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2011 - A Look Back

In January we released 11 predictions for 2011. It was eye-opening to go back and review the outcomes. Let's see how spot on we were.

1. Insurance rates will drop - Indeed they did. We saw it coming, and in the late summer Progressive announced a re-evaluation of all policies, taking into consideration that most owners in the Northwest don't ride in the winter, that resulted in 20% lower rates across the board. An especially nice gift for those owning more than one bike. If you live in Seattle, you may have been wondering about a measure on the ballot that, if passed, would have charged an additional $60 a year for the next 10 years for every vehicle you own to pay for neglected street maintenance; a result of money being siphoned away to pay for social programs. Fortunately the citizens had had enough and voted that measure down. So far so good. Lower insurance rates and no new taxes.

2. You won't be buying your second, third or fourth motorcycle this year � or will you? - The prediction was that anyone who held a steady job over the last five years might be in the market for a second or third motorcycle. Judging by what I see going on at dealers, I can't say this prediction was spot on. The bonuses and pay increases at local fortune 500 companies didn't materialize. More corporate cash hoarding, less pay to the workers.

3. Model selection will be minimized - If you like Japanese brands, the 2012 model year releases brought forth 'improved graphics' on existing models and very little in the way of new models. If you like European motorcycles, things got a little exciting with a number of new models being announced by BMW, Triumph, Ducati, Moto Guzzi and Aprilia.

4. Gas will once again go over $4 a gallon - We got this one right. For awhile I didn't think it would happen because June is typically the month we see it rise, but alas, by late summer it had hit the $4 mark. Too short of a period to inspire any motorcycle purchases, since it was the end of riding season and the price dropped below the $4 level in October.

5. Practical models will rule - Did Honda sell a boat load of Fury's in 2011? No. Does the custom chopper market continue to tank? Yes. Practical models did rule in 2011 as the sales leaders. One bike that came to the market late in the year was Ducati's Diavel. Some think of it as the Ducati V-Max, since it's not sure if it's a cruiser, standard or sport bike. Sales have been good on the model. Does that categorize it as practical? Only time will tell.

6. Used bikes on some dealer lots will be almost non existent � A walk through South Sound BMW the other day pointed in that direction. Although the shop has some great financing offers on new models, sales manager Dale Niemi says he's having trouble keeping used bikes in stock. We're seeing many dealers maintaining plenty of used units, and in many cases they seem to be selling better than new units.

7. Events will be fewer � According to the number of events submitted to our calendar, the number of motorcycle events in the Northwest continues to decline. But that allows those that continue to grow even stronger. Turnout at the SR! Rally in the Gorge this summer was up 10% from the previous year and a number of other state and regional rallies had better attendance than last year on the whole.

8. Service waits will be longer � Didn't happen. If you brought a bike in Tuesday for a level one or level two service you probably picked it up and rode it home about Thursday. At the end I'll share my theory about what is going on.

9. Customer service will be at a minimum � It is. I visited dozens of shops this year and usually had to ask for help, rather than being approached. With the economy down, you'd think it would be the other way around. Fact is, most managers don't want to pay an outside company to teach customer service, and that's typically how it's done in retail. But not spending that money won't help sales, only hinder it. I suspect we'll start seeing these outside contractors arriving at dealers soon.

10. There will still be plenty of great riding days � We got that one right. The long winter did hinder getting into the higher elevations until July. Ask anyone who attempted the WABDR in June how it went. Summer wasn't as rainy as 2010, and in the end a mild fall made for some heavenly days all the way into December. A great year for riding.

11. Your motorcycle will continue to be a primary means of escape � For those of you who have ridden long enough to know a little rain ain't no big deal, you were out on the road enjoying the corners, the sights and the events in the Northwest� we saw ya. And your bike was a great means of escape to do that in 2011. We'll bet it will be in 2012, too!

And that's not all - We can't close this column without noting a number of dealer closures in 2011. Renton Motorcycles and Portland Motorcycles are the two that stand out. But these weren't necessarily a result of the economy. See our other feature for more details.

The Theory - Here's what I see happening. Bikes sales continue to decline overall, especially among the middle and lower class income earners. Those who are higher income earners are still buying and gravitating to euro brands for now. The riders who stay in the game tend to ride more miles which is keeping service departments in business. There are fewer new riders that clock 4,000 miles or less a year, but there are still plenty of miles being put on bikes. When the economy improves more new buyers will enter the market, but for now we've got a community made up of more real riders and less wanna-be's and posers. 

PT/Winter 2012


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