In her 2001 book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Barbara Ehrenreich went undercover for the real story on working-class struggles in the US. She said the book was written to “see whether or not I could match income to expenses, as the truly poor attempt to do every day.” She worked minimum wage jobs across the US, to understand what low-earning workers were up against.
I’d suggest that it would be a very good idea for moto industry insiders to do the same thing—spend some time slumming it on low-priced bikes, doing some secret-shopper work at dealerships, talking to newbies and generally investigating the realities of beginners and other riders without big budgets. North American motorcyclists are getting constantly nickeled-and-dimed, with taxes, fees and other expenses tacked on at every turn. If we don’t do something about it, motorcycling is going to become unavailable to the working class—the very group of people who are the driving force behind motorcycle sales in every boom.
Here are some ways I think riders are getting ripped off, and what the industry needs to do about it.
Almost every jurisdiction in the US requires motorcycle insurance, and I believe you must be insured in every jurisdiction in Canada, Australia and the European Union. I think requiring motorcycle insurance on public roads is a very fair idea; too many riders would travel around irresponsibly otherwise.
But for many riders, the cost is just too much. One of my wife’s brothers paid around $600 CAD a year when he bought a well-used KLR at age 18. That really only covered the six months of warmer weather that most people ride in Canada, so if you discounted the winter when nobody rides, he was really paying about $100 a month.
Her other brother paid even more to insure a Yamaha XT250. In both cases, this was after completing a $500 rider education course, and in both cases, the insurance costs did drop, but took a while, and took some badgering of the insurer. In the end, the KLR-riding brother sold his bike and went to only riding off-road, and insurance costs were a big part of his decision—with a young family, it was a bill he couldn’t justify.
I know similar stories exist across North America, where even a lowly 49cc scooter now carries an insurance cost of hundreds of dollars. So why isn’t the industry fighting this tooth-and-nail? I don’t know, but I do know that here in Canada, the Motorcycle & Moped Industry Council (MMIC) is quiet on the issue, at least in the public eye. I also know the American Motorcycle Association and the Canadian Motorcycle Association both offer a discounted insurance deal for members, but I doubt it’s enough to make a significant difference.
What can the motorcycle OEMs and other insiders do about it, though? In jurisdictions with multi-company competition, there might not be much they can do. The market, to a certain extent, sorts out pricing. But in areas with no-fault, government-managed insurance, there needs to be grassroots organization at the dealership level, and lobbying of government to get bureaucracy in line.
Excessive dealer fees
This has always been a frustration for motorcyclists, but it got very bad mid-COVID, when dealers realized buyers desperate for a bike would pay hundreds more in bogus paperwork fees or other tacked-on expenses. For instance: In 2022, one inmate reported Honda dealerships in the US asking more than $4,000 out-the-door for a Honda Navi, a bike with an $1,800 MSRP in the States.
To be clear, not every dealership does this—some will even offer a discount on MSRP. Some dealerships also may view the mark-ups as a way to survive, when the OEMs force them to carry unsellable models or perform expensive facility upgrades. It is not just a “stealerships vs. the rest of us” problem, and many good dealers do the absolute best they can for their customers.
But the excessive additional fees have to stop, especially on entry-level machines. It’s a free-market economy, so if your local Big Four dealer feels the need to add $1,000 to the MSRP of an 300cc cruiser, I suppose there’s little that you or I can do about it. But there should be clear and strongly-worded policies from OEM head offices about these practices, because it is in their best interests. It is a guaranteed way to kill interest from entry-level riders, and it will leave a sour taste in the mouth of more experienced motorcyclists.
Expensive OEM accessories
This one really gets my goat. Motorcycle manufacturers are asking way too much money for simple plastic and pot metal pieces. Saddlebags that should cost $150 are $300. Low or tall seats that should be available at no cost are hundreds extra. For example: Check out these handguards Kawasaki sells for the 2023 KLX300. They’re flimsy, compared to Barkbusters or other aftermarket offerings. Even the lower-priced aluminum handguards from Moose offer far more protection at about half the price. And hey, I’m old enough to remember when the floppy, wimpy handguards were included on dual sport bikes at no cost.
OEMs need to sort out their supply chains and offer this stuff at a fair price. If small aftermarket manufacturers can sell this stuff at low-ish cost, surely gigantic, trans-national corporations can figure it out.
Not always, but often, motorcyclists pay a highway toll that doesn’t accurately reflect their minimal impact on traffic and road repair costs. I suppose it’s unrealistic to expect Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha et. al. to really do a lot about this, but if they want people to buy commuter bikes, making a deal with the E-ZPass Group would probably help. Generally speaking, why don’t we see the industry massively pushing lawmakers to encourage commuting by bikes, with more lanesplitting legalized, free parking in urban cores, lower registration fees, and so on? These ideas would all cost the government very little, and would benefit all road users, not just motorcyclists.
Got any other ideas or points to make on this subject? Sound off below!