Courting the next generation is one of the biggest challenges facing street motorcycle makers, but dirtbike and ATV manufacturers have plenty of kid-sized products and there is no shortage of new vehicles and gear designed for children at this year's Dealer Expo. "Here at Suzuki, we're all about helping our dealers make a profit by continuing to give them upgrades in our lines and that includes our youth ATV and dirtbikes," says Glenn Hansen, Communications Manager with Amercan Suzuki. Suzuki introduced two new four-stroke youth quads over the last two years. Helping fuel the market is the age of the children getting involved in the sport.
"Kids are starting in the sport at a younger age," says Justin Duganne, general manager at O'Neal USA, a manufacturer of off-road riding gear including the Four ATV line of apparel. "We're building the pant to fit the body of a child in both girls and boys sizes."
Helmets are becoming more widely available in children's sizes as well. "We make the lightest kids helmet on the market," says Chris Sackett, product manager with Bell Powersports. "We make one kids off-road related helmet in two sizes and nine colors."
(See related article: New Helmet Standard Aims to Protect Young Brains )
A downturn in the youth ATV and dirtbike market over the last year has not discouraged apparel and helmet manufacturers, at least among the majors.
"If you look to the last three months of the last year and you compare the big seven or eight OEMS, the 250cc-and-under market is lower, it's dropped fairly significantly," says Eric Bondy, president and CEO of Kymco. "There may have been some economic factors leading to that, but you're seeing a pretty good influx of offshore manufacturers penetrating that market."
The Motorcycle Industry Council does not track Chinese and other foreign import sales, but judging by the traffic at the Chinese pavilion, there's big interest.
"We checked out the Chinese Pavilion to see what's going to happen in the next few years. I can remember when the Japanese first showed up. It's like, 'Where do we go from here? What's going to be the next emerging market?' " says Rick Hannafan, of K&H Motorsports of Little York, New York. New ATV safety standards under consideration at the SVIA, based on weight instead of age, will help bring more youth to the market because adults will have a clearer understanding of what size machine is right for their child, Bondy says.
"It's critical to have kids being knowledgeable about safety and gear, but it's more important we inform the parents on these issues," he says. "There's a ton of safety rules that parents need to be made aware of. A 90cc, a 50cc — they're not toys, they're vehicles."
At the same time, apparel manufacturers are moving full steam ahead in introducing new exciting graphics and colors that appeal to kids.
"We license the Barbie and Dora the Explorer brands in our bicycle helmets. We're probably going to bring Barbie and Dora to our motorcycle helmets as well," Sackett says.
"Kids want an aggressive look," says Duganne. "The kids really want to be part of the racing crowd so we're making the gear the same as we do with the higher-end adult line, but we're doing it at an inexpensive price."
As long as there are kids riding off-road, there will always be those watching on the sidelines saying 'I want to do that,' observes Bondy. "Off-road riding will always be a family affair, but in a lot of cases it's youth who want to get into the sport."