Is the adventure segment in America at risk of burning out?
This is the question posed by Charles Fleming in a recent L.A. Times piece focusing on the current boom in the ADV market. In his article, Fleming cites numbers gathered by CDK Global Recreation in conjunction with Powersports Business magazine. According to a study that measured segment sales from dealers using Lightspeed POS software to track inventory, adventure sales now account for 10 percent of the entire motorcycle market.
Considering that this number is up from around five percent in 2011, one would assume that things are going quite well for manufacturers producing beefy adventure machines. This impression is mirrored in another Powersports Business article where editor-in-chief Dave McMahon interviewed Lee Edmunds, the lead marketing guru at American Honda, about the success of the Africa Twin.
However, Fleming continues on and suggests there might be trouble on the horizon. According to the data, riders in their early 50s bought twice as many ADV bikes as those between the ages of 20 and 24.
Naturally, cost is the main barrier for younger riders. Fleming notes a new adventure bike can cost $20,000. I'd note that the Africa Twin is arguably the adventure bike to beat and costs just $12,999, and the MSRP of my Triumph Tiger XCx was $13,500. Of course for a rider fresh out of college, saddled with student loans and driving a 15-year-old Honda Civic, $13,000 might as well be $130,000.
If younger riders aren't buying in, what will that mean for the adventure segment as older riders move on to different machines or walk away from the sport entirely?
Another look, different data
Keep in mind that the statistics cited in the L.A. Times article are based on new-bike sales reported by dealers using Lightspeed software. I decided to take a look at the data submitted by RevZilla customers, which includes motorcycles of all ages, and found that 14 percent of the top 50 bikes our customers are riding are ADV bikes. Narrow the scope to the 20 most popular models and that percentage rises to 20.
What does it mean? I think it suggests two things. First, adventure bikes are every bit as popular as new-bike sales stats suggest. And second, maybe it's not that younger buyers aren't buying adventure bikes, but just that they're buying them used more often than other categories because of the cost. If that's true, then the future of the adventure segment looks pretty good.
And now, the anecdotal evidence
As it turns out, big bikes armored to the teeth, with knobby tires, capable of long distances, are a hell of a lot of fun. Glancing around the parking lot here at ZLA headquarters, I see an increasing number of dual-sport and ADV bikes amongst our staff under the age of 35, myself included.
Gear Geek Brandon traded his Yamaha YZF-R6 for a used KTM 350 EXC-F. His roommate, Matt, from our purchasing team just came home with a 2001 Suzuki DR-Z250. Gear Geek Joe Z. and Social Geek DrewZilla both ride used Tiger 800 XCs. Even Lemmy is getting in on the action (when he’s not busy building choppers) with a newly acquired, street-legal KTM dual-sport (in addition to the Honda XR650L he already has in the garage).
These riders in their 20s and 30s aren't buying the new, big-ticket ADV bikes, but they are getting into the adventure world. Talking with Brandon about why he swapped the R6 for the KTM, he actually said he reduced his costs. With the R6, he was shelling out upwards of $200 for a track day, whereas with the KTM he may spend more on his burger at lunch than he will on gasoline for a day of riding in the Pine Barrens with his friends.
Maybe these young people buying used dual-sport and ADV bikes now will be the 50-something riders of the future buying full-sized, full-priced, adventure bikes.
So what does this mean for motorcycle manufacturers?
If I'm right that younger riders are interested in ADV riding but just can’t afford expensive new machines, then OEMs can capitalize by introducing capable adventure machines at a lower cost. As I talked about in the Yamaha SCR950 review, the way to do this is to build a “parts bin bike.” For example, Yamaha already has the engine from the FZ-07, Kawasaki has the parallel twin from the Ninja 650 and Versys, Honda has possible options in both the CB500X and NC700X, and Suzuki has the V-Strom 650XT. Stick one of those engines in a dirt chassis, throw a 21-inch wheel up front, add at least eight inches of suspension travel, keep weight around 400 pounds, price it at sub-$8,000 and presto, a recipe for success.
At that price point, it would most likely sacrifice fancy electronics and certain niceties, but if it has a capable engine, chassis, and suspension, anything else is just skin on bones. The truth is, that kind of bike would excite not just the younger audience, but also the hard-core off-road crowd as well. I would consider trading in my Tiger for an FZ-07-based ADV bike, if it were correctly executed.
ADV riding runs in the family
Do I agree with the idea that the older generation of riders is going to slowly be phased out of the segment? Absolutely. My own father is an example. He actually sent me the L.A. Times article to begin with after it was reprinted in his local newspaper.
In 2005, Dad had just turned 50 and I was 22. That year, I bought a Triumph Bonneville T-100 and he pulled a Suzuki V-Strom 1000 into the garage. While I was busy throwing café-inspired parts at my bike, he was installing crash bars and a skid plate.
Now, in 2016, I have a Triumph Tiger 800 XCx in the garage and Pops, at 61, has been talking about stepping away from the V-Strom and picking up a new Triumph T-120 to replace it. It’s funny how things work out.
If my family is any indication, the ADV segment is not going away. It's being replenished. Sometimes it just takes us kids a bit longer to admit our parents were right about something.