We’re halfway through the Canadian riding season, and apparently this is my 100th published opinion column at Canada Moto Guide, so it’s time to take stock of where we’re at with motorcycles in this country.
As I wrote last month, we’re actually not doing too badly with selling motorcycles in Canada. The numbers are steady year over year, with more than 61,000 new motorcycles sold last year. That’s just two-thirds of our record year in 2008, but sales have been increasing slowly since the worst year, in 2011. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since our relatively healthy economy helped automotive sales hit a national high last year.
There’s been plenty of doom and gloom in recent years as younger people care more for their phones than their wheels, and motorcycle makers cannot be complacent, but it’s not time to fold up the tents just yet.
Riding the bikes
It’s too soon to know if motorcyclists are any safer on the roads, but we’re probably not – the most recent national figures are from 2017, and they showed a slight decrease in motorcycle fatalities from the past couple of years, dropping from 11.1 per cent of all road users to 10.4 per cent. It was a different story in Ontario and British Columbia, however: the OPP reported that Ontario’s fatalities for riders in 2017 were at a 10-year high, and the B.C. Coroner’s service reported earlier this year that fatalities in 2018 had increased by 50 per cent.
Clearly, better training and better technology only go so far. Smart helmets and communicators mean we can be on the phone during the ride, which is a distraction from the road even when hands-free, and distracted car drivers are no more likely to pay attention to riders than in previous years. Our safety is still very much in our own hands.
In Ontario, the surprisingly bike-friendly provincial government has finally removed the silly prohibition of motorcycles in High Occupancy Vehicle lanes – yay! – and even redefined the regulation that limits handlebar height for a more reasonable standard. Quebec now allows new riders to be on the road without an experienced rider as an escort. Sikhs are allowed to ride without helmets in four provinces. So laws might just be catching up with our reality.
Loud pipes still anger people on both sides of the argument. Toronto recently announced a clampdown, and Edmonton continues to experiment with technology, and Quebec doesn’t seem to care, but the issue isn’t going away anytime soon.
Actually, it might just do so through attrition. Harley-Davidson has now debuted its first electric motorcycle, the Livewire, and it makes very little noise. It will probably sell very few examples, especially at the $37,250 introductory price, but electric transportation is not going away. Whether you like it or not, Harley’s put itself on the leading edge of future motorcycle development.
The biggest challenge for an industry that must constantly attract new adherents to replace aging riders is clearly insurance. In a country where some provinces offer affordable government insurance – Quebec, BC, Manitoba and Saskatchewan – and others just keep hiking the rates to keep profits high – Ontario et al. – it’s harder and harder to justify buying a motorcycle for just six or eight months of riding in the year.
New riders are straight-out excluded by the cost of for-profit insurance. They must probably learn to ride on crappy beater-bikes, which often cost less than the annual price of insurance but are all they can afford. So they don’t bother. Or worse, they don’t get insurance at all, and contribute to the self-perpetuating problem of illegality that plagues drivers across the country.
But for those who can afford to ride, and are responsible enough to ride well, the future is bright. There’ve never been so many good bikes to choose from, and the capabilities of those bikes has never been so high. Six-axis traction control and leaning ABS in the electronics, much improved suspensions and reliable engines that run as well as anything ever developed, are all part of the progression of motorcycling.
So let’s not lose sight of what needs fixing, but be happy we have what we have. And after all, it’s still just the middle of summer. Make the most of it!