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Four-strokes key to market revival – April 24, 2006

April 24, 2006
Filed under Features

The most recent motorcycle population numbers reflect a growing interest in off-highway bikes, even as sales numbers have leveled off in recent years.
Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) data shows a 58 percent increase in off-highway motorcycles from 1998 to 2003. As a percentage of all motorcycle units, they increased by 3.2 percent during that period. Most impressive is “under 125cc” machines have skyrocketed, from 30.7 percent of all off-highway machines to 52.4 percent — numbers that clearly show small displacement machines make up the bulk of the increase.
Putting a potential damper on those numbers are year-end sales from MIC-reporting companies from 2004 and 2005. Both years have revealed slight drops in total year-end sales (2 percent in ’04 and 4 percent in ’05) after the previous three years showed gains.
A brief history
In 1998, Yamaha introduced the revolutionary YZ400F, the motocross machine that launched the modern four-stroke revolution. This bike gained attention when Doug Henry debuted it at the Las Vegas Supercross. The bike was so intriguing and enjoyable to ride, it lit the fire under many former riders who re-entered the riding fray on this bike. Later Yamaha released its popular YZ250F, and then Honda released its 2002 aluminum frame CRF450R that lit an afterburner to the already strong four-stroke dirt bike market.
According to Yamaha’s Terry Beal, Yamaha’s four-stroke machines lured people back into riding. Once these older riders bought a bike for themselves, they found they needed bikes for their kids. The company’s research actually shows as new four-stroke model sales rose, so did the sales of kids bikes. Take a look at any local motocross track and you’ll find one or more kids tracks full of young riders.
According to Ray Conway of Honda, sales of all off-highway models have been strong. The company’s XR50, later named the CRF50F, has been the company’s No. 1 selling two-wheel machine for two years, and one that has led the vast sales numbers in the adult mini bike craze. The CRF450R, as well as the later released CRF250R, continued the steamroller sales effect Yamaha started.
Conway says Honda has experienced strong off-highway sales across the board — not just with youth bikes.
Kawasaki and Suzuki have different sales situations. Through this time period they had smaller lines of youth bikes and adult four-stroke machines to offer — though both companies are working on catching up.
Russel Brenan of Kawasaki said sales of youth bikes have benefited from the sport’s increased visibility and from a larger product selection — like the KLX110, which has been the company’s top-selling dirt bike.
Suzuki’s Glenn Hansen admitted the company’s sales of youth machines has suffered because they’ve been behind in offering four-stroke, rather than two-stroke, kids bikes. He says they are actively correcting this situation.
KTM is quite a different animal. The company has been selling all the four-stroke off-road machines they bring in, which often isn’t enough to meet demand, and they sell only a limited supply of more aggressive two-stroke machines for kids — no real play or trail bike models are offered. According to KTM’s Tom Moen, everything off-road has been up in numbers — and sales of two-stroke bikes for off-road use are on the rise.
The key to growth
Clearly sales of youth bikes, particularly four-stroke models, have been the main factor for increased off-highway numbers – many of which are purchased and used as adult play bikes.
On the flip side, the many exciting four-stroke adult models continue to strengthen the market and apparently pull in youth bike sales as well. If you had to attribute the increase of off-highway bikes to one factor, whether it be kids bikes or adult machines, all indicators point to the advancement and proliferation of four-stroke powered machines as the main reason. psb

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