It’s no great secret that the motorcycle industry is facing a crisis of ownership, specifically that the median age of an owner is increasing year after year. While some brands may not be as immediately threatened by the ageing demographic as others, it is still an issue the industry as a whole needs to address sooner as opposed to later.
The table above shows the issue at hand. According to information published by the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics the median age of Motorcycle ownership has increased roughly 0.78 years per year since 1985.
The red segments in the table above highlight the highest percentages by age group of motorcycle owners. We can see a clear and steady trend up the age range over time. Back in 1985 the ownership was much more evenly weighed between age groups, but was still heavily towards the youth.
These are the same riders who own motorcycles today and have continued the hobby. They and the industry have grown up together. Once the symbol of youth and liberty in decades past, it is clear and evident that motorcycles no longer are the beacon of freedom for today’s youth.
From a short sighted business standpoint one can forgive the industry and manufacturers. The industry has been selling bikes to the same people for the last 30+ years. The brands have altered their machines to match the needs of this group of loyal consumers.
Larger, more comfortable, and more powerful motorcycles have become the norm as the main consumer segment’s disposable income has increased over time. Over 30 years later though this loyal pandering is quickly becoming an issue.
In the table above I took the average yearly increase and extrapolated it over time. (I’d like to have more recent data, but that costs money that at this point I can’t afford. With that in mind, I’d bet $5 this is 80% accurate).
By the year 2033 if this trend continues the average rider will be at retirement age and in another 10 years many may likely be off the road. So what to do when your wealthiest 25%+ of consumers are no longer riding?
The industry has to begin appealing to the youth, the Millennials and the Zoomers.
Before everyone starts groaning and rolling their eyes, it isn’t inherently the Millennials and Zoomers who are wholly to blame for this lack of ownership and even interest.
There are likely a number of reasons why younger consumer; predominantly 25 years of age and under, aren’t buying motorcycles:
Economic Situation, i.e. lack of disposable income
Housing Situation and increased urbanization of youth
Environmental and safety concerns
A preference for SUV’s and other vehicles marketed as a part of an outdooring and/or adventurous lifestyle.
There are plenty of articles as to why younger consumers can’t and/or aren’t buying motorcycles. What I would like to focus on is how and why motorcycles need to be brought to the attention of the younger consumer.
Marketing the Same Message to a New Audience
Not to put all the blame on the industry, but I don’t think the brands are being active enough and where they have failed to grab the attention of younger audiences others have capitalized.
The youth of any era have wanted the same thing as their predecessors, they want freedom. They want a means with their limited resources to go out over the horizon and experience all that this world has to offer. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and they want to have fun while doing it.
Would you like to know who has replaced the great machines of freedom that we call motorcycles??? The crossover SUV, we’ve lost out to jacked up sedans. My hat is off to them, and Subaru for their stylistic faults centers on this marketing effort.
In the collective minds of younger consumers Subaru has embedded itself in the “I want to go on an adventure” part of the mind and other manufacturers are getting in on the game.
Motorcycles Manufacturers meanwhile are still pumping out the $40,000 fun machines that weigh about as much as a mid-size crossover, but aren’t a convenient daily driver.
Motorcycles haven’t been a serious competitor for a daily driver since the 1920’s when cars muscled in on the territory the first time.
So what do the brands need to do? I’m glad you asked someone dumb enough to put their thoughts up online.
Make it cheaper, Speak to your Consumers Directly, Start Your Own Trends
Enough bashing on the past, let's look to the future. If I were hired to direct a company to make 18-25 year old's their fastest growing consumer segment here is what I would recommend as an overall strategy.
After I stopped crying tears of joy for landing a dream job, here is Step 1.
1) Embrace the Spirit of Toyota
Toyota got to where they are by following a simple idea that requires considerable organization and planning. That is to make a reliable, economical, and convenient product.
Taiichi Ohno is the Godfather of lean and efficient manufacturing, through combined efforts under his leadership the Toyota Production System was developed and implemented.
Allowing a brand from a country being rebuilt from the ashes of war with few natural resources or competitive advantages to take on and let's be honest completely dethrone the Big 3 in Detroit.
