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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Comment by Editor-in-Chief, Robin Bradley

What next after 'Baggers', and will there be money in it?

Do you remember AMD's subject-specific ProGuide editions?
FOR five years from around 2002 through to the peak of the market in 2007, we published an ad-hoc program of Specials, the three best known of which were our Exhausts and Frames ProGuides, and 'MotorMania' - aftermarket complete engine and components.
There were others too - on 'retro' parts, wheels and brakes, Chopper parts, parts and accessories for Sportsters, another one specifically for Buells and, in what turned out to be a way-ahead-of-its time but prescient move, one on parts and accessories for Harley's tourers.

We don't claim to have first used the term 'Baggers' (I'd be ashamed if we had!), we called ours the 'FL/Touring ProGuide' - not snappy perhaps, but it was stimulated by the, at last, appearance of the first aftermarket frames for FLs, the ever growing displacement of available aftermarket engines, and the changing nature of Harley's product mix ratio.

Harley were looking to boost their balance sheet following its then long overdue capacity and production process improvements, and boy, how that worked. I figured that if Harley think they can make more money by producing bigger higher price-point bikes, then the aftermarket should be taking notice.

Our ProGuides came out in varying frequencies, and the subjects were re-visited entirely based on the quantity and timeliness of new product being unleashed by the aftermarket. If I remember correctly 'MotorMania' appeared twice annually for three or four years, the ones on frames and on exhausts were annual, and we visited other subjects maybe twice during that era, some of the subjects just the once.

'the demand cycle may be softening'

The 'FL/Touring' edition celebrated, what I remember describing it as at the time, the "Cinderella" of Harley’s platforms.

Of course what has happened to the so-called 'Bagger' market since is now well known. At the end of the 'builder-boom', as credit apps started to fail in ever increasing numbers from late 2006 and through 2007, and home equity availability started to dry up, there was a race to the bottom in terms of stripped-down price-point builds as hopelessly leveraged hopefuls tried to salvage what they could from the melt-down.

The 'Bobber Boom' burned brightly, but briefly, as even bikes at the $20k mark soon also started to fail to find sufficient buyers. Throughout the downturn there have been two primary discernable trends, both the paradigm opposite of each other.

One, the ever decreasing circle drawn by the ever decreasing price point characterized by SVs' and other theoretically obsolete and retro platforms, en-route to a minimalism in cost that matched the designs.

The other is an ever-widening upward spiral of price fuelled by production ratios and CVOs. However, who doesn't realize that 'what comes round, goes round' is naive at best. Anybody who is heavily dependent on 'Bagger' demand who doesn't have an escape plan or a what-comes-next option is just plain foolhardy - just remember what happened to fat rear ends!

The start of this year saw the first closure of one of the unsustainable crop of 'bagger-zines' that had sprung up overnight like mushrooms around four or five years ago.

There was evidence in the shape of vendor absentees and quieter than usual 'bagger' booths at V-Twin Expo that maybe the trend had peaked. Now, reports from around the market suggest that, at best, saturation point has been reached in terms of parts and accessory oversupply and vendor headcount - the 'bloom' may well be off the 'boom' already.

If it is, then, yet again, a massive hole will be left where once there was profit. If it is, then the obvious question is - what comes next, and will there be money in it?

If you are reading this expecting some pearl of wisdom, some insight into where custom taste will take us next, then I'm sorry to disappoint, but I'm much more of an interpreter of history rather than futurologist where such things are concerned.

The market has way too many issues still, all playing out simultaneously for the crystal ball to be anything other than misted at this stage.

The process of vendor consolidation continues apace, the evolution of the regulatory landscape continues to challenge, we are still not really seeing any genuine trickle-down from the theoretically robust economic recovery and, above all, the morphing of our demographic in this digital dystopia of a century appears to be bent on turning quantum physics into an economic doctrine - there will be at least some demand for everything all of the time.

What we can already see though is further turbulence in the fabric of our space-time as Harley faces uncertainty and new players' scoots get parked on their lawn!