Motorcycle sales in Japan seem to be picking up these days. And you may find this a bit hard to believe, reports Shukan Jitsuwa (July 7), but over 60% of the riders sustaining this boom are males aged 40 and over.
A breakdown in ages of motorcycle ownership, based on data from the Japan Automobile Manufacturers' Association, shows that in 2015, the three biggest age segments were riders in their 40s (accounting for 20%), 50s (25%) and 60s (23%). Riders in their 70s, with 13%, actually exceeded the percentage of those in their 30s and 20s, at 9% and 6% respectively.
"Bike sales had been declining year by year," says a writer for a motorcycle enthusiast magazine. "From sales of 1.2 million units in 1995, the current figure is down to about one third that number."
Fortunately the new demographics are having a positive influence on the markets. Many popularly selling models appeal to holders of "motorized two-wheeler class-two" driver's permits, which cover the category of engine displacement from 50 to 125 cubic centimeters.
A key segment of these older consumers is referred to as "return rider" -- so said because they had driven a motorcycle in their youth but given it up when they married and raised their family, but craved to recover the feeling of freedom riding a two-wheeler imparts. The previous system of pass or fail to obtain an operator's license for a large-displacement model was supplanted by changes in the traffic law from 1996, and by attending a driving school applicants could smooth the way to ace the test on the first attempt. Nevertheless the number of accident fatalities among return riders has gone up, reaching 177 in 2014. One of the causes of such accidents is believed to be slower reflexes and declining physical strength of older drivers. So opting for smaller and less powerful machines, then, seems a sensible compromise.
As opposed to the underpowered under-50cc models, which are limited to a top speed of around 30 kilometers per hour and which in many cases cannot carry a passenger, the larger displacement models are fuel-stingy but can easily cruise at 60 kilometers per hour and are usually configured to carry a passenger.
"All the members of our touring club hold class-two operator's licenses," a 52-year-old company worker is quoted as saying. "In the past, many of us owned Harley-Davidsons or big Japanese bikes, but that was only fun in the beginning. We'd give the throttle a little twist and moments later we'd be zipping along at over 100 kilometers per hour. Why on earth would anybody want to go so fast in a small country like Japan?
"Grappling with the bigger bikes' heavy weight was hard work, and some of our members had accidents as well --- fortunately nothing serious though. With the class-two motorcycles, we can't go touring on expressways, but we take our time on regular roads, enjoying the scenery in ways that can only be done aboard smaller machines."
"Now that I think about it, owning a big foreign import like a BMW or Ducati looked sexy, but was mostly just showing off," said a 47-year-old office worker. "Repairs and maintenance were expensive, especially considering that I only rode it a few of times a month. I got rid of mine two years ago, and now I commute to work on a class-two model."
What models are currently popular among the new group of middle-aged riders?
Shukan Jitsuwa introduces three current models. Honda's PCX scooter, offered with 125 and 150cc engine displacements, features LED headlamps and turn indicators in an exotic configuration, a 500cc PET bottle holder and its own cell phone recharger unit. Prices start from 329,400 yen.
Yamaha's 125cc Tricity scooter boasts a unique "tricycle" design with two wheels in front and one in the back. (Suggested retail 345,600 yen.)
But for riders who insist on a "real" motorcycle, Kawasaki's Z125 Pro has been getting rave reviews since its debut.
"The moment I saw it at the dealer's, I made up my mind to buy one," a civil servant in his 40s tells the magazine. "I'd previously been driving a 400cc model, but the 'shaken' (compulsory safety inspection) and insurance were costing me money. The Z125 Pro is compact, but really well built. I get a sense of pride of ownership that I never expected to have from a Kawasaki model with such a small displacement."
"I can't ride it on the expressway so I wouldn't feel secure using it for long-distance touring, but on ordinary roads I never tire of driving it. It is so responsive on winding roads, and I can feel the same kind of excitement I could before aboard a large-displacement bike."
Manufacturer's suggested retail for the Z125 is 345,600 yen.© Japan Today