Attracting New Bikers By Word Of Mouse

It is conventional wisdom that the motorcycle industry is worried about the demographic shift of the oldest baby boomers (born in 1946) hitting the United States legal retirement age of 65. As boomers or boomies retire, their older children called Generation X (born 1965 to 1980) and younger ones called Generation Y (born 1980 to 1995) are or will take major roles in our society. So, what’s our industry is doing to tap this vast potential market? Sadly, almost nothing. Do you know of any motorcycle manufacturer, print magazine, motorcycle TV show or motorcycle rally making real efforts to adjust to these 2 new generations whose taste, language and entertainment is quite different from the one of the baby boomers. Xers and Yers have their own specificities, but both were raised front of television, playing Atari 2600 or World Of Warcraft, doing their homework on a computer and socializing through internet social networks like MySpace. In addition to have raised 2 boys belonging 1 to the Xers and 1 to the Yers, I have a lot of interactions with the new generations and I know for sure that they spend more time surfing the web than watching TV, and more time enjoying HD movies than they will ever reading paper magazines. We cannot expect that all children born in a biker family are going to be bikers. And even if it would be the case, it will never be enough to support our industry. I have no doubt that the baby boomers children can acquire our taste and love for the sport of motorcycling. But they are not exposed to it because our industry exclusively “talks” to us, never to them, and never in a place or media where we would get a chance that they listen and fall in love with bikes like I did when I was 18. Let’s take Internet, the meeting place of these 2 new generations. Motorcycle print magazines limit their online presence to a “giant business card” with a few titles and pictures. But in no way they are full and complete interactive online magazines. Consequently their traffic is extremely low and much lower than any improvised website whose author is a biker dude sitting in his kitchen and publishing aggregated motorcycle news copied from other websites. I am an Internet publisher and I believe in the “word of mouse” to extend my passion for motorcycles to others, I don’t understand why my friends and fellow print publishers still don’t recognize it. Major newspapers and magazines were able to have both a successful and profitable simultaneous print and online presence. Why not us?  

14 Responses to “Attracting New Bikers By Word Of Mouse”

  1. 1 Dan from The Biker Web Feb 19th, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    As a Gen X-er myslef, I have to agree here… I’ve even posted about this lack of outreach by Harley, though it certainly applies to all of the other Boomer-centric companies —

  2. 2 John Feb 19th, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Cyril, you are right. Our industry lives in the past and is guided by aging publishers who don’t understand this digital age and continue to publish the same magazines since 20 or 30 years. Only the quality of the pictures and of the paper has changed. I read the news online at the office or at home, no more subscribe to any motorcycle magazines or to any other magazines, but read your blog every day.

  3. 3 Brandon Feb 19th, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Great article based on a very good analysis of an aging industry looking at itself instead of looking forward. Love this blog.

  4. 4 Hello Feb 19th, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    I am sure magazines are reading Cyril. Would like to see here what they have to say.

  5. 5 anon asshole Feb 19th, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    h-d has done a lot to attract the younger crowd, but buying american means spending double for possibly marginally better. h-d has teames with ufc and pro skateboarders; videos on their site with guys sporting vans and retro helmets. no more billy biker image with the new models geared towards the younger, hipper crowd. the nightster, night rod, rocker, etc are all targeted to younger people. young people who need at least 10 k for a slow american made bike.

    this site here speaks of buy american every chance it gets. but, here lies much of the problem. the japanese bike market is doing pretty well with the younger crowd largely due to price and amazing engineering and performance.

    when most boomers were growing up, a harley could be and was often the fastest bike on the block. there was more to an h-d than a nostalgic image. nowadays, we ride these bikes because of their air-cooled, pushrod motors and heritage, not beacuse they are modern machines. bobbers from the 30s are now the rage while the chopper style from the 60s was big not too long ago. i think young people want speed and style in a package they can afford to buy and, importantly, maintain. h-d and the stripped down cookie cutter customs sure don’t fit that bill.

