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Scooters & Trikes

Although they both appeared a half century ago, two old products are new concepts again.

Although they both appeared a half century ago, two old products are new concepts again. Both are aimed at the extremes of the powersports industry — the extremes in this case relate to the age of the prospective riders rather than the X Games. One market takes aim at the very young, the other, dare I say, is intended for older riders.

So what are these extreme products? Scooters and trikes! Huh? Bear with me.

Take a look at scooters first. That market has already shown explosive growth. The youth market is where brand loyalty is born. To that end, Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha have been nurturing the scooter market aggressively, while the Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese OEMs have been coming on strong (did you catch last month’s MPN?). Until recently most have had small engines, though we are now seeing scooters in the 500cc range from companies like KYMCO. Meanwhile their ads saturate the trade magazines as they attempt to entice dealers to carry their brand.

Why the renewed interest in the scooter market? Several reasons: First, the price of gasoline is never going to be as low as it was just a few short years ago. Scooters are, if nothing else, very fuel efficient. Next, today’s scooter buyer covers several generations of riders, with the latest being the Echo Generation. This segment cares little about products with a "made in the USA" badge and even less about the macho posturing of big bike riders — they are looking for cheap transportation.

Scooters have always had some level of acceptance in college towns. That acceptance has continued to spread as traffic gets ever heavier. Parking a car or big bike can also be quite a challenge in major cities. Parking a scooter is much less so.

There is a bit of a cross-over with large displacement scooters and motorcycles. In fact, with Suzuki’s new Burgman pushing 650ccs, it’s getting harder to tell them apart in some instances. One advantage luxo scooters seem to have is storage capacity. Because of the difference in design, scooters can have huge storage bins under the seat. Many boast the ability to hold two full-face helmets.

Obviously there’s an advantage relating to price, too. Only time will tell if the value of a used scooter will rival the value of a used motorcycle, but in the short term it is affordable transportation. Lastly, parents seem less reluctant to have their young, impressionable offspring riding a scooter than a motorcycle.

Now let’s look at the other new market niche: Trikes. These three-wheeled vehicles have been with us for more than a half century. Remember the Servicar? Harley-Davidson made a 45-inch V-Twin trike used for delivery and police vehicles for decades.

A few years ago, Polaris struck an agreement with Lehman Trikes to produce a Victory-based trike. Lehman has been producing quality trikes for Harley’s big twins and Sportsters as well as Honda Gold Wings and several Suzuki models. The Canadian company recently announced they were moving the entire operation to their facility in Spearfish, South Dakota (swing by on your way to Sturgis). Earlier this year Harley-Davidson announced they too had struck a deal with Lehman Trikes. In this case, however, the trikes will be branded Harley-Davidson and sold exclusively by The Motor Company’s dealers.

So what’s bringing the trike into the foreground? In the case of Harley, The Motor Company admits their riders are getting older. What happens to older riders? I know, because I’m in the top end of this group. First, their sense of balance decreases as well as their upper body strength. Both these conditions can be offset to a degree by strenuous exercise, but the aging process continues. With it comes uncertainty. Anyone who has ever ridden a big V-Twin knows these bikes can be a handful, especially at low speeds, and even a gentle fall over can be very expensive.

Events like the Americade in upstate New York seems to be an ideal venue for middle-aged couples and their trikes. So are other touring events that bring in trike owners, most of whom ride to the event, while many motorcycles are trailered in. In addition to the obvious advantage of balance, trikes also have the advantage of storage capacity. Rather than pulling a trailer, a trike’s storage capacity is considerably more than saddlebags.

Will the trike market grow? A few powersports analysts say the market for trikes is around 3,000 per year. That may be, but I suspect that number will double, then triple within a few short years. The fact that trikes and their riders are readily accepted by the H.O.G clubs and other bikers makes their integration into the biker community seamless. I think that’s because the younger rider (in this case the 40 to 55 year old), knows it won’t be long before he may be considering a trike as well.

If there is an inhibitor to the trike market, it’s probably price. Converting a bike can cost upwards of $15,000. Although neither Harley-Davidson nor Polaris have revealed the anticipated MSRP of their trikes, I suspect it will be competitively priced with a conversion.

Personally, I’m glad to see the powersports market widen by bringing out new products that cater to a wider age range. Way back when I was on the AMA board Of directors, the average age of a rider was 24. Now, according to all the latest research, the average age is closing in on 50.

Finally, if you don’t think trikes and scooters are making inroads into our industry, I suggest you go on the web and look at eBay Motors. I just did and found there were about 150 trikes up for bid and more than 1,600 scooters!

Time to go to extremes in your store? Both these old ideas can still bring new customers into your dealership.

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