Apr 21, 2018

Vanishing Slowly

This past few years has steadily seen Minnesota MSF class enrollment diminish, every year. The 2017 program had about 5700 Basic Rider Course (BRC) students enrolled and about 3900 passed, about the same as 2016. In 2012 MMSC trained 7,437 students and 6,754 in 2011, 7,580 in 2010, 8,240 in 2009, 9,543 in 2008, and 8,403 in 2007. The numbers don’t lie, new motorcyclists are in decline. Injuries and fatalities are doing pretty well, though. Seems like every year there is some early warning that fatalities and crashes are up.

Harley is doing some desperate things to attract under-70 buyers (Who cares if they are riders, too?), but there is a ton of used Harleys out there to compete with. Call it a generational shift, if that makes you feel better, but it’s more than that. For starters, the recovery from every recession in my lifetime has been weaker than the previous crash and 2007 was a huge economic hit for almost everyone. Motorcycles, in the USA, are almost purely recreational vehicles with little practical applicaton.

Women-MotorcyclistsWhat’s left of the US industry is targeting women, particularly stupid women, with their “lifestyle imaging” tactics. (It worked for Trump, but we’ll see for how long.) How well it will work for Harley and Polaris remains to be seen, also. It’s not like there is some kind of surge in women riders, taking over from the bucket-list men from a decade SkullKandySBCback. Sadly, many of the women I’ve taught in the MSF program are trying to regain their bar-hopping glory days when they could jump on the back of any Harley and get a “ride home” without much effort. The miles and years have taken their toll and, now, they’re forced to buy their own bike for that ride. I have to wonder if they are hoping a mechanic wants a ride home. Outside of electric bikes, motorcycles are far from low-maintenance transportation. I suspect that most new women riders will sour on the whole experience once their bit of garage candy needs tires, belts or chains, or even an oil change not to mention the high price of all that lost skin the first time they dump a bike at highway speeds. That whole “Sex in the City” thing takes a big hit when you grind off a chunk of your face, ass, or whoknowswhat.

The high fuel costs of the early 2000’s aren’t going to save motorcycling, either. Not only do many cars get better fuel economy than motorcycles, but the cost of EVs and used EVs is dropping fast. Nobody in their right mind would buy a $30,000 motorcycle claiming they are doing it for economy or the environment. The industry is going to have to get 1960's creative, if survival is in the cards. It’s not like motorcycles are going away any time soon, but they sure as hell could end up being as marginalized as horses and horse-drawn carriages. It won’t happen soon, but it might be sooner than you think. Cultural evolution happens inversely porportional with diminishing resources. The rate of human knowedge doubling is now once every 12 months and soon to be much faster. That may not be quick enough to save us from being the cause of the 6th extinction, but it will certainly change the way EVERYTHING works in a big hurry. Motorcycles included.


  1. I was thinking about this earlier today as I suited up to ride to work in the rain. There is, quite literally, no practical reason to do what I do. It takes forever to get dressed, my old Duc gets 45mpg-nothing special there, roads are not only still sandy but newly wet, can't listen to NPR and drink coffee, etc. But...it still makes me grin. However, I do gaze more at the car than I used to and pause.

    1. Brad,
      I think I passed that cutoff this year. We'll see, but so far I haven't started either bike and haven't thought about them much, either. Last year was the first year of my life that my motorcycle didn't serve as our family's "second car." I didn't have a regular job to go to, I didn't take a single physical class, and I can do most shopping trips by bicycle or foot. I no longer "need" a motorcycle for much of anything. On the rare occasion I decide to take a trip where the bicycle is insufficient, I'm almost always carrying a guitar, maybe an amplifier, and my wife (who hates being a motorcycle passenger). So, we travel by pickup (our family vehicle).

      I started as a dirt biker and I am planning on selling the V-Strom this spring. I'll keep the WR250X until I decide I'm no longer a motorcyclist. But, at 70, I am coming to terms with the fact that I may not be one much longer.

    2. I understand that sentiment although I'm 19 years behind you on the curve. If I didn't commute (4000 of my 5000 miles last year) then I doubt I would hop on the bike just to ride around. I do enjoy the occasional pleasure cruise but something in me needs a destination even if it's just a good bagel.

    3. I turned in my MSF stopwatch this week and had an email conversation with the program director as a result. He's about 13 years younger than me and I described how much difference, in my life, those years meant. At 60, I was still occasionally crashing off-road, getting back up and going at it again. At 70, I worry about the injury downtime too much or the complete loss of capacity as a result of a crash.

      I sort of miss commuting, but I don't miss work at all. I have been a little surprised at how rarely I feel the urge to suit-up and ride when I'm just doing around town errands. It's either the truck for big stuff or the bicycle, 99.9% of the time.


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