When the coronavirus breakout was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, most people weren’t too worried. Now that COVID-19 has spread around the globe, that’s changed, and we’re already seeing the effects in the world of motorcycling. On Monday, MotoGP cancelled this weekend’s Qatar GP race and rescheduled the entire Thailand race weekend. One World Superbike event was postponed as well.
But it’s not just European racers who might feel the impact of COVID-19. There are some ways it might affect the average Canadian rider, some obvious and some not-so-obvious. Stuff like:
Replacement parts and accessories
This will be hit-and-miss this summer, but some riders might encounter it.
Here’s the problem: The world economy is using Asia as a low-cost production centre, especially China. Although your motorcycle might be made by a Japanese, American or European manufacturer, there’s a good chance it has components that came from China. And China’s manufacturing sector is seriously set back right now, as some factories have shut down and others have reduced capacity.
Mind you, it very much depends where you are in the country, as areas farther from Wuhan are returning to work. As per this email we got from a US-based aftermarket gear maker, which outsources some production to China: “Yes, we have experienced delays in production and shipping. But the good news for us is that we’re only a couple of weeks behind so far. Our new (product) just shipped via air freight from China, and we’ve been receiving confirmed updated shipping dates for other China-made products. We may see other impacts down the road, but for now China is returning to ‘business as usual.’ Our manufacturing is done in south China, which is a long way from the middle of the country where the outbreak started, so the factories there are back to work.”
Still, even if some of the country is back to work now, the COVID-19 outbreak may make it hard to get some OEM parts during the season if they were originally sourced from China, but that’s very hard to predict. We’re more likely to experience a shortage of replacement wear parts, the stuff that most riders end up addressing every season.
There are still a lot of tires made outside China, so finding rubber likely won’t be a major problem, unless all of Asia shuts down (unlikely). But other parts might be tricky, at least until new supply chains are established. Companies that sold made-in-China wheel bearings might have to find made-in-India wheel bearings now, and so on. Expect prices to change as a result, and probably not for the cheaper, sadly.
Reduced factory output
Want to buy that fancy new motorcycle you saw at EICMA? Oh, wait — it’s unavailable, because the factory can’t get the components it needs to build the bike. Or the price has gone up, as the necessary parts have become more expensive for the factory to source. Or the factory itself has been shut down, as part of a government quarantine.
Now, to be clear, the only motorcycle factory closures we’ve heard of so far have been in China itself, and the bikes made there were for the local market. For now, the plants in Japan and Italy (both countries that have been heavily affected by COVID-19) are basically doing business as usual. They might not be offering factory tours, they might have hand sanitizer everywhere, they might be asking office workers to telecommute, but for now, they’re building bikes.
One OEM’s press rep put it this way: “I can tell you that it has yet to affect us receiving our products in the time frame we would expect. Depending on where it goes in the upcoming months that could change, but that disruption would be solely based on speculation at this point.”
Unless the government shuts these factories down, chances are those factories will remain open for as long as possible. Production might be slowed a bit, and your bike might be a little more expensive than you expected, but you should be able to buy it.
There is one notable question mark, though, and that’s the western companies that are trying to push into China to sell their products there. KTM has new Chinese production that’s supposed to come online later this year, and Harley-Davidson’s new 350 project is also supposed to start production soon. The 350 is certainly key to Harley-Davidson’s plans for the future, so the fallout from this will no doubt add to the company’s ongoing drama. However, as far as we’ve heard, those Harleys produced at the Qianjiang factory (which also produces Benelli motorcycles) weren’t supposed to come to Canada, the same as those made-in-China KTMs. So any effects we see here will be secondary.
Protective equipment shortage
This is like the parts/accessories situation: there’s plenty of motorcycle gear made in China, but there’s lots made outside China, too. If you need a helmet or jacket this summer, it’s hard to imagine you won’t find one, except the lowest-priced equipment might not be available until this blows over.
Okay, this won’t affect your riding season, exactly, but for fans of MotoGP, World Superbike and other border-hopping race series, you can likely expect more of the jumbled mess we’ve already seen this week, with cancelled races. They’ve managed to sort out MotoGP at this point, but if it happens again the people running the series are going to have to jam more races into less time, or they’ll just have to cancel some events.
Here in Canada, it’s difficult to see CSBK or other events facing any sort of cancellation. There are no borders being crossed, and not enough fans to really cause any major concerns.
If you’re planning an overseas guided riding tour in 2020, don’t book without having solid travel insurance — although even that might possibly not protect you, says CBC. And you should be careful about planning any self-guided trips. Already, there are stories about adventure riders facing difficulties exiting some countries in Africa. Most riders aren’t planning overseas travel on two wheels this year, but if you are, then expect complications from COVID-19.
Here at home, it’s unlikely we’ll face internal travel restrictions from the government, but they’re certainly seeing them in other countries already. We’re more likely to see riders just choosing to stay home, instead of travelling.
One other note: Daytona Bike Week is kicking off the US rally season right now, and the first Friday the 13th rally runs in Port Dover, Ontario next week, which will start the season in Canada. For now, those events are running as normal, but by the time we get to mid-summer events like Sturgis, well, you might want to have a backup plan, in case the big rallies start getting cancelled.
So where does this leave you and your bike?
We don’t even know that much about COVID-19 yet, relatively speaking. It may turn out to be no more scary than the flu, or it could turn into something worse, if infection rates grow. The rapidly spreading nature of the coronavirus outbreak means we’re still in the early days of its impact in Canada. Will it affect your riding season? Probably. Is it going to look like The Stand out there in a month? Probably not. But if it does, just remember that the best way to escape the apocalypse is on a motorcycle.