Here’s the thing about predictions: they are always fun to make (and to read) and no one ever remembers a year later what they were. So there is basically no reason not to whip out the crystal ball and start forecasting. That you agree or not, I hope that my 2013 predictions will give you plenty to chew on. Ready to send me flames (please, with your real name & email) or to support my convictions? Now is your time to express your opinion with rationales.
Prediction 1. Harley-Davidson Again The World’s Most Admired Motorcycle Company. Caught in the economic downturn of 2008 with an aging clientele and no new models in the pipeline to attract younger customers, many bikers, even employees and top executives thought that the company would die in the next 10 years. New Harley Chairman and CEO Keith Wandell started a massive 5-year restructuring plan including shuttering plants, modernizing facilities, doing painful major job cuts, ending its Buell sport motorcycle brand and selling its Italian brand motorcycle subsidiary. Today, 4 years into the plan, Harley-Davidson has efficient operations, has been able to shorten its new products cycle to adjust to new motorcycle trends, is leading all manufacturers in terms of percentage of female and young buyers and is in extremely good position in developing and emerging countries to take advantage of a fast growing middle class. In the US and Europe where sales growth is probably limited to about 3% per year, budget crisis may dent some quarter results, but Harley-Davidson is re-emerging in 2013 as one of the strongest and most profitable motorcycle companies in the world. I have no doubt that Keith Wandell draconian restructuring strategy will soon become a business school case study. Winners: all bikers, independent shops and after-market part vendors. Losers: mass produced factory customs.
Prediction 2. The New Indian Motorcycle Is Going To Be The Biggest Media Story Of The Year And Maybe Of The Years After… The rebirth of this iconic brand, probably at the time of Sturgis Bike Week, may be history in the making. Not a professional or biker who doesn’t wish success to Polaris, but many still fear some disappointment regarding the new bike design, performance and price. I expect a premium new model because Indian is a premium brand. But price will be much lower than the King’s Mountain era Chief model. None of the components will be borrowed from Victory. For the 1st time in its history, Polaris (like Harley-Davidson always did so well) will certainly use Indian’s rich history to gain momentum leading to the launch. It is easy to predict that Polaris marketing and advertising strategies will leverage the launch using the brand itself, the connection between Indian riders, the apparel and the accessories. To create a massive buzz, I predict that Polaris will only use digital platforms, the only media (versus print magazines) where people have an instant voice, can share, spread the word, and where Indian can engage directly and authentically with potential customers. Knowing that a few weeks ago during the IMS Long Beach Show Indian released the sound of the new engine, I also predict that the company will continue to feed the buzz with a teaser campaign, releasing on a regular basis, via digital news websites like this one and social networks, pictures of close-up details of chassis, engine, war bonnet, etc until full new model release in August. Winners: the motorcycle industry, in 2014 custom builders and new Indian custom after-market part vendors. Losers: Marginally Harley-Davidson (many Harley buyers tell me they postpone a new bike purchase until the Indian launch), but mainly Triumph & Norton the year these 2 brands are trying to make a big push on the US market.
Prediction 3. Polaris Efforts Will Focus On Touring Victory Models, Not On Cruisers. Victory success and good reputation is getting more and more concentrated on its line of tourers, great competitors of those offered by Harley-Davidson. In a year where Polaris dedicates most of the motorcycles marketing division’s efforts on the re-birth of Indian it would be very surprising if the company would launch a brand new cruiser. To widen its customers base Polaris would have more interest in diversifying its touring line up, for example with a true convertible for those looking for riding comfort but rarely doing long range trips. Winners: customizers specializing in touring bikes, all touring accessory vendors.
Prediction 4. The Fastest Growing Segment Of The Custom Motorcycle Industry Will Be After-Market Parts For the Harley-Davidson Sportster Model. New young bikers, male or female, discover it to become their first motorcycle, Experienced middle age riders rediscover it as the machine who gave them so much pleasure when they were younger. The Harley Sportster’s appeal is almost universal among those who don’t need a touring bike. Easy to own, new or used. Fun to ride with. Both balanced and responsive with outstanding maneuverability. An urban brawler that young riders love for its dripping attitude and that older bikers love for being reminiscent of the gritty dirt tracks and drag strips of the 1950s. Whatever you want to do with it, the XL is an easy starting point for customization. Make it look menacing, prepare it ready for racing the streets or the strips, make it pretty for boulevard cruising, its customization possibilities are endless. Combination of wheel size, balloon tires, change of geometry with short front ends and generous rear suspension via long shocks under a high tail section, it can be a Bobber, a Cafe Racer, a cruiser and everything between. Recently, I was reminded by a professional of the industry that during the last 5 years about half a million Sportsters have changed hands, NOT including new bike sales!. Each change of ownership implies a few new parts bought… There is an incredible potential of new custom part offerings to please the Sportster riders, much more than for the touring bikes market sef\gment. Winners: manufacturers of rear shocks, body kits, fenders, gas tanks, front ends, clip bars, gauges, performance kits, etc. Backyard builders and old school garages.
