Nov 13, 2011

Bikes Replaced by iPhones?

Is this really possible? Check out this NY Times article.

Is the Era of the Motorcycle Over?

Can motorcycles be a dying product? Probably


Anonymous said...

Ducati, and all the other race rep bikes were always at the extreme end of bike buying. That doesn't mean that biking is dying. Perhaps it is just changing again towards the cheap and economical end of the spectrum once more.

If that means that people actually use their bike as a form of transport as well as for recreation, then I for one think the change would be a good thing.

T.W. Day said...

Hope you're right.

Anonymous said...

So do I!!!!!

But look at the issues that will drive bike sales over the next few years. Oil/ Gas prices, congestion, parking charges, the world economy, China, India, Brazil etc (and their claim on a few of the worlds resources).

As you have been saying for years, small bikes are just as much fun as $20,000 toys. People are getting a reality check now, the motorcycle industry can react to this or die. I suspect that someone out there has enough sense to sell a few bikes even with all this going on.

The Vulture said...

The NYT writer has a point. I think the motorcycle industry needs to get off its ass and get to work - too much of the "economy sucks" thumb sucking going on.

The dealership I retired from last January had a very good year for 2011. But, it is a single line BMW shop where the product is completely understood and presented to a potential customer in a professional and respectful manner. Why squander a potential sale through a mediocre customer experience?

The same holds for one of the Ducati stores in my area. Both brands/stores do a credible job of maintaining their loyal customer base and attracting new and younger customers. Motorcycle sales growth in 2011 - who would have thought it?

In contrast, the large Asian brand multiline store I worked in ten years ago is not having a similar experience. Nor are their same brand competitors. Market saturation in the form of a dealership on every corner, stale product lines, difficult financing for less established individuals, and an arguably less skilled sales force don't help move that segment of the motorcycle product spectrum.

Asian brand shops like these represent the meatier part of the bike sales bell curve in the U.S., and I think they are mainly trying to hold their businesses together until our economy recovers. So, I might take issue with the NYT writer on that alone. Our economy is a huge confounding variable in his thesis.

Supporting his thesis however; Apple et al do an excellent job in this economy of convincing the consumer they have to have the next gizmo or the world as they know it will end. Car guys and motorcycle manufacturers used to, but today just don't do that as well as they used to - they seemingly have forgotten the brilliance of "You meet the nicest people on a Honda"

The latent desire for a motorcycle is in all of us. I really don't see the industry trying to awaken it.

T.W. Day said...

We both know how much fun and how practical riding is. The article we're talking about questions how likely modern kids are to figure that out. I teach at a college and I see this constantly. Maybe it's the place where I teach, but it amazes me how often kids confuse doing something real with doing something virtually.

The follow-up article Paul sent me about what kids don't know and may never know about driving a cage is a case-in-point. If we are satisfied with barely knowing how the things we use work, how do we learn to use them well? I don't have an answer to that question.

The Vulture said...

Riding is fun, and practical in many ways. Agree.

The articles smacked of blaming the consumer in my way of thinking. Consumers are either seduced by things that make them dumb or/and they are incompetent users of things; incapable of talent or understanding beyond turning the key and pressing the gas.

I'm sure in the distribution of humans there is room for that cohort, but I doubt they represent the norm.

Stimulating Blog - I appreciate it.


Paul said...

To Vulture, the consumers are to blame; people are all to willing to be led by the nose. It's too much work to think and analyze your options, and easier to follow into being told what to think, buy and do.
We see this even in motorcycling with the proliferation of cruisers being bought because they are the latest/greatest thing to have versus buying a bike that actually fits you and your needs.
People buy huge trucks and SUVs to drive to work because they've been told it's what they want, when a little econo box is what they need.

I had an idea today, maybe something like Kawasaki's old "let the good times roll" ads, only target the folks that are out enjoying life, and put ads for inexpensive starter bikes in the bicycling, skiing and other outdoors oriented magazines. That is the demographic that would have the skills and attitude to become riders.

T.W. Day said...

I don't know how much nose-leading is going on here. Products are ruthlessly designed by market-research and focus groups. The companies producing this crap are just giving people what they are asking for, so you could argue that the noses are doing the leading.

Humans are lazy, short-sighted, and easily distracted. With lots of leisure time, excess resources, and a false sense of security, it appears to be natural for the majority of us to take the dumbest route possible.

Paul X said...

"If we are satisfied with barely knowing how the things we use work, how do we learn to use them well?"

Part of the problem is that all vehicles have become a lot more complex. I knew an old guy who as a youth, bought a Matchless thumper and took it down to the last bolt and rebuilt it to be reliable, and rode the thing all over the country, and raced it too. How possible is that any more?

