I realize one store isn’t indicative of an entire category of businesses, and maybe I’ve missed something about the demographics and the way OCS conducts business, but on the face of it, given the supposed health of the used-bike market, and the store’s reputation for fair trade and competence, this little shop should be up to its ears in work.
So what’s going on? There are some possible answers. Owners are doing more of their own maintenance. People are riding less and not using their motorcycles at the same rate as before. Or maybe many of the folks who jumped into the sport did so because it was the thing their social group was into and have either aged out, found it too expensive to continue, or moved on to something else.
I’ve always questioned the long-term viability of the so-called lifestyle riders; they and Harley-Davidson provided most of the drive that got us to the pinnacle of ’06. But I think their motorcycle lifestyle thing was just a phase, like owning a BMW car, or a high-end stainless-steel kitchen — not something they really needed to make their life complete. But it was something everyone else in their peer group was doing; it was a status thing, was fun, attracted a lot of attention and allowed them to assume a different persona on the weekends. Obviously, finances play a role here, but if you’ve got the bike and it truly is an important activity for you (like watching football or baseball or playing bridge is for other people), you continue to ride, and you continue to maintain your bike by at least replacing, if not upgrading, gear and hardware as it wears out. It’s more than a lifestyle, it’s a commitment.
The current sales slide will end eventually, and we’ll be left with the committed core and, of course, some lifestyle guys and gals who will enter and leave the sport as their peer group dictates. Whether or not the lifestyle element becomes as strong as it was in the early and mid 2000s is a question without an answer. If we are unable to capture the attention of the upcoming generations, then we’ll have to accept that we’ll exist as a smaller industry whose growth will be predominately tied to population increases. As the population grows and enters the motorcycle demographic, there will always be people who buy motorcycles, decide for one reason or the other that the activity isn’t for them and move on. Some, a smaller number, will feel that the benefits of owning and riding a motorcycle are so great that they will incorporate it into their lives and grow or maintain the core.
This story originally appeared in the Dealernews December 2010 issue.