Motorcycle riders are buying more touring bikes, fewer cruisers

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Riders are cruising less and touring more, and the OEMs have taken notice

Key Points
Touring motorcycles accounted for 30% of street sales in 200
Designs of touring models more appealing to younger buyers
Low-volume custom builders developing touring models

If you looked at all the luggage-clad bikes being marketed to the motorcycling public, it would seem that just about everyone is taking off for a long-distance trip.

As the industry continues to diversify its offerings, there are many indications that tourers — adventure, sport and otherwise — are the new cruisers. OEMs big and small, and from V-twin to metric, are angling their vehicles at riders who want to pack up and leave for the weekend.

"During the past few years tourer sales have been increasing in nearly a straight line while the rate of cruiser sales increases have been slowing," says Dealernews senior research editor Don Brown ("Street Sales on a Cusp," February). Brown offers the following: In 1993 touring bikes accounted for 22 percent of the estimated cruiser and touring sales; touring's share grew to 30 percent by 2006.

In 2006 cruiser sales started their slowdown while long-term touring sales were increasing, notes Brown, and touring sales are expected to continue to climb. Why the divergence? Brown surmises that older riders are increasingly trading in their cruisers for touring rigs. Upgraded designs, better luggage, easier-to-use parking systems, and overall comfort of new touring models are appealing to the aging cruiser crowd.

Brown adds that the designs of touring models are more appealing to younger buyers than cruisers would be — a demographic change that favors touring sales. The age shift is also driving some motorcycle design toward more weekender proportions as opposed to day-trippers or full-blown cruisers.

Kawasaki product manager Karl Edmondson says the OEM has seen a shift in its cruiser customers toward bikes with windshields and all the accouterments. These riders don't necessarily want to be classified as "touring riders" — but they are buying the bikes.

Because of these factors, Brown forecasts that by 2016 touring bike sales could match cruiser sales.

If empirical research counts, then Brown is right. On the Big Twin side of the market, the catchword at the 2007 V-Twin Expo in Cincinnati was bagger. Two new bagger-centric consumer magazines recently launched, custom bike builder and parts manufacturer Brian Klock gained national recognition for his Worlds Fastest Bagger, and coveted space in Drag Specialties catalog for his dresser parts. Major aftermarket manufacturers such as Performance Machine are also offering touring parts.

Even low-volume custom builders are getting into the game. For years, Harley-Davidson was the only name for Big Twin touring, but it soon could have company.

  • Big Bear Choppers (Big Bear, Calif.) announced a Grand Touring X-Wedge vehicle as a 2008 model. The G.T.X. will feature a six-gallon auxiliary tank under its seat. Big Bear Choppers reportedly will market the bike as a weekend getaway vehicle — with a full touring version to come out later.
  • Thunder Mountain Custom Cycles (Loveland, Colo.) produces a full-dresser, the Frontier.
  • Finally, upstart Fat Baggers Inc. promises three versions of a big-inch custom production tourer.

The Rest of the Crowd

On the metric side of touring, the Honda Goldwing is the standard, and BMW is well-known for its touring rigs. Kawasaki has the newly redesigned Concours for the "supersport touring" crowd in addition to Kawis other touring Vulcans. Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Suzuki, Triumph and Yamaha also have offerings that fall into touring categories.

Kawasaki is positioning the new Concours — a direct descendant from the ZX-14, rather than an update of its namesake — as a sportbike with touring capabilities. Its marketed to aging baby boomers who don't want to ride a traditional touring bike, says Edmondson. So, Kawasaki is not going after riders turning in their cruisers, but, rather, those trading up from a Ninja.

"As baby boomers get older they're looking for more adventurous-type travel and vacations. They don't want to vacation like their parents vacationed," Edmondson says. "They're not really interested in something their dad rode.

"They want their tours, their travels to be more adventurous ... more back roads, more twisty, more winding, scenic routes," he says.

Victory Motorcycles caused the biggest stir in the touring segment with its 2006 unveiling of the Vision luxury touring model. Victory vice president Mark Blackwell says the model is the result of six years of R&D. Victory wants the Vision be the answer to the question "What's your next touring bike going to be?"

With the new design, Victory hopes to stake its claim to the touring market. Its ultimate goal, Blackwell says, is to target existing Victory owners and chip away at Harley's and Honda's market share. The Vision comes in Tour and Sport configurations.

New Uses

There seems to be an expanded definition of touring bike among consumers — and it doesn't quite match the industry's definition.

The Multistrada has a huge touring following, according to John Paul Canton of Ducati. And some Ducati riders have even talked about using the vintage-flavored Sportclassic GT 1000 as a possible tourer. Add a bigger windshield and a more comfortable seat from the OEM's catalog, and the Sportclassic GT 1000 becomes a unique and comfortable touring bike, he notes.

During its press intro for the Burgman 400, Suzuki revealed research that showed many owners of the maxi-scooter used it for short touring. In fact, the OEM says that about 60 percent of Burgman 400 owners use theirs for touring under 500 miles. Again, this calls back to the desire for something that is comfortable and easy to ride and maneuver.

Even Kawasaki, during its April unveiling of the new KLR650 noted that owners of the big thumper often use the bike for adventure touring. The OEM has positioned the redesigned dual sport as the "perfect machine" for longer-distance travel on back roads and trails.

While its tempting — rightly so, maybe — to consider this shift in definition as a paradigm shift, note that the best-selling touring bike, by far, year-to-date, is Harley-Davidson's Ultra Classic Electra Glide.

Whatever your customers choose for their road respite — sport, scooter, adventure or dresser — know that their open road is your opportunity.