MOTORCYCLE – JD Power #1: Who’s buying New Street Motorcycles?

Since the inception of the J.D. Power and Associates (JDPA) Motorcycle Competitive Information Study (MCIS) in 1998, we here at Powersports Business have had a unique window into the information it has uncovered. I served as a consultant on the original project, and helped formulate the questions that established it. Ever since then I have been granted partial access to the results, but have had no input into the study since its inception.
Along with other journalists I am only granted partial access to the results because, unlike in other industries, the main players in the motorcycle industry have not yet consented to allow the results and rankings of the MCIS to be made public. The manufacturers are the main purchasers (and therefore funders) of the Study, so their wishes carry a lot of weight. As a result you will not yet see any ads or figures regarding which manufacturer’s bikes received the top JDPA consumer ratings, as you will for other such studies. We hope that, someday, the players in the motorcycle industry will, like those in other industries, consent to have these figures made public.
As you likely know, J.D. Power and Associates is a market research company that surveys consumers about their degree of satisfaction with such things as the new automobiles they buy, the airlines they fly and the resorts they visit. The MCIS is now in its seventh year, and these impartial studies have revealed some interesting facts about the motorcycle industry from the perspective of new-bike buyers.
This recently completed MCIS study rates many product, sales and service-related aspects of new street motorcycles that were sold between the fall of 2003 and the spring of 2004. In addition, the survey asked many questions about the bike buyer’s experience with their most recent helmet. With no gentleman’s agreement limiting the results of that report, we will reveal which specific helmet brands consumers rate best in a future article.

The 2004 MCIS survey included 49 (often multi-part) questions about the newly purchased motorcycles, 10 questions about helmets and 12 demographic questions. Questionnaires were mailed in September of 2004 to 45,062 people who had purchased a new street or dual-sport motorcycle between September of 2003 and May of 2004. Names were selected at random by JDPA from lists furnished by the manufacturers. Each questionnaire included a $1 bill as an incentive, and reminder postcards were mailed a few days after the survey arrived. J.D. Power and Associates received a total of 10,626 usable responses (a 24% response rate).
Our series on the Study will be in four parts, the first of which concerns the demographics of current new-bike buyers. Others will rate their satisfaction with their dealers, and their helmets.

Of the more than 9,700 responses garnered, the mean/weighted average was 18.6 years, which means that the new-bike buyers in this study were, for the most part, highly experienced riders.

Back when I started riding, in the 1960s, my friends and I were always buying and selling motorcycles, moving up through the displacement categories at least every three years. Now that the market has matured, and the bikes are much larger in size and displacement, the response here shows a mean/weighted average of 6.5 years. While this figure may not portend well for new bike sales, it is likely that riders who keep their bikes this long will purchase accessories for them.

The type of riding remains varied, yet the top three categories listed indicate that riders tended to use their bikes for leisure and relaxation. In addition, almost half used them for commuting and a third for touring.
Relaxed Cruising 75.1%
Short/Day Trips 74.8%
Around Town 68.5%
Commute to Work/School 48.7%
Extended/Overnight Travel 33.9%
Fast-Paced 24.0%
Other 5.1%

We’ve always known that motorcycling was an overwhelmingly male pursuit, and this year’s Study bears that out as 89.0% of respondents were male. However, more and more women are taking up the sport. In 2004 some 11.0% of respondents were female versus only 7.8% reported in 1998, the first year of the Study.

Despite the popular stereotype in the media of riders being coarse, uneducated knuckle draggers, the truth is far from that. Fewer than 4% did not graduate from a high school or trade school, while about 60% had attended college, and more than one-quarter earned a college degree. Here’s an overview of responses from the MCIS:
8th Grade or Less 0.5%
Some High School 3.2%
High School Graduate 22.7%
Trade/Technical School 13.9%
Some College 32.4%
4-Year College Degree 15.2%
Some Graduate Courses 4.7%
Advanced Degree 7.5%

The Mean/Weighted Average age of the new bike buyers this year was 44.4 years. Here’s a breakdown by age group:
20 Years and Under 1.1%
21-25 5.7%
26-30 7.3%
31-40 21.4%
41-50 33.5%
51-60 23.7%
61-70 6.6%
71 Years and Older 0.8%

Taken on the surface these numbers are scary, as they indicate that the motorcycle market is really maturing. In what was once thought of as a young man’s sport, we now find that 64.6% of new bike buyers are 41 years of age or older. But wait, we understand that as motorcycles have become much more expensive, the entry to our sport for younger riders has become the used bike.
Marital Status
Years ago, the perception of the motorcycle rider was that of a single loner. As the market has matured, however, that figure has changed so that now nearly two-thirds of new-bike buyers are married. Again, the ratio of those married versus those who are single might be different if all riders were included in this survey rather than only new bike buyers. Here are the particulars:
Married 65.7%
Single 15.9%
Widowed 1.5%
Divorced/Separated 16.9%

In this Study, new motorcycles are primarily purchased by those who identify themselves as White/Caucasian, while other racial and ethnic groups are represented on a smaller scale. Here’s a breakdown by ethnicity:
White/Caucasian 92.3%
Hispanic 3.0%
Black/African American 2.3%
Other 1.4%
Asian 1.1%

Obviously it takes some scratch to own a machine that’s likely going to cost from $6,000 to around $20,000 or more, especially when we realize that no one really “needs” a motorcycle. Here is a breakdown of household income as reported in the MCIS:
Under 25,000 3.3%
$25,000-$29,999 4.2%
$30,000-$39,999 7.2%
$40,000-$49,999 10.7%
$50,000-$59,999 11.6%
$60,000-$69,999 9.8%
$70,000-$79,999 11.7%
$80,000-$89,999 8.1%
$90,000-$99,999 7.6%
$100,000-$124,999 12.6%
$125,000-$149,999 5.7%
$150,000-$174,999 2.9%
$175,000-$199,999 1.4%
$200,000-$249,999 1.1%
$250,000 or more 2.4%

What’s this, 26.1% of new bike buyers have a household income of $100,000 or more? Holy mother of pearl, here’s another example of how the old stereotypes of the poor, bedraggled biker should be stuffed in a saddlebag and kicked over a cliff!


About J.D. Power and Associates
Headquartered in Westlake Village, California, J.D. Power and Associates is an ISO 9001-registered global marketing information services firm operating in key business sectors including market research, forecasting, consulting, training and customer satisfaction. The firm’s quality and satisfaction measurements are based on responses from millions of consumers annually. J.D. Power and Associates is a business unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

– Bill Stermer

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