BG gets to grips with the reality behind confusing bike sales statistics… if you’re thinking of buying (new or old), read on….

There are only two ways to try and figure out what is going on sales wise in the motorcycle industry. The first one is to examine the stats, which are necessarily retrospective. Nevertheless, taken in context, statistics can provide a clue as to what might be happening right now, and offer an insight into sales trends. The other method – which is more up to date, but more haphazard, is to canvas opinion from dealers. We’ve done both.

There are many arguments for buying used – from effectively recycling older machines to identifying value in more recent used stock – and there is evidence that relatively speaking, the ‘preloved’ sector is flourishing compared to the new market. The problem of course is that with new sales collapsing – as they have in some sectors and territories – parts of the second hand market will start to dry up, which means inflated prices. Poor new sales also threatens the manufacturers research and development budgets. So what exactly is going on out there?


The overall European picture is of a market in decline. ACEM, the European manufacturers and importers trade body, estimate a fall of one million units in 2011 compared to the 2007 figure.  To put it another way, the five years from 2007 saw a decline of 37%.  The fact that  many  European manufacturers increased their share of the EU market during the same period  tells you something of the sales catastrophe that Japanese manufacturers have endured over the same period.  There were some encouraging signs in 2011, albeit non generalised – particularly in the 50cc and under market, which is indicative of the resurgence of customers looking for MPG value.  In the UK, 2010 was the horrible anus for new sales – until 2011 dragged itself through the show room door. The combined effect of those two years resulted in a dealership cull by importers, accompanied by the collapse of retail operations by businesses which had overstretched themselves.  The bottom line is that if you are buying new, and especially new Japanese, you are well placed to strike a deal for yourself – something which would have been unthinkable at this time of year back in pre meltdown days.


 Smart move: BMW’s Husky acquisition = fun and fuel economy ( in Nuda 900R form, above ).

  • BMW’s success continues into 2012: people just wont stop buying the big GS, and we reckon the Bavarians stole a massive march on the competition with their lean burn, anti knock electronics:  suddenly big bikes were producing decent MPG figures again, at just the right time.  BMW have an interesting and varied range. But the GS remains a symbol: one which may help fuel escapist fantasies, and also represents a well heeled solution to the problem of every day riding in a real world compromised by increasingly over crowded and ill maintained roads.  It is thus emblematic of the new realism in biking, also evidenced much lower down the food chain.
  • Triumph’s global sales continue to gather momentum despite the recession – their plants outside Europe give the company a base from which to enter the highly competitive, small capacity Asian market, albeit aimed at more affluent customers. In Europe, Triumph’s customer base and image  – not to mention certain products – has much in common with BMW’s.  If John Bloor finally decides to sell,  we reckon the purchaser will very likely be a European automotive manufacturer….
  • The current predominance of European design will be challenged.  It was the big, naked bike sector back in the mid noughties which first exposed the moribund design ethos inherent in many Japanese machines. Super Dukes, Tuonos, Speed (and Street) Triples, Monsters et al ravaged their unexciting, overweight Japanese competitors. It was only a matter of time before this superiority extended to other areas of the range, courtesy of superior electronics and a commitment to shedding kilos – and a hugely problematic exchange rate for Japanese exporters.  But Honda have picked up on the current requirement for utility, high mpg bikes which can be flung around, and Kawasaki get it –  with an impressive, forward looking range. The rest will follow: one thing the Japanese do well is learn – fast.  Don’t write them off yet.


Sales wise, this is where the action is.  Everything has been moving, from near vintage to nearly new.  In addition to the expanding interest in re-incarnating 70s and 80s Japanese bikes,  monsters,  airhead boxers and evo lumped HDs, a new category is emerging – see below. Plus, we’ve now reached a developmental point where the average used machine is likely to be more reliable, and equipped with reasonable brakes and suspension tha was hitherto the case.  Bikes from the following categories are making good money, but as ever there are dark horses…


  • Sportsbikes. One of the reasons new sportsbike sales have slumped in the UK is that their performance characteristics, ergonomics and fuel economy are seen as being increasingly irrelevant to the requirements of real world riding, user friendly electronics notwithstanding. Many people would argue that between the emergence of the R1 in 1998 and the GSXR 1o00 in 2005, sportsbikes reached their real world zenith. Broadly speaking, they were more comfortable than both their early, arm stretching, wrist killing predecessors and their tiny successors. In addition they offered more than enough power for ordinary riding, a goodly portion of which was achieved lower down the range than in later incarnations. Consequently, the used market for litre sportsbikes of that vintage is resurgent, since advancing years have seen prices drop off to a point where for around two grand you can grab yourself an early K series Gixxer 750.
  • Airheads.  One of our trade contacts emphasised that this sector of the market has reached a point where the usual suspects – boxers, XS 650s, W 65os,  XS 750 triples – seldom offer buyer value.  Bikes like the wire wheeled Zephyr 750 have gone from being cheap as chips to sought after in less than eighteen months.  But we reckon the Lo-Tec trend is just beginning: there is a real zeitgeist for character machines you can service yourself, and have fun with without threatening your licence. The Mk1 Bandit 1200 and Diversion 900 are two which still offer massive value. The former offers a performance edge – the first incarnation was the B12’s finest – and the latter is simply unburstable. And shaft driven.  But beware: we’ve already seen a Divvy 9 blinged up and caffed – below – and the value may not last.  We prefer rattier, darker airheads with impeccably maintained lumps but whatever your taste the right airhead could be a shrewd buy.
  • Strokers.  Value gone, according the trade, unless you buy very selectively – pre water cooled and avoid triple Kwaks. Something like a GT 250 or T350 (or even an X7) can still be found around the two grand mark.

  • Enduros.  Twin shockers have soared in price. A world where XT and XR thumpers regularly command prices nudging five grand is not for us, never mind R80 & 100 GS’s (or TDR 250s, sadly).  An electric start DR350 or Yamaha’s tiny but capable 225 Serow are  much better bets.
Finally, one dealer we spoke to reckoned that the usual dictum of buying up unsold new stock late in the season or the coming winter would offer more than usual value for those seeking a new bike, with the patience to hang on.  If they can’t shift this year’s new stock now, it wont be going anywhere come November…

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