Harley-Davidson just released their 2017 fourth quarter results and things don’t look great, sales are down on heavy-weight cruisers and touring motorcycles and HD is struggling to bring in new riders.

“The continued weakness in the U.S. motorcycle industry only heightens our resolve and the intensity we are bringing to the quest to build the next generation of Harley-Davidson riders,” CEO Matt Levatich said in a statement.

New motorcycle registrations dropped 14.1% in 2017 from where they were in 2016. This sales trend seems to be continuing across motorcycle industry, but why?

The Problem:

I believe it is due to a number of factors:

  • Lack of diversity in advertising and outreach
  • Continuing to lean on “Baby Boomers” as a core demographic
  • Price
  • No real commitment to the mid-weight cruiser
  • Site like Craigslist, eBay, and even Facebook are making it much simpler to find a low price low miles used motorcycle

In my opinion, the number one issue is price closely followed by advertising and outreach. Here’s an example of were prices have gotten out of control.

A 2018 Indian Chief MSRP’s for $18,499 and a 2018 Harley-Davidson Road King MSRP’s for $18,999. I bring up these two motorcycles because when you walk into a dealership a salesperson is going to push you toward these as the mid-price motorcycles because that’s what the manufacturer and the dealership want them to do. Now imagine you are a new rider and are “kicking the tires” on getting into the sport, that price tag is more than likely going to turn you off. When I bought my first brand new motorcycle fresh out of the crate it was a 2006 Suzuki Boulevard C50 and I paid $5700 dollars. I rode it for 3 years put 52K miles on it and traded it in for $4500. That my friends is how you get/keep riders in the sport.

Next, let’s address advertising and outreach. American motorcycle companies have been marketing to baby boomer males (mostly white males) for years now and that group is aging out of the sport at a rapid pace. Women are becoming the largest group of new riders in the market but Indian and Harley-Davidson doesn’t seem to be addressing that, “Shrink it and Pink it” doesn’t work anymore. The younger generation is rarely if ever being marketed, and it doesn’t help that they have been told all their lives how dangerous motorcycles are. I remember when I was a kid we had toys like the Evel Knievel stunt set and could watch shows like CHiPs and ABC’s Wide World of Sports and see the cool in motorcycles.

Solutions:

I was taught in life to not complain about a problem if you aren’t ready to offer up a solution, and I have a few.

  • The dealership sales model has got to change, the salespeople and the dealerships need to stop calling motorcycles entry level, female or starter. I know plenty of people that started on a 1000cc+ motorcycle and have been riding ever since. I also know 6ft 2in dudes that ride Sportsters. Classify the bikes as the factory does but weigh class. And sell the bike based on ride fit not riding level.
  • Change the damn advertising!!! I’m a prime example of a mid-forties Black male that’s been riding for over 20 years and there are a lot of us out there and I rarely see any ads with people that look like me whether it’s motorcycles, accessories or apparel. Make gear for women, and know that it doesn’t have to be pink or lace. Also, try digital marketing to reach the younger generation, advertising in print media is not going to work in 2018. They should be doing things like a weekly podcast to talk about the models and answer questions for riders.
  • Figure out how to better push used motorcycles and make the price point appealing or make a real urban motorcycle, the Street series and the Scout are a good start. Make it quick and nimble for the younger generation to navigate potholes and assholes.
  • Push American Flat-track and promote it as a family event. Kids see motorcycle racing and they want to race and ride motorcycles.
  • As riders, we need to hype our passion for motorcycling, when someone asks us do we ride or what we ride we need to talk about all the greatness that is riding and the ride. Assume that all they know about riding is what they have seen on Sons of Anarchy and the evening news reporting on the latest crash, tell them about the road trips you have taken, the smell of the air, the peacefulness, the friendships and the wave. Let them see the smile on your face as you talk about riding. One thing we also need to do is stop saying there are two types of riders those that have gone down and those are going down. My friends over at the Motorcycle Men Podcast made that statement and I couldn’t agree more.

Is motorcycling dead, no! Is motorcycling dying, possibly and I believe it will if the mentally of the American V-Twin manufactures stays the same. I think they are killing the sport with 30-year-old processes that haven’t changed, I think they are killing the sport by pushing $20k+ motorcycles that very few can afford, I think they are killing it by targeting the same group of aging riders that they always have.

I think we as riders are playing a part in letting it die by not bringing more riders into the fold both new and those that left the sport, we can do more. If we as riders do our part to be ambassadors and also be vocal when Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle release another “New Model” that’s just a new paint job we should call them out. We should bring our kids, nieces, and nephews to Flat Track events and Super Cross, we should buy them motorcycle toys, we should teach them about motorcycle safety and repair. We are the ones that can keep this sport going for future generations to enjoy.

Now let hope for warm weather and get out there and ride’em like we stole’em!

 

Ride or Die,

The V-Twin Blogger

 

 

 

 

 

  • I want to give special thanks to Dallas at Wild Ride Radio and Robert Pandya for the “Give a Shift” report for helping to provide reference points for this post.

9 thoughts on “Is motorcycling dead? No but…

  1. Agree. Need more movie for who ride motorcycle like easy rider, wild hog …some like that and off course the TV show too. Need more AD motorcycle like touring on any where the national park. I don’t think motorcycle dying but my wife were scared from news about motorcycle accident more than car and truck. I feel like smacks the tv news and cut down the motorcycle accident news. Well, I know the free press. What can I do.

    1. Have you seen “Why we Ride”? You should have your wife watch that. It does a great job at telling the story of riding.

  2. If you bought a 2006 Suzuki C50 for $5700 …put 52K miles on it in 3 years, and got $4500 trade-in ….your experience is way, way off the norm. Most dealers (Suzuki or otherwise), wouldn’t have offered more than $2500 trade-in. What you’re really talking about then is a relationship with your dealer. I like to work on my bikes myself, so, I’ve never really established a relationship with a dealer (my family was actually a Honda / Harley franchisee from 1968 – 1983).

    After accessories / upgrades, my buddy paid $30K for his 2012 H-D Street Glide (FLHX). His bike is probably worth $12-13K today on the private sales market. He’s been interested in the 2018’s recently and the dealer that he has religiously patronized offered him a $16K trade-in (with 60K miles). It was obviously an inflated offer due to the fact that he was a loyal customer. The same dealer offered me $7K trade-in for my 2009 FLHX that is worth $10-$11K, all day long on the private sales market.

    There is value in owning an H-D motorcycle. Typically speaking, the resale value of H-D motorcycles are far, far better than any other brand. The front-end price might be hefty. But when you can buy a motorcycle for $20-25K and still get $15K for it 10 years later, it’s something. My Dad had a 2005 Road-King that had 63K miles on it. I think he paid around $15K for it brand new. In the summer of 2016, he hit some hard times and sold it. He got $10K for that bike …@ 11 years old & 63K miles. Show me ANY other brand that can pull that off.

    1. I’m not attempting to disagree with your article in any way …except that one instance. I agree with pretty much every other premise of your essay. But deals can be had on H-D’s and they hold their value better than pretty much any other motorcycle ever made.

      1. No problem, even if you did disagree it’s all good. This should be a open discussion that hopefully will help push HD and Indian (Polaris) to help better understand the consumer and our needs.

  3. Not sure if new buyers think far enough ahead to consider the price of Harley regular service, but they ought to. It is outrageous. What other vehicle on the market requires a 10K service that costs what Harley charges? Not all of us want to wrench on our bikes. Better engineering, better durability.

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