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Thread: Harley-Davidson's aging biker problem

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    Registered User MAYLETT's Avatar
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    Harley-Davidson's aging biker problem

    Link to CNN/Money story: http://money.cnn.com/2010/09/17/auto...tune/index.htm

    Contrary to its headline, the story's about more than aging bikers ÔÇö which seems to be a BMW problem too. Beyond that, the story gets into things about HD's loss of appeal to riders, declining sales, wage concessions and worker layoffs.

    "There is a lesson here for companies that become the flavor of the moment -- and then use that as a base from which to make forecasts for the future. Harley's famous brand couldn't buffer it from the downturn once owning a Harley stopped being cool. Tattoos didn't move motorcycles."

    I wonder what changes to their brand image and their motorcycles will result from their sales decline and aging buyers. BMW has certainly responded to changing demographics by aiming more of their marketing and their motorcycles at younger audiences. HD, on the other hand, seems to be pulling back to their shrinking core audience given their sale of MV Agusta and the end of Buell. I wonder if we'll see any of the progressive thinking, engineering and design of these former side brands somehow incorporated into the main HD line.
    '09 BMW R1200RT, '81 Yamaha XS1100 Special

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    Registered User dadayama's Avatar
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    I know some guys that have HD's and they ride in a year what i ride in a month. One of them told me once when i asked him why he didn't ride to work, "It takes too long to clean". In the back of my mind i have been thinking of all these HD's in garages... Seems if the fad goes away, there will be a lot used cycles for sale, which won't help HD sell any new ones.

    But i am not assuming the fad will go away... could be like rock n roll... and just change a bit...

    pedro in OKC, OK

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    Still Wondering mika's Avatar
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    This is not a problem exclusive to H-D rather it is an industry wide problem - getting bums in saddles. Even before the economic meltdown killed sales increases the average age of motorcyclists was increasing. IIRC late 2008 or early 2009 JD Powers published a study that among other things showed since the year 2000 the average age of motorcyclists in the US had increased 7yrs. The European manufactures association reports have shown similar aging in ridership. Their studies also suggested that spikes in scooter sales have not converted in to sales of motorcycles down the line.

    If your ridership is aging and or deferring purchasing altogether then sales numbers of new bikes to drop. If the customer base is not increasing or replacing itself at a sustainable rate then the competition is about cannibalizing existing market share.

    To me, how to convince people that motorcycles are a viable transportation option is a question the industry needs desperately to find an answer to. The answer may be a no brainer yes for those of us infected with the motorcycling bug, but it isnÔÇÖt for a growing portion of the population.
    Pass the mustard and UP THE REVOLUTION!

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    Dee G flymymbz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mika View Post

    To me, how to convince people that motorcycles are a viable transportation option is a question the industry needs desperately to find an answer to.
    But how do you do that? Six years ago, I looked at where the price of fuel was going and decided that my 26 mile round trip commute could be done more fuel efficiently on a bike. At least when there was no snow on the ground. After much research, I bought a 250cc Honda Rebel.

    Several of my co-workers have bikes and some are looking. Not one of them considers their bike a 'commute vehicle' as I do. When the temps drops below 40F or if its raining, my bike is the only one in the bike parking lot.

    How do you dispel the 'bikes are toys' mentality and replace that with 'a bike can be a fairly inexpensive form of transportation' frame of mind?

    Sadly, the American public has been brainwashed into thinking they need a 1300+cc bike to carry them from point A to point B. My 250 hauled my carcass from central WA to WI and back two years ago. And I've got the Lilliput-Put-Put Award from the Aerostich Very Boring Rally II to prove it.

    And the manufacturers haven't done much to dispel the myth. How many sub 750cc non 'crotch rocket' bikes are out there? any 450's ?? 250's 700's?? Europe has a boat load of them. What I would give to have a selection like they do. While I have 4 bikes that have 1000+ cc's, they don't get ridden much. Most of my time is either spent on my Rebel or my 750cc Guzzi small block.

    My avatar is my 1978 R45/N, a gray market import from Europe. If BMW offered a sub 500cc bike here in the states? It'd be bike number 31 in the stable. I'd buy it in a heartbeat. But no, aside from the 800 Rotax, BMW (and pretty much every other mfg out there that imports to America) has caved into the HD mentality: the bigger the better.
    Too damn many bikes to list

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    Many of us happen to like the power and the acceleration of a liter class bike. I consider having a commuter bike, but the insurance cost alone would negate any savings, and there are no commuter class bikes save the SV650 and F650 with ABS and it is outside your class, and mine from the cost and upkeep point.

