing out, and there’s little hope to get them off the couch and onto two wheels.
That, in a nutshell, is what the older generation of motorcyclists seem to think about young people.
But is that actually true?
The TET Crowd Is Getting Younger
I don’t have hard data, but during the last few months of traveling Europe, I met more young people on the TET than ever before. Guys and gals in their twenties riding their dirt bikes or dual sports across Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and beyond, wild camping and fishing along the way, doing their own thing, and, yes, Instagramming the hell out of their trips – but that can only be a bonus, as the more youngsters are posting their stuck-in-the-mud-on-a-CRF-while-grinning-from-ear-to-ear pictures on social media, the more the overall presence swells. Some of these guys and gals were riding second-hand, barely-alive, old dirt bikes; some, on the other hand, were aboard brand-new T7’s, with all the shiny, high-tech gear, luggage, and bling. And no, their parents didn’t buy those bikes for them. They bought them themselves with money they made running their own businesses online, on those much-hated smartphone screens, or by selling one Bitcoin they bought back in 2000 for pennies.
Whenever the issue of Why the Industry Isn’t Supporting Young Riders comes up, the argument is that, well, why should it – younger people don’t have the spending capacity for new bikes. That, however, isn’t quite true, either: overall, the prediction is that the Gen Z is going to hold more than a quarter of global income by 2030 and surpass Millennials’ spending power the year after, their income set to grow 400% over the next decade. So yeah, kids may not be loaded with cash just yet, but give them a few years – who do you think is behind all those crypto investments and e-commerce sites? The youngsters may not be willing to part with twenty grand on a brand new Pan America right now, but once they have the spending power, they’re more than likely to ditch their old two strokes and go for something else (except that something else will most likely be electric rather than a traditional dinosaur ADV machine). If the industry isn’t looking at young people and investing in them right now to reap the benefits in the coming decade, well… their loss.
The Mechanical Conundrum
Next up is the argument that young people are mechanically useless; kids don’t want to – or can’t – work on their bikes. Beg to differ: just look at this beautiful old Guzzi restored to the nines by a twentysomething.
Or this 1987 Kawasaki KLR rebuilt from scratch by a 25-year old. Some young riders may have zero interest in working on their bikes, sure. But some older riders take their bikes to the shop for tire and oil changes, too. So what gives?
Finally, the way we ride might be changing, too. For a lot of young people, riding motorcycles isn’t something that’s going to be that one and only thing; it’s just something fun to do for one summer. Riding a bike across Europe? Sure; next summer, it’ll be diving in Indonesia or exploring cenotes in Mexico. Motorcycling is an experience. An awesome one, sure – but one of many more to come. However, most people who start riding keep on riding, even if they swap their motorcycling adventures for canyoning trips or mountaineering; they still ride to work or school, though, and they’re still willing to hit the road on a moment’s notice.
Speaking of which: even RTW trips may turn out to be more accessible to young people than the Boomer riders. For one, youngsters tend to take the RTW concept less seriously. It’s less overthinking and overpreparing and more of a “ride around the world? Cool, let’s go!” type of thing. And because millennials and Gen Z’ers are much, much more flexible and able to work remotely, funds aren’t the deciding factor anymore – at least not in the traditional sense. You don’t need to subject yourself to wage slavery for a decade to save up for a RTW trip any longer. You can simply jump on the bike, hit the road, and digital nomad your way around the world.
Where’s Everybody Hanging Out?
Finally, as motorcycling is seen as an experience rather than religion, young people may actually end up owning more bikes and trying out more disciplines than the older generations. One season, they may be riding scooters in Thailand, the next, riding dirt bikes across Spain, and the next, jumping on electric bikes to explore South Africa or go for track days back home just to have fun. Rally? Hell yes, sounds cool. Road bikes for a trip to Norway? Why not. Monkey bike run in Morocco, followed by a tuk tuk race in India? Yes, please.
Last but not least, is it possible that young people on bikes are less visible to the older generations simply because they don’t hang out in the same places and events? Think about it: why would a twentysomething rider go to the Adventure Bike Festival or Overland Expo and part with hundreds of dollars for entry fees just to look at some overpriced gear stalls and the Touratech-clad middle-aged dudes trying to stand up on the pegs of their GS’s and Pan Americas while they can spend the same amount of money on food and fuel riding trails, wild camping, and hanging out with other like-minded souls? Why would they go to forums if they can instantly connect with other riders on Instagram?
So I’m not so sure young people aren’t riding.
Is it possible that you just don’t notice them much?