Chasing Tommy Hayden
On a motorcycle, there's very few places where one is in a controlled environment. Outside the space inside our helmets, it's mostly a free-for-all filled with murderous minivans and thoughtless pot holes.
With problems like this facing the daily commuter and the weekend warrior, it's no wonder some track day organizations and track riding schools are reporting an uptick in growth.
Combine this with the continual swing upward in sportbike sales — up 18 percent in 2006 according to the MIC — and you'll understand when Monte Lutz says that business is going gangbusters.
"2001 was the first year that motorcycles on the racetracks for recreation outnumbered motorcycles on the racetracks for racing," says Lutz, who along with his wife, Bonnie Strawser, own Sportbike Track Time. Track days are growing by 25 percent a year, while racing is expanding at less than 3 percent annually, Lutz says.
Lutz and Strawser know a thing or two about this: Their organization has pulled together upward of 180 track events a various racetracks across the country. Strawser is the brains behind the Femmoto series that has women riders testing their mettle out on the tracks.
"We understood that it was a safer place for people to engage in this sport rather than on the street," Lutz says. "You've got good pavement. Everybody's going the same direction. You've got technical direction. You can learn how to do new things without the fear of getting hit by a minivan or hitting a guardrail."
Capture the Go-Fast Crowd
For as little as $115 a day, a rider can chase his inner Hayden while learning technical skills that can easily be transferred to the street.
Dealers should consider that not only is this a controlled riding environment, it' virtually a captive audience for sales.
Businesses like Sportbike Track Time can also help dealerships interested in organizing a track day for its customers.
In co-sponsoring a track day with a dealership, Lutz says his job is to run the show so that the dealership can focus on catering to its customers.
Lutz says that dealers should be out there selling tires, upgrading riders to one-piece leathers or getting them to move up bike models. Many dealers offer track-day preparation specials to sportbike customers.
"That's a reason to get a customer into the service department and upsell," he adds.
Demographicwise, Lutz says he's seeing younger riders taking part in track days. This he attributes to the number of inexpensive first- and second-generation sportbikes out on the market.
It's not just young riders either. Lutz says women riders make up the single fastest growing demographic. At this point, women make up 6 to 7 percent of their total overall customer base.
To reach the women's market, and possibly make life easier at home for a male counterpart, his company offers special pricing for couples. He also stocks jackets and leathers specifically cut for women.
School Kicks Ass
While racer-turned-headmaster Keith Code hasn't seen an increase in women attending his California Superbike School, he has seen an overall number jump. The school has expanded into 13 countries, and last year the school grew by 30 percent, which places it at the top of the pack for track schools.
"Track days are pushing the school market. Riders want to know how to use the technology they paid for," Code says. "These riders are realizing that there is a complementary riding technology that enhances their enjoyment of the sport and allows them access to the bike tech."
He says that his student demographics track motorcycle sales demographics.
"Our average age student is 43," he notes. "We are training mature riders who are interested in becoming competent and their hope is that confidence will follow, and in our experience, thousand of times each year, says it does."
And it would seem that track days are a bit like Lay's potato chips — once riders get a taste of the track, they can't stop. Many riders tend to return frequently for higher levels of training, to learn more techniques and make improvements, Code says.
Once hooked, these riders need gear and for products, tires top the list, followed by exhaust systems. Then riders start getting into swapping out brake pads and opting for braided lines and Stomp Grip tank pads. But is this all necessary? Much like the street and off-road markets, track bikes are upgraded for reasons that transcend performance.
What dealers should really focus on, and customers are getting more used to wearing, is the protective gear that becomes more technical yet more accessible each year.
"Full leathers aren't so uncommon a possession as they used to be, and the helmet market now is competitive enough so high-quality headgear is far more affordable than in previous decades," Code says.
The rest of the products people buy — products that drive a huge aftermarket industry and keep dealers' registers ringing — fall under what Code calls the "status" buy category.
"The OEs have made it tough for the aftermarket suppliers by delivering top-quality track-ready machines. For example our fleet of ZX-6Rs can have as many as 20,000-plus track miles on them and still feel tight, responsive and make the top 15 [at an AMA national]," he says. "This is unbelievable stuff for a guy like me who came from the dark ages of motorcycling in the '60s."