Meadville Tribune

Local News

April 30, 2012

Sales of on-road motorcycles finally revving up

MEADVILLE — With the showroom that’s his workspace providing a wide-open view of one of Crawford County’s most heavily-traveled roadways, Steve Wiltrout said he’s seen plenty of traffic over the past few decades.

And even with today’s gas prices, that doesn’t seem to be changing — the view, however, is.

“People don’t seem to want to change the habit” of driving at will, Wiltrout said — but more and more, he added, “they’re doing it on two wheels” instead of four.

Here and around the rest of the country, sales of on-road motorcycles are revving up, according to local and national industry experts and professionals. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, sales of new motorcycles meant for road use and scooters were up 8.8 percent for the first quarter of 2012 compared with the same period last year, in part because of unseasonably warm weather and higher gas prices.

Wiltrout, assistant sales manager of cycles at Street Track ‘N Trail on Conneaut Lake Road, said business at that dealership is no exception. No precise figures were readily available, he said, but “definitely, the business is up. We’re getting a lot more female riders ... a lot more younger riders” — even, he added, “elderly people who you’d never expect to jump on a motorcycle at their age. ... (Cycle sales are up) both ends of the spectrum.”

Scooters have been getting an especially big boost, according to the national statistics — 16.9 percent over last year. Wiltrout said locally, those extra-stingy-on-gas, smaller and less expensive cycles are becoming an increasingly popular choice among younger drivers.

Sales of dual-purpose motorcycles, meant for on- and off-road riding, were also up 12.7 percent nationally, according to the MIC, and that trend is showing itself locally as well.

“In the last two years, there’ve been a lot more motorcycles going up and down the road,” said Bruno DeFrancesco, who owns and operates Greenhill Cycle near Blooming Valley. It seems “a lot of people are going to motorcycles” as a primary means of transportation, he said, adding he’s even recently built a sidecar for his own Honda motorcycle so members of his family can ride along when it makes sense to do so.

With his model averaging about 45 miles per gallon, “it’s a lot cheaper to put gas in” than the standard family vehicle, he said.

DeFrancesco, whose business specializes in repairs and sales of used cycles, said he’s also had more customers asking about scooters, some of which he said can travel upwards of 80 miles per gallon.

The rebound for most of the industry has been welcome, but national experts say there’s still a long way to go. In 2007, about 948,000 new on- and off-road motorcycles were sold, according to the MIC. That was down to 441,000 last year.

The comeback started in 2011, but in a minor way. Sales of new on-road motorcycles that year were up 1.8 percent compared with 2010.

Now, “it’s exciting to see the rebound that started negligibly last year really gain some speed,” said Tim Buche, president of the industry group. “I don’t think demand ever went away. Capacity went away: the capacity to finance, the availability of certain product.”

Roughly 1 in 3 motorcycles is financed at least in part, according to the group, which represents 27 manufacturers including heavy hitters such as BMW and Harley-Davidson.

Training for new riders also appears to be on the rise around the country. According to the California Motorcyclist Safety Program, for example, the number of people taking such training courses rose 8 percent in the first quarter of 2012 compared with the same period last year.

Along with unseasonably warm weather, current self-transportation costs and worries about fuel prices increasing in the future have certainly “served to fuel the sale” of motorcycles recently, said Wiltrout, and moving forward, “I think the value of them is going to climb” as more drivers consider that option.

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