Prediction 5. Bike Flipping Is Going To Be The New Rage For Garage Builders And small Shops. Spend time in a Swap Meet, search eBay, your local motorcycles trader magazine, barns, etc. Find a basket case, a rusted gem or part of it for a couple of thousand dollars or less. Pick the ones easy to restore or customize. All brands welcome.. The objective is NOT to put the bike in its original manufacturing state, but to offer a buyer a fun bike to ride for a very reasonable price (a 1st used car price). Time is the essence. Flip the reborn bike as fast as possible. Create a small local riding club, meet new friends, new buyers, new leads to new sleeping gems. Repeat. Make money. Start a business. In 2013, Discovery may start a new TV show series based on the above storyline. If it’s the case, expect an explosion of bike flippers all over the country.
Prediction 6. New Bagger Trend: A Leaner Bagger With No Bling, No Hallucinogen Paint And No Professional DJ Sound System Equipment. “Baby boomers switch from riding a Cruiser or Chopper to a Bagger. So, let’s do for them what we did on their bikes in the 90’s…” It’s the way many custom builders went overboard, fitting Baggers will all sort of unjustified panels and extensions (I have seen drawers!?!) with no other purpose that showing that you can fabricate steel or fiberglass, or to attach more bling and paint more murals than your competitors at the Baggers Bike Show. It’s the way, especially during these last 2 years, that beautiful Baggers turned into giant disproportionate monsters. The good thing is that such a spectacle for which was created a couple of Bagger magazines and bike shows, is going to end. The backlash is coming in the form of good custom builders taking their revenge in customizing Baggers to look better, not worse, and touring better than out of the factory. I predict that they will be chopped out, thinner, offering as much comfort and good riding position, but with superb flowing lines not interrupted by “easter eggs” or “back from the grave” paint jobs.
Prediction 7. The Death Of The Giant 30″ Bagger Front Wheel. Size 23″, then 26″, then 30″. What’s next? Evidently, I embrace the art of custom motorcycles, even some of its excesses because they may help progress, but no more when in direct conflict with the main purpose of a bike, riding safely. True that a Bagger appearance may be enhanced by a taller front wheel. But when is tall too tall? Answer may be subjective on the aesthetic point of view. But not on the safety issue when the Bagger can’t no more function like a touring motorcycle, when the installation of a 30″ wheels implies a modification of the frame structure (and if not well done, integrity) In the past, excessive Chopper bike frame raking without respect of a safe trail had its consequences. Then outrageous rear tire size (width) has shown many (who should have known better) that a motorcycle is not and doesn’t work like a monster truck. 21″ or 23″ size front wheel on a Bagger may remain. I doubt about the 26″, 30″ and above (?), except if you just want to look at your piece of art and maybe win plastic trophies over 30″ tall in bike shows.
Prediction 8. Custom Bike Building Getting Less And Less Segmented Between American & Metric Bikes. “Fusionary” Style Getting Bigger. By economic necessity many Custom Builders who specialized in American motorcycles have already crossed over, applying their skills to other foreign & exotic brands. In addition, custom bike building is no more limited to either building from the ground up or customizing factory bikes. Also for budget reasons custom bike building now starts from cheap donor bikes of all origins and age, the project being completed with parts belonging to different motorcycle brands for a final appearance always fresh and unique. Mixing and matching parts that never met before on the same motorcycle is probably the most interesting development in the custom motorcycle industry. I call this style “Fusionary” because it requires from the builder the ability to make stranger parts fusion harmoniously (work together) and to be able to envision well in advance what the aesthetic result will be. Thank the new or next generation of Custom Builders for this trend born from necessity. “Fusionary” building is going to expand and find acceptance from buyers.
Prediction 9. Harley-Davidson US Dealer Network Will Shrink Again By 10%. Indian Will Have A Separate Dealers Network. Nobody in the motorcycle industry expects heavy cruiser sales to grow more than 3% per year during the next 5 years. Dealers with more than one store have reassessed their needs in terms of business sales per square footage and will continue to close inefficient locations. Corporate Harley will continue to monitor its dealers implantation and will turn down new openings in non-key markets and in key markets with already strong dealers. Indian will have a separate dealer network – not all Polaris dealers -although it will probably include Victory Motorcycle dealers in key markets and the few remaining Indian dealers of the “Kings Mountain” era.
Prediction 10. Black Will Remain The Color Of Choice, But Only For Accessories. Bright paint Colors Are Back With Shy Return Of Chrome Parts. Too many all blacked out custom motorcycles. Hard metal flake colors, Japanese style graphics and simple 2-tone paint jobs against black anodized or powder coated parts will dominate the 2013 custom scene. Overused retro grey, green and brown machine colors are out. Candy-apple colors and gleaming chrome will be preferred by most female riders.