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To avoid the dangerous road ahead, stop selling bikes to bikers & start selling motorcycles to people

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So much has been written about shrinking motorcycle sales last year. In pubs and bike shops the common theme is shrinking new bike registrations and the piling up of unsold new stock.

Ink has been spilled trying to find the reasons underlining the crisis, while industry representatives spin the numbers of their respective corporate sales reports to boast, or excuse, performance.

The numbers are stark. By September 2017 US motorcycle icon Harley-Davidson saw new bike deliveries fall by nearly 7%, greater losses than the overall market shrinkage of about 3%. According to the Motorcycle Industry Association in the UK new bike sales have collapsed by nearly 15%. Dealers are hurting, and indicators are that as the final 2017 tallies will be worse still.

As a former senior designer and longtime product planner in the motorcycle industry, reading these missives frustrate me almost as much as the bad sales news itself. One writer on MotoFire pointed the finger squarely at the greater motorcycle community and it’s myopic culture. He was right, but equally guilty are the professionals representing the manufacturers in the US and UK, who lacked the vision to see past the present moment and plan for the future.

For the entirety of my career in Europe the bosses at Yamaha, Aprilia and others towed the line, saying that there was no market for small displacement motorcycles that offered a premium experience.

For three decades starting in the mid 1980’s, US and UK motorcycle markets were each utterly dominated by one type of bike. In America the air-cooled, v-twin powered cruiser made up more than half of new motorcycle sales while in Britain fully faired sport bikes were the bread and butter of the industry. Both the US cruiser and UK sport bike demographics were populated mostly by middle-aged men, and nurtured a culture of aggressive exclusivity. They were testosterone-soaked boys clubs that looked down their noses at other types of motorcycle. Small, modestly priced or entry-level models were openly mocked, as were those who rode them.

It can hardly be surprising then, that even during the boom years between 1995 and 2008 the average age of new motorcycle consumers climbed steadily upwards while remaining almost entirely male. Newcomers to the sport, while not actively discouraged, were not exactly welcomed by the fraternity, with many dealerships hardly making any effort to stock and sell alternatives when fat margins and volume sales were to be had with the big bikes.

Manufacturers were completely complicit in this behavior as well. For the entirety of my career in Europe the bosses at Yamaha, Aprilia and others towed the line, saying that there was no market for small displacement motorcycles that offered a premium experience. Entry level, they said, meant basic, low spec vehicles aimed at commuters, deliveries and riding schools. The Yamaha MT-03 that I designed in 2003 was originally intended to be just such a commodity motorcycle. It took many in the team lots of time to convince the project leader that the market was hungry for more.

 

The disconnect between sales and product planning was a chicken-and-egg situation. Product planners and marketers looked at past and present sales data and said there was no demand for smart and affordable bikes because the sales were not there. But the sales were not there because there weren’t any smart and affordable motorcycles available for sale.

For more than a decade, what the industry marketed as an entry-level sport bike or cruiser meant heavy, old technology nails like the Kawasaki GpZ500 (Ninja 500 in the US) or the Suzuki 650 Savage. With derivative styling forced onto low seat proportions, and offering weedy performance on the road, they were rightly dismissed by the motorcycle community which turned off many would be aspiring bikers.

Models that offered authentic style and performance at near entry-level prices like Harley-Davidson’s 883 Sportster or the Aprilia RS250, on the other hand, required commitment. They had the chops to win credibility from the fraternity, but that same cred intimidated beginners not fully committed to motorcycle culture. In any case, both were too much motorcycle for novices, the Aprilia for it’s searing performance, and the Harley as a consequence of weight.

Added to this was a media frenzy that did it’s best to portray motorcycling at its most extreme. From television programs glorifying biker gangs, to chopper build-off reality shows starring rowdy men, to adventure touring specials featuring celebrities getting stuck in the wilds of Siberia, the old image of motorcycling as a dangerous activity done by misfits was further cemented in the public’s mind. While this surely attracted some to buying a first motorcycle, it completely turned off most others.

And so we come to the financial crisis of 2008, and the steady decline that lead us to today. The Baby Boomers aged out of the new motorcycle buying market, and the aforementioned lack of investment needed to attract new, younger and more diverse people into motorcycling acted together to bleed out
the market.

Since 2010, the industry has seen the wisdom of importing small, cool and affordable motorcycles from the far east, which has helped a lot. Honda was first, bringing the Thai build CBR125R to the UK, Canada and eventually the US in 2012, which promptly became one of the best selling motorcycles in those markets. This success led the way to the revival of cheap and cheerful motorcycling, so that today’s consumer is almost spoiled for choice under 500cc.

Manufacturers have to stop selling bikes to bikers, and start selling them to people

Millennials, women, novices and many Generation Xers who may have wanted to ride but never stepped in before are all ripe for persuasion. But the damage is done, and it will take a lot more than terrific hardware to recover. The way motorcycles are portrayed to the general public, the way and place they are sold and serviced, as well as the stories and reviews produced by journalists, need to change with the times.

