There's some good news coming out of various areas of the motorcycle business these days. On the legislative front, it looks like Congress may undo a snafu in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that made products like motorcycles and off-highway vehicles designed for younger riders illegal. It would provide an exception for those vehicles, which were among the children's products made with lead that were banned.
At the retail level, sales of motorcycles have improved. After having suffered from the recession, which put a damper on sales of discretionary products, an ironic twist of the sales throttle now has motorcycles actually benefitting from high gasoline prices, which appear to have helped make two-wheeled motorized travel a little less discretionary.
A first-quarter analysis of retail activity by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) shows that U.S. sales of motorcycles and scooters from major manufacturers rose 7.2%. Scooters saw the biggest gain, up nearly 50%. "There has always been a connection between higher fuel prices and a rise in motorcycle sales," says Ty van Hooydonk, MIC communications director. "And scooters have always done well under those conditions, but we are also seeing stronger sales of dual-purpose bikes." The latter refers to single-cylinder motorcycles that are essentially off-road bikes modified for street riding.
Because of their suspension systems, which are designed for rough terrain, such bikes are popular in urban markets like New York City. Van Hooydonk says sales of dual-purpose bikes, which can achieve between 60 and 80 miles per gallon, are up 25%.
"Not every guy out there interested in fuel economy wants a scooter," he says. "A lot of people are looking at motorcycles now. When we do [Motorcycle Safety Foundation] training for new riders, we ask students what brought them to the classes. More and more, I'm hearing 'fuel prices.' People are saying they are switching from four to two wheels for economic reasons."
Interestingly, there was also a 29% increase in the sale of new scooter and motorcycle tires, which Van Hooydonk says reflects the fact that people are generally riding more, and also that they are buying used bikes and un-retiring bikes they have kept in the garage. "There are a lot more older bikes out there. People are bringing their bikes out and putting them on the road again."
The trend in household penetration of motorcycles had been on a steep rise. The most recent data show that the percentage of U.S. households with at least one motorcycle rose from 5.4% in 2003 to 6.8% in 2009. The MIC Owner Survey estimates that 11 million motorcycles were in use in 2009, a 5% increase over the 2008 motorcycle population of 10.4 million.
Motorcycle miles traveled also increased 5% from 2008 to 2009, per the MIC, with a rather unfathomable total of 27.6 billion miles.
Van Hooydonk says household penetration is a critical statistic because households with motorcycles build awareness, familiarity and consideration among those who live nearby. "If you have a street with no motorcycles on it, and all of a sudden Bob gets a motorcycle, the neighbors notice. They want to see it, and often say, 'I want one too.'"
The MIC is running a campaign called "Revive Your Ride!" through June 30, wherein customers who visit a participating retailer can enter online at ReviveYourRide.org for a chance to win prizes, including helmets, jackets, motorcycle lifts, exhaust systems, or up to $5,000 for aftermarket accessories.