Interest in buying motorcycles has skyrocketed, but because supply is tight, there aren’t many bikes available.
The shortage affects aftermarket and repair parts, too.
Industry watchers wonder how long will it last, and if all the bikes sold now will flood the used market after the supply issues are resolved.
Interest in and demand for motorcycles has never been higher. The biggest problem is finding any—either to buy or to sell. When COVID-19 hit and put the world on standby, motorcycle sales went through the roof—and out the showroom door.
“We’ve had a massive COVID bump,” said Tracy Harris, SVP of Progressive IMS Outdoors motorcycle shows, a nationwide tour of motorcycle demos—kind of a two-wheeled circus of moto-fun.
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The Progressive IMS Outdoors shows took a hit of its own, with almost the entire 2020 tour canceled. But it came back in 2021 with eight shows held around the country at new venues outside instead of the previous routine of indoor shows. Autoweek visited the first 2021 stop at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California and the last one in Orange County, Calif. There were many, if not almost all, manufacturers represented and a strong showing of motorcycle industry suppliers on hand as well, from headlight and helmet makers to major moto makers like Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, KTM, BMW, Triumph, ZERO, Harley-Davidson, Indian, and Livewire.
Business in the bike industry is good. Almost too good.
“We’ve strapped and scraped and got every motorcycle we could get our hands on,” said KTM’s Mark Hyde. “And, you know, even though we’re out of them, we’ve still sold more motorcycles than we’ve ever sold in our lives. It’s just been amazing.”
“Dealers have been pretty much selling most of the inventory they have or can get,” said Colin Harris of Honda Powersports. “But at the same time there’s been supply chain slowdowns too, which has impacted a little bit in us getting product back to the dealers, but it has been flowing steadily to them. I know that with demand so high, everybody is definitely looking for more product. And we’re trying to supply that as quickly as possible. But overall it has been a really good impact because people aren’t doing many things they were doing in the past, they’re resorting to more outdoor activities, and a lot of that is our sports in general.”
“On one hand, it’s been good because there’s been a whole new focus on outdoor recreation, specifically motorsport,” said Eric Waterfall of motorcycle headlight maker Rubymoto.com. “There’s a lot of people that are getting into the sport, or rather getting back into the sport, and people buy motorcycles so they can buy their stuff for the motorcycles and impress their friends. So in that regard, that has been good. COVID, though, generally has thrown people out of their regular routines. And along with that, there’s been global supply chain issues. And right now we’re dealing with logistical issues of getting things shipped here with the holiday rush everybody else trying to ship their product in from Europe and Asia. So yeah, there’s definitely been challenges. But my background is in supply chain, I’ve got a decade of experience in international logistics and supply chain and design that we’ve been able to have that advantage from the network that I built.”
Then, in addition to all the old customers visiting the shows and jamming the showrooms, there has been a healthy lineup of new customers.
“More people are coming into motorcycling, there seems to be a bit of a resurgence in the entry-level models, which is fantastic,” said Aled Morgan of Triumph. “We see a lot of returning customers, they start off on the more entry-level motorcycles, and then they come back to these events and they want to try something different. There’s so many more women riders coming into this sport, which it was crying out for, which is what we need and what we want to encourage. But yeah, everything is trending steadily and really well. And the adventure market obviously is the predominant feature of most motorcycles, I would say now, and every manufacturer is kind of getting involved in that.”
“There’s still going to be product shortages into Q1 and Q2 of 2022. And I think that’ll vary by brand. And vary, you know, for all industries.”
But like the old proverb of wishing you 40 years of growth, industry insiders are wondering how long it will last and whether it’ll all come crashing down once the pandemic sorts itself out.
“What remains to be seen about that COVID bump is, ‘Will those riders continue to ride?’ Or are we going to see a lot of used product come onto the market?” said Progressive IMS Outdoors’ Harris. “And then what does that mean to the industry when you have that much used product?”
It could mean cheap bikes for everyone, eventually.
“Right now, you know, dealers are still telling us they don’t have any inventory. And it’s both vehicles and aftermarket products. They’re having trouble getting parts, which affects their repair business. So it’s a catch 22, right?” said Harris. “Yay, we’re sold out.’ ‘Yay, people are buying motorcycles.’ But, ‘Boo, we’re sold out. Because people are coming in and they want to buy new bikes, and there’s no new bikes to be had.’ What I’ve heard from different brands is they feel like there is light at the end of that tunnel, but that light’s probably not going to shine brightly until the third and fourth quarter of ‘22. There’s still going to be product shortages into Q1 and Q2 of 2022. And I think that’ll vary by brand. And vary, you know, for all industries. I think we’re not unique. So I think the big question mark for this industry is, are all those new riders that bought all those new motorcycles going to stick it out for the long haul?”
“Obviously, we hope they stay,” said Honda’s Harris. “We feel that once you get into riding you get the bite a little bit, right? You enjoy it. You realize, ‘Man, this is a blast. This is really fun.’ So we think that that’ll continue. I think maybe you might get a couple people who step out of the industry, maybe at some point, but I think for the most part, we’ll still see some continuation of that.”
“The more important question is, ‘How is the industry, specifically the OEMs, going to support all the new and returning riders?” asked Rubymoto’s Eric Waterfall. “Last year was one of the biggest years ever in motorsport in terms of sales of hard goods, new bikes and accessories. So there’s a lot of cash flowing in the industry. And it’s gonna be interesting to see if brands reinvest that into rider support, and events and those types of things, or if they’re gonna sit on that cash and squirrel it away for a rainy day.”
So should you buy a motorcycle now, or wait till what might be a glut of motorcycle availability when all this cools down? The answers depends on lots of different factors but most importantly, you have to see if you can find a bike to buy, first.
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