Fear the Future
Kids today aren't drawn to motorcycles like they once were. It's news the terrified motorcycle industry is loathe to hear
I am ambivalent toward the manufacturers of recumbent bicycles. I do not concern myself with the travel trailer industry or the soybean lobby. You, too, have your own list of life’s flotsam and jetsam that you step over and around without noticing. But this is a subject of such importance that you cannot claim ignorance: it is up to you to save the motorcycle industry.
Don’t believe me? Just ask the motorcycle industry. “What’s the best way to ensure motorcycling’s health for the future? Get a kid on a motorcycle today,” it reads in a recent issue of Motorcyclist magazine. The kid will surely have fun, it says, and then, tellingly, it will “…likely set in motion a lifelong love of riding that will nourish the industry for decades to come.” Nourish the industry.
"Twist the right handgrip to go, and don't stop until you've saved the motorcycle industry."
In my dozen years at a mainstream motorcycle magazine, whenever members of the industry met, there would be much hand-wringing and brow-furrowing over the subject of apathy toward motorcycling from the young. OEM budgets were earmarked to tear babies from the bosoms of mothers and plunk them onto minibikes. In Canada, children can ride a Yamaha around a pool-table-sized obstacle course at winter motorcycle shows. Honda’s Red Rider program has the noble goal that no child be left behind.
My mother hated motorcycles. She was convinced I would die on one. (Her finger wags at me from the afterlife.) My mother’s view was a large part of the reason I was drawn to motorcycles. The child’s journey from adolescence to adultery (as a clever wag put it) is the process of tearing away from what’s familiar to face the unknown. For those of us that fought to get a motorcycle as a kid, the entire process, from the confrontation with parents to the buying of the bike (with our money) was an exercise in fostering independence.
To be a kid today with an interest in motorcycling is to risk being swept away by a sophisticated marketing program. From Motorcyclist: “So buy it new, buy it used, or just tear out this page and hand it to that mom or dad with a kid who is ready to ride.” With the transformation of motorcycling from hazardous to wholesome, a teenaged girl, to provoke the ire of her parents, is forced into activities far riskier than motorcycling—the posting of bathing suit photos to Instagram. But kids are smart. They’re onto the scheme. And the harder the push, the more vigorous the pushback.
The motorcycle industry is flailing—and failing—to find the elusive next generation. The reason? There is no next generation, at least not in the numbers the baby boom supplied. We’re in the wake of the best years the business ever had. What to do now? Get on with it. And get over it.
Don’t fall prey to corporate lamentation, whether it be from a manufacturer or a magazine. Mankind is forever in flux, as is the process of making goods for society. There is an inherent joy in riding a two-wheeler that has not changed. That will not change. But maybe the scale will change. Perhaps satisfying the market in the future will no longer fall to the corporations we’ve come to expect motorcycles from. The motorcycle industry is at a crossroads. And there’s nothing to fear in that.