We’re all tired of hearing about the demise of the motorcycle industry and the usual talking points: declining new bike sales, an aging rider base, and lack of interest by the younger generation. In a misguided effort to attract first-time riders, manufacturers have rallied to create the next wave of smaller, lighter, and more affordable bikes, a stopgap for what seems like the inevitable future of electric power.
We are indeed teetering on the edge of what motorcycling will become, but the likely outcomes are far less drastic than we’re led to believe. The issue at hand is less about delivering a better motorcycle, and more about connecting with the next generation of rider.
Ever the unruly child, motorcycles evoke emotion unlike any other object, and have long faced social and technological pressures threatening to strip the soul from the machine. The future of motorcycling has been challenged time and again: the jump from carbureted motors to fuel injection, helmet requirements, and emissions regulations. The innovation arms race has been successful at one thing – burning good dealer and manufacturer marketing dollars. This perpetual struggle has made bikes safer and more efficient, but has failed to address problem-solution fit. What’s currently being sold at the highest levels is the perception of lifestyle. What riders are craving is not perception.
Motorcycling is predicated on two truths: truth of self, and rebellion against social conventions. At its roots, motorcycling is about the ride, and not necessarily the bike. The machine is an important element, but the sport remains about feeling – freedom, camaraderie, empowerment, education, and joy.
A select few have embraced that rebellious spirit, and lead a trend that will shape the next couple decades of motorcycle ownership. Across industrial parks and vacant rail yards, a resurgence of DIY community garages is taking place. These boutique garages have quickly realized that the problem isn’t a need for more or newer bikes, but a demand to deliver the motorcycle experience in an authentic and inspiring manner.
Community garages provide the space and tools to wrench, offer basic and advanced classes, weekly rides, movie nights, and a place to congregate with other enthusiasts. As our cities become more populous and the sharing economy mindset is applied to more facets of daily life, millennials have shown a renewed interest in doing-it-yourself, including tackling their automotive needs. The next generation is tech-savvy, cost-conscious, and are inspired by a rash of DIY television shows, Instagram feeds, and YouTube channels. This urban-centric generation has more access to information and support than ever before, and is fueled by inexpensive online parts and free two-day shipping.
With boomers aging and reintroducing their bikes into the general supply, these inexperienced riders have a glut of makes and models to choose from, and with individuality in mind, they have no need or desire to turn to dealers for their purchases. While community garages are a hub for all things motor related, this new wave is diversifying their services by offering a slew of other attractions: barber shops, parts, branded clothing, coffee shops, and retail pop-ups. The idea is more than the sum of its parts. Anybody can set up tools and benches in a garage, but the beauty comes from the highly curated environment – delivering a location-specific experience to its clientele. DIY motorcycling deeply connects with riders and is achieving a cult-status.
For apartment dwellers and seasoned riders lacking specialty tools, these spaces fill a tremendous void. Many of the 40 active shops are membership-based, requiring monthly or annual dues to make use of the space. Users are ok with that, and are buying into the model as more communities make plans to open shop. This is the millennial’s outlaw country club, a place to spend time with like-minded people, learn, get your hands dirty, and connect with motorcycles.
Running the industry’s only community garage consulting service offers us a unique perspective and dialogue as to what models thrive, the underlying challenges, and newest trends. Community garages are a true grassroots effort that get back to the basics, celebrates people and beautiful machines. This is a wave of opportunity manufacturers and dealers have failed to capitalize on, and the unfortunate truth is this should be a high ROI opportunity and a chance to re-engage with a new generation of rider, learn about market demand, leverage existing assets, and get paid for their under-utilized resources.
Community garages are opening, operating, and thriving on shoestring budgets. It is that passion and rebellious spirit that gives hope for the future. Community garages have stepped up to fill the demand of today’s riders and void of community. They’re being rewarded not only in membership and merchandise sales, but social engagement and loyal followers. As this motorcycle resurgence gains momentum, we look forward to how the industry adapts and caters to young rider needs. Regardless of outcome, the new wave of shared workspace is an amazing resource for budding enthusiasts and keeping the DIY flame lit.