Boomer bikers riding into sunset
Boomers are a spoiled lot. Our sheer numbers and deep wallets have dominated markets from the automotive to the financial for so long that we’ve come to expect cradle-to-grave pandering in all we touch.
Too old to fit into the Porsches we loved in the ’80s — although loathe to admit it — we single-handedly created the gas-guzzling luxury sport-ute. Clothing stores, recreational facilities and fusion restaurants all abound to cater to our very demanding needs. House, condo and cottage sales have boomed and busted according to our whims and, if economists such as William Sterling and Stephen Waite (authors of Boomernomics) are to be believed, every market the 48-to-64-year-old cohort has sashayed through has reaped the rewards of our largesse and then suffered from the detritus left behind when we move on.
Boomers have also been the fatted calf upon which the motorcycle industry has feasted these last 15 years. Like the lowly SUV that was once but a buggy to take fishermen to their favourite watering holes, what was once a marginal sport in the 1960s to ’80s blossomed into an industry catering to wealthy Boomers obsessed with more–more power, more chrome, more luxury and, well, more of everything, including the money required to buy into the world of motorcycling.
Unfortunately, the next big market we Boomers will dominate looks to be retirement homes. Depending on who you believe — the American Motorcycle Association, Canada’s own Motorcycle & Moped Industry Council or market giant Harley-Davidson — average motorcyclists are somewhere between their early and late 40s and, despite the self-serving Yuppie contention that 50 is the new 40, it means a whole lot of us are going to be abandoning our motorcycles for RVs.
More worrisome is that there are precious few behind us to take up the slack. Having feasted on Boomer largesse, motorcycle manufacturers have, until recently, largely ignored the beginner-bike market. What few lower-priced models were available lacked imagination. While we ageing bikers started out progressing from tiddler to superbike — what fiftysomething biker never rode a Honda CB350? — newcomers have grown accustomed to shopping in the 600-cubic-centimetre engine range simply because there was nothing attractive offered in lower displacements. Where we grew up with a wide variety of fun, exciting small-displacement machines to choose from — Yamaha’s YCS1 180 and RD350 and the Suzuki X6 Hustler all come to mind — the mid-sized segment was left untapped simply because there was so much more profit to be made in satiating the Boomer lust for ever pricier two-wheeled trinkets.
Now, as the market implodes, motorcycle manufacturers have suddenly “discovered” they need new blood if they are to prosper or even survive. (And, as unthinkable as it might seem to a generation weaned on the might of the Japanese motorcycle industry, there is no guarantee that all four members of Nippon Inc. will survive this latest prolonged downturn, no matter what they do.)
This is certainly a change of heart that has come reluctantly. Token efforts such as Honda’s Rebel 250 and the Yamaha V-Star hardly set young bikers’ imaginations afire. More recent efforts — Honda’s CBR125 and 250 and Kawasaki’s Ninja 250 both come to mind — paint a rosier picture. Ditto Harley’s Super Low. However, they are but a small step in the right direction if we are going to recruit our replacements to the sport.
Kawasaki, for instance, needs a 125 to complete its lineup just as Honda needs a 400-cc-class machine. Suzuki needs to build beyond the TU250 retro tiddler it is introducing. And there has to be a massive expansion of initiatives such as Honda’s CBR125R Challenge and Junior Red Rider programs.
Most importantly, Boomers need to stop passing judgment on what the next generation wants from its motorcycles. In recent years, the motorcycling establishment has railed against the antics of young stunters as they so callously undermined the safety-first vision of motorcycling Boomers have spent the last 20 years cultivating. Until quite recently, we, the aged male kahunas of the motorcycling set, snickered when women wanted to join the ranks of the riding rather than the ridden. And, the entire time we forgot it doesn’t matter why or what they ride — just that they ride.
I have not a single, solitary clue what the young want from their motorcycles. But I know this: It matters not if the young rebel against our homogenized view of motorcycling, wear ridiculous tartan kilts with their Doc Martens while shopping at motorcycle shows or how many tongue piercings might be ablating their tooth enamel. They are the future of motorcycling. And we are its past.