Motorcycles are still cool so why is the industry hurting?

WHERE ARE THE NEW RIDERS? Motorcycle sales are down, motorcyclists are getting older, and people have all kinds of non-motorcycle related pursuits fighting for their hard-earned, after-tax dollars. Industry distributors, suppliers and after-market players are all struggling according to numerous media reports and a review of various OEM financial reports. Future sales forecasts by the big manufacturers are weak. Many are working towards lower inventories to ensure they are not producing more bikes than their “current” marketplace can support. So, what’s up?

Here’s my 2-cents on this issue…

The 45+ Demographic – As is the case with many expensive recreational product offerings such as ATVs, RVs, side-by-sides, boats and motorcycles, personal income levels and interest rates play a huge role in customer demand. In other words, you got to be able to afford your recreational pursuits.

The American Motorcyclist Association indicates the average age of today’s motorcycle rider is 48. Nearly 40% of motorcycles in the U.S. have owners in the 50+ age range. Average household income of a motorcycle owner is above $85,000. This is $30,000 higher than the average household income of $55,000 in the U.S. Basic observation: A disappearing pool of customers (with the money to buy their ever increasingly expensive products) is clearly evident to OEMs and has been so for the past decade. Despite the evidence, OEMs have been slow to control their selling costs and even more slow to invest in developing other target demographics such as women riders and minorities.

The Aging Rider – Baby Boomer on 2 wheels. – Almost singularly drove the success of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s…but today, they are “aging out” of the motorcycle marketplace.

Product Sticker Shock – It’s no wonder first-time buyers and young people aren’t buying a lot of new motorcycles. Many are loaded with college debt and/or automobile debt and/or raising young families. In California and other expensive states, a good number of the under 35 crowd can barely afford to leave the comfort of their family’s homes.

OEMs have failed to address the economic reality plaguing this demographic. Best I can tell, young people actually like the idea of participating in adventures and going on roadtrips but view bikes as too expensive a vehicle for it.

Remember the simple minibikes of the 60s & 70s? You could buy them for less than $250 from the Sears Catalog. These bikes got a lot of us riding early.

Not building new motorcycles that young people can afford has been a clear strategic miss by the OEMs in my opinion. For example, the Harley-Davidson Street 500 MSRP is $6,899 plus an estimated 25% for various state and dealerhip charges. Now, your talking almost $9,000 out the dealership door.

Indian’s new Scout Sixty is a really cool ride but at MSRP $8,999 plus an estimated 25% of OEM “disclaimer” fees and you are now looking at $11,249 out the door.

Yamaha Cruisers don’t fare much better with the Bolt Cruiser MSRP at $7,999 + 25% = $10,000.

2018 HD Street 500 – nice bike! First time buyers and young buyers on my blog tell me they would see this Street 500 as much nicer at $6,899 out the dealership door instead of $6,899 MSRP plus various fees. ImageSource: HDMedia

Just 1 in 5 new motorcycle purchases (only 20%) are coming from first-time bike buyers according to marketing expert, Brandon Gaille. Basic observation: Smart competitors have taken notice. Sources tell me that India’s Royal Enfield is getting ready to launch new U.S. bikes in the 500cc and 750cc range for under $7,900 out the door by 2019. Japan’s world famous Honda Super Cub, with engines at 50cc and 110cc, is being launched now in Japan for an out the door price estimated to be $2,500. A U.S. and Canada introduction is expected for 2019.

Used MotorcyclesThe real price to ride value today…comes from used motorcycles. Bikes are so well built that one can consider any pre-owned motorcycle with less than 10,000 miles and less than 10 years old basically like new in my opinion. Riders are saving thousands of dollars by buying good used bikes from Motorcycle Trader, EBay and other sources.

And, for all those fortunate few that can afford/want to pay $40,000 to $50,000 for a new, top of the line Tourer, there’s as many potential such buyers chosing to hang back waiting for a pre-owned, low-mileage Tourer selling for $22,000 to $29,000. Basic observation: Dealers need to display more used bikes up front as viable ride options…don’t hide them in the back of the showroom as outcasts. I’m hearing used bikes are selling so you might as well prioritize them for sale on the showroom floor.

Industry Leadership – Looking around the motorcycle industry, OEM leadership is predominantly male. One is hard-pressed to find many female executives among the C-suite decision-making ranks. So it’s no surprise that female riders have not received top level support from OEMs and their distributors. Key pointThe industry cannot hope to capture the hearts and minds of new riders without more diversity in its leadership ranks.

The Motorcycle Industry C-Suite…a male dominated business looking for ways to attract more female riders and other enthusiasts? Clearly, the industry requires new thinking from women and minorities to lead tomorrow’s new sales success.The motorcycle business cannot afford to favor one group over another going forward.