Motorcycling can be what it is today to those of us who love it the way it is, but it must also become something more to the public at large.

60 years ago, Honda transformed the motorcycle universe by democratizing the type with the Super Cub. There had always been entry-level motorcycles before it, but the whole Super Cub concept was born of the need to make motorcycles clean, safe, easy to use, friendly and fun to everyone. As the American Honda ad campaign “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” led to the explosion of new riders in the US, so too must go the industry as a whole at the present time.

Manufacturers have to stop selling bikes to bikers, and start selling them to people. The already captive audience who read dedicated news sites like MotoFire and watch MotoGP have to stop being the focus. Literally no one cares about radial brakes, big piston forks or bullshit marketing speak like “mass centralization”. To win the next generation of motorcycling public we need to demonstrate that motorcycles are gateway drugs to attainable feelings of independence and safe thrills.

It will be hard, requiring a massive top-down image makeover, but it has to get done. Because nothing less that the future of motorcycling in the US and UK are at stake.

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Michael Uhlarik is an international award-winning motorcycle designer with 19 years of experience creating bikes for Yamaha, Aprilia, Piaggio, Derbi and many others. He is a veteran motorcycle industry consultant and part-time industrial design lecturer. He is based in Nova Scotia.

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Is the Manx Missile Cavendish about to trade cycling lycra for motorcycle racing leathers?

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Could the Manx Missile hang up his lycra and pedals for something a little more petrol propelled?

Mark Cavendish has been the fastest thing on two (pedal-powered) wheels for a while now, but in recent interviews, the Isle of Man native and good friend of Cal Crutchlow has expressed an interest in two-wheeled vehicles of a motorcycling kind.

Speaking in an interview with Esquire Magazine from when he was in Abu Dhabi for the Formula One last year, Cavendish shared his love of fast cars and bikes, telling the interviewer that he’d ‘always loved anything to do with motors, or machines… Vehicles really. Just love them’. Before being asked if he’d ever considered being an F1 driver?

‘Nah. I don’t think I’m good enough. Everybody thinks that it’s like driving a car down the promenade, it’s totally not the same. To be honest, I prefer motorbikes more; I would like to race them instead.’

Ok, so it’s not a huge admission or a massive surprise – it’s something we’ve all probably dreamed of and one time or another, but when pressed on the issue he does seem to have considered the possibilities more than just in passing.

When asked if motorcycling racing might actually be next for him he replied with an emphatic, ‘In all seriousness, I think so’.

Adding fuel to the fire have been comments from him earlier this month made during press conferences in support of the Dubai Tour.

When asked explicitly if he’d consider hanging up his cycling blocks for motorcycle leathers, he certainly didn’t dismiss the idea, ‘Anything is possible, you know… I will just look at my options for the short term and the long term and see what I do with my future’.

So that’s definitely not a no.

For cycling fans fearful that he might be closer than expected to making the jump, there’s probably not any immediate cause for panic. In the very same Esquire feature he also explicitly stated that he had a ‘fair few years‘ left in his professional career.

Could a cycling pro move over to motorcycles with any expectation of success? Multi-discipline racers aren’t unheard of. Rossi loves his car racing and Lewis Hamilton has always expressed an interest in a taking turn in MotoGP.

But that’s from a motor vehicle on short track racing onto another motor vehicle on a similar track. We’d imagine that the speeds and skills involved from pedal cycle to internal combustion engine are a little less transferable for any moral human.

But then Mark Cavendish isn’t your average human being and reports suggest that the times that he has spent on track have been pretty impressive.

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Indian electric Emflux claims 120mph, over 100 miles range for under £8,000

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Photo: Emflux

Startup company put its first electric sportsbike concept on display, alongside some impressive claims.

The Emflux can hit 62 mph in 3 seconds and charges to over 80 percent in half an hour. Couple that with a range of around 115 miles and a top speed of 120 mph and you have an electric motorcycle to pique anyone’s interest. Throw in a claimed price of under £8000 and you get the room to take notice.

That’s what the Indian startup Emflux did this week at the 2018 Auto Expo in New Delhi.

The 25-strong company has completely developed the machinemachine i and the team have designed everything except for the brakes, suspension and tyres.

Featuring a steel-trellis frame and single-sided swingarm, the chassis of the machine certainly looks the part, and along with the 60kW motor and 9.7 kWh lithium-ion cell battery the entire package only weights 169 kgs.

Alongside the mechanics, the technology on-board features a built-in GPS system, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 4G connectivity – all alongside an NVIDIA Jetson TK1 core processor. That’s a mighty big brain to go alongside some mighty big claims from the startup firm.

The company say that they are planning to build 199 of the bikes for the local, Indian market, with another 300 for export.

Oh and if you want Ohlins suspension, forged alloy wheels and carbon-fibre bodywork, then the price will go up by another £10,000 or so.

With new companies coming out with interesting designs and ideas for new electrically powered motorcycles almost weekly now, surely it’s time for one of the major manufacturers to step in? Isn’t it?

Source: Emflux

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