For now I am just throwing this out there for anyone who cares to read it. I am still trying to compose a rebuttal to it. I think most of it is a self serving waste of words. But the LA times wrote a story about it, so it is getting some wide exposure. Frankly their synopsis of the report is far better written than this wordy mess.
Give a Shift – Roundtable Discussion
An anonymous & public discourse on the future of motorcycling
Thank you for your interest and time considering the future of the motorcycle industry. You are seeing the results of a wide-ranging discussion between individuals who truly care for the future of motorcycling and have donated their time and some money to work towards the better- ment of the industry. There are no sponsors. The results and content are intended to be distributed gratis to anybody who wishes to also work towards a brighter future on two (and three) wheels.
If there is continued interest we may host additional roundtable events in the future to further de- velop ideas and spur new ones that will help stem the losses and malaise surrounding the con- temporary motorcycling market and culture.
Marc Cook, Kent Kunitsugu, Porsche Taylor, Surj Gish, Sarah Lahalih, Guido Ebert, Xxxx Xxxxxx, Sarah Schilke, Charles Fleming, Kevin Duke, Glenn Hansen, Grady Pfeifer, Jayson Wi- ckenkamp, Robert Pandya, Kevin Allen, Leah Misch, Jeff Herzog, Christa Neuhauser, Steve Piehl, Alisa Clickenger, Brian Klock, Eric Putter, Steve Squire, Monique Filips, Moira Zinn
This roundtable program is not presenting itself as the end-all-be-all or a strict directive regarding the future of motorcycling. We wish for the tone of this series to be one of construc- tive criticism. That is to be working towards a positive future for motorcycling, not just carping and negativity. It is designed to be a catalyst for further discussion within the industry, concerned motorcycle consumers and industry trade media, as well as within the quiet cubicles and confer- ence rooms of OEMs, aftermarket brands and industries that also wish seek solutions of the fu- ture of motorcycling. It is a companion to efforts already being undertaken by industry organiza- tions such as the AMA, MIC, OEM initiatives, BRC, and other well-intentioned groups, but is intended to be reflective of a more “boots on the ground” position. Our focus in this meeting is on improving the motorcycle category in the next three years with an enthusiastic honest voice, backed by experience and creativity.
The negative or flat trends in motorcycling have been present since 2009. While there has been some industry discourse regarding these issues, including CEO-level presentations at trade events etc, the conversation has been largely siloed within respective brands, largely publicly un- addressed by the AMA and to a members-only groups by the MIC. It’s the mission of the GAS Roundtable to bring together frustrated industry experts, outliers, and experienced enthusiasts to
learn and propose some actionable tactics for those who wish to increase interest and sales in motorcycling and who seek a new perspective or do not have access to inside industry informa- tion or a chance to speak directly to experienced and educated perspectives. Future events may be dealer-focused, wholly female-focused, millennial-based, bring in additional retail experts, and will maintain the same formula of unattributed transcripts and optional full anonymity to al- low for true constructive criticism.
This report is reflective of the full transcript from the first meeting that occurred on Nov 16th as many in the industry were coming to Long Beach, CA for what was a well-attended and largely positive International Motorcycle Shows consumer event. The transcript is unattributed and was not altered other than to ensure anonymity for participants or for clarity of the point be- ing made.
It is worth noting that seven of the twenty-five participants in the round-table were female, with several having executive or managerial experience in the industry. Each person attending the roundtable was asked if they wished to be named as equal co-authors of this summary report, and all but one of those attending chose to do so. It’s important to note that all individuals were representing themselves and their experience and perspectives as professionals and enthusiasts in motorcycling. Several additional applicants to the round table could not fit due to the size of the donated meeting area, and the time allotted. We are encouraged by the number and variety of in- dividuals who wish to be part of this conversation, and it’s indicative of the desperate need to have public discourse on the future of motorcycling.
It is also important to note that there is clearly no silver bullet that will “save” our industry. The up-side to our discussions is that there are many small acts that in combination can increase the positive visibility, the future desirability, and infrastructure integration of motorcycling.
These efforts can work individually, however, it was recognized that success in this industry comes much faster when all parties involved choose to work together to elevate key initiatives. In other words, this industry will rise and fall together.
