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Motorcycle Trends in the United States

Motorcycle Trends in the United States

by C. Craig Morris, Ph.D.

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Red racing style motorcycle.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently reported that motorcyclists who ride racing style motorcycles known as "supersports" have driver death rates "nearly 4 times higher than motorcyclists who ride all other types of bikes." Capable of extreme acceleration and speed, supersports are particularly popular with young riders.

During the last decade there has been a significant increase
in the number of motorcycle sales and registrations
in the United States. At the same time there has
been a shift in the demographics of motorcycle users and
increased focus on motorcycle safety issues. This report
focuses on the current and emerging trends involving
street-legal (on-road and dual-purpose) motorcycles.

Vehicles

In the United States, although no universal or official definition
exists, a motorcycle is a two- or three-wheel powered
vehicle designed for on-road, off-road, or dual-purpose (on and
off-road) use. On-road and dual-purpose motorcycles
must meet federal and state certification standards and be
licensed (registered) for use on public roadways, although
light powered two-wheel vehicles with engines smaller
than 50cc, known as mopeds or light scooters, as well as
motorized bicycles, are typically allowed to operate on
public roadways without registration. Motorcycle designs,
technologies, and gear are expanding and evolving rapidly.
While there is no universal standard, street-legal motorcycles
in the United States are often grouped as shown in Box A. Laws regulating motorcycle equipment requirements
for on-highway (street-legal) or off-highway operation, and
insurance, age, licensing, and training requirements, vary
across the U.S. 1

Vehicle Registrations and Sales

Because the majority of motorcycles in use must be registered
for operations on public highways, registrations
provide some indication of the number of motorcycles in
use on public roadways each year. Motorcycle registrations
in the United States have grown each of the past 10
years, from 3,826,373 in 1997 to 6,678,958 in 2006-a
75 percent increase overall.2 Sales of new street-legal
motorcycles grew even more sharply over the same period,
from 260,000 in 1997 to 892,000 in 2006 (a 243 percent
increase), but declined slightly to 885,000 in 2007
(table 1).3 , 4

Motorcycle engine sizes and motorcycle weights are
increasing in the United States. While new sales of motorcycles
with engines of 750cc or more increased 54.0
percent in 2003 compared to 1998, and those with midsized
engines of 450-749cc increased 16.6 percent, sales
of motorcycles with smaller engine sizes decreased during
the same period, especially in the midsized 350-449cc
category, which declined 60.1 percent (table 2).

Between 2005 and 2007, sales of sport bikes (including
supersport bikes) increased from 16 to 19 percent of all
motorcycle sales (including off-road bikes, which are not
distinguished from on-road motorcycles in the available
total sales data); sales of touring bikes increased from 13 to
15 percent; sales of dual-purpose bikes increased from 3 to
4 percent, while sales of off-highway bikes decreased from
27 to 22 percent of total motorcycle sales (table 3).

During the first three quarters of 2008, total new on-highway
(i.e., street-legal) motorcycle sales (excluding dual purpose
motorcycles and scooters) declined 2.1 percent
from the corresponding period in 2007, with reported sales
of 548,747 in 2008 compared to 560,529 in 2007. Dual purpose
motorcycle sales increased 29.4 percent, with
sales of 39,805 units during the first three quarters of 2008
compared to 30,759 units during the same period of 2007.
Concurrent with record fuel prices in 2008, scooter sales
increased 50.6 percent. There were 69,227 units sold in the
first three quarters of 2008 compared to 45,975 units sold
in the first three quarters of 2007. Combining data for on highway
motorcycles, dual motorcycles, and scooters gives
total sales of 657,779 during the first three quarters of 2008
as compared to 637,263 during the same period of 2007, a
modest 3.22 percent increase in units sold.5

Motorcycle Owner Demographics

Survey data from the Motorcycle Industry Council on motorcycle
owner demographics for the 1985 to 2003 period
reveals a shift towards older owners. The median age of
owners increased from 27.1 years in 1985 to 41.0 years in
2003. From 1985 to 2003, the percentage of owners 40-49
years old increased from 13.2 to 27.9 percent, and the percentage
of owners 50+ years old increased from 8.1 to 25.1
percent (table 4). Also, survey results for 2003 indicated
that 90 percent of owners were male, while survey results
for 1998 indicated that 92 percent of owners were male,
a slight-but probably not statistically significant-trend
consistent with growing female ownership.

Training

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) offers motorcycle
rider education and training programs and courses,
and supports governmental programs by participating in
research and public awareness campaigns and providing
technical assistance to state training and licensing programs.
6 The MSF reports that about 4.5 million riders have
graduated from their rider training courses since 1974.
The Motorcycle Industry Council cites MSF data showing
that the number of students trained in MSF courses has
increased steadily from about 130,000 in 1996 to about
370,000 in 2006. During the same period, there has been
an increase in MSF course training sites from about 875
to about 2,125. In 2006, there were just over 9,000 MSF certified RiderCoaches (experienced motorcyclists who
complete an intensive preparation course to become trainers)
compared to only 3,500 in 1996.