    i think as an industry we’re dinosaurs holding onto the past. as long as we’re tied to air-cooled, pushrod motors the more away from mainstream future market we become. when h-d came out with the very good v-rod motor nobody wanted it, they still don’t.

    as far as the publishing industry v-twins are owned by 50 year old guys who make close to 100k a year on average. those are the guys who buy expensive american made parts and magazines. gen x-ers and y-ers are more into mags like super streetbike. it’s very good, with a coolness factor that appeals to the bmx-ers, skateboarders, and the video game set.

    how many of your kids would rather have one $35k american ironhorse or a huyabusa plus a brand new car for the same amount of cash? i’m sure some of you old timers can remember before billet was all the rage and you used your hands to modify what you needed. the swap meets and the friend’s garage.

    not too long ago, bikers and builders drove modest cars and pickups, now the hummer and the benz is in too many bike builder’s driveways. it’s cool, make your cash, it’s the american way, be a celebrity master whatever. just don’t cry (like so many financially strapped shops now) when the well runs dry. the whole game is changing again and the mirror is before all of us in the industry.

  6. 6 Knuclehead Feb 19th, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    I’m not to sure of that. I to have an Xer and a Yer. Jr. is more like me in bike style but my Y son is more into the Buell , Roland Sands style. Look how long it took HD to come up with the Cross Bones. How late was that. We the people just do it our selves. I built a bike or two like the Cross Bones back in the 60’s. And my Y son is converting his sporty into a Rolands style bike. Wants a Buell next to do his own thing. Our industry is behind. Just like the big 3. But that is what JP, Foghollow, Arlen Ness,Mondo and Cyril Huze are for. HD and alike won’t do it and for those that can’t or don’t know how. Well thats why we have formentioned .

  7. 7 Michael Drum Feb 20th, 2008 at 12:07 am

    Great title and observations by Cyril. I belong to those who no more read bike magazines because i can get online all the info i want . I just make internet searches and always find the info or parts i need.

  8. 8 Nicker Feb 20th, 2008 at 5:04 am

    At the risk of “pissing in the proverbial punch bowl” i’ll offer my opinion.

    Us Pre-Boomers and Early-Boomers were influenced by the
    the 50’s and early 60’s “English Rocker scene.”
    And that translated to Hot rod bikes, the true first choppers.
    The fastest thing on two wheels when i was a kid was a well tuned Triumph, the small block Chevy of motorcycling (unless ya managed to put together a “NorVin”…… be still my heart!).

    RE: (anon)
    “…a Harley could be and was often the fastest bike on the block…”

    Not in those days. Not even close.
    Fact is, the AMA was lobbied to hold the English bikes at 500cc in order to keep 45 HDs competitive on the Grand National Circuit.
    It took accountants managing English MC companies, and Japanese water cooled 4bangers to end that domination.
    Come to think of it, can’t remember many HD hot rods (any in Nor Cal).

    The real hot rod bikers were “Rockers.” They rode cafe races. These were English working class kids who wrenched on their bikes. Those who didn’t want to or couldn’t work on a bike rode Vespa-scooters. Vespa riders were called “Mods.” Mods were typically office workers and dressed like dandies. American “Rockers” of my era rode English bikes because they ran circles around Flathead V-twins.

    In those days, one had to go to extraordinary lengths to make a HD a true Hot Rod. But, HD had a were good long distance cruisers (a dresser). In the days of marginal suspensions, ya wanted weight between you and the road. And 74 gave ya the torque for pulling a tall gear for keeping motor speeds down. Aand they were longer, good for Two-up cruising.

    Looks to me like the “B rated” biker movies of the late 60’s and early 70’s locked in HD as the cruiser of choice.
    But at that point the “Rocker types” who could actually build and work on their bikes became fewer and fewer, as more people wanted to buy their way into “the biker experience.” As i see it, that “demand” that started the custom industry came out of American “Mods” who didn’t want Vespas and who were willing to buy into that “fad.”

