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Where Are New Harley Riders Coming From?

Buzz Kanter

Where Are New Harley Riders Coming From?


Sitting at a recent business lunch, one of the men leaned over and confided that, after a couple of decades of not riding, he rented a Harley Road King for a few days. Admitting, that at “close to sixty years old,” those few days on a Harley reminded him of his long ignored passion for motorcycling. He sold his motorcycle decades ago to start a family, then he dealt with increasing job responsibilities, perhaps a cash crunch, then concerns about his young sons wanting to ride, too. This was hardly the first time I’d heard variations on this story.

I thought about what he told me. Especially the part about wanting to buy a new Harley but holding off because he didn’t think it was right for him to ride, but not let his twenty-something-year-old sons. I’m not crazy about telling people how to raise their kids, but had to wonder how old his sons had to be before he was comfortable letting them ride – assuming they even want to. Could this explain the growth of return riders and why there are fewer younger new riders now than in many years?

As the next crop of shiny new motorcycle models are being unveiled, our editorial teams from American Iron Magazine, RoadBike, and our new Harley Motorcycle Bagger are carefully listening to what the manufacturers say about the machines and the industry trends. One consistent observation we hear, from American and import motorcycle manufacturers alike, is that volume of new motorcycle sales is down from the high a few years ago. Way down. In fact, several of them are saying the projected lower volume of new motorcycle sales is the new normal. And they are considering the huge sales bubble of a few years ago, well… a bubble that might never repeat.

I believe that enthusiasts who pay good money and spend the time to read a Harley magazine like American Iron Magazine are more involved and passionate about motorcycles than many Harley owners that don’t spend time and money on motorcycle magazines. I suspect a lot of people with a motorcycle in the garage are not really riders, but bought the machine more as a fashion statement or to be more like a cool friend or neighbor who rides.

A few years ago, motorcycle themed TV shows dominated the air waves, creating new TV heroes out of previously little known custom builders and shops. In response to all this, many of the motorcycle and parts companies enjoyed massive demand increases and assumed motorcycling had reached a new golden era of popularity. Many ramped up their facilities and production capacity. Small shops that were building a handful of customs or one-offs every year became manufacturers, and it seemed like anyone with a toolbox and a tattoo felt he or she could become rich and famous by opening a chopper shop.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, or have the space here to discuss, the motorcycle industry was turned upside down. A large part of it was a burst economic bubble, some was due to the inevitable burn out of what’s considered hot on TV, and part of it is that some motorcycle owners realized this simply isn’t their thing.

But, regardless of all these things, I know there will always be a dedicated and passionate core of motorcycle riders who will do whatever it takes to buy, own, maintain, and ride a motorcycle. Always. And, I believe a large portion of these dedicated riders read magazines like American Iron Magazine to stay informed and involved. And that is good enough for us.

American Iron Motorcycle Bagger

We published two issues of Motorcycle Bagger, a newsstand special magazine in 2010 and they both sold very well. The focus is on how to better ride, enjoy, maintain, and customize your bagger motorcycle. It also included places worth riding to, new products, tech, and reviews. We have been getting a lot of readers and advertisers asking for more. So, as promised, we are now finalizing plans to increase the frequency and offer subscriptions to Motorcycle Bagger.

At press time, we are still finalizing the plans, but all the details should be online by the time you read this. Go to http://www.motorcyclebagger.com for details and info. If you ride a bagger and want to share it with others, send a letter and few snapshots of you and your bagger to Letters@MotorcycleBagger.com, post it on Facebook, (“like” Motorcycle Bagger) or to Motorcycle Bagger letters, 1010 Summer St, Stamford, CT 06905. Who knows, it might end up being printed in the next issue.

Ride safe, ride smart, have fun.

Buzz Kanter. Publisher/Editor-In-Chief