The next generation is almost always held with some level of distaste by the generation that currently has buying power. The “in my day” and “when I was young” almost certainly leads to some explanation of how it was then vs how it is now. And to a level many of those generalities can be linked back to some level of truth, somewhere.
The challenge is when we assume the entire lot is of a certain belief, mindset, or generally not ready to have the torch passed to it. I believe that growing up takes longer now. Several reasons for this: labor laws, helicopter parents, professional lawn care services lol, you name it, they all have changed the way our kids grow up. In many ways not for the better.
The Millennial generation along with those coming after it are the first to grow up with devices and internet at their constant disposal. You no longer have to go somewhere to learn something, you simply need to google it. This alone is not an issue. It’s very powerful to have the world literally at your fingertips. With great power comes great responsibility it would seem. We have all found ourselves more buried into our tech than we would like at one time or another. Device addiction doesn’t just hit Millennials but all of us in one way or another.
The difference is the younger generation doesn’t even remember a different way. And that has led us to a society who isn’t pushing for the next action but rather the next selfie. Millennials find themselves in a difficult job market (albeit a strong one) due to skillset shortages in the jobs available and an ample amount of college degrees that came with an inordinate amount of debt. The “caught between rock and a hard place” metaphor is alive and well.
They don’t look at motorcycle riding as a hobby but rather if possible an alternate means of transportation. And, done properly, an inexpensive one. Upwards of 50mpg and relatively low maintenance especially for those willing to get their hands dirty, motorcycling can still be a very economical method of travel. Plus, it doesn’t take a lot of room.
However, today’s bikes from premium brands don’t lend themselves well to this generation although several manufacturers are working hard to meet this current niche market. I say “current” because in 10 years they will be THE market.
This is where you and I come in. As riders we owe it to the industry to support the efforts in helping these next generations to come on board and show them the benefits of riding as well as the pleasure of getting outside and hitting some curvy roads. Some feelings you just can’t get from a screen.
How do we go about doing this? For starters, let’s be a bit better about discussing safety and how to mitigate risk rather than avoid it. Truth is you can’t avoid risk whether you drive a car, a tank, or a bike. There is always risk. Mitigating that risk is all about wearing proper clothing, getting proper training, and keeping oneself aware of their surroundings. Even then, you can still have an accident (I totaled 2 bikes last year) but by taking precautions you are more likely to walk away from them.
Buying a premium bike (one with traction control and ABS and good handling characteristics) is one of the best ways to mitigate those risks. Wearing proper gear is another. Getting proper rider skills training is yet another. Understanding bike placement on the road and at stop lights is imperative. This is the type of knowledge we need to be passing on to the next group of riders. But probably not until we have them understanding why they would want to ride in the first place. Scaring the crap out of them likely won’t move them toward riding lol.
My son, Nicholas, 15 years old at the time, was only mildly interested in bikes. What I discovered, however, is he was fascinated with the freedom that came with riding one. The idea of just going for a ride, was ok. But if he had a car, there would likely need to be a purpose. So he started getting warmed up to the idea. His mom and I had limits on the type of bike he could start with. I have been a BMW rider for many years and have grown to trust the technology in the bike, especially ABS, to provide, particularly a new rider, the most benefit possible when having to rapidly stop. This was a requirement on our part, that any bike he picked had to have ABS. It happened that BMW was one of the few manufacturers offering ABS on lower end bikes. I hope this changes. He settled on a used BMW G650GS which is a single cylinder thumper solid bike that handles well and can do highway speeds but isn’t going to lurch off with too much power either. A great starter bike for a new rider.
We put him through the rider trainer course which gave him confidence. I also installed crash bars for the inevitable drop as he was getting used to riding. I explained, everyone drops it starting out. The goal is to reduce the drops over the years lol. He is now a confident rider, and as I watch his helmet turns in traffic and with our coms I can continue to warn him and make him aware of traffic as we ride together. As he has progressed I have no doubt he will remain as safe as possible through his riding career.
Another requirement we made on him was ALWAYS wear proper gear. Helmet, Jacket, Gloves, Pants, and Boots. Yes, it can be hot. Get over it. Yes, it can be a pain when only going down the road a short distance. Get over it. Price of freedom. Many paid a lot more. So, get over it. He has never complained about it, and it isn’t even questioned when he suits up to go ride. It’s just what he does. I have discovered we can become used to just about anything, comfortable or not. When we make the decision, this is just how it is, it is no longer a big deal.
Starting riders in the household is easy. Be a good example, and share your passion. We also need to reach out and help riders outside our immediate sphere to start riding as well. How? This is where groups and clubs need to wake up and realize most have grown old and need new blood to keep their numbers from declining. The band chosen or the games played or other activities determine the clientele that shows up in the club. My now 16 year old wouldn’t be caught dead at the typical rally. How do we change this?
The 16-35 year olds are out there and they are riding but they need to feel wanted, accepted as well as included. We all want to be part of something. But we also want to be part of a group of people who are like us in thought and action. Time will tell if the clubs can turn the tide and bring in the next generation effectively. With declining membership in clubs and declining ridership in general this remains to be seen.
Another way to help support the next generation into riding is to not sell the aspects of your fancy 25k BMW GSA motorcycle too hard (yes, I own one). Most can not afford that bike yet and if you imply the only bike worth riding is that one, they are done. The truth is, there are a lot of quality bikes out there and a ton of used bikes that can get a person started for very little money. My first bike was a 1984 Honda 750 Nighthawk. It was about a 10 year old bike at the time. I was 23 years old and paid $1500 for the bike. Cash. After riding for about a month, I took off to Florida, shorts, tank-top, tennis shoes and wife on the back. (Yep, no one shared with me about road rash. Thank God I didn’t have the year I had last year, back then! I actually rode 25+ years before an accident. I apparently made up for lost time in 2018, but I digress….Read all about that year - http://www.jdavidmays.com/blog/when-motorcycling-doesnt-go-as-planned). We were able to take a vacation that we could never have afforded by car. Just didn’t have the money. But with the bike, we crammed a few clothes in a saddle bag and headed out. Freedom!
Bikes have become more expensive today but as I recall there were expensive bikes when I got my first $1500 bike, too. So, perhaps it’s all relative. Perception however, sometimes is not. Sharing our experiences of how we got started and what bike we got started with is critical to the next generation understanding they don’t have to have tons of cash or the perfect bike to throw a leg over. They just have to have the desire. Everything else seems to work itself out.
So the next time you have the opportunity to share your passion about motorcycling to the next generation take the time to sit in their shoes and help them see the vision of how THEY can do it, with their abilities and resources and goals. We owe it to the hobby we love, and we owe it to them to help them see the freedom we all know as motorcycling.
About the Author
David has been riding motorcycles for more than 25 years and his passion for motorcycling has led him to traveling across the US, Canada and abroad. Adventure motorcycling caught his eye 5 years ago and since then he has focused much of his riding off road and camping along the way across the US which landed him in the Iron Butt Association. Also an actor, film-maker, photographer and health educator, David found ways to integrate motorcycling into all of his passions as he continues to live the most adventurous life he can. David is also proud to write articles and provide videos to Pandora's European Motorsports in Chattanooga TN.
Adventurist at heart, David Mays looks to inspire others to live their life with focus and purpose. Experience and expansion is why we are here.