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New bike buyers: An aging population – June 5, 2006

June 5, 2006
Filed under Features

Take a look at the accompanying information (on page 26) from the J.D. Power and Associates Motorcycle Competitive Information Study and you’ll find the buyers of new motorcycles are aging.
This data appears to be a sign of things to come as a key generation for the industry — the Baby Boomers — continues to age.
In the past five years, the buyers of new street motorcycles age 30 and under dropped from 21 percent to 15 percent, according to the J.D. Power and Associates survey. During that same time span, new bike buyers ages 31 to 60 increased from 73 percent to 76 percent. The population of 61 and older new bike buyers also has risen, from 5 percent to nearly 9 percent.
Motorcycle Industry Council data backs up this aging biker demographic.
The MIC said the median age of the on-highway motorcycle rider in 1998 was 38 years. By 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, that figure had risen to 42 years.
“The motorcycle population is aging, but at the same time it’s also getting younger,” said Patrick Kelly, director of product planning for Kawasaki Motor Co., USA, Irvine, Calif.
Kelly said there are two main generations, the Baby Boomers and Generation Y. The Baby Boomer generation has around 78 million people, the oldest of which are about 60 now and the youngest around 42.
“It’s a huge generation,” Kelly said. “They have driven a lot of the cruiser success over the years. They may get out of motorcycling when they get too old, but some that do stay in may shift. If they’re into cruisers today, they may go to cruiser touring machines or dressers. That’s also what’s driving the trike market today, and the trike conversions.
“Generation Y is almost as big as the Baby Boomers, with about 72 million people, depending upon how you slice it. The oldest now are about 29, and the youngest are 10 or 11.”
As for how buying trends change as riders age, Kelly said, “There is a general progression to motorcycling. A lot of Baby Boomers got out of motorcycling, and came back as re-entry riders. For many it was a cruiser, which is a more comfortable, less aggressive bike that really fits the demographic. It’s not intimidating, it has a low seat height, it’s smooth.”
Mark Blackwell, vice president of Victory Motorcycles and international operations for Polaris Industries, said Baby Boomers are driving the market.
“They’re at the point they have more time and money, and riding a cruiser motorcycle is very attractive to them,” he said. “This is being driven by demographic and lifestyle trends.
“If you believe that, then you also have to ask if at some point it works against you. Yes, we believe that for five to seven years — or 10 years at most — it will continue to grow, then it will go in the other direction.”
Blackwell said Victory has a two-pronged strategy to deal with this. The company will cater to older customers with products that offer a good ride, easy handling and a more comfortable suspension to keep them riding. Secondly, they developed bikes like the Vegas, Eight Ball and Hammer that are clearly intended for younger customers.
Nick Messer, president of Big Dog Motorcycles, Wichita, Kan., said he’s “not really worried about the aging of the Baby Boomers. I watch what the market is asking for. If you listen to what the customers want, and provide it, you’ll be fine.
“We recognize that our riders are getting younger, while they used to be a mirror of Harley-Davidson. Now the average age of the Big Dog buyers is 32 years old, based on the fact our bikes have changed. We went from bikes with a three-point rubber mounting system to a chopper-style bike. Older riders tend to purchase long, low bikes. We go to the shows and talk to our customers, and the majority of our older customers want a long, low bike, sometimes a rigid, as a bar hopper. Younger riders want choppers.”
From his aftermarket perspective, Greg Blackwell, vice president of sales for LeMans Corp., the owners of Parts Unlimited and Drag Specialties, pointed to many major youth-oriented trends in the market. Those include a small boom in scooter registrations, the minibike craze and even adults building custom 50s to race around the parking lot. Blackwell mentioned he’d seen a diverse group of riders of all ages recently at a bike night in Ohio.
As for how the older demographic will impact the industry, Greg Blackwell pointed out that more experienced riders “understand more about the products.” He told of seeing a young man recently riding in a rainstorm wearing a breathable nylon jacket, but otherwise in blue jeans and high-top shoes. Blackwell pointed out that as a more experienced rider, he wears an electric vest and carries rain gear. “More experienced riders know the features and benefits and want more technical, protective gear in general,” he said. psb

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