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Finding the next generation of riders

Local businesses can embrace grass roots options - if they want to

We missed a generation of riders - did you notice it fly right by? Kids born between around 1985 and 2005 have little interest in motorcycles. Count on your fingers how many kids you know between the ages of 10-30 years old who own a motorcycle. You could probably do it using one hand. Back when I was a kid I would have used two hands to count how many kids within a half mile radius of me owned a motorcycle.

You've heard, it's a major problem for Harley-Davidson as the average age of their owners just keeps getting older. Well, the problem is similar for just about every other motorcycle company as well, they're just not saying it.

To entice millennials to the brand, Harley-Davidson sees fit to sponsor events like the X Games. Oddly you won't see any Harley-Davidson TV ads running during the games showing just how cool a Sportster can be for a member of the younger set. Just the logo appears on assorted ramps. It's all top-down marketing.

What's really needed is some bottom-up marketing and one such dealer is doing something EVERY dealer should be copy-catting.

Stryder demo rides

Several years ago, a company appeared during the International Motorcycle Show in Seattle with a bunch of pedal-less balance bikes. The company, Stryder, builds small bikes that kids 2-6 years old can mount and duck walk around the neighborhood, or a large yard. They licensed logos for the four major Japanese OEM's and captured the notice of parents and grandparents alike with these clever bikes that would teach kids balance so when they were ready for a pedal bike, they would have the skills needed to ride it.

I personally purchased one and shipped it to my daughter. Since then, all three of her kids have learned to ride bicycles starting with that one Stryder bike. Makes a grandpa proud. The one I got them - Honda, of course.

In the last two years, Skagit Powersports has held Stryder Demo Days in their store and marketed them across social media. The posts get shared across the local Burlington Chamber of Commerce, parent groups in the area and even to area hotels.

The result: The shop is jam packed with kids on the in-store course and parents enjoying watching their kids interact with other kids duck walking these balance bikes, with some kids wanting to ride for several hours.

That's ground-up, grassroots marketing at its finest.

Cycle Barn in Smokey Point has a similar kids' day each year. For the 2016 event, they set up a dirt track in the parking lot where kids could ride their Stryders. It was so popular, parents asked management to keep the track up all summer - so they did.

For the long-term, these shops are grooming a potential pool of parents and kids to be their next customers. The payoff doesn't come until later, but every dealership needs to be doing promotions to reach parents and the next generation of riders. Otherwise, goodbye motorcycle industry as we know it.

What else could a shop do to inspire youngsters and others to ride?

Bike Raffle Anyone?

I'm surprised I never see shops raffling off a 50cc bike each year around Christmas, putting the proceeds toward a good local charity. That just seems like a no brainer and it gets customers into the store. Have you been in a motorcycle shop in the late fall recently? Deadsville. Using email and social media a shop could encourage customers to come in and buy raffle tickets as well as pick up on a few holiday gift specials while they're at it. But I've not seen much of this in the 20 years I've lived in the Pacific Northwest. Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki or Yamaha could get the ball rolling with an annual single-unit special pricing for a bike that would be used for such a raffle.

Free Motorcycle Training

There are a lot of people interested in riding motorcycles. Millennials seem to have more interest than the X-gens, but they need to connect the dots. Getting some training never hurt anyone and it helps would-be riders to understand what lies ahead and if this notion of riding really is for them. So there are two ways to go about this.

#1 - Any potential customer interested in riding can sign up for a state-approved course. If they buy a motorcycle under 500cc's from a participating dealer within 60 days of said class, they will automatically have the price of the class struck from the purchase price of the bike by the dealer. Just show a receipt and your passing certificate from the class and it's a done deal. In today's economics, this is $125 in Washington state.

#2 - If a would-be rider must put the cart before the horse, they can buy the bike today. If they walk back into the shop with a completion card from class, within 60 days, they are entitled to a $125 credit good toward any gear or service need.

Years ago I recall dealers doing similar programs like this, but I don't hear about it anymore. That doesn't mean a customer couldn't walk into the shop and use it as a bargaining chip during the deal making moment, but I don't see this advertised on shop sites. Maybe it should be?

Big clubs like the VME and the Washington BMW Riders used to have a fund used to help pay someone's rider training. That dwindled in recent years, however the WSBMWR has reinstated their program and will bank roll any legitimate training including any level of MSF, Dirt Bike Safety Training, or even Track Days with a $50 check. Nice.

Hey, here's a few ideas anyone interested can grab hold of and use. With motorcycle sales in decline, things like this can only help create the next riders. We need 'em.

Tom Mehren/February 17


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