The following is from the January 2018 issue of American Motorcyclist.
By Scot Harden
The news isn’t good. The motorcycle business is in a rut.
New motorcycle sales are down. The industry is suffering at almost every level. The current demographic is aging. We aren’t attracting new blood to the sport like we used to and, in many areas of popular culture and modern life, we are becoming less relevant.
You might ask, “So what does it matter to me? Why should I care? I still ride and enjoy it.”
That’s understandable. After all, most motorcyclists are individualists. Given the current state of technology and great new OEM product offerings—as well as the wide range of racing activities going on around the world and the competition in the marketplace competing for your consumer dollars -- there’s probably never been a better time to be a motorcycling enthusiast. It’s supply and demand, and with less demand and more supply, the consumers have the edge.
So why, then, should you care if the industry is experiencing a downturn?
Here’s why: The future of motorcycling depends on numbers.
Without new buyers, there is no reason for OEMs to continue to sink millions of dollars into research and development to build better motorcycles.
Without new riders—and new members—our voice through organizations like the AMA diminishes and loses importance, reducing our ability to affect legislative issues and address regulatory threats to our sport. OEM marketing programs, owner’s groups, clubs and racing become less relevant.
Most importantly, we have fewer friends to share the open road and trail with. At the end of the day, what makes our sport so great is having fellow motorcycle enthusiasts to share the experience with. Most of my friends are motorcyclists, each one a cherished treasure and blessing because—as motorcyclists—we are unique, special people who add a lot to each other’s lives.
Businesses and organizations whose existence depends on the growth of motorcycling understand this and are making efforts to promote motorcycling. Yes, we have issues attracting young people to recreational riding and cost is a barrier to entry, as is image. So, manufacturers are undertaking programs and campaigns to attract new consumers, especially millennials.
This effort is bringing new, lower-cost, small-displacement models to market. From Harley Davidson’s initiative to bring two million new motorcyclists into the fold by 2020, to the Motorcycle Industry Council’s Ride program, there are efforts to combat the trend. Great ideas all the way around.
But why stop there?
I suggest we take this personally and, as motorcycle enthusiasts, each of us should—and can—do more to inspire new riders. Who better to influence a non-motorcyclist’s perception of motorcycling than current motorcyclists?
I’m advocating for a grassroots evangelism on a one-to-one basis across the nation. And I am labeling this initiative "Plus 1." It really won’t take much. All we need to do is share our passion with our non-motorcycling friends. Here are just a few things we can do as motorcyclists to turn people onto motorcycling and perhaps convince them to give it a try:
1. Share your passion with others. Expose non-motorcycle friends to the sport by inviting them to your house to catch the Sunday game on TV. Entertain in your garage. Use your motorcycle(s) as props to promote discussion about motorcycles. Let them touch, feel, even sit on your bike. I would argue that every motorcyclist started a love affair with motorcycling after first sitting on someone else’s bike.
2. Attend an event. Invite your non-motorcyclist friends to a motorcycle show, race or rally. Take time to explain what is going on, introduce them to your motorcycling friends, and share the experience with them like you would anyone else.
3. Take a friend for a ride. It doesn’t have to be all day. Take them to lunch or for coffee. Let them experience the fun and enjoyment of riding.
4. Teach someone how to ride. I know this raises all sorts of issues, but many enthusiasts—like myself—have enough property and small-displacement bikes to teach people how to ride off road. Get them over their initial fears. Show them it isn’t as complicated as it looks. Encourage them to take a rider-training course.
5. Invite your non-motorcycle friends for dinner and a movie. I suggest a motorcycle movie, such as “The World’s Fastest Indian,” the “Long Way Around,” “The Motorcycle Diaries,” “On Any Sunday” or “Take it to the Limit.” Anything to inspire them to want to give motorcycling a try.
6. Share the experience. Tell your co-workers about your latest motorcycle trip or adventure. Sure, they probably already know you’re a motorcyclist. But have you ever shared exactly what that means and how it enriches your life? This would work well in any other groups or associations you are already involved in.
7. Invite non-motorcycle friends to go camping with you and experience the outdoors. Find a place where you can all enjoy the surroundings and make sure you have your motorcycle available, as well. My first motorcycle riding experience took place on just such a trip.
8. Visit your local motorcycle dealer and invite your non-motorcycling buddy to tag along. Show off the great product offerings. Make the point that motorcycles exist in all shapes and sizes.
9. Target social media. Share pictures of yourself enjoying the sport. Share posts you come across that are inspiring and show just how much fun motorcycling is.
10. Reach out to millennials. For all you baby boomers out there, make an effort to reach out to your children’s friends and acquaintances. Show an interest in what they are doing. Ask them if they’ve ever thought of going riding. If you can, provide an opportunity for them to experience the sense of freedom, adventure and excitement that motorcycling offers.
These are just a few of the ways we, as enthusiasts, can have a positive impact on the sport and drive the next generation of enthusiasts forward.
It is going to take a collective effort of everyone involved in motorcycling to turn around the current trend—manufacturers, aftermarket, dealers, clubs, the AMA and, last, but not least, each of us, working one-to-one with non-motorcyclists.
We can get this done. Motorcyclists are passionate, life affirming people. Who wouldn’t want to be associated with that?
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Scot Harden has enjoyed a nearly 40-year career as one of the world’s top off-road racers and compiled a set of records that few can match. From 1971 until his final professional race in 2007—at the age of 51—Harden mastered a wide range of off-road disciplines.
He also has compiled an impressive resume of motorcycle industry executive management positions and is well known as a brand builder, team manager, sales professional and product planner with such companies as Husqvarna, KTM, BMW and Zero Motorcycles.
Harden also is owner of Harden Offroad, a business consulting practice specializing in the power sports and electric vehicle industries.
He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2008.