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Beyond Boomers: What Are the Kids Riding?

I recently read an article on Motorcycledaily.com about “Why don’t we see more Japanese Retro Bikes?” If you read the comments section, you can see why. Everyone has a different idea as to what “Retro” looks like, and it’s going to be almost impossible to satisfy all of the people like the ones in the comments section.

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Photo: ClassicJapaneseBikes.com

I recently read an article on Motorcycledaily.com about “Why don’t we see more Japanese Retro Bikes?” If you read the comments section, you can see why. Everyone has a different idea as to what “Retro” looks like, and it’s going to be almost impossible to satisfy all of the people like the ones in the comments section.

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So Let Me Add My Two Cents Worth

The ones in the comments section sound, more or less, to be Baby Boomers, and while the manufacturers have made a fortune off of them, it’s time to look beyond them to the new generation of riders. What are they riding? That’s the real question.

Did you know that there are more Gen X and Ys than there are Boomers? So motorcycle ridership should be increasing, shouldn’t it? The biggest difference I can see is that where we could afford a new $1,200 motorcycle, new riders can’t afford $10,000 for a current machine. So, what are they riding? That’s correct – a gold star for you! They’re buying the very same 35-year-old motorcycles that we rode all those years ago. The price is right, and they can customize, chop or bob them all they want. Of course, 35-year-old bikes have a price: the lack of reliability. You’re never really sure if you’ll get back home. I know, I have several.

So, could one of the import companies make a retro bike? I’ve heard people say many times ,“Just make the CB750F again.” Honda is making the CB1100F, but while they are selling, they’re not flying out the door. Could Honda make a 750F for less than the CB1100F, and still make money? Probably not. Too many cylinders, and with the new emission standards, multi-cylinder bikes are hard to make cheaply enough to generate a profit.

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Look back at the early ’80s: UJMs were mostly 4-cylinder standard bikes. Then the Virago 750 and the Shadow 750 sales took off, and we’ve had 35 years of V-twins of various sizes and configurations, turning them into the UJM of that time. The off-shore manufacturers took advantage of Harley-Davidson’s promotion of that genre of motorcycles. And many of you will remember the tariff that H-D successfully lobbied for in 1983. That was, I believe, a direct reaction of the metric OEMs coming out with all of these new V-twins, taking sales away from Harley.

Harley is much stronger now (of course, now they have to watch out for Indian, another American brand. No tariffs will work there!), and V-twin sales are coasting, at least on the import side of the sales ledger.
Triumph has done a great job of re-creating a retro bike that gives us a lot of the experience we had when riding an old British bike without all of the problems that occurred back in the ’60s and the ’70s. Having been a Triumph dealer for a dozen years, I do like the brand. However, in these times, with the Millennials coming along, I believe that Triumph has lost its way to a certain extent. A basic Bonneville T100 is $9,600, which may not sound like a lot, but to Millennials, it seems to be a bit high.

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Royal Enfield of India is basically making the same bike they were making in 1955. However, it’s underpowered and overpriced for our market, and probably will never be a big player. We need a larger, more efficient company to make our new retro bike.

What if, for instance, Yamaha came out with the XS650 again? I believe that at one time it was the most sold/purchased in the U.S. Give it a few more CCs and good power. Make it with EFI, ABS and maybe water cooling. Make it otherwise simple with lots of available accessories. Manufacture it in China or India to keep the costs down. Make it look like it was manufactured in the ’60s. Sell it for 20 percent less than the competition. It would be a home run.
I know! How about a retro bike with the FZ07 engine in it, more chrome, some fins and exhaust pipes coming out at the right angle? Yamaha, are you listening?

Well, you say, wouldn’t that cut into Triumph sales? Perhaps, but if we don’t get the next generation riding, all of us will have to take drastic steps to stay in business. The entire industry will contract. If we want Millennials to ride more, we have to extract them from the basements they are hiding in, and create motorcycles that are the right kind of bikes for them. Not just the bikes that the Boomers look back at fondly. Boomers have had their time, and we have to make sure that those coming up will get into it as much as we did, and keep this industry humming along happily for generations to come.

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