What Can You Do To Open The Gates?
Motorcycle manufacturers selling into the America marketplace have historically focused on big street bikes (700cc and up). That’s because we have a big country to get around — one where the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers have focused their riding. Big! But the size of motorcycles which sell well today seem to be shrinking rapidly, both in size and quantities.
Today, smaller machines are showing well in the sales reports. Take for example the Kawasaki 300, Yamaha R3, KTM Duke 390 and Honda CB300. MIC’s data shows relatively positive sales in 0-500cc motorcycles, but negative growth in 501-750, 750+, 900cc+ and 1000cc+ categories. Dual sport sales (including the emerging ADV sector) are up too, but is that because most are small and easier to ride?
Americans have always thought “big” first. Harley and Indian continued to build “V-Twin land yachts” well into the 1950s when the British began importing more competitive “lightweight” vertical twins for general riding, but also for off-road scrambles, TTs, desert and hill climb events. The point here is that surges in motorcycling’s societal popularity have historically been brought about by offering smaller and lighter “starter machines” to the general public as “gateways” to the bigger ones. Triumph, Matchless and BSA were considered “small bikes” by comparison and sold rapidly as “motorcycling” became more mainstream into the 50s and 60s.
Then came a new wave of even smaller Japanese motorcycles initiated by Soichiro Honda’s 50cc “Nicest People Super Cub” making way for even more common Americans to join the 2-wheeled on-road and off-road mania. Two-stroke machines were introduced as “racers” because they were even lighter than 4-stroke motorcycles with increased power-to-weight ratios.
Somehow we never woke up one morning and wanted to buy a motorcycle — I don’t think anyone ever did (or does) that. Instead it starts slowly with an “experiential seed” which is planted early on stemming from that feeling of unbounded freedom which no virtual reality video game will ever provide. Experiencing a motorcycle ride for the first time cannot be placed into words, pictures or music— it can only be felt by actually riding a powered vehicle through open space at faster than walking speed. It feels like magic… in case you have forgotten.
It is time for the “pump to be primed” once again with a larger and more convenient offerings of the following “7 Gateways To Motorcycling” in no particular order:
- Scooters, mopeds
- Borrowed machines (rental, subscription, or ride share now)
- Used motorcycles
- Bicycles—especially mountain bikes
- E-bikes—Pedal-assisted or e-motorcycle
- Skate & Surf
- Mini bikes/balance bikes (STACYC and Strider now)
Scooters and mopeds are innocent and unassuming, thus are more attractive to the population which needs simple, economical and fun transportation for a very low purchase price. They look at their investment as a transportation tool and not a recreational purpose like many of us experience. But…once the new-found scooter rider “feels the thrill” it can turn into the desire for more power and more thrill.
Borrowed motorcycles are everywhere it seems. This is how I got hooked—when an un-mechanical friend of mine asked me to repair his Yamaha 80, then said “ride it all you want if you get it running.” The rest is history. With today’s ride sharing apps and Club Eagle Rider rental plans, getting one’s hands on a set of handlebars is now easier and likely cheaper than owning for today’s modern riders.
Used motorcycles are available anywhere from Cycle Trader to Facebook Marketplace or from Craigslist to classified search engines. OEMs are still figuring out how to encourage customers to buy new when the little-used pre-owned units come at such a bargain. We need more riders… riding more… no matter whether it is a new or used bike.
Bicycles are an addiction just like motorcycles, but more health provoking, of course. You know the whole pedals vs. motors argument. No matter, getting on 2 wheels of any kind stirs one’s inner soul unlike anything than could happen inside a “cage.”
E-bikes are the best thing to happen to motorcycles since mini-bikes of the 70s. There is no reason to split hairs on e-powered scooters and electric-assist bicycles — they all provide the thrill of moving forward with minimal effort. Purist bicycle riders and independent bicycle dealerships (IBDs) don’t seem to see the opportunity here to move into higher-priced goods which Wal-Mart won’t carry. Like AIM Expo has embraced, you should too since they feed directly into motorcycling.
Skate & Surf might be a stretch to some, but think about the feeling of speed we all have in common. These boards are powered by waves, paddling and gravity, but the concept is the same. Electric skateboard and wakeboards are also fueling more “wind-in-the-face” addicts which are likely to be attracted to motorcycles.
Balance bikes are HUGE! Did your children or grandchildren receive them for Christmas? They should have. They teach motor skills, increase strength, build independence and self-confidence in children of all ages… until they need or want a motor. And we don’t care if it’s an electric or gasoline motor on their velocipede, as long as it moves forward at the twist of a throttle.
What do all 7 have in common? Answer: Wind-in-the-hair and a feeling of freedom moving through space. Once experienced, the brain will welcome motorcycling and encourage riders to seek out more, and more… and more! Now we have an addiction pending and a motorcycle enthusiast in the making.
Open the gates!