Are bikers a dying breed?

Are bikers a dying breed?

Posted by Ben Baker on Jul 24th 2017

According to some of the major financial experts, the motorcycle industry is in trouble.


Been there, done that, came back from the brink and got in the saddle again. The latest salvo of the death of the biker industry tries to track sales. Bloomberg's graphic shows bike sales were cut by nearly 1/3 between 2008-09. To refresh your memory, that's when the Great Recession body slammed the United States.

"Motorcycle sales in the U.S. peaked in 2006 at 716,268 and promptly started to skid. When the recession hit, the market went down hard. Bike sales fell by 41 percent in 2009 and another 14 percent the following year, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. That’s not surprising considering the economy at the time: A motorcycle is a picture of discretionary spending, and they can be tricky to finance even in a healthy credit market," The Bloomberg article says.

Bloomberg is partly right. Buying a scooter does mean the purchaser has some discretionary income. Most people with a two-wheeler today do not lead a biker life. They ride on the weekend and occasionally. Most of their road time is in a cage.

Bike sales also spiked when gas prices soared. It's cheaper to run a two-wheeler than a cage, especially when you are sitting in traffic.

Bloomberg is also wrong. "Motorcycle sales for the first quarter were up 8.2 percent, according to the industry trade group Motorcycle Industry Council. That number reflects sales data from 20 leading brands, and covers sales of road bikes, off-road bikes, dual sport bikes and scooters," says a story in the LA Times from just two years ago.

The financial giants predicting the demise of the motorcycle industry say the recession is also over. They are basing that opinion on major financial markets across the US. Get 100 miles outside the beltways and the story is a lot different. Many economies are barely recovered, just starting to recover or are still languishing the effects of the Great Recession nearly 10 years later.

"Yet the effects of the recession still reverberate in various parts of the U.S., falling deeper into debt and leaving millions of Americans wondering whether the recession has indeed blown over. More than a dozen municipalities, including Detroit, have declared the rare Chapter 9 bankruptcy since 2008," says WalletHub.

At the same time, bike sales are a puzzle. "Sales of used motorcycles are a bit wobbly this year, Milwaukee-area dealerships say, although certain models are in short supply," writes Rick Barret for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "At the same time, they're having trouble finding particular bikes they really want."

So which is it? Are bikes sales falling off? Well, yes, according to some sales figures. However, customer demand is also there for used bikes, which dealers are having trouble finding. Barrett also reports the price of a used scooter at auction is going up. That's going to slow sales some.

What is the takeaway? It sounds like people are hanging on to their bikes longer. That's good news for the parts industry, but not so hot for new manufacturing.

Take a look at the average stats on today's rider. "The median household income for a motorcycle owner in 2014 was $62,200, the council says, and the average age was 47, a climb from 2000, when the average owner was 40, and 1990, when the average motorcycle owner was 32 years old," says the Illinois Times.

Give the next generation time to get settled, find a good job and start longing for something they cannot get on a smartphone. They'll be on the road.

The motorcycle industry will be waiting for them.