Ironically, motorcycles became “safe” during the pandemic. After years of battling safety stigmas, the motorcycle industry finally pulled off an unexpected win when riders old and new flocked to the streets to get out of the house and keep their distance from others. Some people were looking to purchase their first bikes; others were taking them out for the first time in years. In either case, this brought in a surge of business for motorcycle dealers. The cruiser market in particular, got a huge boost.
With that boost in popularity, what’s been trending with cruisers — and, by extension, V-Twins — in the last few years, and how can you as a dealer make use of that information?
Related: Understanding the Popularity of American V-Twins
From the Manufacturer
Some people are just drawn to a classic look. But in today’s world of ever-evolving technology, they don’t necessarily want “classic” performance. Luckily, motorcycle manufacturers understand that. According to Brandon Kraemer, vice president, product and electrification at Indian Motorcycles, for the last five to 10 years, manufacturers have been focused on adding technology to cruisers while not taking away from their aesthetic.
“Inherent to the design of a cruiser-style motorcycle, it was historically accepted to trade off function for style,” Kraemer says. However, now manufacturers are looking to offer more features “hidden in plain sight,” he adds. Such additions might include more suspension travel and adjustability, higher-horsepower motors, adjustable windshields and touchscreen displays, for example. “These features make the bikes more enjoyable to use but don’t take away from the looks,” he says.
When faced with new riders who may not understand all of the different motorcycle types on the market, understanding if someone is looking for a certain aesthetic — classic, modern, naked or covered — can help you lead that customer to the right bike.
One the other hand, as I discussed last week, V-twins are ripe for customization, and even if a stock bike isn’t precisely what a customer is looking for, the available accessories might be. Just about any part of an American V-Twin can be swapped out, and dealers can capitalize on that aspect. But which parts are most popular with customers?
Cosmetic and Performance Upgrades
According to Aaron Whitney, director of owned brands for Tucker Powersports, seats, handlebars, grips, heads, exhaust, and mirrors are generally the most popular add-ons. “It’s usually those initial, easy, cosmetic [upgrades], so it doesn’t look like every other bike that was on the showroom floor,” he states. “Not only are they easy to install, but they’re also relatively inexpensive modifications Quick hitters that are always popular.”
On the other end of the spectrum are the do-it-yourselfers or those who own older bikes in need of some fine-tuning. These riders will look into performance upgrades such as cams, big bore engines and wheels. Even aftermarket parts have gone through some changes over the years.
“Long gone are the ill-handling wide wheels and high bars of the early 2000s,” David Zemla, vice president of marketing at S&S Cycle, states. “The streets are now ruled by big bore V-Twins making double the factory horsepower, rolling on sticky tires and tuned suspension, and riders … are now able to enjoy the second half of the throttle range without overriding the bike.”
However, these performance items are a bigger investment in time and money, so they’re not quite as popular. Yet, the pandemic created a unique opportunity for performance parts that is still playing out today.
“On the cruiser side of the world, through COVID, we’ve seen a lot of these motorcycles come out of the garages and barns of the world, because people want to just get out and experience the motorcycle again,” says John Strangfeld, national sales manager for Drag Specialties. “We’ve seen that on the metric cruiser side, and we’ve most certainly seen it on the V-Twin side. I think a lot of people are rediscovering their passion for riding a motorcycle, and it’s just led to this spike in bolting on performance accessories, trying to improve the motorcycle they had.”
Tom Motzko, vendor development for Drag Specialties, notes that there was a huge spike in sales for exhaust and other performance pieces for cruisers in particular.
“Especially through COVID, service-related items became super popular, because people were getting these used motorcycles or older motorcycles out or buying them,” Motzko says. “It was more difficult to get newer bikes. It still is, so they had to service their existing motorcycles or purchase a used motorcycle. That’s where tires and bearings and gaskets and oil and filters and those things really became big sales.”
With new bike inventory still low, it’s important to keep capitalizing on this trend by stocking whatever service items you can. Another reason to keep performance and service items on the shelves is due to the new bagger racing that’s taken the industry by storm in the last two years.
The races have started a trend, according to Motzko, who notes, “That’s really perpetuated products for those bikes and perpetuated younger people getting involved as well. There’s more products available for creating more of a performance bagger for street use.”
Of course, parts shortages are still a fact of life, and if a customer isn’t looking for an aftermarket part, here’s a tip you can give specifically to Harley-Davidson customers.
“The cool part with Harley is, historically, their model years run for five to seven years, sometimes 10, sometimes more,” says Aaron Whitney, director of owned brands for Tucker Powersports. “Very rarely will you see a Harley in a junkyard. If something happens to one of them, the other parts and pieces get recycled and resold and go to other bikes that need that part.”
Capitalizing on Customization
No matter what type of bike you sell — V-Twin or metric — riders are still going to want to customize. It may be more difficult with metric bikes, but it’s not impossible.
“Embrace the accessory and customization world,” Kraemer says. “Everyone who rides appreciates a custom bike and wishes to make their bike a reflection of their own personal style. You can add a lot to your bottom line by differentiating your dealership through customization.”
If you’re looking to get into the American V-Twin realm specifically, all the experts here agree that participating in the market and building a bike to showcase what you offer and what you can do will help. Then, of course, ride it when you can and participate in the social media that surrounds custom bike building!
Whitney offers this advice not just to those looking to get into V-Twins, but to any rider looking to learn more about a different bike culture. “If you really want to understand that segment of that group, go get involved with it and be in the middle of it. Go to the rallies, go to the rides, and talk to folks. The easiest way to really learn is to get yourself engulfed in whichever part of that segment you want to become a part of.”