Depending on which statistics you look at, women riders make up between 9% and 14% of the motorcycling population. Gen X women, those born between 1961 and 1981 are currently between 30 and 55 years of age. They appear to be well educated, more confident, more independent and many have good paying jobs. Yes, they got debt and other obligations but so does everyone in this demographic age group.

As a business person, it seems odd to me that women and minorities are so under-represented across the sport of motorcycling given how long motorcycles have been around.

Also, women continue to be promoted not as serious riders and/or passengers but mainly as sexy ornaments to motorcycles and the motorcycle lifestyle. This is a clear marketing target customer miss by OEMs in my opinion, given today’s business climate of diversity, inclusion and harassment. Also, by treating women as nothing but sexy ornaments, they are leaving themselves open to a lawsuit if a woman decides to contact a sexual harassment attorney in response to this behaviour.Basic observation: Diversity and inclusion of women and minorities matters. Big time support and respect is a must going forward if OEMs have any hope in developing this major, important group of future riders.

Marketing as a Discipline – does not appear to be a strong, well-funded business competence amongst OEMs. Basic observation: Where are the powerful, executive level, revenue-driving, motorcycle-riding CMOs leading the charge on “experience marketing” initiatives?

Marketing as an Investment – There appears to be enthusiasm for various motorcycle racing segments, a few celebrity endorsements, some money to assist local dealership promotions but little investment by OEMs in the creation of new rider engagements and experiences. The industry’s use of the broad media overall seems to be inadequate for more demand creation. When was the last time you saw a cool television commercial showing a happy motorcycling family outing, for example.

OEM BizTip – It’s all about the customer…not the dealers, not the suppliers, not even the shareholders. Motorcycle manufacturers must build affordable bikes for a broader spectrum of the population in order to re-energize sales.

Basic observation: OEMs need to pivot and invest in more “experience marketing” strategies and plans that are totally customer specific…not dealership specific or feel good engineering specific. OEMs and dealerships need to move beyond Saturday morning coffee and donuts and/or bikini-clad babes washing bikes to attract new riders. It’s about the experience around “the ride” for everyone!

New Rider Prospects – They’re everywhere! Yes! The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that there are near 8 million Americans who have a motorcycle license but don’t own a bike. Where are the sophisticated marketing campaigns and initiatives aimed at converting these 8 million motorcycle-licensed holders that don’t own a bike?

In California, the country’s largest motorcycle market, there are more licensed motorcyclists without a motorcycle than there are licensed riders who currently own one. According to a 2014 Motorcycle Industry Counsel Survey, 1.7 million Californians held licenses to operate motorcycles but only 847,937 motorcycles were registered in the state. I suspect a similar correlation exists today in 2018.

Think about this for a moment…millions of licensed-qualified prospects want to ride and the industry is struggling to sell them bikes? Basic observation: The industry’s traditional marketing and sales model is obviously outdated and nowhere near as effective as it should be…My spin on it…OEMs are making great bikes that people want to ride but they are just too expensive given the weak marketing communication efforts around their overall value. In other words, they have allowed the price-to-ride-value equation to get out of whack.

International Sales – are in motion by OEMs in the U.S.. – Global sales will play a major role in the financial success of American motorcycle manufacturers if they are able to adapt and build for the international rider. Basic Observation: Dramatically increase your efforts here to optimize your profits and shareholder value. If you’re someone looking to invest in companies operating within the motorcycle industry, then getting involved in online stock trading could be a good way to begin doing this and could potentially become lucrative if you make smart investments.

The Bottom Line

There are an estimated 9.0 million motorcycles registered in the U.S. today, according to the Statistical Portal. The Motorcycle Industry Council estimates that the percentage of U.S. households with at least one bike has settled around 6.8% since 2008. Harley-Davidson wants to add 2.0 million new riders over the next decade…what do the other OEMs want to do?

While the industry and and its participants may rise and fall together, I’m placing the responsibility for the industry’s success today and in the future 100% on the OEMs and their current distribution model. Like many traditional business models, they must change and significantly improved the customer experience to ensure a profitable future in the U.S. and abroad.

OEMs have a responsibility for elevating the visibility of riding. They have the responsibility for working hand-in-hand with their dealers to create family-friendly riding opportunities. They have a responsibility to train their dealers to be more customer friendly. They have the responsibility to promote safe riding conditions on streets, roads and highways everywhere. They have a responsibility to lower manufacturing costs so that they can bring bikes to market that people can justify buying.

Dealers have the responsibility for bringing the fun back into buying new motorcycles. Yes, OEMs and dealerships…The future of motorcycling is in your hands.

