Common Tread

U.S. motorcycle sales continue their comeback

Nov 11, 2015

It's always a good time to be a motorcycle rider, but these days (with a couple of exceptions — sorry, Harley-Davidson) it's also good to be a motorcycle dealer. The Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) released its U.S. third-quarter sales report, and motorcycle sales continue to increase.

The MIC, for those not familiar, is a not-for-profit national trade association that represents makers and sellers of motorcycles, scooters, ATVs, and related parts and accessories. September proved to be a good month: sales of two-wheeled vehicles totaled 40,300, a six percent improvement over September 2014. The total number of bikes sold this year through September is an impressive 413,128, an increase of just under 18,500 motorcycles and scooters sold through the first three quarters of last year, for an increase of about 4.5 percent.

The MIC breaks down those numbers into broad segments. Not surprisingly, the On-Highway segment dominates sales, accounting for nearly 300,000 of the motorcycles sold so far this year. Off-Highway bikes came in second, with just over 58,000 bikes sold. Dual-purpose bikes came in third; 30,465 dual-sports have been sold thus far, but those numbers really jumped in the month of September. The MIC reports that September 2015 sales of on/off road bikes jumped 21 percent over September of 2014.

Honda CBR300R
The Honda CBR300R is one of several new small-bore bikes that don't skimp on style to come out in recent years. Photo by Kevin Wing.

One segment is not doing so well: scooters. In September, scooter sales dropped by just over eight percent over September 2014. Year to date, scooter sales are down by 10.9 percent, the only segment to show a decline in both the month's and year-to-date numbers. The data don't give any insight as why scooters are floundering, but it's possible that the increased popularity of small-bore (300 cc) bikes — not to mention the Honda Grom — may be causing those new to two-wheeled transport to buy something that offers a bit more power, challenge, and (debate away, commenters!) overall fun. Also, scooter sales sometimes get a temporary bump from higher gas prices, but fuel costs have been declining for about a year.

Motorcycle sales have been declining for a decade in the United States, and 2013 appears to be the year that sales bottomed, at least for now. Manufacturers responded to the sales declines by introducing models that are more affordable and more accessible to new or would-be riders, and that seems to be having some effect.

Yamaha FZ-07
The motorcycle industry has responded to years of declining sales in the United States by offering affordable and capable models like the Yamaha FZ-07. Photo by Nelson & Riles.
Case in point: The other morning I was having a conversation about motorcycles (of course) with a couple of colleagues of mine, one of whom is a long-time Harley-Davidson Sportster rider. The Yamaha FZ-07 had caught his eye, and we were both gushing over it — the performance (well, there were some concerns about the front suspension), dealer support and, above all else, the price. FZs are becoming more and more common in our neck of the woods, and had our office been next door to a Yamaha dealer, I suspect he would have walked right over and plunked down his credit card. And then the topic turned to dirt bikes. Why wouldn't we get one of those as well? They're cheap and we're not too far from the desert...

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But it's thinking like this that's driving those numbers. With a growing number of bikes being brought to market, including a significant number of models aimed at new riders, there's reason to hope sales figures will continue to rise into next year and beyond.