    Lets face it, the current “custom industry” has been based on the “easy-rider biker image.”
    And the Xers and Yers don’t have a connection to that era or that image. As you say:

    “…Xers and Yers have their own specificities, but both were raised front of television, playing Atari 2600 or World Of Warcraft,…”

    Arguably, these are not garage kids and so have a very different perspective.
    As a TV generation, the OCC crowd may capture their interest. But their pension for “Xtream” stuff will put a “sport bike” bias to the equation. Hence that “Pro Street looking HD-Busa” in one of Cyril’s postings.

    The good news is pro builders have a target audience. Extreme Sport bikes just could be the thing for the Xers and Yers . What Boomers remain will likely gravitate to comfy Dressers.

    The bad news is Xers and Yers may not go for big buck V-twins. Whatever these kids do go for, it may not last long. As any contemporary demographer will tell ya, Xers and Yers have a predictably short attention span. And at some point Boomers will become a declining market, regardless what they buy.

    If i had to bet, i’d go with low buck, radical extreme scooters…. pimped on the Internet….
    Pick your parts…. UPS delivers in two weeks.
    How about a Rotax motored street tracker…..?


  9. 9 Ryan Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:13 am

    As a gen-Xer myself and a harley rider let me just say it depends on the individual. Over the weekend I got to spend quite a bit of time with Cyril and I enjoyed it so much, even though we are from different worlds ( him from the big city and running in a world of the top notch bike builders and me from a small town in rural Il.) Even with those differences I thought we connected with motorcycles. It’s a passion you either have it in you or you don’t, you either get it or you don’t. That’s the way I see it. I was introduced into the motorcycle world by my father when I was 5, I started out on a suzuki dirt bike, then moved up to larger motorcycles over the years. When I was 21 I got my first street bike a GSXR600 then moved up to a GSXR750, finally moving up to my current ride of a HD softail sometimes it just takes a while for people to get what they want. You have to work toward what you want and can afford. The industry might have to change slightly but just give the Gen-X and Y crowd a little time, before you know it they will be in there 30,40 and so on. Besides I’m going on 33 next month and looking forward to customizing my HD even further. As an incredible person and bike builder told me —Customs forever—-I think it’s just something thats in you and I feel as though its in me.

  10. 10 Andy Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:29 am

    I love this blog.
    I’m new to the industry. Not the lifestyle. I am a proud father of an X’er and a Y’er. I’m amazed at each event I attend (now that I make my living in the V-Twin lifestyle markets) how this market is dying for something NEW! All the vendor tents are the same. All the people behind the counters are selling the same stuff they sold 15 years ago.
    As for the boomer generation, the mega trend generation, we are now looking for campers, boats, time shares and beaches. Our bikes were the last stand of our 70’s rebellion. When we were little, we used to see a biker going down the road and our parents would tell us how bad they were. The biker movies at the drive-in instilled in us the ultimate rebellion. It was only in due time that the boomers would respond in mind with weak spirit. The mind wanders and moves to where the spirit directs. The mega trend has faded. Now we need to pay close attention to what we left for the future.
    I am impressed with the next generation of V-twin innovators. They don’t care about glitz and glamor. They take serious care to costs and originality. The Y’ers are our hope in our markets. They are building the old school bobber with ultra fast enhancements and cool throw back features. They have an absolute distaste for HD just because they can. They actually believe and embrace the fact that they can build better than HD while using their old parts with radical modifications.
    Our generation should embrace the next generation. Listen and help in their creative capacity. You won’t find them on the internet it’s too cluttered with the last generation of money makers. You will find them in the garage deep behind the parts and tools. In the back of the garage you will see a couple of handle bars sticking up above the clutter. As you move closer, you find a young guy with a drawing on his bench building a cool bobber. Kinda sounds like me and my friends in the 70’s and early 80’s.

    Have you ever been to a stunt event? Do you want to see where the Y’ers are going? A little word that means so much to our markets today—-Extreme!


