Sales accelerating in U.S. slowdown; more women are buying bikes
Joe Uhan rides his 2013 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic motorcycle 8,000-9,000 miles a summer.
“It’s just about seeing America,” said Uhan, 75, of Fayal Township in Eveleth. “The country’s gotten to the point where everybody is in a hurry to go. You jump on an airplane and go. Motorcycle is just a nice, nice way to see America.”
Uhan often takes trips to the western part of the United States, including North and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. He’s also circled Lake Superior.
This summer, Uhan, along with four fellow Navy servicemen, are heading out on a 3,500-mile, eight-day trip.
Their group, the “Patriot Sailors,” brings together the group of Navy acquaintances from several states. Wide open scenic views, fresh air, historical sites and small backroad towns are major attractions.
“We try to stay off the interstates so we can see America,” Uhan said. “We average 54 miles per hour a day.”
Hard-core motorcycle riders love the sport. But Northland motorcycle dealers say the industry is changing. Although there are signs of increased demand, shortages of new motorcycles, parts and accessories are creating problems for dealers.
And increasing numbers of baby-boomers are leaving the sport for health, safety or to participate in other motor sports. That’s left fewer numbers of young riders traveling America’s roads, some motorcycle dealers say.
“The younger generation isn’t riding,” said Buddy Hernesman, operations manager/general manager at RJ Sport & Cycle in Hermantown. “The whole thing was where they stayed inside and watched video games.”
The increased popularity of utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) that can be used year-round has to some extent also replaced motorcycle riding for older riders, he said.
“As a whole, the industry has been down for several years,” said Hernesman. “In the last five to six years, we’ve seen it taper off.”
However, like other outdoor recreational sports in the past couple years, the industry is seeing some strength.
Women are a growing demographic of motorcycle enthusiasts. A 2018 survey conducted by the Irvine, Calif.-based Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) found that nearly 1 in 5 motorcyclists are women – 19% of all motorcycle riders. Among younger riders, the number of women riders is even higher: 22% of Generation X riders are women, and 26% of Generation Y riders are women.
Just 10 years prior, the number of women riders was 1 in 10.
At Harley-Davidson Sport Center in Hermantown, coronavirus impacted motorcycling along with other forms of motor sports, said Dennis Kachelmyer, owner and general manager.
Demand rose, but supply became constrained, he said.
“It changed everything for a lot of power sports,” Kachelmyer said of COVID. “We’re seeing that as well. We don’t have enough machines to sell. The demand far exceeds the supply.”
As increasing numbers of motor sports enthusiasts sought to be outdoors, motorcycle and parts manufacturers impacted by COVID fell behind in supplying product as demand increased.
Backlogs of even small parts can impact the production of new motorcycles, said Kachelmyer. “Something as simple as a spark plug can keep things from being produced. There’s even been a shortage of exhaust clamps.”
As manufacturers work to catch up, demand for used motorcycles, just like with used cars and trucks, has accelerated, he added.
“That’s what we’ve seen,” said Kachelmyer. “To the point where we’re selling a lot of used machines before they even makes it to the showroom floor. If you look at the Kelley Blue Book, sometimes the used prices are more than the new prices. This whole thing hinges on supply and demand.”
Harley-Davidson, Inc., in its first quarter 2022 financial results, said North American retail performance was down 5%, primarily due to production shortages, which led to lower dealer inventories.
Yet, Harley-Davidson said demand remains strong.
“As we enter the second year of our five-year Hardwire strategic plan, we are pleased to see strong consumer demand for Harley-Davidson products across all regions,” said the company. “Our teams continue to work through the impact of the ongoing global supply chain disruption, and despite the challenging macro environment, we are optimistic for improvements in the second half of the year.”
At Ray’s Sport & Cycle in Grand Rapids, the housing crunch of 2008 put the brakes on motorcycle sales. It still hasn’t bounced back to the level of years ago, said Jason Wedge, part-owner/general manager.
“I’ve been here 34 years,” said Wedge. “I can recall the days of more bikes, dirt bikes and bikes like Gold Wings and Gold Wind SEs being built. Then in 2008, when the housing market went to crap, everything went south on motorcycles. By mid-May, we used to be sold out of bikes, but after the housing debacle, I couldn’t give a bike away. It might have also coincided with the growth of UTVs (utility terrain vehicles).”
For decades, motorcyclists rode their bikes to get to work in addition to recreational riding, said Wedge.
Today, off-road or dual-purpose motorcycles like the Yamaha TW 200 and XT 225 have become popular for backroad and trail riding, he said.
“Back when you had the Road Star, V-Star, or VTX, it was competing against Harley,” said Wedge. “They were V-twins. It was a way to ride to work or a means of transportation. Everything could be from the pandemic, but I think today they’re doing more off-road recreation.”
First quarter 2022 sales reflected Wedge’s segment assessment.
Sales of dual sport motorcycles were up 65.8% compared with 2019, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.
Sales of off-highway motorcycles were up 65.5%. Scooter sales increased 63.7%. On-highway motorcycle sales were up 17.6%.
Nationwide, motorcycle sales hit 780,000 units in 2020, according to statista.com. That is a sharp increase from the 467,000 motorcycles sold in 2019 and 457,000 in 2018.
However, it is still below the 879,000 units sold in 2008. In 2009, amid the housing crisis and financial fallout, sales fell to 521,000 units. In 2010, sales fell further to 439,000 units.
The motorcycle industry in previous years experienced downturns, but has always bounced back, Hernesman said.
Even as U.S. sales numbers are up in the first quarter of 2022 compared with 2019, the number of motor sports enthusiasts turning to other forms of motorized recreation, plus fewer younger riders entering the sport, has Hernesman unsure about the future.
“The younger generation ain’t riding,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to swing back and make a comeback. But I’m not holding my breath.”
Meantime, Uhan, who’s owned 10 motorcycles since he began riding in the mid-1970’s, said he has bought his last bike.
“I have two prosthetic hips,” said Uhan. “Each year, it gets tougher and tougher. You have to watch your balance when you come to a stop.”