COVID-19 has forced us all to be come reclusive and lose our social skills. But we weren't counting on COVID boosting the motorcycle economy and causing great builds... Words: MDM
With the global COVID-19 pandemic destroying some industries like international travel and effecting sole traders, some industries have been soaring above the rest. The motorcycle industry is a culture that has been boosted by the pandemic.
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It’s been a while since I’ve thrown down a selection of words for Bike Review, but you probably don’t need reminding that these last twelve months have been rather different for all of us – which is probably an understatement to rival Captain Lawrence Oates’ comment that he “may be some time” when he popped outside for a tinkle during the 1912 Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole.
All of our lives have been thrown into turmoil – to a greater or lesser extent – since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic nigh on a year ago, and even if we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to continue working; to have none of our friends or family affected; nor to have any restrictions placed on our daily lives by our respective governments, we’ve still seen the affect that Mother Nature’s diverse developments can have upon the human race.
While some countries have still allowed their populace to mix freely, most have imposed at least a modicum of social distancing and reduced attendance of events, with others preventing any kind of social interaction whatsoever. And this has had a somewhat bizarre effect on the motorcycling world, with different areas of our special little corner of powered transport both benefitting and suffering.
Many people don’t associate custom bike builders with any kind of mainstream motorcycle activity, which is something that has always confused and frustrated me. There cannot be a custom bike builder on the planet who has not ridden a standard bike at some point, nor watched some form of motorcycle sport, and absolutely every form of motorcycle sport has seen disruption during the last year.
Of course, the in world of the streetfightered motorcycles, sport pays a large part, given that the aim of building a ‘fighter is to be bigger, badder, faster and more powerful. Okay, so not every version of bike sport needs more power and a higher top speed – I’m thinking trials here – but the development of more powerful engines and lighter components is something that drives the aftermarket industry forward. And that aftermarket industry has, in many cases, actually thrived during the pandemic.
The garden became the second most popular activity after watching television – or, of course, spending time with the love of your life. Which is, no lies here, motorcycles!
The fact that many folk were relieved from work – or put onto some kind of government-supported furlough scheme that gave payment without the requirement to actually be working – meant that many people have had more free time than they are sued to. Time that could be consumed by taking up one of the increasingly-popular hobbies such as gardening which was booming in popularity – spending time in the garden became the second most popular activity after watching television – or, of course, spending time with the love of your life. Which is, no lies here, motorcycles!
For those areas with particularly harsh restrictions, lockdown may have put the dampers on actually riding our bikes, but it wasn’t going to stop people from spending time in their garages, sheds and workshops. That time spent working on bikes, whether it was modifying, restoring or simple maintenance, meant that parts and consumables were required, hence the increased trade to the aftermarket industry. Last summer here in the UK (your Winter), it wasn’t unheard of for a parts supply company to have sales of over four times what they’d sold during the same time period in 2019.
Although the supply of parts – not just in terms of aftermarket items, but also standard consumables, and even raw materials – didn’t always run smoothly, as in much the same way the that increased demand for small capacity motorcycles (here in the UK, moped and sub-200cc sales peaked noticeably) meant that stock sold out quickly, and couldn’t be replaced due to travel restrictions in place to counter the spread of COVID-19.
So, while bikes weren’t being prepped for racing, and there wasn’t the impetus to finish a bike for the next drag race meeting, or custom show, or in many cases even just to pull a jacket and helmet on to just go for a ride on your favourite roads, there was lots of spare time for spanner swinging.
While we’ve had our fun and frolics curtailed somewhat by COVID-19, and while we may not have spent as much time over the last twelve months honing our considerable riding talents, there is one beneficial side effect of having our freedoms restricted by this particular virus. Thanks to the increased garage time, we can guarantee that, once we’re let out again to terrorise our favourite roads and highways (or tracks), there will be some very special bikes that have been built during the pandemic.
With an aftermarket industry that has survived through the pandemic – and maybe even benefitted from it – and a rise in users of powered two wheelers, the future looks bright for motorcycling, and for modified bikes too.
The additional time handed to us by this most intrusive of viruses has given many people the time to make their project bike all the more special. Extra time has been taken on engine rebuilds, on achieving the perfect paint finish, of spending a little longer ensuring that frame modifications are undertaken to the very best degree, and getting the fit of body panels just perfect.
That extra time COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to actually practice our welding abilities, whereas previously we’ve just had to make sure that the weld is strong enough with no regard as to whether it looks pretty; the extra time to polish a part that would normally have been painted or just left as it was; the extra time to ensure that the cam timing is precisely correct; the extra time to push ourselves just a little further in achieving what we strive to own – the perfect motorcycle.
In a bizarre turn of fate, thanks to the enforced situation of social distancing and the fear of public transport that has been brought into play during the pandemic, it looks as though motorcycling may be undergoing something of a renaissance. In the countries where the sales of small capacity bikes had fallen through the floor over the last couple of decades, a new desire for cheap-to-run, accessible bikes has arisen as commuters have gained a desire to travel independently, by themselves, with personal protection equipment in place – and we’re talking face masks as well as helmets and back protectors.
While this demand may be short-lived, it will result in some people being bitten by the biking bug, and it is then only a short step to having a life that is ruled by one-track thoughts. With an aftermarket industry that has survived through the pandemic – and maybe even benefitted from it – and a rise in users of powered two wheelers, the future looks bright for motorcycling, and for modified bikes too.
Build more, ride more…