Make a simple and reliable product that is fun to use and easy to own. Drive costs down from the manufacturing side. Remove the 50lbs of chrome and antiquated engines and replace them with stripped down, lean, and fun options.
Something with a payment that younger people can afford and that they won’t have to bring in for repairs frequently. The Manufacturer may not be making buckets of cash right now, but it will allow entry and attract younger riders to become loyal patrons. Then later in life when they can buy the larger, more luxurious options the manufacturers can reap what they’ve sown.
2) Speak to the Consumer in Their Language
It’s no great secret that the way products are marketed to today’s youth is different from years past. Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones” and Steve McQueen may have made motorcycles the vehicles of the coolest dudes on the planet when the year began with “19” but the industry has to find new champions today to popularize the product.
Every industry has icons when I was 6 all I had played was putt-putt but, I knew darn good and well who Tiger Woods was. I may have never come close to playing a full 18 at the local course but every kid including myself thought he was cool.
We need champions in the form of “Social Influencers”, don't give me that look it’s how younger buyers are influenced today and I refused to be shamed for speaking the truth.
Not only do we need champions and icons to attract younger riders, but we have to point out that motorcycles offer what they desire. The desire to be free, independent, and to go on an adventure. It’s what you want, it’s what I want, we all want it.
If your industry is catering hand and foot to an ageing demographic and not offering others something they can even afford, why wouldn’t you expect them to feel alienated?
Take step one and make a level of bikes that are fun, affordable, and spread the message using modern means to make it known that the options are there.
If anyone brings up some crappy 250CC engine disappointment on wheels as a counter point I will ride to your house and tip your refrigerator over while you’re asleep.
3) Start Your Own Trend
I’ve beaten this horse to death already, but we as a group have to be our own trendsetters. If people will eat spoonful's of cinnamon on camera or travel across the planet to take photos at trendy places, certainly we have the wherewithal to create our own buzz.
There are tons of motorcycling challenges and unofficial “clubs” to join. Riders brag about the Iron Butt Challenge, or conquering the Tail of The Dragon. BMW has kind of gotten the idea with their “Make Life a Ride” campaign, and their dominance of the ADV segment is indicative of this success.
What we need to do is tap into this mainstream magic more effectively, we have to reclaim our spot on the throne of “Coolest Kids on the Block”.
I’m turning back to Japan for guidance. Honda launched a campaign that took a product for ruffians and outcasts and made it mainstream with their “The Nicest People You Know” campaign. The same basic idea can still bring in new riders today.
I’m no John Draper, but by lord can we see a “Not your Grandpa’s Motorcycle” thrown around out there? Maybe some meetups targeting younger riders at events they’d enjoy. The major brands have enough money to make King Solomon blush, just have a “Riders Only” campground at Bonnaroo and handpick a few influencers to lead a group of 18-25 year olds on a scenic ride there.
Throw up a bunch of pictures and promos and make the experience desirable in the common imagination. Pay for the privilege for the group to ride right up to the friging stage when the headliner begins in front of everyone and let them know if you want a VIP life then you gotta get on 2 wheels. Oh, by the way, we have a fun, cheap, and reliable bike for you to start living life on.
“Murder” This Article
I’m more than aware that there are people way smarter than I am working on these problems already. I haven’t reinvented the wheel, cured a disease, or done anything worthy of praise.
In a few day’s I’ll probably go over this article again clawing at my eyes about how dumb I sound . I want and need feedback from my fellow riders, I want and need you to pick every single letter on this page apart. Only through feedback and criticism will I get any better and will this idea become in any way actionable.
What I will say is, that I don’t only speak for myself. I speak for the roughly 20% of owners under 30 that don’t want this industry to die. We want other people our age to embrace this great tradition, to love what we love and understand why we ride. Misery may love company, but I’d argue that happiness loves company more.
Let’s hope we can reverse the trend and share our passions with tomorrow's riders.
Hashtags I need for Search Engine Optimization (I need hits so I can do this full time, I sense your judgement and reject it entirely)
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