Do a Google search for “Best Trends of 2017” and you’ll be bombarded with pages of listicles on every topic from fashion to politics.
I’ll leave the conversations about Snapchat Spectacles and debates over Taylor Swift’s new sound to folks with more experience than myself (actually, I could probably cover that last one pretty well) and focus on what I know best: motorbikes.
Positive trend : Riders getting into the game
Within my circle I have seen more folks getting out and participating in events ranging from racing minimotos on go-kart tracks to 24-hour endurance events on borrowed dirt bikes to NASA rallies on adventure bikes. While I applaud the folks at KTM for working with the AMA on its national ADV-series, Lemmy has a slightly different opinion.
“Who cares what the AMA has to say about things? It’s been said that the first motorcycle race was the same day they finished the second motorcycle, and that makes sense. Grassroots and outlaw competition surged in 2017 with events like The Race of Gentlemen, Mama Tried ice racing, App Moto Jam, and Dirt Quake. It’s clear that the number of non-AMA-sanctioned events is growing, and well it ought to. If you've got a track/pond/woods/hill and at least two people with a competitive spirit, motorcycles, and gas, you have the makings of an event. Expect to see more of 'em this coming year.”
And for those of you living under a rock, 2017 was the year that Lemmy went flat track racing, crashed a Harley-Davidson and survived to race another day. He has since procured a new bike and is already honing his skills for the 2018 season.
Negative trend: New motorcycle sales decline
It will still be a few months before we learn exactly how 2017 wraps up, but the current numbers don’t look good. According to the third-quarter data released from the MIC, motorcycle and scooter sales in America are down over four percent from last year at this time. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come as too big a surprise as the United States hasn’t been a leading player in the world of two wheels for quite some time. This decline, however, doesn’t stop here.
Across the pond, a recent report from the Motorcycle Industry in Europe announced that motorcycle and moped registrations fell 1.6 percent in the past year. While France and Italy showed marginal growth, registrations of new vehicles decreased drastically in Germany (149,334 vehicles, -11.3%), Spain (120,302 vehicles, -5.8%) and the UK (85,505 vehicles, -15.7%).
Sales remain strong in some Asian countries, but that’s a different market with smaller motorcycles. No matter how you look at the data, if this trend continues it will eventually mean fewer options for us to choose from as OEMs retrench.
Positive trend: Affordable options
With that being said, it’s not all doom and gloom. Manufacturers are trying to counter that trend by making it easier and less expensive for new riders to get started.
For that reason, there are a lot of great deals to be had in motorcycling at the moment. The amount of bike you can buy for under $10,000 is impressive. Currently Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Triumph all have 100-plus horsepower sport nakeds for under $10,000. If it’s something Italian you seek, Aprilia has the Shiver 900, Moto Guzzi has the V7, and Ducati has the Scrambler. Honda has no fewer than a dozen bikes of all shapes and sizes for under the $10,000 mark, most of which are closer to half that number. And we saw KTM, BMW, and Kawasaki introduce 300-class motorcycles this year with MSRPs below $6,000.
Our current selection of affordable bikes is a win for consumers.
Positive or negative trend, depending on your point of view: Screens for every phase of your life
When I stopped by my folks’ house over the summer to let my dad have a peek at the new Triumph Street Triple RS, all he seemed to care about was the TFT dash. He was blown away by the technology and the fact that that everything was so clean and easy to read. My father has always been fan of technological trends. When I was growing up, he couldn’t understand why I would want to “suffer” with vinyl when CDs were much more practical. Musical formats aside, I actually agree with him when it comes to these new TFT dashes. Lance predicts this trend will spread.
“We’re seeing TFT color instrument panels on more and more bikes, and not just the high-cost luxury tourers. This trend has already trickled down to mid-level motorcycles and even some off-road bikes. I expect it to keep spreading further down the food chain, just as LCD displays became ubiquitous about a decade ago.”
Lem has an alternative theory. “I don’t think TFT is going to be the way of the future. Instead, I see cell phones as the more viable alternative. Think about it. Everyone has one. Why wouldn’t OEMs cut the cost of including a physical dash and instead just provide a mount for your phone and an app that transforms it into your dash?”