Most recently, the National Traffic Safety Division (NTSD)
of the Transportation Safety Institute (http://www.tsi.dot.gov/), Research and Innovative Technology Administration,
U.S. Department of Transportation developed a course on
motorcycle safety program coordination (MSPC) to train
motorcycle safety program managers at the state and
federal level on the best practices, program fundamentals,
and latest strategies for effective motorcycle program
management. The MSPC course is sponsored by the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
and intended to provide training to State Highway Safety
Office program personnel and NHTSA Regional Program
Managers to enable them to better facilitate and support
a comprehensive motorcycle safety program in their state
or region. The second of two pilot courses was completed
in September 2008, with final course revisions based on
experience with the pilots to be completed after that.

Safety

The growth in motorcycle sales and registrations in the
United States has been accompanied by an increase in
accidents, property losses, injuries, and fatalities involving
motorcycles. As shown in table 5, from 1997 to 2007,
the annual number of motorcyclist fatalities increased from
2,116 to 5,154 (a 144 percent increase), and the estimated
number of motorcyclist injuries increased from 53,000 to
103,000 (a 94 percent increase).7

Although motorcycle registrations and vehicle-miles traveled
both increased substantially from 1997 to 2006 (the
last year for which registration data are currently available),
these exposure measures do not account for all
the growth in motorcyclist fatalities, because during that
period, motorcyclist fatalities increased proportionately
more than registrations and vehicle-miles traveled. From
1997 to 2006, annual motorcyclist fatalities increased from
2,116 to 4,837 (a 128.6 percent increase), while fatalities
per 100,000 registered motorcycles increased from 55.3
to 72.3 (a 30.7 percent increase), and fatalities per 100 million
motorcycle miles of travel increased from 21 to 39 (an 85.7
percent increase).

Also, during that same period, estimated annual motorcyclist
injuries increased from 53,000 to 88,000 (a 66 percent
increase), while estimated injuries per 100,000 registered
motorcycles declined from 1,374 to 1,311 (a 4.8 percent
decrease), and estimated injuries per 100 million motorcycle
miles of travel increased from 522 to 707 (a 35.4 percent
increase).

Analysis of factors accounting for increasing motorcyclist
fatality rates is beyond the scope of this brief overview of
motorcycle trends, but one trend of concern to public health
and safety experts is the relaxation of motorcycle helmet
laws (See Box B).8 , 9

Another emerging trend of concern to public health and
safety experts is the growing popularity of racing-style
motorcycles known as supersports, which have high
power-to-weight ratios and are capable of extreme acceleration
and speed (160+ mph). Although designed for the
racetrack, supersport motorcycles are marketed and sold
to the general public and have become especially popular
among young riders. On September 11, 2007, the Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a report
showing that "motorcyclists who ride supersports have
driver death rates per 10,000 registered motorcycles nearly
4 times higher than motorcyclists who ride all other types
of bikes."10 The IIHS report also noted that among fatally
injured motorcycle drivers, those riding supersports are the
youngest, with an average age of 27. For both 2000 and
2005, the death rate for riders of supersport bikes is twice
that of sport bike riders and four times that for riders of
other motorcycle types (See table 6).


1 Motorcycle Industry Council. 2003-2007 Statistical Annuals. Irvine, CA.

2 Federal Highway Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation.
State Motor-Vehicle Registrations. Washington, DC. Downloaded on Nov.
19, 2008 from http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/ohpi/qfvehicles.cfm.

3 Federal Highway Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation.
State Motor-Vehicle Registrations. Washington, DC. Downloaded on Nov.
19, 2008 from http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/ohpi/qfvehicles.cfm.

4 Motorcycle Industry Council. Data received by personal communication from J. Goodwin on Sept. 30, 2008. Irvine, CA.

5 WebBikeWorld. Downloaded on Nov. 20, 2008 from: http://www.webbikeworld.com/Motorcycle-news/blog/.

6 Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Downloaded on Nov. 24, 2008 from: http://www.msf-usa.org/.

7 National Center for Statistics and Analysis, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic Safety Facts: 2007 Data. DOT HS 810 990. Washington, DC.

8 Morris, C.C. Generalized linear regression analysis of association of universal helmet laws with motorcyclist fatality rates. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2006; 38:142-147.

9 National Center for Statistics and Analysis, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic Safety Facts: Motorcycle Helmet Use Laws. DOT HS 810 887W. Washington, DC. January 2008.

10 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Status Report. Special Issue: Motorcycles. Sept. 11, 2007; 42(9).

About this Report

This report was prepared by C. Craig Morris, Ph.D.,
Mathematical Statistician, Bureau of Transportation
Statistics. BTS is a component of the Department
of Transportation's Research and Innovative
Technology Administration.

For related BTS data and publications: www.bts.gov

For questions about this or other BTS reports, call 1-800-853-1351, email answers@bts.gov or visit www.bts.gov.

Updated: Sunday, May 21, 2017