“Choppers are over.” That’s really old news, their day came and went and may, some time down the road, come again, … or maybe not. What’s interesting are comments we see on many posts here showing a cafe racer, board tracker, street tracker or some other style of motorcycle where the complaint is we’re seeing too many of those, implying that style is also too popular and reaching the end of a cycle. It makes a person wonder, what’s next?
Whenever there’s a style or trend in bike building, it means everyone is building one, or in terms of owners, everyone wants one in their garage, but, the truth is, “everyone” never wants one, some riders do, some don’t, some never will. Maybe we should stop talking about “everyone” and start concentrating on just you or me.
When choppers became popular, TV shows popped up, custom builders everywhere were turning them out, small manufacturers grew larger, they exploded in numbers and a lot of guys looking for a weekend hobby thought choppers were what motorcycles were all about. At the same time, a lot of riders never thought much of choppers and never wanted one. They continued to buy what they liked and the chopper fad faded away without affecting their riding in any way. There’s always a market for motorcycles of every type, absolutely everything has a dedicated family of followers, the problem of styles, fads or trends is manufacturers need something big to support sales in large numbers, maybe the day of any style being dominant is over and ALL styles can have their place ALL the time.
When a fad dies out, you see hundreds or thousands of those bikes for sale and it brings out comments like, “no one is buying those anymore.” It’s not true, some of those bikes for sale are snapped up by bargain hunters who still want one but couldn’t afford the hot trendy prices of the recent past. There’s always someone willing to buy because people are different in their choices, tastes and desires. When someone says too many of a certain style of bike are being built it usually means, there are a lot of bikes being built they don’t personally like and if they say too few exist, it means no one is building what they personally want.
Manufacturers selling a bike based on trends and fads, are the ones in jeopardy because when the fad dies, the numbers drop fast. If another trend doesn’t follow quickly, the company sinks. If manufacturers are selling something more utilitarian, those sales tend to be much more stable. The Japanese companies are selling far fewer sport bikes and cruisers over here in the US and probably world wide, but those same companies are selling huge numbers of 125cc bikes in Asia, hot trend versus utility transportation. Companies like Harley Davidson are looking for countries around the world where the big cruiser and Harley style still appeal to large numbers of riders with disposable income to spend, a tougher target, but that’s the narrow choice they’ve made, it’s a niche market strategy requiring mass market numbers.
Smaller builders and manufacturers appealing to solid niche markets could be in better shape than you might think as long as their success doesn’t depend on selling in big numbers and isn’t attached to a fad. A small builder trying to capitalize on sales to a larger market already served by the big guys and lots of other small builders is going to be vulnerable when the market turns.
On the other hand, if someone wants that cafe racer or street tracker or board tracker or anything else, those could be solid markets for a small builder to cater to. They may never support sales numbers the Japanese big four would like or Harley or the European builders, but they could provide a nice business and keep the riders looking for those styles happy.
A big problem in the motorcycle industry is it requires big numbers, lots of buyers after one kind of bike. Maybe that day is over, it’s now all niche, all the time and that’s not a market the big guys are comfortable serving. Maybe we should forget the next hot style or big trend, let’s think about what everyone individually wants, all of the styles, all of the applications and riding types, all of the displacements and engine types, all of the time. Small builders don’t need to start their own trend, they just need to find a small niche, probably too small for the big guys to cater to, and focus on them. Think small builder for small niche and let the big companies worry about trends and fads. Instead of selling to “everyone,” just focus on you and me and the next rider, the guys that buy and ride. If someone finds a trend in the resulting sales numbers, let them chase it.