A new enthusiasm for adventure touring

Dennis Johnson
Publish Date: 
Apr 22, 2012
By Dennis Johnson

Road, track or trail, motorcycle riding is all movement. Whether it’s crosstown, cross-country or cross-continent, two wheels are locomotion. I know that four wheels will get you there too, but for me, motorcycles come with a built-in need to go, go, go. Leave a car parked and it just sits there. A motorcycle not in motion just falls over, save for the kickstand.

There’s something about packing up a bike with what you need for the night or the week that seems to fit the very purpose of the machine. Get on and go. It seems that nowhere is this more relevant than the touring segment. In the May 2012 issue of Dealernews we highlight the booming adventure side of that market — the growing segment of motorcycles and aftermarket products that’s all but swallowed up what’s historically been known as dual-sport.

It’s been too long since I’ve been on a true adventure ride. In fact it was back in 2009 that I did three days in the Colorado Rockies aboard a KLR650 with the FirstGear crew and a bunch of Tucker Rocky reps. We were testing out what at the time was the new TPG line of gear. (It worked, thank goodness.) Whether through divine planning or happenstance of the weather, the Great Rocky Mountains’ microclimate threw at us everything from sleet to sun as we crisscrossed the Continental Divide. In fact, former FirstGear guru Mark Kincart — currently Klim’s gear guy — marks the ride as one of his better industry jaunts. Mine, too. Check out the whole story here www.dealernews.com/TPG.

But that seems like a world away from where we are today, with the ADV market awash in new units from just about every OEM, and the aftermarket producing the kind of PG&A that would appeal to the rider who pictures himself astride his GS on a barren desert bluff — or commuting into the office among the gridlock. Apparel, luggage, accessories — all of it is function-first for riders who really ride.

In talking with aftermarket players such as Twisted Throttle and Touratech USA, we learned that the rise of the ADV segment has directly fueled business growth, and there’s no reason dealers shouldn’t jump into this growing trend to both service their customers and help bump the bottom line. The proof is in the numbers — the MIC’s 2011 Retail Sales Report shows that dual-sport bikes saw a 14.2 percent climb last year — that this is a segment worth paying attention to.

Also in the May 2012 issue, you’ll see a report from senior editor Arlo Redwine on how the year’s early thaw has jump-started spring sales and whether this is an indicator of good things to come. It’s still too early to know if this means additional sales and a rise in consumer confidence, or just early sales. Surely the mild winter put a crimp on snowmobile sales, but some dealers were able to capitalize on the warmer-than-usual weather by increasing motorcycle sales. In fact, Bob Weaver says that two-wheeled sales for his Top 100 dealership near Buffalo, N.Y., jumped threefold in February compared to 2011.

Tim Sherman, owner of Signature Harley-Davidson, a Top 100 dealer in northwest Ohio, says he’s seeing a overall difference in the attitudes of his customers; something he noticed last fall for the first time in three years. He even reverted to summer hours a month earlier than normal because people are actually spending money.

Good news for now, whatever the cause.

The May 2012 issue also has a report on the next chapter of Motus Motorcycles, which includes talking to a handful of its authorized dealers and why they think a $30,000-plus, hand-built, American-made sport-touring motorcycle has a chance in this market. Each one we talked to says they’ve had strong consumer interest in the bikes, with many saying they’ll have no problem selling them to customers interested in niche products.

I see all of these pieces as parts of a bigger picture, and that is that the health of the U.S. powersports market looks pretty good from where I’m sitting. And I’m not prone to optimism. We’re not in great shape, but we’re a far cry better than we were three or so years ago.

So let’s keep on keeping on.