Last Friday J.D. Power and Associates released the findings of its 2011 U.S. Motorcycle Competitive Information Study. The study provides some fascinating insight into bikers, their spending patterns, their satisfaction with their rides, and the improving quality of motorcycles in general:

1. Satisfaction with the sales experience has improved. J.D. Power measures owner satisfaction in six major categories: product, build quality, cost of ownership, sales, service, and warranty. Of these, the sales experience has improved the most. Very encouraging. Especially since anti-dealer sentiment runs high on most motorcycle online forums. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, the dealerships in my area are quite good and I always enjoy visiting them. Good to see that my biker brethren share this sentiment, even if the peeps on the forums are often vocally anti-dealer. According to Brent Gruber, who manages the study for J.D. Power and Associates, the motorcycle industry’s satisfaction rating is very good in comparison to other industries.

2. Quality is up. Motorcycle build quality is better this year, registering 122 problems per 100 bikes sold, down from 133 per 100 in 2010. But I’ve got to say, even though things are headed in the right direction, it still seems frighteningly high to me.  Alongside this statistic is the little ditty that half of owners have had zero problems, which means that the other half experienced ALL of those 122 problems.

Mr. Gruber shed some additional light on this statistic. In an email, he added, “The 122 problems per 100 motorcycles correlate to an average of 1.22 problems per bike. But, as the press release states, 50 percent of respondents report that they have experienced no problems with their motorcycle.  Of the other half of respondents, 21% report experiencing one problem, 12% two problems, 6% three problems and 10% reported having four or more problems with their bike.” He also noted that motorcycle industry build quality is not quite as good as the auto industry, which experienced 107 problems per 100 cars in 2011.

I'm glad I didn't have 2.44 problems in the first year of owning my Triumph America.

I bought my first bike in 2008 and had one problem in the first year of ownership and it was likely my fault. I don’t know if I’d still be riding if I was in the 28 percent that broke down more than twice.

3. We’re spending more. According to the press release, motorcyclists spent on average $16,125 for their bike, up more than $2,000 from 2010. Wow. WOW! That’s a lot of dough. My first bike was $10 grand nicely-farkled and out the door. My second bike (bought used) was $6,000 after the trade value of bike #1. I don’t know if I could justify spending $16k for a bike. I could get a whole stable of good used bikes for that kind of money. Or a good used bike and a good used car. But a lot of you out there are dropping that kind of money routinely.

The $2,000 increase seems particularly big in light of the fact that the economy SUCKED in 2011, and consumer confidence was pretty much at 30-year lows all year long. The survey also indicates that we spent “considerably more” on parts and accessories in 2011: $1,340 on parts and $439 on riding gear. (For you soon-t0-be first time riders out there, take note: factor another $1,800 over the purchase price of your bike on parts and accessories and riding gear. About a month after buying your bike, you’re gonna want louder pipes, dresser bars and highway pegs, maybe some Denali lights.)

If I had to wager a guess as to why we spent so much more in 2011, I’d put it on the fact that the Adventure Sport category is blowing up. Adventure Sport bikes cost more on average, and owners tend to want to dress them up with expensive accessories like Givi cases and crashbars and skidplates. This would explain both trends.  The data seems to confirm this. In his email, Mr. Gruber also noted that satisfaction for dual-sport bikes increased year-over-year, from 797 last year to 807 this year. More importantly, median price paid for dual sport bikes increased a whopping 72 percent, from $6,400 in 2010 to $11,000 in 2011.

4. We got nice raises in 2011 and we make decent coin. Respondents to the J.D. Power study had a median income of $86,792 in 2011, up 6% from $81,884 last year. However, as noted above, we spent a great deal of this additional income buying more expensive bikes and plenty of riding gear and accessories, certainly welcome news to the motorcycle industry. 🙂 According to the most recent data from the US Census Bureau, median household income in the US was under $50,000, so bikers are doing quite a bit better than the average.

5. We spread the word. Not surprisingly, the survey indicates that bikers who have high satisfaction with their rides are more than willing to let others know. If we’re satisfied, 97 percent of us are willing to recommend the brand to others. For bikers with low satisfaction, the figure plummets to 43 percent.

That one was a headscratcher to me, for sure. Bikers who are not satisfied with their bikes are still willing to RECOMMEND their bikes 43 percent of the time! Which once again shows that motorcycling is an obsession and our love of our bikes sometimes supersedes logic. Ride on.