Negative trend: Mandated technology increasing the cost of motorcycling
Despite the number of affordable bikes, Lemmy is quick to complain that if it weren’t for governmental regulations, there could be even better deals to be had.
“The cost of motorcycles is rising, and a lot of it has to do with mandated equipment. Whether it's ABS, emissions equipment, or other items that will be required in the future (traction control and TPMS certainly look likely), mandated equipment is helping to drive the price of motorcycles up. Note that this won't be confined to 2018.”
Positive trend: Social media promoting motorcycling
Whether it’s your favorite moto vlogger on YouTube or a social influencer on Instagram, there is a ton of digital content out there on motorcycles, and it’s getting better.
Facebook riding pages and groups help to keep folks informed of upcoming events and allow riders to post bikes for sale. Live feeds across digital platforms mean that everyone has access to new bike releases in real time. YouTube channels are replacing cable subscriptions for folks looking for moto-related entertainment. And apps like Instagram allow for a constant stream of bike content delivered to the palm of your hand. All of this works together to help riders meet new people, attend new events, and keep everyone engaged in the motorcycle community.
Brett Walling, RevZilla’s Director of Content and Media, says he’s seen an uptick in the quality we’re seeing from the moto-vlogging community. “I would have sworn a couple years back that we'd see this niche fade into obscurity by 2018. But vloggers are probably stronger than ever. And while I'm not the core demographic, I think a number of the most popular ones out there are doing a great job. Increasing production value, engaging subject matter, and constantly iterating, has popped up more and more among these social influencers.”
Negative trend: Uneven dealer experiences
Say what you want about Harley-Davidson, they have a solid control over their brand. Walk into a Harley dealership in rural Minnesota and chances are you’ll receive a similar experience to the one you’ll get on the Strip in Las Vegas.
Do you think you will get the same result walking into two different dealerships from Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, or Yamaha? What about Triumph, Ducati, or KTM? While I tend to find that dealerships carrying European brands are slightly better than those that don’t, the truth is that walking onto a showroom floor is a crap shoot in this country.
Manufacturers rely on independent dealerships to be the primary point of contact with their customers, yet they’re struggling to ensure a uniform customer experience. All of the good press and well placed advertising in the world can’t overcome a poor in-person experience with a brand.
Positive trend: Beauty is in the eye of the editor
Lance and I regularly follow this script. I tell him about a new bike I’m testing that I think would perfectly suit his needs and then he shoots them all down because he doesn’t like the styling.
Over the past few years, we have seen bikes like the Yamaha FZ-10, Kawasaki Z1000, and KTM 1290 Super Duke R become increasingly angular in their design. I think their aesthetic is aggressive and muscular. Lance describes them as crouching predators or having insectoid lines and a Transformers look.
But is there a change of trend on the horizon?
“Maybe this is the end of a trend, or maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but just to give one example, look at the newly unveiled Honda CB1000R. By no standard is it a boring or staid design. It’s stylish enough to create strong opinions. What it isn’t is a step further in the styling direction of the old CB1000R, which, by the way, was not a sales hit. Some other new bikes out of Japan also show some interesting design directions. Does this mean the Transformers trend has met its end? A guy can hope.”
Positive trend: Women taking over
Another positive trend is the continuing increase in female riders. Discussing the topic during our regular Common Tread meeting, Brett spoke up.
“This is a good thing,” he said. “Guys are dumb. I know that because I am one. And you all are too (yes, I just called you dumb). But that's OK because we need women to help shake up this industry and get things growing again. Whether it's by adding more women riders in 2018 or by leading the way in the communications approach to gaining a larger audience, it's all helpful. I am hoping to see this momentum increase over the next few years.”
With that being said, it’s up to all of us, boys and girls alike, to be the change we want to see in the motorcycle industry. So, as we prepare for 2018 , consider taking up racing, or getting out and riding more, sharing your experiences with friends, and educating them about the availability of rider training programs so they know how easy it is to get behind a handlebar.
My old high school buddy Patrick Lenahan called me the other day to let me know that he passed the MSF course and asked if I would help him pick out a bike and some basic riding gear over his Christmas break. If all goes as planned, he’ll be a new rider in 2018. That’s one. Who’s next?