The motorcycle industry is undergoing a sea change in both its ridership and its products, and Wilmington is embracing both.
“Wilmington has a large market,” said Richard Smith, owner of Hard Knox Cycles. “There’s such a wide variety of people in the area. We have the beach, nearby military bases and college kids. There are different bikes and different styles of bikes for every rider out there.”
With these factors in place, local motorcycle businesses are enjoying continued growth. Though motorcycle sales aren’t as robust as they were during COVID, they are still good, according to Carson Baker, owner of Battleship Cycles & Marine.
“Sales had to come down,” said Carson Baker, owner of Battleship Cycles & Marine. “The demand can’t stay so extreme for so long. It’s down a little but not where we’re concerned. We’re still adding inventory. The future is bright.”
That’s due in part to the new riders who are taking up motorcycling. No longer the purview of nonconformists, motorcycling has become mainstream. Everyone from 20- and 30-year-olds younger consumers to middle-aged, middle-class types who always wanted to ride and now have the money to do so to active retirees engage with the outdoors is getting into riding, according to Baker.
More women are joining the motorcycle movement, too, purchasing everything from smaller sports bikes to behemoth 800-pound Harleys and taking to the open road.
No matter who it is or their reason for riding, motorcycle manufacturers have worked to make it easy for bikers to decide to buy. All the major companies, such as Harley-Davidson, Honda, BMW, Yamaha, Indian, Kawasaki and Yamaha, make a range of models priced from $10,000 to $50,000 and more.
Local bikers take advantage of all their choices. Small sports bikes are popular in the area, as are standard bikes and cruisers, touring bikes, and hybrids.
Even less conventional bikes, like the three-wheelers, have a market in Wilmington. The trike appeals to older riders who want an easier-handling bike and to those with a disability, according to Smith. The slingshot bike, which resembles an open-air sports car, has also gained a following, Baker adds.
The electric motorcycle is the outlier. It hasn’t caught on here yet, but Ryan Haynes, owner and head technician of Salter Speed Shop, predicts that it’s only a matter of time before it does. Currently, the e-bike’s hefty price tag and limited charge are deterrents; but Haynes expects that once those issues are resolved, e-bikes will find a place in Wilmington’s biker community.
“The e-bike is unbelievable, it is so fast,” he said. “It’s so quiet all you hear is the wind. I think it will take off.”
Whatever bike a motorcyclist decides on, it likely won’t look like it did on the showroom floor for long.
Personalized bikes are the in-thing, and some Wilmington bikers are as anxious to make a statement with their bikes as their colleagues across the county.
To do so, they give their bikes special paint jobs, attach new handlebars and grips, switch to oversized wheels, put on a different seat or exhaust pipe or make any number of other changes.
Others in the area go for the vintage look.
“The ’70s-era Hondas are coming back big,” Smith said.
Some bikers are willing to shell out whatever it takes to make their bikes one-of-a-kind, even if they have to do it a little at a time, said Haynes.
“You can get a new custom-made bike for $50,000, and that’s starting out,” he said. “Then someone puts $15,000 of accessories on it. People want to make their bikes their own.”
Motorcycles are also getting more computerized and technologically advanced, which adds to their popularity, Smith said.
Area bikers want the same conveniences people have in their cars like LCD screens, GPS, Apple play cards and infotainment systems. Bikers can even get systems that hook their smartphones up to their helmets.
In addition to the fun stuff, local bikers expect their motorcycles to be safe, and they look to technology to provide that as well. Anti-lock brakes and side-view assist, which helps bikers change lanes, are two such sought-after options.
Other smart technologies like adaptive headlights that pivot when the bike turns so riders can see where they are going, electronic tire pressure monitors and automatic clutch and shift systems are also in demand.
There also is wearable safety technology. That includes the wearable vests and jackets, which wrap around the rider and inflate automatically if there is a crash.
Convincing riders to invest in the gear, however, can be another story.
“You can’t put a price on your head, but people here are not interested,” said Haynes. “I see a lot of flip-flop and T-shirt guys riding around here.”
While all the new motorcycle models and their technological innovations are driving the industry, Baker contends that it is the riders that make motorcycling so special in Wilmington.
“The biker community in Wilmington is one of the nicest groups,” Baker said. “There’s a camaraderie to it. I hope it continues to grow.”