    Rod

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    look out!!! Visian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flymymbz View Post
    How do you dispel the 'bikes are toys' mentality and replace that with 'a bike can be a fairly inexpensive form of transportation' frame of mind?
    legalize lane splitting.

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    I often ride to work. However, as I am in the patient care business, and that requires a certain professional presentation, I cannot ride on days when it is too hot (sweaty providers do not foster confidence in patients) or raining. Bikes are more viable as commuter vehicles in some areas, and for some jobs, than others.

    Being 61 now (WOW!), I am also starting to contemplate what bike will be my last. A strange and scary thought, quite frankly. I'm not a trike kind of guy. When I am finally too old to balance and make the split second decisions required to safely ride, I will stop. So I am definitely part of the above demographic.

    Dang it!

    BTW - I agree many bikes of all kinds sit in garages. I have a friend with a two year old K1200GT with 7K on the clock, while my year old Wing has 15K. It's not just HD.
    Hugh

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    Registered User ANDYVH's Avatar
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    Americans too, are a society of conveniece and comfort. Admit it, riding a bike takes more effort, planning and gear than does a car. Things like dirt, bugs, rain, noise, wind, heat/cold, physical ailments/limitations, all have more impact on the cycle rider. Some of us go beyond all that because we love the riding more than anything else, so we'll ride in all sorts of conditions, we don't mind that our bikes are dirty, we'll ride early and late in the season, simply for the love of it.

    But even among the riding community, we are a smaller percentage of a small societal percentage. Yet, we keep coming back to it year after year, even as our bodies and life issues change. Because riding is a part of us, not a "lifestyle", but a "life". Not something to bolster our self image or create an image of ourselves.
    For many though, riding is a lifestyle or image thing, which is easily replaced by whatever new image or popular thing to do comes up.

    Harley definitely knew their market very well and built products perfectly suited to THIER market and got very good at convincing others they had to be part of it. Yet, they marketed themselves and their product into such a corner that anything other than their core product doesn't sell, as has been proven for the past three decades. I applaud BMW for getting out of there own mold long ago and branching into new models and designs. But to attract the newer, younger riders into our BMW life takes more than the products themselves.

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    Registered User lkchris's Avatar
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    Article in today's Wall Street Journal to the affect those with college degrees are weathering the recession better than those without.

    Not a big surprise, but explains a lot, including decline of NASCAR as well. There wasn't a "UAW 500" this year, was there?

    Those giveaway mortages didn't work out so well, either.
    Kent Christensen
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    Registered User greenwald's Avatar
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    Cool

    Quote Originally Posted by Mika View Post
    This is not a problem exclusive to H-D rather it is an industry wide problem - getting bums in saddles. Even before the economic meltdown killed sales increases the average age of motorcyclists was increasing. IIRC late 2008 or early 2009 JD Powers published a study that among other things showed since the year 2000 the average age of motorcyclists in the US had increased 7yrs. The European manufactures association reports have shown similar aging in ridership. Their studies also suggested that spikes in scooter sales have not converted in to sales of motorcycles down the line.

    If your ridership is aging and or deferring purchasing altogether then sales numbers of new bikes to drop. If the customer base is not increasing or replacing itself at a sustainable rate then the competition is about cannibalizing existing market share.

    To me, how to convince people that motorcycles are a viable transportation option is a question the industry needs desperately to find an answer to. The answer may be a no brainer yes for those of us infected with the motorcycling bug, but it isn’t for a growing portion of the population.
    Your analysis is quite logical. In fact, it is not only an industry-wide problem, but one you could paint with an even broader brush.

    As we baby-boomers age, the demographics of the global economy will continue upward, and products from Harley-Davidsons to Buicks to in-ground pools will feel the pain of disinterest.

    Young adults today seem preoccupied with experiencing too much on an electronic level, rather than become adventuresome, or physically active in their world. They'd rather surf the net than the waves; tweet, twit or facebook their way thru the day in the comfort of their rooms; tennis, bowling, baseball and a host of other 'activites' now take place in the living room with Wii. Quite frankly, their current 'comfort-zone' is pathetic.

    Indeed, an adolescent's entire holiday wish list can be 'filled' simply by patronizing a Best Buy - sad.