Rode out from San Diego, CA to Monument Valley, Utah in 2016…660 miles one way just for the fun of it. – June 2016

Me, I will continue to promote the great sport of motorcycling with my thousands of social media followers in the hopes that someone somewhere will be inspired to get on a bike and ride.

Coming soon…In Part 2 of this topic, I will provide my 2-cent advice on how motorcycle manufacturers, dealerships and others…can get back on track towards recruiting more riders and selling more bikes. Stay tuned…

Ride Safe Out There,












About Motorcycle Marc – I’m a motoblogger, some say a motorcycle evangelist, an industry influencer, ambassador and sponsor. I prefer to ride motorcycles but when I can’t ride I blog about it. Since 2009, I’ve developed a strong, dedicated following of tens of thousands of gearheads, motorheads, biker-wannabes and 2-wheeled adventurers who love motorcycles and everything motorcycle-related. Welcome to my world – Marc J. Beaulieu (MJB)


About Give-A-Shift – The Future of Motorcycling – Roundtable Discussion This initiative is being championed by motorcycle industry pro, Robert Pandya. I got to give credit where credit is due…his document inspired me to write this blog post. Mr. Pandya recently brought together a number of key motorcycle advocates and industry participants to discuss the realities impacting today’s motorcycle industry. The resulting roundtable report offers some good thoughts and ideas. Click here to read it or click on the Give-A-Shift Banner located in the right side banners of this blog.

Note: Copyrights and Trademarks are the property of their owners. No infringement ever intended. Some of the material for this blog was gathered from numerous articles and websites available in the public domain. Manufacturer Names, Logos, Photos/Images, Websites, Links and Model Information are Registered Trademarks of the Manufacturer and/or Organizations represented. Also, note that specifications and any information in this blog is subject to change without notice. No representation of accuracy is made.


  1. Timmy T says:

    Thank you for posting this awesome article. I’m a long time reader.
    Sharing your blog on my social media platforms.
    Thanks again for a great post!

  2. Terry C says:

    Terrific post. My take is that the manufacturers have become out-of-date and out-of-touch with their customers. Too bad but they deserve what they are getting. Thank you!
    Hello Terry…Thanks for your input. My bottom-line, it’s always about leadership. Leadership has drifted and has taken missteps in almost every section of their business plans. The biggest misstep in my opinion, they ignored development of future riders and as a result, are being hit with an uninterested millennial population.Stay tuned…the industry is trying to figure it all out. —MJB

  3. Dorothy A says:

    Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as long
    as I provide credit and sources back to your blog?
    My blog is in the very same area of interest as yours and
    my visitors would really benefit from some of the information you provide here.
    Please let me know if this okay with you. Thank you!
    Go for it Dorothy. Thank you for reading my blog. — MJB

  4. Andrew A. says:

    That’s an interesting view on the industry, pretty much agree with all the points.

  5. Rand K. says:

    Good read Mark. I have been very surprised that motorcycle makers have not played a bigger role in making riding areas available and accessible for your riders. Young riders grow up to be teenage riders, young adult riders and eventually mature riders. They buy-up bikes as they gain experience and riding styles. Looks also to me that Harley and Indian simply do not prioritize young, developing riders at all. Big mistake I believe.

  6. Ethan J.J. says:

    Hi Marc. The motorcycle industry is hurting because bikes are too f’n expensive. No one I know can pay over ten grand for a motorcycle that will only be ridden for 5 months of the year. Harley especially has gotten out of our reality. Their bikes are way too f’n expensive for hard working stiffs like me.

  7. Cameron H. says:

    HI…motorcycles are too expensive bro. I would love to ride a Harley Davidson Softail but just cannot afford it. Why are motorcycles so expensive Motorcycle Marc?
    Thanks for reading my blog Cameron…Motorcycles are expensive because manufacturers have failed to get efficient. My 2-cents…Their manufacturing processes and procedures are just too damn expensive.— MJB

  8. Steve B. says:

    Um, have you checked craigslist lately? It’s a Harley palooza out there. They are victims of their early success. The motor company has made some widely boneheaded choices in the past and the chickens are coming home to roost. As a life long performance rider it is laughable in the extreme.

  9. Rob P. says:

    The motorcycling manufacturers and their dealer outlets place far too much emphasis on sports/race-replica bikes; particularly the Japanese and Italian makers, with BMW also producing ‘super sport’ motorcycles indistinct from those made by the main players.
    I enjoy seeing the MotoGP and Superbike racing – I am not impressed by seeing imitation race bikes ridden in racing style on public roads by selfish and delusional riders. The industry needs to accept and own partial responsibility for the way their products are used on public roads – going fast and faster than the last fast bike they make is their manufacturing and marketing focus every year. Servicing and maintenance costs for super sports motorcycles are costly be design – the service department is where dealers make up for losses on bike sales.
    Good points you make here Rob. Dealers sell the bikes with the largest margins for the most part. Manufacturers need to take more responsibility for the products they make…dealers will only sell the bikes manufacturers pay top commission/income dollars for.
    Thank you for reading my blog. Ride Safe Out There. — MJB

  10. Janessa B. says:

    Thanks for the terrific article. You really seem to know what you are talking about with motorcycles.

