Motorcycles make lifestyle inroads

With a 12-year run of steady sales growth, the motorcycle industry is also seeing an increase in interest from men's general lifestyle and mainstream titles.

With a 12-year run of steady sales growth, the motorcycle industry is also seeing an increase in interest from men's general lifestyle and mainstream titles.

Forget the rebellious image of motorcycle riders. Today's biker is far more likely to be an upscale baby-boomer willing to invest in a high-end machine to tool around on with his friends.

Thanks in large part to an upsurge in these "Born to be Mild" riders, the US motorcycle industry has enjoyed an impressive 12-year run of sales growth that's impacting not just the nation's roads, but also Wall Street.

Legendary bike manufacturer Harley-Davidson, which 20 years ago was struggling to survive, now has a market capitalization bigger than automotive giant General Motors.

Media interest grows

The shift is also leading to more coverage of the lifestyle.

"The industry's benefited from the increase in the amount of men's [lifestyle] magazines out there," says Doug Freeman, partner with Freeman/McCue, which represents Kawasaki Motors USA. "And there's also been the huge impact of Supercross [races] that sell out stadiums in major markets and get regular newspaper coverage."

The explosion of the market might have made inroads in the lifestyle titles, but it hasn't changed the way enthusiast outlets cover the latest bikes and technology, says David Edwards, editor-in-chief of Cycle World.

"The backbone of the magazine is road-test comparisons," he says. "But we're an all-purpose magazine, and so we cover off-road and street and racing and technology, and we probably include a few more cruiser kinds of stories these days."

But mainstream media outlets also are expressing more interest in covering the industry.

"You've got all manner of demographics riding motorcycles these days, and that gives us the opportunity to reach out to a whole bunch of different media," says Ty van Hooydonk, director of product communications for Discover Today's Motorcycling, a media and consumer education program sponsored by the Motorcycle Industry Council. "We've been on Today, Good Morning America, and the evening news, as well as all the 'lad' magazines."

"About half our new motorcycle sales come from existing customers, about a fourth from competitive customers, and about a fourth from riders who are new to motorcycling or who haven't owned a motorcycle in at least five years," says Susan Walton, director of the corporate communication department for Harley-Davidson. "So while the enthusiast media remain an important way of connecting with existing and competitive riders, general-interest media can help create awareness ... among those considering learning to ride or those new to the sport."

Bob Ochsner, director at Paine PR, which represents American Suzuki Motor Corp.'s motorcycles/All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) division, says mainstream coverage typically doesn't include product reviews.

"General-interest reporters who may be writing about how more people are riding motorcycles are not ever going to ride the bike themselves," he says, adding that many of the outlets are most interested in great visuals.

And arranging test drives for journalists can be more complicated with motorcycles. "We can't [lend] a motorcycle to any journalist who does not have a motorcycle license," Freeman says, adding that even licensed reporters might be unprepared to drive bikes with more powerful engines. "We also can't go by a license alone, and so we have to go out and make sure a reporter knows [what he or she is doing]."

There are more than 2 million women bikers, but motorcycles still enjoy a boy's toy reputation.

"Supposedly that is the next wave, but we're not getting a lot of coverage in women's [lifestyle] magazines," Ochsner says.

Coverage of ATVs

ATVs, considered to be a subset of the motorcycle industry, tend to be covered by different reporters and, in most cases, different outlets. "ATVs are more of a family story, so you do pitch it differently than you would a motorcycle," says Ochsner.

Michael Mount, senior communications manager with the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, a group that promotes the safe use of ATVs, notes that the coverage tends to delve into issues, such as the potential dangers for children riding adult-size vehicles, as well as the environmental impact of ATVs .

"As a result, we end up doing a lot of proactive media outreach related to public policy issues," says Mount. "We also work a lot on getting the industry message points out regarding ATV safety and upcoming legislation."

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Pitching... motorcycles

  • Outside of the enthusiast press, most outlets don't have a dedicated motorcycle beat. But you can still pitch motorcyclists at a media outlet and make them the informal reporters on new products and trends

  • The sleek designs of most motorcycles are very eye-catching, so leverage the visuals to get the bikes included as a backdrop to fashion and other pictorial coverage

  • Events like Daytona's Speed Week and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attract a lot of media, as well as fans, so don't let their somewhat rowdy reputations prevent you from considering them as a showcase for your client's latest products

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