Can ATV youth racing move up the ranks? – July 3, 2006

Motorcycles marketed at the under-16 demographic are big sellers thanks to trickle-down marketing and an unparalleled increase in exposure. With a growing number of organized and sanctioned youth-specific racing competitions around the country, it’s bringing more young riders and racers into the sport.
ATV manufacturers don’t have to look any further than the mini-bike market and wonder if their own youth-specific model sales will reap the same benefits.
Certainly ATV youth racing seems to be expanding.
Justin Anderson, director of communications for PowerSports Entertainment, Inc., parent company of the PowerSports ATV Championship, says youth ATV racing has grown rapidly in the past two years.
“We’re looking at about an 80 percent increase in youth ATV racing growth,” he said. “That covers youth classes up to about 15 years old. The biggest reason for this (growth) is the introduction of the new Cobra racing ATVs. (The Cobra) has helped out youth riders because it’s competitive right out of the box.”
Cobra Motorcycles has a firm grasp on the market as the major Japanese brands say their youth ATVs are not manufactured for the intent of closed-course competition nor do they encourage the use of their smaller ATVs for such use.
“We have a total of about 85 dealers carrying our product,” Cobra Motorcycles President Sean Hilbert said, noting this includes dealers in France, England and South Africa. “Our growth has been outstanding. However, keep in mind that we were starting from zero just over a year ago.”
Other than Cobras, the starting lines of youth ATV races are sporadically filled with the likes of Apex, DDR, DRX, Xtreme Pro Shark and Aasco Pro.
“We have been pleasantly surprised by the growth of youth ATV racing over the past several years,” Hilbert says. “The biggest surprise has been in the 50cc market. We didn’t plan on launching a 50 quad until last summer when our dealers started begging for one. We put together a few prototypes, and we quickly realized that we would have a winner. Our volume split this year will be about 50-50 between the ECX70 and the ECX50.
“The market is still relatively small compared to the bike market, but we see growth in it all over the world right now.”
On the youth top-end, Cobra Motorcycle has the market cornered with the ECX70. MSRP is nearly $8,000, but there’s nothing that needs to be done in terms of bolt-on or aftermarket parts, although aftermarket support for smaller-displacement ATVs is growing.
A step down in price is Cobra’s $6,500 ECX50SRP, and the competition is following suit. The line of Apex ATVs includes the Pro MX 70, 90 and 100 with their big-bike features of dual A-arms front end, a real swingarm and nearly 8 inches of rear wheel travel. MSRPs on the line hover around the $3,000 mark, give or take a hundred dollars for varying engine displacement.
With companies like Apex and Cobra making race-worthy products, the youth ATV market looks to take off, and in turn groom adult ATV buyers at a younger and more competitive age. While Cobra’s Hilbert is pleased at the sales of his ECX line, his perspective of the overall youth racing market remains realistic.
Hilbert says the obvious consumer issues of price and safety issues are limiting factors. ATVs cost more to race, but as the used ATV market develops, and as off-the-showroom performance of youth ATVs improves, the sport will be accessible to more and more families.
“That is one of the main drivers behind our introduction of a youth racing ATV,” says Hilbert. “We listened to many families saying, ‘I’d love to race ATVs, but you need to be an engineer with a machine shop in your garage just to make it to the race track.’ By creating a product that can be raced right off the showroom floor, our goal was to open up the sport to many families that would not otherwise consider going racing. I think this will enable more growth in the youth sport for years to come.”
Hilbert says the sales turnaround starts by making youth ATV riding safer.
“All we can do as a sport is make sure that those who write laws and regulations are well informed,” he says. “This will be an uphill battle, but there is good progress being made to inform legislators and push the modification of current laws to be more pragmatic.” psb

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