    So, how do we motivate young America into the saddles of motorcycles? I wish I had that answer.

    I agree - BMW is making a sincere effort to attract customers of that age bracket, as opposed to the recent "circling of the wagons" that H-D exhibited by divesting MV Agusta and Buell. As an aside, Munich would also be wise to do whatever is needed (i.e. water-cooling) to retain the R1200 boxer engine in the face of European emission standards, as the RT's and GS's account for a huge slice of their annual sales.

    As for motivating the next generation of riders and re-programming the planet to embrace motorcycles with greater urgency, several things come to mind:

    1. Continue and expand out-reach programs like Camp GEARS and much of the new MSF cirriculums

    2. Offer introductory-level products that younger consumers can afford

    3. Open all HOV lanes to motorcycles (Federal pressure would be nice here)

    4. Expand advertising to markets that young adults frequent, so that BMW becomes a household name to them, should they ever contemplate a cycle purchase

    These are but suggestions - not solutions - I'm not that clever. But I hope the industry survives this global remapping of priorities by consumers.

    I'd like to think of motorcycles roaming planet Earth for many generations to come.
    Kevin Greenwald - Touring Tips Editor
    Nationally Certified Law Enforcement Motor Officer (Ret.)
    MSF RiderCoach # 121656 (BRC,SBRC,IS,IME,SMARTrainer,THE REF Staff)
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  11. #11
    Registered User zoridog's Avatar
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    I went to the Finger Lakes Rally a few weeks ago and they like to figure the average age of the 1000+ attendees. This year it was 53 years old. That is about my age.

    When I was about 8 yrs old, I rode my cousin's Rupp mini bike. I swallowed the hook! Two wheeled mini bikes and dirt bikes were the most important things on the face of the earth. As soon as I got my license I was looking at street bikes.

    I work with at-risk adolescent males and some of them are interested in bikes but they don't ride because they have no money. They have no money because they don't want to or can't find work. They play video games from the time they get back from school until they fall asleep. It's as if a whole generation is being incubated and never coming outside.

    For them to leave the comfort of home, work, save and ultimately buy a motorcycle seems unlikely. I don't know who is going to buy used motorcycles in the future much less new, expensive ones. Maybe our economy (with no manufacturing or service jobs) will have us riding Honda 350 commuter bikes as transportation in the future. Or worse, Chinese made 125cc scooters.
    03 K1200RS
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    Roadster Rider sjbmw's Avatar
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    There are a lot of factors at work here, but we can't ignore public policy either.
    Families that own bikes produce kids that grow up and own bikes, and Kids start out on dirt bikes.

    The systematic reduction of viable land to ride dirt bikes is happening nationwide, and in my state of NJ, there are no more official "public" lands where kid on a dirt bike is allowed. Riding a dirt bike in NJ is a chore of epic proportions, as kids that own one have to break the law to ride it without their parents trailering it somewhere.

    Their are new consumer product safety regulations in reaction to bad Chinese toys that will make it illegal to sell a child size dirt bike because the kid might eat the lead in the battery. These regs are still waiting to be implemented, the uproar caused the CPSC to hold off last year, but there has been no successful effort to fix the regulations and give off road bikes for kids an exemption.

    If nothing is done, once kid's dirt bikes are federally "illegal" and the land to ride on them is taken away totally, we can kiss motorcycling goodbye in a generation.

    Add to that the culture of fear (some which can be laid squarely on the M/C community itself, as anyone that does not do what others riders declare as "Safe" are ostracized and/or labeled), and it's not hard to see that getting future generations of Americans away from motorcycles will be easy.

    The fact is, since M/C riders are in the minority, it's unsafe to even get on one according to the majority. As we embark on a society where the rights of the group stomp out the rights of the individual, motorcycling itself will eventually become a casualty.
    Sig? What's a Sig?

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    Still Wondering mika's Avatar
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    "How do you dispel the 'bikes are toys' mentality and replace that with 'a bike can be a fairly inexpensive form of transportation' frame of mind?"



    This is a bad goal. We don’t need to dispel the replace one notion with another rather expand the understanding of what bikes are capable of, other measures of ‘savings/costs’ of ridership and the impact in less obvious ways as part of a transportation system.

