By Neil Pascale
Bill Hearne, the operating manager for Outdoor MotorSports in Spearfish, S.D., has sponsored motorcycle safety training classes for years.
At the start of each class, Hearne briefly introduces himself to each of the participants so he sees first-hand the changing demographics in the industry.
“There are definitely some people under 30 years old in that class, men and women,” he said, before adding, “but there are a lot of people who are 40 and older.”
In fact, the median age of the new bike buyer is 47 years old, two years older than five years ago, according to the 2008 J.D. Power and Associates’ Motorcycle Competitive Information Study.
In some ways, that trend follows the changing U.S. demographic, one that is increasingly gray. The July 2007 U.S. Census Bureau survey found population changes among the 45-54, 55-59 and 60-64 age groups, with each population growing compared to the 2000 survey.
However, the new bike buyer survey points to a much more accelerated process in terms of an aging demographic.
Five years ago, the 30-and-under crowd represented nearly 14 percent of the new bike buyers in the J.D. Power and Associates’ survey. Fast forward to 2008 and that group has declined two percentage points.
On the other hand, the demographic consisting of 50-70-year-olds has increased during the same time period. In that five-year span, that group has risen 8 percentage points and now represents 38.4 percent of the buyers.
“That’s a concern for me,” Hearne said. “That’s a concern for everybody.”
“It bothers us on the metric side,” Hearne said of Outdoor MotorSports, a multibrand metric dealership. “I don’t think we get it as bad as the Harley guys do. Their demographic is way worse. We have products for younger folks.
“But as an industry we’re not doing a good job, I don’t think, of recruiting young people into motorcycling.”
As Hearne points out, there are demographic differences between the major brand categories. European brands are the lone group to have shown an increase in the number of younger buyers compared to five years ago. Buyers 30 and under now represent nearly 14 percent of their customers, a number that has nearly doubled compared to five years ago.
Metric brands, however, still retain the largest percentage of 30-and-younger buyers, at nearly 21 percent. That percentage, however, has remained largely flat during the past five years.
Domestic brands, including Harley-Davidson, are only generating 5 percent of their sales from 30-and-younger buyers, another statistic that has remained virtually flat during the past five years.
“It’s not a surprise that the demographic is aging,” said Glenn Hansen, American Suzuki Motor Corp.’s communications director for its motorcycle and ATV division. “It’s been something the motorcycle industry has been talking about for several years.
“We sell 70cc off-road motorcycles for kids and we sell $14,000 sport bikes and cruisers, so we certainly want to attract young buyers and hope they stay true to the Suzuki brand for a long time. That’s always a goal and it will continue to be.”
The changing demographic is reflected in the largest on-road bike categories, including in sport bikes. The 30-and-under age group consists of nearly 38 percent of the sport bike market, a far higher total than in the cruiser market (7.3 percent). However, the percentage of 30-and-under sport bike riders has fallen 10 percentage points in the past five years.
“Sport bike prices have increased,” Hansen said. “So does that directly correlate to age? Not necessarily, but there is some relationship.”
Hansen notes Suzuki’s top sport-bike seller in the United States remains the GSX-R 600, a favorite among younger buyers.
Chris Cuomo, president of Velocity Cycles in Mechanicsburg, Pa., does believe the availability of product that is appropriately priced for the
20-25-year-old is key to the aging new bike buyer demographic. “I don’t have anything to sell to the younger guy,” he said, noting his dealership does not sell new motorcycles in the $3,000-$4,000 price range. “I don’t know if the product is driving the customer or if the customer is driving the product.”
Touring, Cruiser Segments
Not surprisingly, the touring segment is made up of predominantly older riders. In fact, 42 percent are ages 51-60 and another 15 percent are ages 61-70. Both of those age groups make up a larger percentage of touring riders than five years ago. In contrast, the number of touring riders who are 41-50 has decreased by 12 percentage points compared to five years ago.
The cruiser segment also has seen some changes in that 41-50-year-old group. This group, like five years ago, represents the largest percentage of buyers — 33 percent — but this total has decreased four percentage points compared to five years ago.
Hearne of Outdoor MotorSports notes there is at least one positive to the aging demographic.
“We sell trikes to people that are 65-plus just really regular,” he said. “I think what used to happen is those people just exited the market. We didn’t get that last gasp because trikes weren’t as much of an option as they are now.”
New Bike Buyers’ Age
Nearly 19 percent of metric new bike buyers are 30 years old or younger. That percentage is far higher than the domestic or European new bike buyer. Below is a look at average ages for all brand categories.
20 years and under: 1%
71 years and older: 1.2%
Other Vehicles New Bike Buyers Own or Ride
The percentage of new bike buyers who also own PWC is down significantly compared to five years ago.
Off-road motorcycle: 14.5%
New Bike Buyers’ Gender
Domestic brands, including Harley-Davidson, have a higher percentage of women buyers than metric or European brands. Below represents the gender demographics for all brands.
New Bike Buyers’ Ethnicity
Nearly 14 percent of metric buyers are Asian, black or Hispanic. That percentage is higher than European or domestic brands. Below represents the ethnicity demographics for all brands.
Survey reveals an aging consumer base
By Neil Pascale