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Who’s riding motorcycles in the Pacific Northwest now?

And who will be the next rider?

It’s always a fun exercise to crunch numbers and get a look at what the statistics are for riders on a specific scale. I recently ran into some stats on how many bikes are registered by state. Running the math using those numbers and state populations here’s a few interesting things I discovered.

About 2% of Americans own and ride motorcycles. This number is substantially lower than the 4-5% I recall issued by the Motorcycle Industry Council when we started up this magazine back in 1997.

It does reflect what I’ve been seeing over the last 15 years – a distinct lack of sales in the youth market here in the Pacific Northwest. I remember in the late 90’s dozens of 50cc bikes being rolled out of showroom doors during November and December to be given to children creating the backbone of the next generation of riders. We don’t see that occurrence at that rate any more.

Over the decades we’ve lost a lot of land where kids could ride before turning 16 years old. Without those ‘first ride’ experiences, two things can happen. Once a kid turns 16 he or she may show some interest in riding motorcycles, but that’s not typically the trend, and for the most part the second thing happens – they don’t show an interest and move onto the next Xbox, Playstation or whatever video game trend is in play.

Yeah – we’ve lost a generation of future riders over the last decade. Or have we?

Right now motorcycling is propped up by the boomers who are ‘returning riders’ getting back onto bikes now that the kids have grown up and moved out.

In the Pacific Northwest it’s not as drastic as the national average. In fact we’re ahead of the national trend.

In Oregon 2.7% of the population rides. The state does a good job managing lands for ORV use, takes good care of their paved roads and has some stunning roads to ride just about anywhere you go.

In Washington, the number is even higher with 3.1% of the population riding. It’s always a struggle here to keep off-pavement riding areas open, but organizations like the NMA, WOHVA and others get in there and put up a fight every time the green contingent stirs things up. And there are plenty of paved roads to enjoy, alone or with a variety of available clubs and meet-up groups.

Interestingly, it’s Idaho who can claim the highest level of riders with a 4% ownership of motorcycles among its population of just 1.61 million.

There was a time when motorcycles in the media were common. Throughout the 1970’s movies covering various angles of motorcycling were popular in theaters around the U.S. OEM advertising was commonplace as well. Today, if we hear about a motorcycle movie coming to a movie theater, we know we had better commit a.s.a.p. as it will likely be a special screening or short run, before it’s off to the DVD, cable distribution channels.

And how often do you see OEM advertising on TV beyond Can Am and Polaris. The impressions compared to decades past has decidedly shrunk.

If you talk with key players in the rider training circles, you’ll soon find out the m.o. is to train those who want to be trained, but not to coax someone into training who may otherwise be hesitant. Probably good thinking, but on the other hand, don’t expect a growth spurt in the market anytime soon with this train of thought.

The line about why we ride “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand” carries a certain attitude with it that puts off an otherwise potential new rider. Whether you say it, or you bought and don the shirt. Instead we can really share what it is about riding that we enjoy and promote the value of it to others interested in hearing about it, rather than turn them off.

A recent look at the situation from the perspective of a 30 year female editor in the powersports industry revealed a lot. Her point is younger people do want to ride, but they don’t get much from dealers to get them to the next step.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you went to a non-motorcycle event like a street fair, outdoor expo or otherwise and saw a dealer showing a few beginner bikes and handing out their business card along with pamphlets on where to get rider training?

More to come…

TM/Winter 15

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