$120 Billion Industry Rides on Two Wheels

By 2018 there will be over 132 million motorcycles on the world’s roads

Tell any ‘Harley’ aficionado that Harley-Davidson North America is trialling an electric motorcycle called Livewire and they’ll look at you as if you’re suffering from brain damage.

Aussie motorcycle journalist Mark Hinchcliffe said he was mightily impressed with the LiveWire when he gave one a bit of a “reserved” thrashing in Los Angeles earlier this year.

“Throwing a leg over the LiveWire, it feels like any other naked sports bike. It has a slight lean to the straight bars, a high seat (disappointing for some), high pegs and a hard seat. It’s made for urban riding and canyon carving, not touring and cruising,” he said.

So why would a company that’s built its reputation and brand by constructing the world’s most iconic cruisers even consider developing a battery-powered motorcycle?

ReportsnReports.com, an online market research organisation, published a report in December 2014 in which they forecast that the worldwide demand for motorcycles is expected to grow six per cent per annum to over 132 million units in 2018, a market valued at $120 billion.

They say that the key drivers of this trend are:

Sales of electric bicycles and other electric models that are projected to rise outside of China.

An increasing number of households in industrialised countries will be able to afford motorcycles as personal incomes rise.

Government incentives will be introduced in some countries to reduce pollution from automobiles.

And sales in Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, the US and Vietnam are expected to increase dramatically.

Furthermore, in countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and India, motorcycles will become an alternative to public transport, which suffers from overcrowding and continual inefficiencies. Also, as living standards continue to improve in Asia, more households will be able to afford motorcycles.

While buyers in North America and Western Europe prefer more expensive top-end bikes, the researchers predict demand for electric models will increase sharply. They also claim that sales of medium and heavy motorcycles are expected to rebound from static sales in recent years.

Furthermore, the popularity of E-bikes – especially in Germany and the Netherlands – will continue because they are more environmentally-friendly, cheaper to buy, and unlike ICE motorcycles, require no special licence to ride.

Closer to home, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) says in its latest Motor Vehicle Census data, which compared vehicle registrations in 2010 to 2015, that motorcycle registrations are set to continue to show the fastest growth of any type of vehicle.

In 2014 we purchased 111,599 motorcycles, ATVs and scooters. Road bikes sales accounted for almost 40 per cent of sales with Honda being crowned the top selling brand, followed by Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Harley-Davidson.

So why are Aussies embracing road bikes, cruisers, hogs, choppers, mopeds and the like?

A colleague who’s been a passionate motorcycle rider since the mid-90s and currently owns two Triumphs, a Speed Triple and a Sprint GT SE, says: “Recreation and weekend and holiday touring.”

I put the same question to a sales consultant with one of Australia’s largest and most successful motorcycle retailers who said the main reasons people are buying motorcycles are “recreation, easy parking and commuting”.

He mentioned that the popularity of Charley Boorman’s adventure TV series, including two with his friend, actor Ewan McGregor, and the American crime drama Sons of Anarchy, also helped put motorcycling back in the spotlight.

Another friend who describes himself as a Vespa ‘nut’ and has been “on two wheels” since 2000, said he prefers a scooter because motorbikes can be risky: “Your head is lower in traffic, you’ve got four controls instead of just two, and then you have to contend with the weight of the bike.”

While sales are strong across all categories, there is a downside. From 2004 to 2013, the total road fatalities decreased by 25 per cent, whereas the total motorcyclist fatalities (including pillions) increased by nine per cent.

Between 2012 and 2013, the total road fatalities decreased by eight per cent while total motorcyclists fatalities (including pillions) decreased by four and a half per cent.

Furthermore, motorcyclists are 30 times more likely to be killed on Australia roads than car drivers.

So while motorcycle, scooter and ATV sales continue to outpace other vehicles, unfortunately so will motorcyclist fatalities.

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