Motorcycle sales are flat or falling in almost every segment in almost every North American market.
So motorcycle companies, flailing to remain profitable and retain market share, have been trending toward smaller, lighter, more affordable motorcycles in the hopes of attracting buyers who may feel they’re too small, too young, or too broke to purchase traditional bulky bikes.
But at the same time, some of those same motorcycle companies are hedging their bets, trying to keep existing customers happy by building bigger, more powerful versions of the motorcycles they already sell.
This year’s Progressive International Motorcycle Show, the West Coast’s largest such gathering, will attract 12 major manufacturers and 480 exhibitors. The crowd, the show’s promoters promise, will be made up of “active” riders, 35% of whom have been riding less than five years. A fifth of them will be women, and a third will be under 35.
The manufacturers will be showcasing a batch of bikes at both ends of the size and weight spectrum, but with a preponderance of action in the heavy, expensive categories.
“It’s hard for manufacturers to get away from the thing that is the most profitable and the most sexy, so it’s always the big sexy stuff that gets all the attention,” said veteran industry consultant Robert Pandya, of the firm Spokespeople. “But I’m not sure those motorcycles will be the most important ones in the marketplace.”
Ducati is going bigger. The premium Italian brand is coming to Long Beach with a Scrambler 1100 and a Multistrada 1260, both of them bigger-barrelled versions of successful existing bikes. Ducati has also bulked up the motor on its flagship Panigale street racer, replacing its V-twin with a four-cylinder engine that pumps out 214 horsepower.
The new 1100 is Ducati’s attempt to hang on to riders who bought the 800cc of the retro-cool single-cylinder Scramblers but then traded up to a different manufacturer’s motorcycle, the company’s CEO said.
“Our original strategy was this was a feeder, but we learned the next step up wasn’t necessarily a Ducati,” said North American CEO Jason Chinnock. “We can’t lose them to another brand.”
BMW is doubling down on its large motorcycle offerings, adding a K 1600 Grand America variation to its recently revealed K 1600 B Bagger touring bike, as well as the new 215-horsepower HP4 Race; the HP4 will cost $78,000.
But the German company will also have, finally, one of its 2018 G 310 GS small-sized adventure bikes, and one of its C 400 X electric scooters.
Honda will be showing off its brand-new Gold Wing touring motorcycle, which is to some the gold standard in that big bike category. The new model weighs slightly less than its predecessor but is loaded with new technology and accessories.
Honda has also added off-road assets, ground clearance, suspension travel and seat height to its full-sized Africa Twin adventure bike. The new Africa Twin CRF1000L will also cost more than the more modestly sized — but already big — current model.
KTM has added options to its big 1290 Adventure, and will display the 1290 Super Adventure S. The dirt-centric company will also have models of its highly anticipated two-stroke, fuel-injected 250cc XC trail bike.
Suzuki has upgraded its mid-weight V-Strom 650 offerings. The company will also bring a 250cc V-Strom (available in Europe, but not in the U.S., and known affectionately as the “Wee Strom”) to gauge interest in the model and perhaps pave the way for sales here.
CSC, meanwhile, is holding firm to its commitment to the small motorcycle. The Los Angeles company, which produces motorcycles in China and imports them for U.S. sales, will be showing its RX3, TT250 and RC3 small-bore bikes.
Other companies not bringing notably bigger or smaller products to the show will still have a bevvy of bikes to boast about.
Indian Motorcycle will not be bringing any new bikes to the show — sadly absent will be the FTR1200 flat track bike unveiled in Italy earlier this month — but will be showing variations on its Indian Scout and promoting a new performance kit that will allow increased horsepower and torque on the current Thunder Stroke 111 engines.
Yamaha has unveiled a number of exciting new motorcycles this year, but none of the most intriguing ones will be at the Long Beach show. Most conspicuous by its absence is the company’s unconventional but intriguing three-wheeled Niken Street bike.
The Japanese company will also be showing off a pair of new 900cc Tracer “naked” road racers, new Star Eluder and Star Venture touring machines, updates on some dirt bikes, and a concept version of a Tenere 700 Dakar-style rally bike.
Royal Enfield will be showing two new motorcycles, both driven by its new 650cc twin engine. The Interceptor and upgraded Continental GT both feature the iconic brand’s signature vintage look. The massive Indian manufacturer, which credibly claims to be the world’s largest manufacturer of middle-weight motorcycles, will also bring a couple of versions of its Himalayan adventure bike — though that machine won’t be for sale in the U.S. until next spring.
The company’s North American president said Royal Enfield is happy to let other manufacturers chase the high-performance, high-end motorcycle buyer while it concentrates on motorcycles with engines between 250cc and 750cc, a category that he said was underserved.
“We plan on focusing solely on the middle-weight segment,” said Rod Copes, adding that Royal Enfield is at work on bikes at both ends of the niche. “We see a huge market in this segment.”
There will be notable absences. Not attending the IMS show at all this year — though some company representatives may be present — are Triumph, Husqvarna, Can Am, MV Agusta and Zero, the California-based electric motorcycle company.
But it’s certain their executives are scratching their heads pondering the same sets of downwardly inclined sales statistics.
“Everyone in the industry, to a person, is trying to figure out how to get new people into motorcycling,” said Mark Hoyer, editor in chief of the influential Cycle World magazine. “I don’t think anyone feels like they have an answer.”
Tickets to the Long Beach show are $16 for adults, with children 11 and under getting in free, and the show offers free parking and gear check to motorcyclists who ride in.
Following Long Beach, the Progressive IMS will move on to New York, Minneapolis, Dallas, Cleveland, Chicago and Washington.