While there are those who point out that there has never been a more compelling and inter- esting time in motorcycling, including a wide product variety across all brands, the chorus com- ing from the survey and at several times in the discussion was access to more models at lower prices as a key to increasing interest. There is a pattern where OEM’s, media and sales floor staff get exuberant about the highest performance (and often priced) models, and lose sight of the im- portance of more approachable products that are less intimidating and will increase ridership.
However even with a strong variety of dual-sport, street-sport, scooters and cruiser models being introduced by OEMs, it’s clear to the panel that the bigger issue is the lack of general in- terest for riding. It is absent or has been stifled from youth. Distracted driving, on-road safety fears, and a still fiscally compressed middle-class Generation X and Boomers are impediments that keep targeted new riders out of the market. It was pointed out that while there was an inher- ent draw to riding from those who seek adventure, the reality of low-income, difficult credit ac- cess, holistic cost of entry (including safety gear and training) conspire to reduce consideration by younger demographics. The overwhelming detractor is safety concerns from potential cus- tomers and their parents.
Motorcycles still deliver freedom and adventure, mobility and a unique version of econo- my. However, at the millennial end of the transportation spectrum, benefits are overshadowed by student debt, safety concerns, and unsupportive or disinterested peers. Less-expensive motorcy- cles may help draw in some riders, however MSRP is not the only issue. Until there is a signifi- cant shift in the acceptance of motorcycling risk vs. reward, there will be slim chance to change the trajectory of millennial interest. Millennials often see property ownership as a burden, a ca- reer not as a lifelong single path but one with steps and breaks, and have redefined group partici- pation to include online activities. This demographic thinks and acts differently from prior gen- erations. The industry must break out of its patterns and educate itself on this market before preaching to it or using the same tired tactics.
Likewise the industry’s focus on Boomers in the prior decades has taken focus off of Gen- eration X, the cross-over generation that grew up analogue but introduced the world to the inter- net and mobile working. A large number of young Gen X-ers (appx 52-45 year olds) are able to work remotely and are re-incorporating outdoor adventure into their lives, with a significant in- dicator being the increase in recreational vehicle sales to 40-50 year olds. In addition, technology has given rise to a mobile lifestyle such as the #vanlife and remote working movement. Both of these situations indicate an opportunity for electric bicycles, e-cycles, and traditional small mo- torcycles that can be a catalyst for Gen X and their offspring to choose to ride, or promoting mo- torcycling as another addition to their self-defined lifestyle.
Retention of Boomers will continue to be a significant mission for the industry in the next decade, despite the fact that they are aging out. In the short term, the broad active adoption of three-wheel vehicles that help allay the fear of tipping over is important. Traditional sidecars and trikes are being quickly eclipsed by roadsters and reverse trikes newly available on the market.
The traditional definition of motorcycles being only two-wheel conveyances is a significant alba-
tross to increased retail attention. Adoption of the three-wheeled variants of products into our culture, dealerships, events and media will keep this important transportation category within the purview of powersports, and not let them escape into their own category where profits to our in- dustry would be lost. This transition was successfully accomplished in the ORV segment with the rapid inclusion of Side by Side (or UTV) vehicles that now account for a significant portion of powersports profitability. The same rigor and positive energy must be applied to the 3-wheelers in the on-road side of our business despite traditionalists who may bemoan their inclusion.
Likewise, it is increasingly critical for electric motorcycles to find a comfortable home within our business. Electric bicycles are quickly evolving into very capable vehicles that eclipse the on-road performance of small scooters and mopeds, and deliver a comfortable and familiar form-factor to non-motorcyclists. They are relatively unregulated, unlicensed, and becoming far more acceptable in increasingly dense urban and suburban population centers. With the global scale of the bicycle industry, there will undoubtedly be stiffer competition and rapid increases in technology and reduction in costs, especially as battery technology breaks through and costs lower. However, if moto-branded and treated as a part of our community (as traditional mopeds once were) their growth can increase motorcycling participation as riding radius is increased.
There is an undeniable trend toward the adoption of autonomous transportation. Do motor- cycles even fit into that mix? As this technology grows, contemporary motorcycles will be even further elevated into higher risk categories in the eyes of traffic systems technologies, insurance companies, city planners and autonomous vehicle manufacturers who currently own and direct the conversation.