    There is no denying that bikes are toys. If we use dispelling this idea as our starting point we will loose credibility with anyone we talk to. We use bikes as toys but many of us use them for much more. We may be weekend riders with many others going on trips, riding to rallies, sport riding or other play riding. During the week we commute and use our bikes instead of cars for other trips to the bank, libraries, shopping and more. Expand the understanding of use rather than waste time denying something we do. One of the primary reasons I am a daily rider and commute by bike when possible is it is much more fun than using the cage.

    Discussions of costs vs. savings by using a bike to narrowly focus on mileage; frankly we are beginning to loose that argument as cage mileage improves. Other measures of savings need to be developed. For years I commuted from Lilydale to the suburb of Minneapolis on a daily basis. Once I sorted out the process of commuting my one way savings in time was consistently in the range of 10 minutes when I measure the time from getting up from my morning coffee at home to sitting down at my desk and picking up my morning cup there. Time is valuable. We need to find and explain these benefits to potential riders and people that run the infrastructure of our lives.

    For a number of years I was the director of property management for a major employer. In this role I ran an alternative transportation program. Bikes were part of this program. We designated areas of our parking ramps as motorcycle parking only. These were in part unused corners in the ramps but in high visibility areas protected from the elements and secure. As ridership increased seasonally and over time we actually incorporated cage spots into these areas to meet demand. What our parking manager and I understood was

    - By doing this we could expand the capacity of our ramps without building anything.
    - We did not charge for motorcycle parking making up that lost revenue by opening up space for customers while meeting employee needs.
    - We understood that given concrete pads to park on in surface lots and in this example ramps, motorcycles do less damage in wear and tear on our facility.
    - Motorcycle commuters helped decrease congestion in our local area which was a major hospital in a residential area.

    We had no illusion that including motorcycles in our transportation plan in and of itself was going to be a silver bullet for any of our problems. Rather it was always seen as one element in an overall plan. This takes us to the next thing which needs to be done, include motorcycles in overall transportation plans.

    Including motorcycles into transportation plans at all levels will yield savings far beyond the gas mileage arguments. Simple ideas including motorcycles in transportation planning need to be championed.
    - lane splitting
    - allow motorcycles in carpool lanes
    - allow motorcycles to use bus only lanes
    - allow two motorcycles to park in the same parking spot at meters
    - plan for motorcycle specific parking in parking plans
    - free is better but set any needed fees on motorcycles at lower levels that recognize the benefits of motorcycles as part of a transportation plan and encourage their use, because
    - on a per mile basis motorcycles have one of the lowest impacts on the infrastructure in wear and tear while being able to expand the capacity of existing infrastructure to move people.
    - _____________

    Putting these ideas across is not the responsibility of manufacturers. It is the responsibility of all of us. Manufacturers can be a valuable ally but until we accept that we can impact transportation planning at all levels motorcycles will remain toys.
    Pass the mustard and UP THE REVOLUTION!

    St. Paul Pioneer Press , Minneapolis Star Tribune

  14. #14
    Roadster Rider sjbmw's Avatar
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    This is great stuff.

    In Philly, the PPA now has M/C only parking on certain Philly streets.

    We should not look down on our scooter riding brethren either. Their use is exploding in Philly.


    2 wheels beats 4 for education and perception purposes...
    Sig? What's a Sig?

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    Still Wondering mika's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hlothery View Post
    I often ride to work. However, as I am in the patient care business, and that requires a certain professional presentation, I cannot ride on days when it is too hot (sweaty providers do not foster confidence in patients) or raining. Bikes are more viable as commuter vehicles in some areas, and for some jobs, than others.

    snip
    It is not all or nothing when it comes to commuting by motorcycle. At a personal level my Roadster is a major part of my transportation plan but only a part. Depending on where I live cars (personal and cabs) buses/subways and other methods have been included in my transportation planning.

    I was pleasantly surprised when I realized sever physicians were part of the motorcycling community at the hospital I worked at. They did not ride every day or year round. As you point out there are obstacles to motorcycling in the profession patient care setting. But these obstacles are not limited to motorcycling physicians.

    Many of the problems we may sight for not using our bikes for a transportation need are shared by other forms of transport. Many staff members commute by bus. Riding a commuter bus on a hot steamy day can be worse than riding your bike. I come from this as a facilities manager but over time we looked at the needs for cleanup areas to make our staff presentable to the public after their commute no matter the form.
    Pass the mustard and UP THE REVOLUTION!

    St. Paul Pioneer Press , Minneapolis Star Tribune

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