Home / Top Stories / Epic Editorials / How The Motorcycle Industry Works
YouMotorcycle Himself

How The Motorcycle Industry Works

the-motorcycle-industry(and Why You Should Never, Ever, Work In It)
I’ve come the conclusion that you can either love motorcycling, or you can work in the motorcycle industry, but not both.

This isn’t a rule, and some jobs in the world of motorcycling are what dreams are made of. Who wouldn’t mind being a journalist flown to Spain on someone else’s dime to test ride the latest and greatest new motorcycle at a press launch? I can tell you first hand the media doesn’t have it easy, either. I’ve seen journalists braving out freezing cold storms on motorcycles I wouldn’t want to ride anywhere but the track on a warm sunny day. These guys are tough.

The point is that dream jobs in the motorcycle biz are few and far between, and even those few seemingly perfect gigs take a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

girl with motorcycle biker iii by erlingaxiii-d56znmyThe reality is that all of us working in the motorcycle industry in Canada are just in this, trying to cram in as much riding and working as we can, in a Canadian season that will never be long enough for us to accomplish all of the things we’d like to. So, what do you do when you wake up to find your dream job isn’t all that you thought it would be?

I started working in the motorcycle industry while I was finishing university. While completing my marketing degree an opportunity came up that I couldn’t let slip by. I prepared my resume, cover letter, and some flattering statistics from my motorcycle blog. Before I knew it I was in an interview – and the rest is history.

Try to imagine the excitement of a 20-something year-old male who just landed his first full time career job in the industry he already thinks about night and day. While all of my friends were psyched to leave town for cottages and foreign countries after exams, I was giddily getting ready for my first full day’s work of my career. I had always been passionate about marketing, and motorcycles were my one true love. What better than a marketing job in the motorcycle industry, right?

Over the years I could hear an echo from people who work, and have worked, in the motorcycle business. At first it was unclear and hard to grasp, like a reflection in the water: A reflection of myself and the people I work with. The voices said they rode more prior to getting into motorcycles professionally. I took a good look at myself and my coworkers and colleagues. Maybe they were right. 2012 was my one of my worst riding years. The teenage motorcyclist I used to be would shun people like me: people who have all of the perks, but weren’t out riding. I’ve become one of “those people”.

But try asking your accountant to come out for a ride during tax season. Try asking an athlete to come out for a ride during the playoffs. Try asking the motorcycle professional to come out for a ride during the riding season. “Busy season” – every industry has one. It just so happens that “busy season” and riding season are one in the same in Canada.

I used to be cool

The Canadian season is short. Across the industry you’ll find new models arrive soon after New Years Day. Motorcycles come out of warehouse or out of storage, hit the streets, and almost immediately after motorcycles begin flowing back into dealerships for service or repair. Parts orders fly off the shelves and the OEM order shipping madness of parts and vehicles is in full swing. Dealerships are moving product and by spring, businesses at all levels of the motorcycle industry can see what they’ve done well to offer, and what they wish they had ordered less of. You’ll see some products go on sale and you’ll see reorders begin, as employees scramble in the rat race we call the Canadian motorcycle season.

It really is a rat race. It really does fly by. Blink and you’ll miss the 10,000 things that took place, as people from all walks of life hustle and bustle to keep you and your motorcycle on the road. The industry is cutthroat. Customers are more informed than ever, and that’s a very good thing. Magazines, websites, and forums help them, but be careful who you listen to.

girl with kickstart motorcycle

Product comes in, and product goes out. Management executives across the industry smile when they see the revenue, and then cringe when it’s time to pay suppliers and employees. They smile again when they look at the net income, and then cringe again when they see the calendar. The bulk of the money is made in a very small period of time. Tick tock, tick tock, soon it will all be done.

This Canadian riding season doesn’t last forever. Before you know it you’ll find snow on the ground, and you as you get ready to ride to your motorcycle biz job you won’t be able to remember the last time you went on a motorcycle ride worth talking about, or one worth blogging about…

Quit wondering about that! There’s no time! It’s late summer, and anyone who thinks that the motorcycle industry slows down is gravely mistaken. OEMs must decide what they will carry for next year’s vehicle line up and ensure their motorcycles are tested and meet all compliance requirements. Suppliers have already been busy with their spreadsheets, deciding what will be imported for the next year. With end of summer approaching, dealerships must put in orders for both the next year’s vehicle models from the OEMs they carry, and do large booking orders from their suppliers for next year’s stock of parts, gear and accessories.

Motorcyclist, Gear, and Accessory

The more your business orders, the more your business saves. The sales rep reminds you that the business ordering the most can afford to be the most competitive on price, in a cutthroat motorcycle industry… “not that there’s any pressure on you, of course” the sales rep says. No, of course not.

For a while, the order arrival dates are anyone’s guess. One day in the fall, faster than you can warm up your motorcycle, everything starts arriving. Canadian distributors and suppliers receive their goods and turn around and ship them right back out to all of the dealerships that placed orders. The dealerships in turn begin receiving vehicles, parts, accessories, gear, marketing material, service manuals, you name it. Every skid that comes in has a price. The industry opens up (and empties out) its wallet precisely when money from customers stops coming. This is Canada. It’s already cold. Most of us have stopped riding.

