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Selling to the Adventure Motorcyclist

Adventure motorcycling is a mindset; a way of approaching the world. It’s a means of expression; riders want to live out their dream adventures or maybe just look like they are. The way you approach your customer is key to success with this segment of the market.

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Adventure motorcycling is growing. It’s loosely defined by the bikes, and the genre is not limited to knobby tires or big metal panniers — it encompasses almost everything in between. Adventure motorcycling is a mindset; a way of approaching the world. It’s a means of expression; riders want to live out their dream adventures or maybe just look like they are. The way you approach your customer is key to success with this segment of the market.

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The Lifestyle
The next customer that walks in your door is your next adventure motorcyclist. Whether it’s the person who has fond memories of growing up on dirt bikes, the person getting back on her bike, or the family that has just packed their youngest off to college, people are looking for more reasons to ride off-road than they were five years ago. “From small 250s to big 1200s, the equipment differs, but the goal is the same: to get off the well-traveled routes, see remote places and enjoy the satisfaction of overcoming challenges,” says Edward Wilkinson, Klim’s dual sport/adventure product line manager.

There’s an allure to casting off the shackles of civilization, even if it’s just for a cruise across town or for a weekend in the woods. It’s your job as a dealer to fuel a customer’s imagination with a dream that he will believe is within reach. The beauty of it all is that adventure motorcycling is accessory-rich, more so than any other segment of the motorcycling market.

Building Community
Building community is an important aspect of this niche. “Dealerships benefit from realizing the importance of adding value to the customer’s experience by giving them [sic] other reasons to visit the shop –– for workshops or guest speakers. Make it a community center, just like they put Starbucks in Barnes & Nobles,” says Adventure Motorcycle Magazine’s publisher Carl Parker. Informative workshops, tire changing seminars, guest lecturers and group rides all supply the education and inspiration for your customers to travel more on two wheels.

“Building a community is important because it’s the best advertising you can get,” says Michael Spencer, BMW Motorcycles of Ventura County’s general manager. His dealership engages its customers before, during and after the sale. They organize three rides a month, catering to three levels of riders. Once a quarter, Spencer himself takes out a permit, brings a group of riders out to the Hungry Valley SVRA and invites new riders to learn the basics of dual sport riding.

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BMW Motorcycles of Ventura County also offers road support. One of the store’s perks is its pickup van for service appointments. The dealership also picks up customers who may have technical difficulties while riding on their own. Riders who join their innovative GS Venture Challenge Ride Series, earn patches for rides they participate in, as well as a dealership-branded jacket if they complete three easy rides, two medium rides and one hard ride. Riders in the series also receive a wider range of free ride support pickup. Best of all, if customers organize their own rides, the dealership will rent their pickup vehicle and staff for support.

“The way you approach a customer who’s interested in these bikes is by having a compelling story,” says Jim Hyde, owner of RawHyde Adventures, an official BMW training center. “Very few dealers have that; they just sell motorcycles. So what you have to do first is build a community of riders at the dealership. You build a community, then you foster certain people and empower them to be leaders within that community.”

To that end, Jim Hyde has started the “World of Adventure” program. Hyde is building a community within the dealer community to promote adventure motorcycling. The program already consists of 60 companies and the idea is to create an explicit focus on this market segment, pool resources between all the companies and help promote each other. The program educates dealers and puts pieces in place for them to be successful.

Bob Honz of Gateway BMW in St. Louis offers a great bit of advice: “Don’t be a fake adventure rider if you’re not an adventure rider.” Parker agrees; “You can’t sell something you don’t understand.” Adventure Motorcycle Magazine welcomes dealers to contact them with questions regarding adventure motorcycles and will send a sample issue to anyone interested in promoting this exciting new market segment.

Show Them, Don’t Sell Them
Even though it’s important to talk to your customers about adventure motorcycling, it’s also vital to inspire them. Just take a look at a Touratech catalog, and you’ll see why they sell so many accessories. It’s one part catalog and one part travelog, engaging customers on a variety of different levels.  

Consider taking that same idea in-house. Set up a display with a fully kitted adventure bike. Group all your adventure models together and, if your floor space allows it, perhaps even set up a tent and campsite. There are numerous videos about adventure motorcycling so have one looping on a monitor to get riders excited. Map displays, gear displays, magazines, books and valuable accessories enhance the shopping experience. This showroom display will also help your bottom line.

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“Remember, it’s not about selling. It’s about enhancing a rider’s experience,”  says Klim’s director of marketing John Summers. Part of building a community is education. Show customers the endless opportunities for fun and teach them something that will keep them safe and comfortable. Offer clinics, lead rides, get your sales force involved. It’s hard for a dealer not involved in this type of riding to break into the market, so encourage your sales force to go out and explore.

Function vs. Form
Riders in the adventure set are looking for quality. Consumers in this segment are willing to pay more in order to get a quality product. But that product needs to perform as advertised, because in most cases, the parts and accessories will be used hard. It can also be a safety issue.

“This is a crowd that is usually going to go out and ride in an aggressive environment for a prolonged period of time,” says Eric Hougen, founder of Wolfman Motorcycle Luggage. “This is a crowd that will definitely go for function and quality, and they’ll pay for it. They don’t have a problem buying something that will work and last a long time.”

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The good news for dealers is that there is a wide variety of aftermarket accessories for every make and model, with a wide variety of margins. Be forewarned, however, that the adventure set has many online resources and tends to think of its trips as expeditions. “If a customer isn’t happy with their purchase, it reflects back on the dealer. You might have made a good margin, but at the end of the day, if your customer isn’t satisfied with what they bought from you … that’s not looking after your customer,” says Kurt Forgét of Black Dog Cycle Works.

Growing the Sport
“It’s about the customer, not about the retailer,” says Ben Slavin, adventure traveler and MotorcycleMexico.com producer. “Get them excited, make them feel cool.” Paul Guillien, general manager of Touratech USA, does just that with the production of the “Backcountry Discovery Routes” videos. These videos help promote local tourism as well as adventure motorcycling while educating riders about the road less traveled.

One of the greatest threats to adventure motorcycling in the USA is the closure of public lands. Support all of your customers on these issues through education and encourage them to speak up.

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“There’s growth everywhere in this segment, but what will make adventure motorcycles successful comes down to getting butts in saddles. Dealers carry the biggest burden to make this happen,” says Parker.


Alisa Clickenger (MotoAdventureGal) is a 20-year road rider who’s toured almost every continent. She’s fallen in love with the roads less traveled and has racked up 70,000 off-road miles in the last five years — her longest trip was a seven-month solo trek through Mexico, Central and South America. Clickenger speaks to other women about touring alone or in a group and leads tours during her rolling classroom sessions, the “Women’s Empowerment Motorcycle Tour.” Through a combination of personal coaching, skill building and in-tour seminars, Clickenger supports and empowers other women to achieve their two-wheeled dreams. Email Clickenger at [email protected].

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