  11. 11 goldiron Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:39 am

    For many builders, taking a look at what cars they are driving and what they aspire to will be the pathway. Many of those that buy sportbikes, love the horsepower that they have stock. Another appeal is the handling and braking differences that they experience on a sportbike.

    What are the common mods that they are making and how many dollars are they spending doing it?

    What period of time are they spending on doing these mods is another question.

    Human nature doesn’t change much. Graybeard and whitebeard bikers garage modified their bikes over a period of time. Buy-in motorcyclists that are returning to motorcycling are spending much more.

    Harvesting only top of the line, financially capable customers is one approach. Another approach is offering the parts and some service to the d-i-y guy. Finally there is the vendor that just sells the parts to the common man.

    As boys mature into young men and live a life that gives them a set of challenges their priorities change. Be there for them during the changes and make them feel that their ride meets those changes with them.

    Nicker has a great observation about the British bikes and the Harleys. Seems that was the norm across the country.

    If you must stay with the air/oil cooled v-twin, build a Confederate Wraith for MSRP $13000 and sell it against the ‘Busa and Ninja. Reverse engineer a bike from the total price and make it work. Premarket the bike and get movie placement. Stay solvent and be able to respond with replacement parts when they crash or drop it in the driveway. Design around the price and add the artisan touch to it.

  12. 12 Billy Bartels Feb 23rd, 2008 at 11:37 am

    I’m not going to get into all the demographic stuff, but you’re right: publishers are hopelessly making what they’ve always made. I’ve made efforts in the publications I’ve edited (Baggers, Street Chopper, ATV Rider) to speak to my own generation (born in ’71) as I am both a 2nd gen biker as well as a total tech geek (and former skateboarder, etc). And from the research I’ve seen it makes a difference in who reads your magazine.

    Let’s not be too harsh on H-D this time. They may have been misguided by thinking the V-Rod and Buell would save their bacon with the younger generation, but its not like they didn’t try. The Cross Bones (and don’t ever let a Wisconsiner say that name in public, sorry Billy D) is about as behind the curve as H-D has always been, just look at the model it replaces. The Heritage Springer was built to compete with the 16″ wheel retro springer conversions of the 90s, only the trend was dying down by the time it came out in ’96. Hope fully this time it more on time… and even the right bike. WHile I can see what they’re trying to do, it still looks like an old man’s bike to me.

    The thing that’s going to sink the “industry” (I hate that term, but I don’t have a better one) is that the young generation of enthusiasts is the no-buck d-i-y guy and the publishing industry (and probably the aftermarket manufacturers) refuse to cater to him, since he doesn’t spend much money. I realize its a bit of a pickle, but these guys will some day grow up and spend money, or the industry will contract to fit the new generation… and if you don’t cater to them, you’ll be out of a job. The pie is shrinking.

    The funny thing is, in publishing, many of the players are younger, but they just let themselves get led along by the old farts without challenging their assumptions. It is possible to make a magazine that appeals to both old and young alike, but everyone’s still partying like its 1999.

  13. 13 john Feb 23rd, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Word of the mouse – thats a good way of putting it. The best thing the internet has done for bikers is the online community where information is shared by many users who all have the same passion. I run West Coast Biker and I have to say the information which is swapped and talked about is very valuable and goes beyond what traditional print magazines can provide. Online communities are also much more valuable to advertisers and will continue to increase in value over time as the real time nature of online communities becomes more mainstream.

    Just my 2cents

  14. 14 Dan from The Biker Webe Feb 29th, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I have to agree with you John. The online motorcycle community is HUGE, and it’s a beautiful thing. I’m a Gen X-er that has found parts, chatted, emailed and shared customization ideas with hundreds of other bikers since starting the biker web.

    No longer to guys have to work in their garage on project bikes that will probably never be seen beyond the local hangouts in their hometowns. It’s pretty easy to create a website just for your bike pics! 🙂 I wish more people would do that for their rad rides….

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Cyril Huze