  11. Valeria S. says:

    It’s simple Marc. Harley’s are just too expensive. Most buyers cannot justify paying so much money for a toy they can only ride half the year.

  12. Jay J B. says:

    Note to Harley Dealers,
    You have it wrong from a “pool of prospects” standpoint. The demographic you need to get sales to ever be great again cannot afford your motorcycles as offered. Only a few 25 to 45 year olds are going to pay $30K+ for a Harley. Some may pay $15K to $25K out your dealership door. More will pay $10K to $12.5K. A lot can afford less than $10K out the door. Get your price point right to “Make Harley Great Again”.

  13. Tom D. says:

    Harley is having problems selling bike’s why? Bikes are too f’n overpriced! You want to get the 18-45 year olds back, know your customers pocketbook. “Know” your customer…

  14. Sam P. says:

    Did you read about Harley’s financial problems in the press this week? Looks like your article is right on. Sales sucked, they are closing manufacturing plants and laying off a ton of workers. Their Leaders should be fired and dealers re-trained for believing their own bullshit over the past 20 years. Few people I know, can afford their over-priced bikes new. Used market pretty good tho.

  15. Jeanie C. says:

    I was saying to my girlfriends, 10 years ago, the industry was ignoring women during builds/engineering. Today, we have the buying power but me and the girls all ride used bikes. Why? We are smart with our money. We just want to ride. Don’t even need GPS. Speakers? Stupid? And, don’t ignore us or make fun of us now and in the future. Cause we’ll kick the crap out of u eventually. Enjoyed your article. Finally, someone calling it as it is.

  16. Motorcycle D. says:

    Great article! The price of a new motorcycle is high but I think it boils down to priorities. If these young people can do without cable tv and cell phone they almost have enough for a monthly payment on a new motorcycle!

  17. John J. says:

    You did summarize it very professionally well. I ride a Harley, my choice, there are many great bikes out there, looking forward to 2019 for the comeback.

  18. Sharon L. says:

    Men at all levels need to start supporting us women riders. Your article outlines something that has been a long time coming but predictable. Manufacturers should have been building bikes for women way back in the late 90s when Harleys were also a woman’s dreams. The chose not to so now find themselves without a strong female audience to push the sport to other women. Also, while Harley and others were sponsoring all kinds of male rider events, me and other women riders could barely get a T-shirt out of them. I ride an Electra glide. Ride on sisters. Hopefully, it will change as the financial stress increases on the industry.

  19. Alfonso J. says:

    I’ve just read your blog and know that you’ve taken a serious look at the industry. And, I feel like the American manufacturer is pricing themselves out of the young consumer’s demand for inexpensive transportation. Today’s new HD and Indian motorcycles cost more than many new cars.

  20. Randy C. says:

    Well…in your old hometown, almost everyone started out with 125cc Kawasaki motorcycles that they bought from Willie Cormier. Sounded like a swarm of bees, but got them riding.

  21. Steeve R. says:

    Very good paper Marc. The industry needs to change their mindset.

  22. Bryan C. says:

    Nice article and very well done. I do agree with most of what you said except my experience with the OEM’s was not a positive one. I was shocked at how many of them were men, but also how few of them had families or were parents. Families is what got most of us into this passion.

  23. Chief John J. says:

    Great summarizing, very professional and accurate not biased. I ride a Harley and feel strong about it but that’s me. Many great bikes out there and the 3-wheers are sure taking over the young and old. . Looking for the return in 2019 prediction.

  24. Jon V. says:

    I can’t believe I just read this “long” article Motorcycle Marc but guess what? This is a great article that calls it like it is. Friggin bikes are way to expensive new so you are better off buying a second hand ride. Thank you for calling it like it is man. Great information in this article too.

  25. Andy S. says:

    Hey Motorcycle Marc. One of the things I never understood is why the OEMs did not invest in land all over the U.S. for riders, especially young riders, so that they could ride their dirt bikes and then mature on to street bikes. I see the main reason for young people not growing into riders today is that they just didn’t have any place to ride as youngsters. What do you think about this comment? Thank you.

  26. Tim P. says:

    You nailed it Marc. Bikes have gotten so expensive. Especially from Harley and Indian. I’m looking at Japanese bikes for this very reason plus the metric bikes are build real good nowadays. Interesting information. Thanks.