I tend not to worry too much about this stuff. While the government schools do all they can to dumb kids down, there will always be human curiosity and specialization. Anyway the government is turning us into a 3rd world nation, and as we all know, small economical motorcycles abound in such places.

T.W. Day said...

If you spend much time in public schools or for-profit schools, you'll discover that teachers aren't the ones dumbing down the classroom. It's pretty obvious that we (the government) have told the people who run schools that we don't give a crap about kids and just want a facade of education so that we can pretend to be caring for the future while we get on with playing with our toys. The classroom is full of undisciplined, spoiled and abandoned children who are the "precious and handicapped" offspring of people who should never have been parents. Teaching in public schools is a thankless job that requires ridiculous hours, unnecessary "credentials," and a high tolerance for incompetent bureaucracy and lunatic parents.

Forty years ago, the IEEE ran a survey of graduating engineers and their academic place in their overall position among their peers. Electrical, mechanical, architectural, and civil engineers were at the top of the class and nuclear engineers filled out the bottom 5%. It's pretty obvious why. Why would a talented, creative kid with all possibilities in his future take on a job with high bureaucracy, low technology, high personal risk, and limited future?

The same situation applies to the best students in the current college generation, the best don't become nuclear engineers and they don't become teachers. As a society, we've turned teaching into a job for low achievers and wonder why our kids are not flourishing. Not much different than Islamic cultures that oppress women but leave them to raise children and wonder why their societies are hillbilly.

We spend more money on college football teams than engineering and science departments. We allow corporations to co-opt those departments into research facilities instead of educational institutions. Public or for-profit makes little difference. Outside of a few holdouts (MIT is the most obvious) we expect entertainment rather than education from schools.

This is clearly another place where "we get the government we deserve" applies. Amazing as it seems, democracy requires participation and if we just sit back and watch the morons elect the people who run government, we'll end up a nation of morons. It won't be the first time an empire consumed itself.

It's probably worth remembering the T Sturgeon rule, "95% of everything is crap." Fewer than 1% of the American public participated in the Revolutionary War in any way. And like the Tory conservatives of 1776, conservatives have been on the wrong side of every changing tide in history and they are always the majority opinion.

However, it's still possible to buy a cheap motorcycle, rebuild it to functional status, and ride it everywhere. It's not like a Matchless was ever state-of-the-art. I met a guy a couple of years ago who fabricated his own Vincent from scratch. He cobbled together pieces of framework from scavenged Japanese motorcycles and built everything but the bearings in the engine. There are still some incredibly innovative kids who aren't intimidated by the complexity of modern technology. After all, while the stuff has become more sophisticated the information to understand it is way more available. (

Andy said...

I think there's a different problem. Right now motorcycles are marketed to two sets of people: those who want to look like thugs, and those who want to go fast. In a society where safety is being pushed as more important than anything else, that's a pretty limited marketing segment.

What happened to "you meet the nicest people on a Honda", or "Kawasaki lets the good times roll"? Why are the motorcycle companies not pushing smaller bikes with excellent efficiency and safety, that are still fun?

I know what the usual answer is: it's because big bikes sell. But they don't, anymore. I was in Boston, Massachusetts yesterday. Where I used to see \motorcycles, I now see small scooters -- 50-100cc, low top speed, unbelievable fuel economy, and space to carry your groceries. They're easy to maneuver and easy to park. I work at a big university; there's 30,000 people on our campus during the week. Something like 27,000 of those are students. They're not buying huge bikes. They're buying Ninja 250 and 650s. They buy old Honda Nighthawks, and not the biggest range. And, more and more, they're buying cheap scooters. Why? Partly because, well, they're college students. They can't afford a 1500cc Harley. But partly because they want efficient transportation that's cheap to buy.

I'd like to see the motorcycle ads start talking about efficiency and fun, rather than lifestyle. Right now the ads say "Buy this bike and women will start throwing themselves at you." That's not working anymore, at least not for the biggest part of the population. I'd like to see what happened if they said "Buy this bike and you'll have a great time for not much money."

T.W. Day said...


I couldn't agree more. I don't think there is much actual skill in corporate marketing these days. If they can't pretend to be selling lifestyle, they have nothing. Selling practical values is beyond their comprehension, personal awareness, and the simplistic idea that people need to be sold wants rather than needs.

The UofM in Minneapolis is exactly like what you're describing. Every bicycle rack is lined with small scooters and 250cc or smaller motorcycles. Even now, as the weather is turning and the 1% crowd are putting away their garage candy for the year, the kids are still riding to school.