There is a very real risk of motorcycles being completely cut out of the conversation for future vehicle infrastructure systems, suffer for increasing costs of insurance programs, and squeezed out of local and national transportation planning all together. We already face issues with parking in many metropolitan areas (it was noted that downtown Minneapolis only has two parking ramps that even allow motorcycles) that do not accommodate motorcycles or force them to use full car spaces, which is inefficient, stigmatizes riders and has a negative perception with non-riders. Our voice in city planning must be amplified to be seen as part of the solution.
Vocal and engaged representation in Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to Infrastructure V2I) systems must maintained and leveraged. It is well known in Washington D.C. that the mo- torcycle community is one that will make its presence known through legislative efforts. AMA, ABATE, BRC, Rolling Thunder, MRF and many other representatives for motorcycles at large keep our presence percolating to the point that it was leveraged for attention on the recent Eu- ropean beef ban. However the same collective voice does not have strength in the coming tech- nology revolution that can quickly cut out motorcycling altogether, particularly in urban envi- ronments where the benefit of single-person transportation can be easily evangelized and inte- grated.
Positioning motorcycling, scooterists, low-speed electric motorcycles/bicycles as part of the solution for increasing population density and environmental issues is an important factor for planning, and the promotion of our industry will need our voice. As a community we must adopt
the inclusion of technology on our own machines or apparel that includes our signal into the traf- fic matrix. With that technology smart vehicles will register our presence and will deliver to mo- torcyclists the safety that the technology promises the automotive community. Soon “loud pipes save lives” can be replaced with “You won’t get hit by a car if you’re on their radar.”
The panel feels strongly that the single biggest threat to motorcycling overall (particularly in urban and higher density environments) will be the incompatibility between autonomous vehi- cles and existing motorcycles. A lack of vocal participation in this conversation will forfeit our ability to speak up as technology further pushes self-operated vehicles out of the transportation matrix, and not build the needed attention from the rider base. We cannot afford to wait to be seen.
This critical take-away came out of the often repeated conversation of getting more women onto motorcycles as riders or passengers (co-riders is more appropriate). The panel has heard many times over the years about the opportunity to attract increased female ridership but ex- pressed frustration that seemingly little of consequence has actually been done in a consistent industry initiative. Where there have been some changes in attitudes and display of female rider- ship, events such as Babes Ride Out and all-female training and touring programs have blos- somed without significant industry support or promotion. There is clearly a path to attract female ridership that does not come from traditional motorcycle marketing and must be explored. The increase in female ridership will have a huge influence on young riders access to motorcycling, a much-needed segment for motorcycling to thrive.
The growing economic strength and independence of females in motorcycling is an entic- ing data point for OEMs. However, some low-energy attitudes and the lack of support from a few OEM’s and the aftermarket (though there are in fact some doing great work in this arena) show themselves in the tired “shrink it and pink it” approach to apparel design, as well as sales-limit- ing assumptions about the type of motorcycles and performance capabilities that are desired by women. Likewise, the draw that female riders have to each other is seldom given the same re- spect and financial support that male initiatives receive. Often seen as passengers or part of a family group, many dealerships and OEM’s lack in developing effective and resilient marketing to attract female riders.
Critically for the motorcycle industry, there are few examples of women in decision-mak- ing executive leadership roles in our industry, despite the opportunity for female uptick being single best chance for growth in sales in the next three years. Female leadership, opinions and initiatives continue to be squashed despite the lip-service from current OEM leadership and ad- vocacy groups. Without delivering the respect and opportunities needed, the issue will persist to the continued detriment of motorcycling overall.
Support for female ridership through programs such as H-D’s “Garage Party” events, (Ap- parently now a cancelled program) female-oriented moto-orientation programs, female-only or couple-centric rider training initiatives, projection of females as active riders and not just eye candy for the sport, were brought up. The hypocrisy of the “Start Girl” at motocross races or grid girls at road races that tout family-friendly entertainment and a desire to bring women into mo-
torcycling was mentioned. Family riding opportunities certainly exist outside of the traditional image of the male in the family being the catalyst for family ridership. Safety, training and ap- propriate attitudes are exemplified by the USMCA and were directly supported by many attend- ing the session. The USMCA initiative will help create rider bases for years to come, but it has yet to be fully promoted and adopted by many OEMs and the aftermarket who can benefit direct- ly from the work to align with vetted instructors and a modern curriculum.
