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Give A Shift summit revs up massive motorcycle conversation

Give A Shift summit revs up massive motorcycle conversation
Stacie B. London, Kristin Rademacher and Martell Rose, members of the East Side Moto Babes, prepare to depart on a Los Angeles ride in 2016. They represent a growing trend of women interested in motorcycle riding. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

The publication of research into troubles facing the motorcycle industry has inspired a torrent of conversation — and quite a lot of mixed opinion.

The “Give A Shift” paper, first reported here, identified a dozen disturbing trends in sales and offered suggestions to correct them.

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Those included an aging baby boomer population, buying fewer bikes as it gets older; insufficient new motorcycle offerings tailored for entry-level riders; too weak an outreach to women and minority consumers; and a failure to properly advertise motorcycling as an affordable transportation option.

Worried motorcycle company executives and long-time riders confirmed that sales were flat or falling in their companies and their communities, despite dramatic improvements in the quality of motorcycles overall and a growing population of young people who might be enticed to become riders.

Industry veteran Robert Pandya, architect of the November summit meeting of motorcycle experts who helped craft the study, said the resulting publication has been downloaded 2,500 times and been read by more than 5,000 people.

Many of them contacted The Times, either to agree with the paper’s findings or to add their own ideas about what’s wrong with motorcycling and what might be done to save it.

To some readers, the problem is too few motorcycles for average or smaller-sized riders.

“There are zero powerful, lightweight nimble bikes made for us,” offered Brian Lind, a veteran American enthusiast who began riding in Tucson but now lives in Thailand.

To others, the barrier to new riders is the high price of motorcycle training classes, which can cost $500 or more.

“One of the things that makes it hard for people to come into the motorcycling world is the cost and availability of the classes,” said an email from Samantha Burrow, who lives in Paonia, Colo., and has owned both Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles. “Also, at most dealerships, as a woman, you are treated like crap.”

To many others, the fault is in advertising and the manufacturers’ inability to make motorcycling attractive to the average person.

“Somehow bikes need to be seen by the everyday Joe as something to get on and have fun,” wrote Eliot Fisher, of Woodland Hills, who said he’d had 32 years of employment in the bike business. “Also, they need to be seen as a cheap, safe alternative to driving a car.”

Some thought the media was equally to blame for not fostering more positive images of motorcyclists while perpetuating bad stereotypes with shows like “Sons of Anarchy.”

“There are no motorcycle heroes,” echoed Rhonda Berger, of Wichita, Kan., who identified herself as part of “a dying breed.” “You gotta have bikers as heroes, not thugs, to keep the bikes in the hearts of kids.”

“I would like to see TV ads showing young women riding together, couples riding together, families riding dirt bikes off-road,” wrote Bill Schoettler, of Studio City. “The idea is selling the notion of fun, excitement and adventure for people in their 20s and 30s.”

“The industry is reaping what it has sown, and that is nothing,” wrote Dr. Mike Jorgensen, of Fargo, N.D. “They have not sown anything to grow their new crop of motorcycle enthusiasts.”

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To still others, the essential point was safety.

Tony Suarez, of Covina, wrote to say, “The number one reason that I don’t ride anymore was not brought up, safety. I had an accident that I was lucky to walk away from. As soon as I was back on my feet, I hung up my motorcycle helmet forever. It wasn’t so much the accident itself, it was the 20 other times before when I was almost killed riding.”

Other readers blamed law enforcement and weak legislators for the slide.

“The focus among law enforcement here is to treat bikers as potential criminals with illegal and unwarranted traps and stops. Simply discriminatory harassment,” said J.D. Adams, of Apache Junction, Ariz. “And then an apathetic Legislature that is more interested in helmet laws while bikers get run over on a weekly basis by drivers inhibited by cellphones or alcohol. In Japan one could lose their license if they hit a motorcyclist. Here, you can hit one and simply say, ‘I didn’t see him’ and walk.”

Pandya said in an email that he has not heard anything from either the trade group Motorcycle Industry Council or the not-for-profit member-based American Motorcyclist Assn.

The council did not respond to a request for comment, but American Motorcyclist Assn. spokesman Peter terHorst said his organization’s membership level showed a similar but less drastic drop in numbers as the entire industry.

Prior to the 2008 recession, the group could claim about 250,000 members. The number, since 2013, has been closer to 213,000, but could be rising.

“In the age 26 to 45 and under age 15 categories, AMA is seeing low single-digit increases,” terHorst said.

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