Small Bikes: The Next Big Thing In The Motorcycle Industry

The motorcycle industry hasn’t been in tune with the newest generation of drivers, but manufacturers are hoping to change that.

The motorcycle industry has lost its speed in recent years.

According to a report in Bloomberg, motorcycle sales skidded downward after their peak in 2006. The recession hit the industry hard as sales slumped by 41 percent in 2009 and another 14 percent the following year.

Overall, Americans bought a total of 371,403 new motorcycles in 2016 — about half as many as they did a decade before — and as of May 2017, new registrations for bikes were down 14.1 percent compared to the first five months last year.
Age has played a significant role in the industry’s struggles. About half of riders in 2014 were over 50. Those riders tend to have more cash to spare than the younger generation — the average household income of a motorcycle owner is $85,000 — but they may only buy one or two more bikes in their lifetime.

Millennials, meanwhile, haven’t been as quick to hop on for a ride. In fact, just one in five new motorcycle purchases are made by first-time riders — a trend that hasn’t changed in about 15 years.

In response, manufacturers started making bikes that are smaller and cheaper to appeal to a wider range of riders, such as women and millennials, who might be more inclined to favor a moped than a hog.

Harley-Davidson, for example, unveiled the Street 500 in 2013 — a ride with a smaller engine, a seat that sits lower to the ground and a $7,000 price tag.

Honda’s lighter-weight Rebel, which starts at $6,000, was also designed to lure first-time riders into the market.

Kawasaki’s Ninja 300 has the same "crotch-rocket" look as its bigger bikes, but features a lightweight design and a starting price of about $5,000.

Even BMW offers a bike for less than $5,000 — the G 310 R — which is a smaller, lighter version of the company’s well-known touring bikes.

According to Bloomberg, the profit margins on these smaller bikes are less lucrative than their bigger counterparts. But sales have been promising. Between 2011 and 2016, sales for bikes with engines smaller than 600cc increased by 11.8 percent. Smaller bikes are also accounting for a larger percentage of motorcycle manufacturers’ overall sales.

But it’s unclear if those increases will be enough to offset broader declines in the industry — or whether the scramble to hook younger drivers on the easy riding lifestyle will eventually pay off.

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