Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Fall and Decline of Motorcycling

Do you ever get a whiff of a strange smell, the one that smells like something electrical is burning it's wires?  It's almost an instinctive reaction for those of us of a certain age.  It's a "fight or flight" gut reaction that sets your "Spider Sense" tingling.  It's also a smell that's easy to miss, if you're not paying attention.  It's the smell of change and it's happening slowly.  If you are attuned to it, perhaps you've also noticed the signs.

The motorcycle market is poised for change and the impetus of this change is the state of the economy and new applied technologies.  This is an exciting time to be working for a motorcycle manufacturer or a terrifying time, depending on your perspective.  Thanks a very weak American economy, few can afford to buy or own an expensive "non-essential" form or transportation.  The used bike market is flooded with many low-mileage bikes, the owners dumping due to financial limitations.  The high-end custom cruiser market is taking a hit too, now that $30-50,000 custom bikes are out of the reach of most owners.

At the same time, the burgeoning market for electrics is taking off at a record speed.  New investment and developments in battery technology have put these bikes into the performance range of gasoline-powered bikes.  Brands like Brammo, Mission and Zero Motorcycles are attracting investors and the interest of the motorcycle press.  And MotoCzysz has abandoned development of a gas bike due to the opportunities to create a lighter and better balanced bike.

    The 2010 MotoCzysz E1pc  (Amadeus Photography)
What manufacturers have failed to do, is to promote motorcycling to the non-riding public as an alternative form of transportation.  With three-wheelers (like the Can Am), trikes, small dual-purpose bikes, there are tons of available models for newbies.  It doesn't have to be black leather and do-rags, it could be a young adult riding a small electric bike (or scooter) to work.  Gas prices have already broached the $3/gal. mark here on the East coast and I suspect that they will continue to rise over the next two years, before miraculously dropping just prior to the Presidential election.  It's funny how that works, isn't it?

In order to convince these future customers to take up riding, I think an appeal to the economics has to happen.  Let's compare the price of having multiple cars versus having one car and one bike.  Let's do the math on the cost of ownership, payments, maintenance, taxes, insurance and let's do the same for the household which uses a bike as a secondary form of transportation.  Add in the fun factor and I think a lot of people will shed their old beaters in favor of a whisper quiet, clean electric motorcycle.

Form factor will come into play too, as people's need for a vehicle that carries more than your standard bike.   Honda's N700V is interesting but I like what I see in a Can Am, with saddlebags and a tour pack.  Built in storage is the answer.  Yesterday, at the bike show in Boston, I spotted trikes with trunks. 

As more companies come to market, with new technologies and new ideas, I hope they won't just try to reinvent the wheel.  I look forward to the creative new designs and mobility devices that are in our future, just a few short years away.

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket