- January 21st, 2014
Depending upon which expert you read, motorcycle sales in the U.S. are only about half, or maybe sixty percent, of what they were in 2007. You can argue the exact number, but the fact remains that our industry mostly fell in the crapper over the past several years. The obvious result of this has been closed dealerships, bankrupt businesses, shuttered magazines, and a large number of lost jobs. And then, of course, there’s been a gazillion articles telling why this happened, and what to do about it. My thoughts on this run on a slightly different path, and will not win me many friends.
I don’t believe the industry has downsized as much as it has right-sized. Take a critical look at our industry in the years leading up to the 2008 crash and you’ll find any number of motorcycle-related businesses that shouldn’t have been. They were poorly managed, foisted bad products on an ignorant market, and were clueless as regards customer service. Ultimately, these conditions proved that we become stupid with a few extra bucks in our pockets.
I say this because we —consumers of motorcycle stuff— caused the proliferation of bad business ideas by supporting them. A good portion of this support came from money drawn from our refinanced homes. I vividly recall a comment made by a woman who was about to sign a sales contract for a custom motorcycle for her husband; “I got a new kitchen, he gets a new bike.” Two things struck me at the time, First, the bike in question was wildly overpriced and, two, it was garbage. Neither point seemed to be important to the couple. They had the money, and the bike was just a way to show it off. That it had difficulty making a U-turn in a single ZIP code, and tracked about as true as a politician’s promise, was not important to them. I knew this to be the case because I had ridden the same model the day before.
In the decade leading up to our motorcycle apocalypse, I was eye-deep in ‘merican-made v-twin journalism. Today, that would mean writing about Harley, Victory and Indian. Back then, it was Harley, an occasional Victory, and dozens of “clone” bikes.
“Clone” because they aped the design of true Harley customs, and used many of the same parts. What they largely lacked was sufficient engineering and adequate build quality. Some were OK —the Big Dog comes to mind— but most were an embarrassment; if not immediately, then certainly within the first 5,000 miles, though most never seemed to log that many. Laughingly, most of the cloners had the gall to call themselves “manufacturers,” when, in truth, they were no more than assemblers. That they continued to sell during the 90s and first part of this century always puzzled me. That is, until I figured out who was buying them, and it wasn’t motorcyclists.
I’m not finished with this thread but, in the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts.