It can be safely said that the vitality of a market segment can be judged by the activity of the aftermarket that serves it. In this case, the sportbike segment is alive and doing quite well.
It wasn't that long ago that the aftermarket for sportbikes was pretty limited. It consisted primarily of tires, exhaust systems, shocks and a few go-fast parts like carbs and cams that were sold in limited numbers. In the last few years the sportbike market has exploded, delivering new models and taking a larger market share.
Along with this has been a diffusion of the sportbike. A few years ago it was a motorcycle sold to people who had visions of themselves as racers or to someone taking that image and mind-set to the streets and back roads. Now we have stunters and an emerging custom segment that parallels the custom cruiser market. At the same time, the expansions in track days, track schools and amateur racing programs have benefited the traditional sportbike rider.
The aftermarket has responded with alternative body parts, handlebars, lights, wheels, rear sets, swing arms, sliders, protection bars, FI control modules, performance exhausts, wheels and various billet parts to meet the demands of this new set of sportbike riders.
All of the vendor activity and consumer enthusiasm presents a great opportunity for dealers with Japanese brands who haven't been able to take advantage of the cruiser customization trend of recent years. The sportbike customization/stunt phenomenon is indeed unusual. It started in the eastern United States and is slowly moving west. It's still nowhere near as strong on the West Coast as it is in the more urban East; mountain roads and less dense traffic situations in the West mean that there are still plenty of curvy back roads within easy reach of most cities, so traditional sport riding still holds sway.
However, all segments of the sportbike market present a savvy dealer with many opportunities to expand his aftermarket sales of gear and accessories. We're seeing a lot of new players from Europe and Asia eyeing the U.S. market, so the competition is going to get a bit tougher. However, it also should work to expand the market as available product increases in style and type.
Many dealers say it's the responsibility of the OEM to bring in new customers, but it's not quite that simple: It's the OEM's responsibility to attract their attention, but it's the dealers' responsibility to put them on seats.
Mike Vaughan, Publisher firstname.lastname@example.org