® The New Powersports Demographic

On one of my frequent rides up the west coast, in this shot in Portland, OR. The bike is a loaner from Honda's corporate office, American Honda, whom I worked for at the time, circa 1983.

A few years ago, a business associate really got me thinking. Both of us live in the west, and we were discussing the powersports industry and our experiences in it, just shooting the breeze and enjoying trading old stories. I happened to mention that back when I started out in the industry I was riding so often that for a number of years I did over 25,000 miles a year. I said it kind of offhand, as if it were no big deal, and it really wasn't. Most of the people I knew back then did the same kind of riding. But you would have thought I had said something ludricous, impossible, like I had dated the latest supermodel or something. In fact, the guy made it quite clear he didn't believe me, and this was someone who, though quite a bit younger than I, has himself been in the industry over 25 years, and is presently the number two man for a pretty important company in the powersports business. Frankly, I was a little put off. Insulted, even.

What is so amazing about riding every day, anyway? Hmm. I guess I just answered my own question. People don't ride like that any more. The industry used to be full of people who rode as a lifestyle, one you could even have called alternative, though today that term has been appropriated to mean something else altogether. But riding, in California at least, was an alternative back then. It was a special, unique lifestyle. I owned three motorcycles in succession before I owned my first car. It seems to me motorcyclists were motorcyclists full-time 40 years ago, not the "weekend psuedo misfits" Harley-Davidson has admitted marketing to, or the "get busted up on dirt tracks twice a month" guys, or even the "ride to the nearest destination for coffee and camaraderie" types, all of which seem to make up the riders of today.

Not that I have anything against modern riders. They're my customers. In fact, they're the customers of everyone who does business in today's powersports market. And that's the point. The industry demographic has changed. I suppose in certain regions things were always slower than in California. I mean, one of the reasons it is so hard to find a nicely preserved vintage bike in California is we rode the darn things while much of the rest of the country put them up for varying numbers of months each year. I continue to be amazed at receiving 50-year old carburetors for rebuild that look as good as the day they were made. In the past month I have done both a CB400F set and a first-year GL1000 that were virgin, never messed with. What an experience! These things don't exist in California, where machines racked up three to four times the miles they did everywhere else. But today, even in California, folks no longer ride like they used to. Part of this surely has to be due to the specialization of motorcycles in recent years. There aren't many "standard", do-everything machines any more. Nor is motorcycling the egalitarian activity (I dislike the term "sport") it was originally. The cost of today's bikes has priced many of us out of riding, to some degree. Ironically, even those of us who service them no longer can afford them. It's become a rich man's pursuit. It's a different game, that's for sure.

I have slowed down too of course. It's been a few years since I rode in a downpour hard enough to soak me through and make streetlights malfunction. It's been a long time since I rode from San Diego to L.A. and back every evening for several months at a stretch. The times that even with heavy gloves my fingers went numb and hurt like the dickens when warmed up again at the end of my ride. Being run off the road, on purpose by a redneck in a pickup truck playing a game of "chicken", more than once. Running over a piece of sewer pipe on a California freeway one night and being tossed off the bike. Riding through thermals and scent pockets going into and out of valleys. Watching the sun rise on an unnamed village in rural southern Arizona. Crossing numberless waving corn fields in Nebraska. Riding through perpetual dampness in Northern Oregon in September. Taking the dare to attempt the Canadian border from Southern California in an unbelievably short time and missing it due to a radar ticket while in sight of my goal. Riding in fog so thick it was like riding in a box. I eventually sold my CB500 Four with 94,000 miles on it, and later rode my 81 CBX over 30,000 in just 15 months, part of that a 5,000+ mile, 10-day ride from San Diego to Illinois and back through Montana and points north.

Yeah, things are different now. I don't ride as much as I used to. And neither does anyone else. 4,000 miles is now the average yearly use for the typical rider, and vintage advocates do less than half that-- incredible numbers to this old war horse. This used to be hard for me to fathom, and it still is at times, despite knowing I don't do nearly as much riding as I used to. It just doesn't seem possible somehow that folks can ride so little. Just as my friend thought it impossible that anyone could ride so much.

Recommended reading:
5,000 miles in 10 days

Last updated: February 2023
Email me
© 1996-2023 Mike Nixon