J.D. Power motorcycle survey shows age gains

For the fifth consecutive year, J.D. Power and Associates has conducted its Motorcycle Competitive Information Study (MCIS). As in the past, these impartial studies have revealed some interesting facts about our industry. For this issue we’ll concentrate on the demographic facts, and how — or if — they’ve changed over this four-year span of 1998 through 2002.
J.D. Power and Associates is a market research company that surveys consumers about their degree of satisfaction with the cars they buy, the airlines they fly, the resorts they visit and much more.
The companies that win these battles often advertise the fact. Unfortunately, the players in the motorcycle industry have not yet consented to have those rankings made public. And since they are the main purchasers of the study, their intentions carry a lot of weight with J. D. Power and Associates.
Therefore, you will not yet see any ads or figures as to who “won” the top consumer motorcycle rankings as a result of this study.
Since the study’s inception in 1998, the motorcycle manufacturers have used it primarily for their own benchmarking purposes, but have kept it from the public eye. Through a gentleman’s agreement, conclusions from the motorcycle study remain classified. Only those manufacturers purchasing the study are given the full report, which includes how individual makes and models rank against the competition, and in what fields.
This recently completed MCIS study rates many product, sales and service-related aspects of new motorcycles that were sold between fall of 2001 and spring of 2002.
In addition, many questions were asked about the bike owner’s experience with their most recent helmet. Results of this additional study will be released in late spring. Because there is no gentleman’s agreement regarding that report, we will reveal which specific helmet brands consumers rate best.
The 2002 MCIS questionnaires included 48 often multi-part questions about the motorcycles, plus seven about helmets and 10 demographic questions. Questionnaires were mailed in October of 2002, to 43,491 new motorcycle owners who had purchased a new street or dual-sport motorcycle between September of 2001 through May of 2002.
Names were selected at random by J.D. Power and Associates from lists furnished by each of the manufacturers. Each questionnaire included a $1 bill as an incentive, and alert postcards were mailed a few days before the survey was mailed. J.D. Power and Associates received a total of 10,339 usable responses (a 24% response rate).
Here is what the survey revealed about the demographics of current new-bike buyers. We’ll also compare the 2002 figures with those from the first MCIS, in 1998, to identify trends.

  • Gender: We’re happy to report that the percentage of female new-bike buyers has risen from 7.8% of the population in 1998, to 10.6% in 2002. We welcome this trend, because we expect motorcycling to become more acceptable as more women participate in it.
  • Experience: Interestingly enough, we see major gains at both ends of the experience spectrum at the expense of the middle. The largest increase is in those who have been riding 30 or more years, with a corresponding increase in new riders (26.8%) with four or fewer years of riding experience. “How many years have you been riding?”
  • Age: Motorcycling used to be a young person’s sport. One of the recent concerns with our sport is that it seems the same people are buying motorcycles year after year, and not enough new riders are entering.
    Let’s take a look at the different ages of those new buyers that make up our respondent base. If the percentages of older purchasers continues to increase, sales will eventually suffer as older riders leave motorcycling.
    Over the first five years of the study, sales in the 30-and-under categories have decreased from 21.6% to 17.3%. Those aged 31-60 accounted for 74.6% of new bike purchases in 1998, and have increased slightly to 77.2% in 2002. Sales to riders aged 61 years and older have increased from 3.8% to 5.5% in the same period.
    While this appears to contradict the previous question, keep in mind that it addressed the amount of riding experience, while this question addresses age. While new riders continue to enter our sport, they are not necessarily young riders.
    Our industry continues to age, and we need to be concerned about attracting greater numbers of younger buyers to our industry. It’s a cinch that extreme sports are gaining attention in such areas as off-road, but the question is if that attention will translate to street bike sales.

  • Marital Status: In the past four years, the percentage of married buyers has risen by 1.6% as single riders have decreased by 2.2%. This could well reflect the aging of the motorcycle market.
  • Annual Mileage: “How many miles do you ride your motorcycle on average in a year?”
    The more miles people ride, the sooner they will require new bikes, tires and oil, and the sooner they’ll want tune-ups and accessories.

  • Two interesting facts here. One, nearly half (43.5%) of new motorcycle buyers ride just 4,000 miles or fewer annually. The other is the remarkable consistency of the survey results over the past four years. Obviously, the survey is consistent year to year, and riding habits have not changed significantly in that period.
    Headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is a global marketing information services firm.
    For more information about the 2002 J.D. Power and Associates Motorcycle Competitive Information Study (MCIS), contact Brian Beaver, Research Associate, in the Troy, Michigan office at 248/267-6800.
    Next Issue: Next we’ll discover how new-bike buyers rate their sales and service experience at the dealership from which they bought their new bike.

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