There is significant female interest towards more three-wheeled options that eliminate the possibility of a simple tip-over as seen in high female ridership of Can-Am Spyders. Children will take their cues from their parents, and the headline statement in this section was echoed in the panel. While males are the traditional catalyst for riding, extending that influence to females will vastly improve the acceptance and expansion of ridership. The opportunity to make motor- cycle training more interesting and family-inclusive while upping the entertainment value of the event exists but has yet to be promoted.
The broad riding public has been largely shielded from the downward trends in motorcy- cling. They may have become accustomed to the lower numbers of riders on the streets, smaller outdoor events and shrinking off-season consumer show schedules and displays. While some of the malaise in the industry can be attributed to constantly pulling from the same enthusiast base without replenishment, the approach has been one of being sold to, rather than to ask enthusiasts to help sell. That is to say to find a common language and message that all riders can lean on to introduce new riders to the sport. If just 20% of current riders were able to bring a new rider into the mix every year, the shift would be dramatic not only in sales, but also in camaraderie. So- called “buddy programs” have happened in the past, but staccato programs will not be as effec- tive as a consistent message across the enthusiast base.
The panel discussed the opportunity for every motorcyclist to become a categorical ambas- sador. To work to be inclusive of smaller motorcycles and scooters, not big bike snobs who look down on smaller bike riders. Equally there were stories of singular acts that created community motorcycling events that not only elevated the political position for motorcycling, but resulted in a strong financial upswing for communities and dealerships that then sought out additional events.
Speaking up when we see other riders acting in ways that build a negative impression of motorcycling is highly recommended. As riders, we inherently might understand when a rider is acting out, making excessive noise, or “weaponizing” their motorcycle in public, but these ac- tions diminish the perception of motorcycling to the 95% of the population that do not ride. The same can be said of many enthusiast-based businesses, such as skateboarding, bicycles, sports fans, etc – with those industries working hard to shift negative perceptions from the general pub- lic.
Motorcycling has an opportunity to build a simple guideline for riders to help improve awareness and a duty to call out those who negatively impact motorcycling. Printed versions of these guidelines can easily be added to OEM PDI kits, dealerships and club rules to become a mantra that will live in riders’ minds. Online videos with key spokespeople and celebrities can
both elevate the visibility of riding and help mitigate negative behaviors that serve only to com- press the market. It’s acknowledged that the cynical among us will write off this effort. If your first reaction was “nobody will see it, so why care?” – you, dear reader, may be part of the indus- try problem! It might take more work to put actions behind words, but the time is now.
The same under-funded and tired approaches to creating mentors and ambassadors will not work. New approaches such as brand-neutral “new rider” websites, channels and media that tell stories of ridership, adventure, and approach safety and training in a more modern and engaging manner. Opportunities exist with the AMA, International Motorcycle Shows and outdoor events.
A meeting attendee has since started a humble #AskMeAboutMotorcycles and #AskMe- AboutScooters campaign on his personal social media that has already initiated a conversation and planned visit to a local dealership for an previously on-the-fence potential rider. Expanding this or similar initiatives industry-wide can address the need nationally or in a localized manner. A template for such mentorship will make such actions easy to emulate and empower existing enthusiasts to become categorical ambassadors – many who simply need guidance to start.
Most current motorcycle dealerships are a far cry from the modern retail presentation that current consumers are used to. While the sea of headlights and handlebars may excite existing enthusiasts, the same sight is intimidating and confusing to new riders. If you are the average guy, go try to buy the perfect shade of red lipstick for a girlfriend or mate, and you would likely share the stress. One roundtable attendee has considerable experience hosting group events at dealerships and noted that many dealers simply do not “get it” and do not engage with a new cat- egory of riders (in this case typically minority female sportbike enthusiasts). Another with signif- icant OEM experience echoed the sentiment.
We may be at a crossroads where “old-school salesmanship” is a dying art, and the adop- tion of modern retail technique is far too slow for the current dealership model. The variety and types of motorcycle products on the market is compelling and diverse with many subsets of styles and technology. However the same crowded sales floor can create an overload to new rid- ers where the same variety leads to a paralysis of sorts. Being enchanted by motorcycling can quickly be dulled by a poor, confusing, or dismissive dealership experience.
