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Middle-aged 'easy riders' reviving 2-wheeler market with 'slow bikes'

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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

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

23 Comments
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Motorcycle is life. I encourage every single foreigner I meet to have a motorcycle in Japan. Not only to explore all the amazing places you just can't go by train, but mainly for everyday commuting, hence cutting 90% of your frustration and stress in Japan!! Wake up, take your time, feel the breeze and stop to have a breakfast wherever you want in the middle of your journey, priceless. No crowded trains or platforms, people shunning you for no reason, "aruki sumaho" pissing you off, sweat or stress even before reaching your workplace. Let's not even talk about the $$$. The same 500 yen you pay for a round trip to anywhere by train is already what you pay for filling up your tank and travelling the whole week (depending on the motorcycle), in all these years in Japan I must have paid half a dozen times for parking my motorcyle.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

I encourage every single foreigner I meet to have a motorcycle in Japan.

And while it may be convenient up there, down here they are a pain in the royal ass and many if not most do not follow the rules of the road and zig-zag through traffic, age does not matter either.

If you are going to ride a bike, more power to you, but please follow the rules of the road and dont be hazardous arseholes when you ride.

Oh and PLEASE wear a helmet, and not one of those baseball cap looking things that you let drop off the back of your head while you ride...makes me want to slap you upside the head.

0 ( +7 / -7 )

It is better to ride a motorcycle in the summer and get the breeze than getting stuffed into a train or subway. E-Bikes are always an option also and can get around the rules even easier. I would honestly say the E-Bike is probably the better option and get one that pedals like the Sanyo Eneloop -you don't want the cops to know you are cheating (not pedaling) when passing everybody else.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It is better to ride a motorcycle in the summer

hi, there are some motorcycles you can ride even during the raining season (because "rain" is the reason number 1 people say why they prefer to drive), I particularly have an Adiva for weekend tourings and I have to say it has all the car+motorcycle features combined, the perfect vehicle for any occasion. If you're in a hurry you can ride your "private shinkansen" (Kawasaki Ninja) that takes you to any part of Japan in minutes or you can ride the off-road D-Tracker, tall as a horse but never gets you stuck in traffic, which in my opinion would be much much better if people rode more motorcycles.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If you're in a hurry you can ride your "private shinkansen" (Kawasaki Ninja) that takes you to any part of Japan in minutes

What?? Why haven't I got one of these things?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@badsey Is it cheating to not pedal when passing everyone? Why would the cops care!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I love Bikes but t don't like the new semi- automatic transmission, most people still prefer manual. E-bikes might be ok but I want my engine/exhaust sound.

As for fast bikes Honda CBR1100XX Blackbird or similar.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Thunderbird - where do you typically park your bike when you go out? I'm always afraid to park on the sidewalk/side of the road because I think I'll get a ticket, even though I see lots of people doing it.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I'm confused by this statement: "Why on earth would anybody want to go so fast in a small country like Japan?" How fast do the trains go in Japan anyway, I thought I heard they were some of the fastest in the world? If you're using a motorcycle as your primary transport, you've driven the same roads 100s of times, why wouldn't you want to travel at posted speeds?

BTW: You just don't turn the throttle as much when you want to go 30 kph on a full size motorcycle.

Its unfortunate to hear my made in Japan, 1679cc Yamaha motorcycle is too much for Japan? It would have been fun to 'cruze' the countryside.

After driving more than 320,000 kilometers on motorcycles I've found the smaller bikes are not necessarily safer. They may seem that way on the surface and then you find people riding smaller bikes are actually taking more risks in traffic because they feel they can more easily maneuver through slow traffic. Yes, the traffic may be going slower. But getting run over by that delivery truck you got to close to will hurt evan at 5 kph.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@badsey Is it cheating to not pedal when passing everyone? Why would the cops care!

Some of these E-Bikes hit 45+ mph. = They become more of a motorcycle/scooter than a bicycle. Bikes and pedestrians sometimes share the same path (elevated road crossovers etc). So if you are blasting by people on an electric bike it may not look good (dangerous to others) = if you pedal somewhat and use common sense you can use your "motorized" bike on the paths then open it up when no one is looking.

Even the 12-15mph Sanyo Eneloop bike will go right up the elevated road crossovers. By pedaling you will look like SuperMan or SuperGirl and not some obnoxious E-biker that should probably be on the road fighting with traffic.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Electric bicycles need a licence, basically any form of self powered transportation.

