Motorcycles: More than a lifestyle

Publish Date: 
Dec 20, 2010
By Mike Vaughan

Although 2010 hasn’t quite ended yet, the motorcycle market isn’t finished with its downturn. Overall sales of new units will again be down by double digits over 2009. Looking back to the motorcycle sales recession of the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was a decade before new-unit sales bottomed out, before things turned around and marched slowly to 2006’s high of a million-plus units. Obviously, a significant factor in ending the current sales slide is the overall health of the economy, which was a factor in the previous decline, as well.

The used motorcycle segment is reportedly healthy, and I’ve heard some pretty astounding numbers quoted regarding sales: 4 million units. I find that number difficult to believe, and would wager that the real number is somewhere around 1 to 2 million units. But again, as I’ve noted in previous columns, only around 40 percent of used motorcycles are traded through a dealership. So while there’s an opportunity here, it’s difficult to determine just how big an opportunity it is, and how to take advantage of it.

I had to get new tires for my bike last week. I went to my local independent dealer, Oceanside Cycle Supply in Oceanside, Calif. Oceanside is, at least theoretically, the perfect motorcycle market; we’re the town closest to the main gate at Camp Pendleton, so we’ve got thousands of young Marines in the right motorcycle-buying demographic who have money and sometimes, unfortunately, “a need for speed.” As an added incentive, we’re only a few miles from some of the best back roads in Southern California.

Oddly enough the town has no dealers selling new units, though there are several in the next town over. There are, however, a surprisingly large number of independent motorcycle stores catering to every taste, from Harley-Davidsons and cruisers to sportbikes and off-road bikes of every stripe, with older UJMs thrown in. I figured that with the audience and variety of bikes, OCS must be weathering the storm pretty well.

Most folks I talk to who trade at OCS think pretty highly of it. The store performs competent repairs, its prices are fair, and it has a small but wide variety of aftermarket products displayed and probably 20 to 25 used motorcycles for sale at any given time. The staff is courteous and helpful. The facility isn’t a palace, but it’s in an excellent location, neatly laid out and easily accessible. Given the state of the economy and the presumed activity in keeping existing bikes running, I figured they’d be doing a landslide business, but was surprised to hear that there was one point this fall when they considered shutting the doors. Things fortunately have picked up some, but I got the impression that the uptick wasn’t as much as they’d hoped for, and that things were better but still pretty tenuous. (Continued)