There exists an opportunity for a different kind of dealer model, in particular for the mid- dleweight and smaller motorcycles that show so much promise for the entry-level stage of the market. However, the imbedded mindset that smaller displacement motorcycles are just “step up” models that are quickly dismissed in the process of becoming a “real motorcyclist” with larger motorcycles is also an impediment to the overall volume of riders entering the category. For many riders, smaller-displacement motorcycles may be their end goal or prove to be enough “transportainment” to keep that rider happy for years. Increased complexity and features are not a draw for many riders, however, integrated technologies such as automatic transmissions, trac- tion control, automatic clutch, ABS and adjustable throttle response are well received by riders who expect these safety and convenience features to be standard.
More immediate solutions that precede dealer sales discussions and turn prospects into more educated walk-in customers could be significantly increased via online training videos that
lean on the fun of riding over a barrage of safety messaging and present easier-to-approach mo- torcycles in a manner consistent with modern sales methods. Reduction in product overlaps would help new riders understand motorcycle segments and easier self-identify what “type” of rider they are.
It was noted that the current rigid style of rider training often completely dissolves the fun factor from riding, often just at the point that new riders want to be engaged in a way that vali- dates the entertainment of riding. Speakers at the recent MIC Symposium reportedly noted that some students’ desire to ride was squashed by the training experience, not enhanced or inspired by it – a feeling reflected in our panel.
“Pre-training” initiatives that leverage the fun of riding and set the hook deeper can soften the training process and further the appreciation of riding motorcycles. In many markets there are possibilities of shifting training models to become more of a destination experience, such as a camping / riding initiative, urban training centers, alignment with major events or epic photogra- phy journeys whereby exposure to simple motorcycles can become an integral part of a bigger experience, not the sole end goal. Such efforts align with simple to operate motorcycles such as electric single-speed units, automatic transmission scooters and small motorcycles. These efforts when aligned to a regional dealer group, OEM joint effort or synchronized with a strong brand experience, will pull customer deeper into the funnel and closer to being turn-key customers that walking into most dealerships as a new rider.
Automotive sales models do not always work with an enthusiast or transportainment prod- uct. Where some in past generations had a sense they “needed” a motorcycle in their lives, as one would need a car in most of North America, the current market requires customers to want the product to justify the sale – much in the same way consumer electronics are sold. Building the “want” remains our most significant general challenge, and no matter the improvements of mar- keting, training, product features, celebrity, exposure, and integration into infrastructure, it can all quickly fall apart at the dealer level if the experience and staff training does not measure up.
The dealer environment is a highly complex, costly, transient, attention-fracturing and ex- pensive business to be in these days. Dealers must align on categorical needs, consistent lan- guage and push OEMs to deliver the tools they need not only reflective of individual brand at- tributes, but in the light of a modern consumers reduced brand loyalty, overly emphasized safety concerns and regulatory compression. Dealers cannot be solely blamed for the current malaise because current retail and franchise laws regarding transportation products are a critical choke point for increased sales. Though there is some promise in recent trade show attendance, there is still a strong need for an independent dealer association. There still lies considerable opportunity to improve customer interaction and significantly affect an upturn in motorcycle sales.
It will be through a myriad of efforts that motorcycling can be protected within transporta- tion, promoted as a desirable activity, draw in safety-conscious customers and ultimately sell more units, sustain an aftermarket, and deliver the positive attributes of the motorcycle culture to a wider audience. There is precious little time before new technology, industry stagnation and lack of sales and marketing evolution will cause motorcycling to implode into a sideline hobby.
There must be continued self-critical public conversation that inspires new efforts, mentoring, learning, and processes so we can inject energy into a category that we all understand can be very rewarding. More riders must Give a Shift.
Special thanks to all those who took the time to complete surveys and especially the pan- elists who donated their time and energies. Panelists Guido Ebert, Xxxx Xxxxxx, Glenn Hansen and Kevin Duke greatly assisted in editing this report. This report is NOT confidential, and we hope that it and the associated documents are shared with anybody who wishes to con- tribute towards a positive future for motorcycling.
See you down the road –
Give a Shift Report Contact: Robert Pandya RobertPandya@gmail.com (512) 630-3960