Hence why the bicycles here only use an assist system.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Like anything else in Japan its hard to get a clear answer. I was told that if the motor is over 1000 watt, you need a license and the bike needs to be fitted with brake lights etc. Latter I was told any Ebike with a throttle is illegal, so your left only with the pedal assist type. The Chinese brought them (throttle type) on to the Japanese market years ago, and they were pretty nice bikes but I havent seen them lately, only japanese made pedal assist. The pedal assist is supposedly much more efficient since most of your power is consumed from a dead start and up hills. I think this technology was developed in the U.S.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@ Spetals,

I think Its ME nailed it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In 2015 more that than half a million riders attended Sturgis Bike week in the US. The riders average age was estimated to be ~50. Arguably due to the fact that its way harder for a younger person to afford a $30,000.00 Harley. So its actually not surprising at all that people the same age in Japan are quencing their mid life crises with a new motorcycle, and choosing to do it with something a lot more affordable.

Here is an ad for the Z125. If this were real life he would be wishing he had a few more cc in that thing? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6UOvcH4468

0 ( +0 / -0 )

hub motors were once allowed, and you still might be able to use off road. Hub motors can really scoot but you need allot of lead acid batteries to get the amps and range. I think these days they are no longer allowed but you need to check with your police office for that. They are actually quite dangerous if the motor comes out of the dropouts in the forks etc. best to stick with the OEM, but if your into DIY its tempting to build your own )

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Striker10

Hi Striker, you've better check the rules in your city. Here in Osaka you might get a ticket within 5 minutes if you park on the sidewalk/roadside (I got it twice) but the rules might be completely different just nearby (Kobe) where it seems to be common to park the motorcycles on the sidewalks. To be on the safest side I always google map the place before I go, here are some places you can park the whole day without any problems (if there is minimum space for bicycles): Supermarkets, large drugstores, Mc Donalds, "family restaurants", "home centers", post offices..and combinis.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Thunderbird Thanks for the tips!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

YubaruJUN. 30, 2016 - 07:03AM JST "And while it may be convenient up there, down here they are a pain in the royal ass and many if not most do not follow the rules of the road and zig-zag through traffic, age does not matter either."

Unless you have one, which I very highly doubt because of your opinion of them, how would you know they are a "royal pain"? You don't like sharing the road?

""If you are going to ride a bike, more power to you, but please follow the rules of the road and dont be hazardous arseholes when you ride.""

Why do you suppose Thunderbird is an irresponsible rider?

"Oh and PLEASE wear a helmet, and not one of those baseball cap looking things that you let drop off the back of your head while you ride...makes me want to slap you upside the head."

Why do you care how Thunderbird rides his bike, with or without a helmet? How does it affect you? Isn't it the police's job to enforce the rules of the road?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The way people drive here makes motorcyes definitely not my preferred transport.....

0 ( +1 / -1 )

A Japanese bike from South East Asia would be half the price or less. Why are bikes so expensive in Japan?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I live in Northern ireland of the UK

My first bike was a Suzuki GS125 and after i passed my test i got a Honda CB250N Superdream.

I drove both in all weathers throught the years. While cars were stranded at the bottom of a hill after a snow storm, i went up past slowly using the snow and slush beside the kerb. The rest of the road was like pure ice due to idiots in wrong gear and spinning their wheels.

Wish i still had the Honda, but when i started driving a car, it was sold to pay for the insurance. :(

The 2nd worst thing was coming off at 45 MPH (72 KPH) on a right bend due to some one at the head of the que slaming on their brakes as i was leaning over for the bend and OUCH.

The worst thing to happen to me was when i was going down a hill towards a check point and the front brake making a single very loud CLANG as the friction pad came off the brake pad and i only had the back brake and the braking action of the 4 stroke as i droped the revs and gears. I stood on the bake brake and stopped about 20 feet (6 meters) before the side of the landrover. I aimed for it prefered the option of hitting their landrover rather than run through the check point and getting shot.

I prefer 4 stroke over 2 stroke. You can use a 4 stroke to slow the bike down which is good in bad weather and surfaces.

I miss those days.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A Japanese bike from South East Asia would be half the price or less. Why are bikes so expensive in Japan?

Kawasaki Z125 Pro is made in Japan. Honda PCX scooter is made in Thailand. = You could say they are gouging people for price on the PCX. Manufacturing in Japan is more expensive and quality is usually far better.

My vote is for the Honda Monkey (Z50). Chrome old-school (no fancy colors) with the Honda wings on the tank. I want the look and feel of a slow motorcycle so people feel sorry for me and stay out of my way = look of a big Monkey or Gorilla on a motorcycle.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Agree the new Monkey now comes with a 125cc engine and a bigger Frame, the old Z50 just celebrated 50yrs if Sales.

Maybe they should reissue the Motocompo too.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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