Opinion: The state of the bike nation

The numbers are out, and guess what? The Canadian motorcycle industry is doing fine. Who’d have thought it?

According to sales statistics just released by the Motorcycle and Moped Industry Council, taken from figures supplied by Canada’s bike manufacturers and provinces and territories, there were 61,011 motorcycles of all types sold in the country in 2018. This is a slight drop of less than 1 per cent from 2017, when 61,549 bikes were sold, but an increase from each of the previous three years.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll see that while most categories of motorcycle held their own or grew a little, off-road sales dropped by 15 per cent. They’re in competition with ATV sales, which also dropped, and side-by-side sales, which are on a big increase and which the MMIC doesn’t track. So we shouldn’t be too concerned about this slight drop in overall sales.

Is it time to party and celebrate another steady year?

“There’s nothing wrong with breaking out the champagne, but after the ride’s done!” says Dave Grummett, the MMIC’s Director of Communications. “We’re just in that funk of needing to bring new people into the market. We need to have a constant flow in and out, and keep working to bring a younger audience in – let them in on the secret we all know, about how much fun it is to go motorcycling. Make sure that in 20 years the market’s still strong.”

Easier said than done, of course. You’ve probably read about the demise of big bike rallies, and the travails of Harley-Davidson, and of how high insurance costs are killing our sport. But these numbers are encouraging, nonetheless.

They’re still way off the peak years, though. In the mid-2000s, makers were selling more than 80,000 new bikes a year in Canada. In 2008, the best year, 89,390 new motorcycles were sold. Then the recession hit and the bottom dropped out of the market. In 2009, sales slumped to just over 64,000. The worst year was 2011, when only 48,660 bikes were sold – barely more than half that peak figure from three years before.

We’ve been building slowly and steadily since then, and the Canadian market is now worth almost a billion dollars: $817 million in new motorcycle sales, and $153 million in parts and accessories. The biggest segment is street motorcycles, which account for more than half of all bikes that include off-roaders and scooters and even dual-purpose, but the numbers start to get a bit murky: some makers will call a particular model an off-roader, for example, while others will call similar machines street bikes, or dual-purpose.

Of course, the breakdown of these statistics is really only relevant to industry marketers. As riders, we just want to know that motorcycles are still popular enough to give us a voice at the table and out in traffic, and to encourage research and development of ever-better machines. As Grummett says, “If you’re a sales rep, you go looking for these numbers because you want to know if you’ll have a job next week.”

The MMIC also offers a round-up of total registrations of motorcycles, which show that the number of motorcycles and scooters on the road is also slightly up. It’s not quite so recent, not yet including 2018, but there were 815,000 registered bikes in Canada in 2017, an increase from 801,000 the previous year.

Numbers are higher per capita in Quebec, thanks to more affordable public insurance and a lower riding age for scooters, not to mention a stronger motorcycle culture.

The most interesting statistic will be the number of motorcycle licences earned each year, and how that compares to previous years. The MMIC doesn’t have that most recent figure yet, but we’ll let you know as soon as we find out. That will show if enough people are coming into motorcycling to truly be a reason for the industry to celebrate, and to help keep the market strong 20 years from now.

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