Harley-Davidson Aims for More Riders, Starting with Ryder, N.D.

The goal? Two million new riders in 10 years

bikes lined up at training ryder north dakota
Training in Ryder, N.D.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

Two million riders in 10 years. That's the headline for Harley-Davidson's new motorcyclist outreach goal. With around 8 million motorcycles registered as of today, that means Harley-Davidson intends to increase ridership by a quarter.

And to get there, Harley-Davidson must overcome hurdles both demographic and social. The median age of motorcyclists is hovering around 45 years old, with an overwhelming number of new bike buyers over the age of 50. New bike sales are also under-represented with minority, female, and Millennial buyers.

Not to mention, to inspire a new rider to get on a bike, you need to break through the social stigma of motorcycles being dangerous. You’re not just making motorcycling more attractive to those 2 million riders, but to the millions more wary of the sport.

All of a sudden, that 2 million rider figure is more daunting. So we sat down with Anoop Prakash, US Marketing and Market Development Director of Harley-Davidson, to learn more on how the company plans to turn the tide of motorcycle ownership.

And to prove Harley-Davidson intends to be successful, it is starting with the town of Ryder, North Dakota (pop. 84), to create the first fully licensed town of motorcycle riders.

learning to ride in training ryder north dakota
Training in Ryder, N.D.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

Cycle World: Let's start with Ryder, N.D. What was the motive for licensing the entire town?
Anoop Prakash: We wanted to kick off riding season in a unique way to inspire the next generation of riders across the country. With Ryder, all age demographics are represented, and they even have a replica of our water tower in their town.

We thought they would be an excellent example of what it will take to get all non-riders on bikes, and working with local dealers for this effort.

holding a city of ryder key
Training in Ryder, N.D.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

CW: Speaking of the dealers, what is their role in this outreach effort?
AP: We've worked hand-in-hand with our dealer network through the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy for 17 years to not only train riders, but to begin their involvement in the community. Through this program, Rider Academy has grown to include 43 states and has trained 500,000 since 2000.

Involvement with dealers on both the training side and the sales side will only grow with this goal.

CW: Why was 2 million mark chosen as the goal?
AP: The number is a byproduct of having a long-term view and to refocus efforts at a high level. This is a broad strategy with many parts to introduce motorcycles to riders at a young age and to keep them in the community.

For example, after their training, we have engagement on the local level. One example is our partnership with Eaglerider to create more opportunities to experience motorcycling and connect with the sport—increasing motorcycle access.

Secondly is working through local dealerships for increased access to the motorcycling community, more training opportunities, and involvement day-to-day with other riders.

riding motorcycles in training ryder north dakota
Training in Ryder, N.D.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

CW: What made Harley double down on new riders? Anything to do with decreasing heavyweight motorcycle sales?
AP: We always aim to bring new riders in. The 2 million rider goal anchors us into a time frame of 10 years and more. This stands as both a long-term commitment, but as a mindset that this will shift how we train new riders and what types of product we create. Also, there leaves the opportunity to evolve as the program expands worldwide.

With product, we want to bring 100 high-impact new bike models to both inspire the riding community, and be attainable and attractive to Harley loyalists and new riders.

The core message is to inspire riders and non-riders to get off the couch and onto the road.

riding a motorcycle in training ryder north dakota
Training in Ryder, N.D.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

CW: With this goal in mind, are there any functional changes to the training program?
AP: The Rider Academy curriculum is still anchored in MSF best practices, and not much is changing with how we train. However, we have started to offer additions such as the practice riding course. This offers riders a secondary course to move on to to practice different skills and build confidence.

The idea is to continue to support the journey, and offering mentoring and aid that comfort on the bike.

Better trained riders are more confident and stay on the bike longer, and that is our goal.

CW: What's the biggest hurdle to overcome?
AP: The social sense that motorcycling is difficult. The act of learning through the Rider Academy focuses on ease of use and gives new riders confidence they need and to build their skills.

And we want to bring this opportunity to all age groups. Our primary focus are riders 18–34 for new rider training, but we’re not targeting a specific age group to build skill.

CW: Will the advertising change to focus on accessibility, or will it hem mostly to current activities?
AP: The advertising will become more varied to target more riders in different stages of their riding career. We will shift to accessibility instead of exclusivity for some groups, but will also change where we're advertising as well.

The key is to be out where the nonriders are, lifestyle categories of media, outdoor, and adventure magazines, military channels, and key strategic partnerships such as with Rolling Stone magazine to name a few examples.

Combined with traditional media partnerships, we’ll be able to focus on long-term relationships not short-term sales.

Putting that together with our strong, local dealer network, we’ll be better able to foster and grow relations with all types of riders both new and experienced across all demographic groups.

That’s what the 10-year goal really means. Placing our promotion, programs, and local dealer network with 100 new high-impact new models to grow the sport of motorcycling.

teaching motorcycle riders in training ryder north dakota
Training in Ryder, N.D.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

A small step for a larger issue - our take.

Expanding the rider base of motorcycling in the U.S. is not a new issue for the industry. Not even close. It’s not a simple problem either.

The issue reaches beyond new products and training. Even with the broad availability of attractive, accessible entry-level and mid-capacity bikes--the strongest it’s been in the states since the late-’60s--the industry faces difficult macroeconomic trends.

Increasing insurance costs and student-loan debt hit younger riders hardest, and analysts predict a soft credit market, which would further hinder sales across all age groups. On a more broad level, diminished middle-class earning power and rising health insurance rates have a particularly negative influence on what is generally considered a non-essential purchase.

That isn’t to say Harley can’t reach its goal. With 701 dealers in the United States, spread over 10 years, it will take only 285 new riders per year at each location to hit the 2-million mark. Considering heavily populated areas, that’s an achievable goal.

And with a renewed focus on different products for different types of riders (such as the Street Rod), the MoCo has the product range and flexibility to attract different riders than those just interested in heavy cruisers.

So yes, Harley-Davidson faces an uphill battle, as do all OEMs, but it may be the best-equipped to accomplish this type of goal, considering its sales volume and sheer reach and power of the brand.

Now if only I could trade my student loan debt on a Low Rider S.