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The Continued Growth of Motorcycling

During a recent airing of Motorcycling on the Speed Channel, the host ended the show by pointing out that motorcycle sales continue to grow, but nobody knows why. End of show?! Clonk! (They re-ran the same piece the very next week adding a few of their own explanations having mostly to do with the content of that evenings show.)

During a time when terrorist bombings, corporate scandals and an overall shaky economic outlook continue to slow down numbers elsewhere, motorcycle sales indeed are on the rise.

To amass the kind of data necessary to pinpoint what makes up this ongoing trend, we'd need a substantial amount of money and gobs of time. We're talking heavy duty psychographics analysis like the kind Professor Marketing teaches the youngsters each day at UW.

We've decided to forgo that route.

Instead, a few of us have put our heads together here at the Pacific Northwest Motorcycle Research and Learning Center for the Somewhat Mentally Impaired Motorcyclist (PNWMRLCSMIM), drawn on our wisdom of the years, and what we know about the market today, to pinpoint a few reasons why sales in this business continue to grow.

The Great Escape 

The motorcycle has always been a great escape machine. Just had an argument with your spouse? Things a little tense at work? Feeling the economic crimp on your finances? Eventually you'll have to do something about it all, but set it aside for now and go for a ride. That's nice medicine.

Personally I do some of my best meditating on issues in my life while I'm out riding solo. Group rides offer little escape for me because of the details of keeping everyone together and compromising about where to go, when to eat, when to gas up and the other trivial decisions. Such choices are easily dealt with, almost transparently on a solo ride. A nice cruise alone around 200-300 miles gives a rider some solace in the world. Ironically I happened to be on a 400 mile ride through Oregon and California on�you guessed it�September 11th 2001.

The motorcycle is the freedom machine. Take away my high return on investment, make it a pain for me to mail something at the post office, but don't touch my rights to ride a motorcycle. Some will recall how motorcycle sales skyrocketed during the 70s when the Vietnam war was in play. Service men were coming home from the war getting motorcycles, dirt biking was on the rise and millions were feeling the great escape of the two-wheeled wonder.

The Safety Factor 

Today there are numerous ways to get motorcycle training and it's getting even better in the coming months. Two years ago we were locked into a state funded safety program with few other alternatives. Today the state only funds a certain amount of students each year, but will allow their contractors to sell safety courses at full rate direct to the student if said student wishes to pay the full rate fee.

In addition, a number of privately run programs have popped up around the state. While many of these classes are not state approved, they do nonetheless provide safety instruction and put more riders on the road each year with better riding skills.

In the coming months Harley-Davidson's Rider's Edge program will be available in it's full format at three Puget Sound H-D dealers.

Excellent book offerings like Proficient Motorcycling and Street Strategies from local author, David Hough, have reached the hands of many riders. These books provide excellent wisdom that moves any rider to the next level of ability. Soon Hough's 3rd installment will be available, code name Proficient Motorcycling: Part 2.

Motorcycles in general are safer and more reliable than ever before. Breakdowns occur far less often with newer bikes, and the average rider who sticks to the scheduled maintenance program for a bike will rarely visit their dealer in between for service trouble.

Finally in this category, clothing is becoming far better on the whole. Companies such as First Gear, Joe Rocket and Washington's own Gerbing's are creating jacket and pant combinations that provide superior protection to a rider in the event of a fall.

The availability of safety resources and apparel are drawing more new riders in. Fewer are those who buy a motorcycle with no experience, crash and give up almost as fast as they bought the bike.

Lady Riders 

In case you haven't noticed (and it's a little hard to miss), there are more and more women riders out on the streets today. Actually the street is just the most common place to see them. There are also more women racing on the track and in the dirt. The stigma that boys should ride motorcycles and women should play with Barbie dolls doesn't hold any longer.

And this is not segregated to just a growth in the number of lesbian riders. A large number of 35+ straight ladies are entering the ranks of women riders. Some do it because they're tired of looking at their husband's helmet, others do it because they got tired of looking at their husband, dumped him and went for something a little more stable in their life - a motorcycle. Motorcycles don't talk back, they could care less about the last Mariners game, and always provide a great ride.

Harley knows this is a primary market for them, and in other states it has already been marketing it's Rider's Edge safety program using a poster of an attractive woman and the tag line "I am not a backrest."

You Can't Have Just One 

If you grew up with parents telling you you could not have a motorcycle, but now you own one, I'll venture to guess you currently own more than just one. Most of my riding friends have more than one, many, more than two. It makes for great bench racing you know� "Yeah, well, see, I use this one to go to the market with, I take this one out only when it's sunny, this one's my daily commuter, and the Electra Glide is the one I use when we go over to Grandma's house for Sunday dinner."

If I showed you the financials for maintaining and riding three motorcycles, therein would be the answer as to why you don't contribute more to your 401k plan.

We like to escape reality, it's safer than ever to do it, more ladies are doing it, and we're doing it on more than one motorcycle. Those are our theories, what's yours?

Patrick Thomas/Summer 02


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