Motorcycle Ride

And then there are the motorcycle shows, and the time and the cost of loading and unloading an eighteen-wheeler full of product to bring to the show. With an overhead like what you’ll be paying for floor space, dealerships and vendors are going to need to sell a lot just to get any return on their investment. You didn’t think you didn’t think folks in the motorcycle biz would have the time to be riding in the early winter, did you?

Come the new year we do it all over again. That’s the motorcycle business. That’s how the motorcycle business works.

My advice to anyone who loves riding motorcycles in Canada: Ask yourself a few questions. Are you really passionate enough about the professional side of it to pass up the free time riding? How badly do you want to work in an industry that will keep you busiest precisely when you want to be out riding?

YouMotorcycle HimselfIf you aren’t sure. If you have any doubts, stay far, far, out of here. Love your motorcycles. Treat them like you treat your spouse, your children, your whatever. Motorcycling really is the world’s greatest outdoor sport. If you really want to enjoy it, think twice before you do it here in Canada. As much as the industry needs real motorcyclists who understand the wants and needs of real motorcyclists, I have to say it again: think twice about it. The better you are at your job, the less you’ll ever find time to ride.

This isn’t some knock on the motorcycle industry or its employers. The same holds true for many jobs. You might enter photography thinking you’re going to change the world with your art, just to find your weekends tied up taking pictures at weddings. The better you want to be at your job, the less time you’ll to have ride. Plain and simple.

This is how the Canadian motorcycle business works, in brief. There is so much more to it and I’m learning more every day. Federal level politics, provincial level politics, manufacturers, suppliers, dealers, garages, the media, legitimate businesses, curbsiders, training schools, auction houses, custom builders, online bloggers, the shipping companies, the warehouses, the events, the test rides, the demo days, the shows, the meetings, the sponsors, your collection of little shampoo bottles from hotels across the country, the trip to EICMA in Milan, not that you went to it, but you heard it was amazing.

It’s difficult to imagine how many people and places keep you and your motorcycle on the road. Rest assured, if they live in Canada, those people probably rode a lot more before they entered the business.

YouMotorcycle

The motorcycle industry is a beautiful thing. There is a lot of pride that comes from seeing a new rider on his or her first motorcycle, helping riders become better, more experienced, more knowledgeable, fighting for their legal rights. I like to think you get a lot of two-wheel good karma from working in this industry, and the perks really are great. If you do your job well, the work will eat up your whole season. You’ll sit down to write a post about the last good ride you went on, draw a blank, and end up writing a post titled “How the Motorcycle Industry Works” instead.

Ride safe, but have fun.

About YouMotorcycle

YouMotorcycle is a lifestyle motorcycle blog to be appreciated by those who see motorcycling as a lifestyle and not simply a hobby, sport, or method of transportation. Most of the posts on the site are written by past and present motorcycle industry staff. We remain fiercely independent, innovative, and unconventional.
Our goal is to encourage more people to enjoy the world’s greatest outdoor sport by helping new riders get started and inspiring current riders to get out more.
We motorcycle, do You?

11 comments

  1. That’s why I got a trade…make good money in the Oilsands & biking and writing about biking is a hobby…

    Vlogs, blogs, forums…hard to find the time between working & riding…so take the pics, write some notes, shoot some video & produce the end product in the winter that we all love to hate…keeps your mind on riding and you get to relive the awesome days you had the season before…unless you crash at the end of the season and spend half the next season repairing the bike…but that’s not everyone’s season, just my last one.

    2013 will be the riding season to remember for me!

    Later.

  2. Yeah, that’s kinda what I found in my short time selling parts & accessories. The pressure to upsell and make that commission took the joy out of being around bikes. It’s a rare person who can make a living at their passion without turning their passion into “just a job”.

  3. Been in the industry 12 years and love every second because my passion is my job cant imagine life without the two combined!! Harley-Davidson store General Manager by the way!!

    • Hey Tony thanks for the comment. I bet if I’d have been working in Arizona instead of Ontario I’d be saying the same thing. The climate, and as a result the market, are a lot different up here!
      Ride safe!

  4. I appreciate your outlook, having worked as a tech during university myself, but I can’t see how working in the industry is any more detrimental to your riding time than, you know, working full time doing anything. A job is a job is a job and consumes 40 plus hours a week whether you are pushing pencils, selling widgets or spinning wrenches. I’d rather be working with what I’m passionate about if I need to be working at all. I spend my one or two days off a week riding regardless of what I’m doing at my day job.

    • As mentioned, imagine an accountant trying to take time off work to enjoy his hobby during tax season.
      Imagine a farmer trying to take time off work to enjoy his hobby during the harvest season.
      Imagine a retail employee trying to take time off work to enjoy his hobby during the Christmas shopping season.

      These are three examples of three very seasonal profession, which is what the motorcycle business is in Canada, and you can imagine the challenges professionals in these industries face when trying to take time off work during those particular seasonal moments. Often during these times they’re actually asked/expected to work over hours, rather than under, which makes taking time off altogether all the more difficult. With the motorcycle season being so brief in Canada, taking time off of work to enjoy it when you work in the motorcycle industry isn’t always feasible, and expecting it to be easy isn’t very realistic.

  5. Depressing. Quit your job – life is too short. Don’t waste your time with something that makes you so bitter. It’s not the job or the industry or the fact that the Canadian summer is short (compared to?), it’s that your focus is on the wrong things. If it doesn’t work for you – move on!
    I mean this in a good way – not to piss you off. Find your passion – it’s clearly NOT the motorcycle industry.

Leave a Reply to Jim Cancel reply