By Karin Gelschus
Generation Y, a larger, more diverse group than previous generations, is becoming a bigger part of the motorcycle industry, a national survey finds.
Gen Y (born 1980-current) is a much bigger population than Gen X (born 1965-1979) and about the same, if not a little bigger, as the Baby Boomer generation (born 1946-1964).
Gen Y also defies the characteristics of previous generations with its views on life and reasons motorcycles appeal to them, according to the national 2008 Owner Survey by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC).
“It’s a generation who wants to have its own experiences,” said Tim Buche, MIC president, “not to have to live through someone else.”
The MIC online survey of about
2,000 motorcycle owners revealed that even though much of Gen Y represents the youthful stereotype of sport bike riders, the percentage of Gen Y riders buying cruisers has increased slightly in the past five years, along with the percentage of Gen X purchasing cruisers and touring bikes.
Defying previous generations
Gen Y’s size, diversity and experiences distinguish it from other generations, but it also carries some similar traits to previous age groups through motorcycling.
“There are a couple stereotype traits that work because they’re generally representative,” said Buche, “but Gen Y is a pretty informal generation.”
The stereotype that Gen Y is generally looking for sport bikes holds true as the number of people in that age group who bought them increased 16 percentage points between 2003-2008.
Gen Y, however, surprised some people when the MIC revealed that the number of riders who bought cruisers since 2003 increased by 4 percentage points. Those numbers are expected to grow in coming years, says Buche.
“Very soon they’ll be moving through stages where they have discretionary time and income,” he said. “Catching them in those impressionable years is pretty valuable.”
At about 80 million people, Gen Y is about the same size or slightly larger than the Baby Boomer generation, says Buche. Gen Y has more than
30 million additional people compared to Gen X, which has a population of about 46 million.
It’s important to note that generations are aging, not growing, and every person will stay in the same generation throughout his or her life, says Buche.
Gen Y’s place in the motorcycle industry, however, has grown tremendously in the past five years, according to the MIC survey.
As Gen Y ages, the percent of people who own a motorcycle is increasing. In 2003, the number of Baby Boomers who owned a motorcycle outnumbered bike owners in Gen Y 5-to-1. That number has since changed significantly. In 2008, Gen Y’s interest in motorcycles grew
135 percent, tightening the ratio of Baby Boomers to Gen Y 2-to-1.
Five years ago, Gen Y only made up 10 percent of people who owned a motorcycle, which grew to 21 percent by 2008. During that time, the number of Gen X riders in the motorcycle industry only increased 1 percentage point, pushing them to 30 percent of all riders.
Both groups also saw increases in the number of women motorcycle owners. Gen Y had an increase of 8 percentage points between 2003-2008, and Gen X saw an increase of 5 percentage points.
“All of our (marketing) efforts in Gen Y are non-gender specific,” said Buche. “I don’t see gender so specifically these days. It’s not just the guys saying, ‘This is cool.’ It’s everyone. Boomers, the men were buying everything and the percent of women Boomers buying wasn’t there.”
Size and gender are obvious differences between the generations, but Buche says it’s really the events in the generations’ lives and the influence those experiences have had on them that affect their views and what appeals to them about motorcycling.
“They grow up with real different values. Baby Boomers were post war, growth and prosperity. If you think in terms of Gen X, you think of latchkey kids, high divorce rates, end of the Cold War, grunge was popular, hip hop, emergence of AIDS,” Buche said. “When you think of Gen Y, it’s really the generation of 9/11, terrorism and 24/7 news, global warming, weather change.”
The rise in news coverage of climate change and global warming has had a big enough impact on Gen Y to make them turn to scooters and motorcycles as a more environmentally friendly way of transportation.
“They respond to things like a 400-pound motorcycle doesn’t tear the roads up like a 4,000-pound car,” Buche said. “The raw materials used to build a car vs. a motorcycle. You think of parking.”
Gen X also has begun to view motorcycles as a practical way of transportation rather than just recreation. Between 2003-2008, the number of people among Gen X riding scooters has increased 9 percentage points. Gen Y had an increase of 5 percentage points in the number of scooters purchased.
The practicality of scooters and small-engine motorcycles satisfy the economical side, but they also please personal time, which Buche says has been instilled in Gen Y by Baby Boomers.
“They’re pretty team-oriented. They grew up when everybody won awards, everybody wins,” he said of the Gen Y population. “Motorcycling answers a lot of that. Their career is what they do, but it’s not who they are. It’s about personal experiences and sense of adventure. ‘I want to do a great job on my career because that helps me do some of the other things I love, like travel.’ Motorcycling fits into that.”
While Gen Y has that balance of personal and social time, they’re more willing to share their experiences with friends and family than Gen X, says Buche.
Among factors in the decision to buy, friends/family/advice ranked No. 2 in importance for both Gen Y and Gen X. On a scale of 1-10 in the MIC 2008 Owner Survey, Gen Y on average gave it a 6.4, and Gen X ranked it
5.3 on average.
In addition to friends and family, Gen Y takes safety into account. There was a 50 percent increase in the number of riders in Gen Y who took a rider course between 2003-2008.
“They are the group that grew up with ‘Baby Onboard’ signs on the car, mandatory seat belt laws,” Buche said. “They are aware of safety, but they’re also aware of risk and reward. They’re wise in how they go about motorcycling.”
Gen Y’s views are different than previous generations along with how they utilize the sport, but Buche says both groups look to motorcycling as a sense of freedom.
“Motorcycling is active. It’s outdoors,” he said. “People do it for a lot of different reasons, but one of the reasons is they feel most alive on a bike, so trying to hold onto their youth.”