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A young rider takes on a trail on a Husqvarna mini off-road bike.

Courtesy of manufacturer

More new motorcycles have rolled out of Canadian showrooms so far in 2020 than at this time last year, despite a global pandemic and the fact that many dealerships had to temporarily close in March, according to data from industry sources.

“The fever is out there. Originally it was cabin fever, and now it’s motorcycle fever,” said David Grummett, director of communications for the Motorcycle and Moped Industry Council (MMIC), a national organization that represents the industry in Canada.

Until dealers had to lock their doors in late March, 2020 was shaping up to be a good year for motorcycle sales, Grummett said. As the pandemic hit Canada, sales plummeted by about 40 per cent in March and April, according to MMIC data.

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As of July, the motorcycle industry has bounced right back. It stands in stark contrast to the automotive industry, where sales are 34-per-cent below where they were by the end of June last year, according to market-research firm DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

June saw motorcycle sales jump 72 per cent in Canada, compared to the same month last year. It’s not just pent-up demand. For the first half of 2020, total retail sales have risen 3.2 per cent versus 2019, Grummett said. He said he’s hearing that sales of used motorcycles are booming too, although MMIC doesn’t track those.

The motorcycle industry’s recovery, however, is not evenly distributed across all types of bikes.

A new generation of riders

Sales of mini bikes – machines that can be ridden by children as young as four – as well as recreational off-road bikes have chalked up the biggest growth, up 41 per cent and 87 per cent year-to-date respectively, according to the MMIC.

“It’s the start of a new generation of riders,” said Adrien De Alexandris, general manager of KTM Canada Inc., which markets KTM and Husqvarna motorcycles. “There are a lot of families purchasing their kids their first bikes through the crisis,” he added.

Mini bikes such as these 2020 KTM Factory Replica STACYCs can be ridden by children as young as four.

Courtesy of manufacturer

De Alexandris’s eight-year-old daughter recently rode a motorcycle for the first time, a little KTM electric dirt bike. “It was amazing,” he says. “She rides bicycles with me, but she’d never tried a motorcycle … and she rode off right away and had a massive smile.”

Get ʼem while they’re young, and they’ll be a motorcyclist for life, so the industry’s thinking seems to go.

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Off-road riding on trails in local forests and fields allows families to get outside together and give kids something to do when local camps or team sports are cancelled.

No licence is required to ride an off-road-only motorcycle, so the fact that many rider-training classes were cancelled and motor-vehicle-licensing facilities were closed in spring didn’t hamper sales of dirt bikes.

Escape at a distance

Road-going motorcycle sales have been slower to recover.

Street bikes – think Harley-Davidsons and sports bikes – make up the largest category of the motorcycling market. Total sales for 2020 are still 22-per-cent below last year’s figures, but in June, sales jumped 24 per cent compared to June, 2019, according to MMIC data. Scooters sales are rising but are still well below last year’s levels, as well.

The Italian brand Ducati doesn’t sell any dedicated dirt bikes. The main group of customers driving sales for the brand now are existing riders, said Jason Chinnock, chief executive officer of Ducati North America. “With the [pandemic] situation, they’re like, ‘Life is for living; I’m going to get myself the motorcycle I really want and get out there and enjoy it,’” he said.

Harley-Davidson motorcycles stand on display at a dealership in Potsdam, Germany, on March 8, 2018.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

BMW dealers are seeing lots of former riders returning to the sport. “These people may have had vacation plans for trips to faraway places, which are no longer possible,” Norm Wells, director of BMW Motorrad Canada, wrote in an e-mail. “Staycation on a motorcycle is a very appealing option for them.”

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David Grummett of the MMIC agreed. “The amount of dust-offs [former riders hitting the road again] don’t show in our statistics, but you go out and ride and, oh my god; in 20 years, I’ve never seen so many motorcycles on the road.”

It helps, of course, that riding a motorcycle allows for physical distancing, with the built-in personal protective equipment of a helmet and gloves. Other forms of outdoor escape are similarly on the rise, as evidenced by skyrocketing sales of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and personal watercraft.

For Jason Chinnock, riding gives him a chance to disconnect and escape. “I think that’s one of the beautiful parts about motorcycling; itʼs meditative. I think that some people, if youʼre not a motorcyclist, you might not understand that.”

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