Motorcycle veteran’s blunt critique of industry

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Retired and honoured motorcycle industry veteran Stuart Strickland has delivered blunt criticism of the industry and the dictators who make motorcycle businesses “unsaleable”.

His comments are part of an exclusive, wide-ranging and quite blunt critique of the local and global motorcycle industry as it faces a sales slump, threats from safety “experts” and an uncertain future in an autonomous motoring world.

Blunt criticisms

Among the motorcycling stalwart’s main criticisms are that the market is dominated with motorcycle enthusiasts and small-capacity scooters and motorcycles are not embraced as they are in European and Asian cities.

He says motorcycle retailers are operating under a “dictatorial franchise system by the importers that has affectively rendered their businesses unsalable”.

Stuart knows what he is talking about. The 70-year-old has more than 40 years’ industry experience and was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2012 for his service to motorcycling. (See more career highlights at the end of this article.)

Dealers face tough times says Stuart Strickland mum blunt
Stuart (left) with Isle of Man racer Cam Donald and their wives at the TT

“I was fortunate to have been around in good times where I was able to influence manufacturer policy and able to maintain a great dealer network who were rewarded for their good work,” Stuart says.

“I just wish the managing directors of the manufacturers would get out into the market and talk to the big retailers, in their businesses, regularly.”

Motorcycle market critique

Here are some of his blunt observations about the motorcycle market in Australia (excluding agricultural use).

  • Based on enthusiasts;
  • Never been embraced by State or Federal governments as a legitimate means of moving people around economically;
  • Over-regulated, especially regarding use of land for off-road motorcycle use;
  • Risk adverse millennials show very little interest in motorcycles;
  • Electric-powered bicycles (on-road and off-road) threaten the motorcycle market;
  • Paltry fines for motorists who cause motorcycle accidents (deaths) through inattention;
  • Licence and insurance costs spiralling to ridiculous levels;
  • Motorcycle advocacy lacking funding or recognition for the good work they do which restricts their effectiveness; and
  • Negativity around motorcycle safety, promoted by government road safety authorities.

Stuart says Australia is “fortunate to have half a dozen really smart people working with motorcycle advocacy”.

“They are constructive and their opinions are valued by road safety authorities.”

However, he says they battle with people who have too much time on their hands and are “perhaps uneducated in negotiating with bureaucracy” who “muddy the water”.“As a consequence, government and their agencies say motorcycling is disjointed so they will dictate the policy direction,” he says.

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Here is a summary of Stuart’s blunt motorcycle industry critique:

  • Retailers operate under a dictatorial franchise system that has affectively rendered their businesses unsalable;
  • No young businessmen/women are entering the industry;
  • An antiquated wholesale system is crippling retailers while their margins are being cut by manufacturers and overheads escalate;
  • A critical shortage of qualified staff (technicians, parts interpreters and sales people) is impacting service levels to consumers and is incapable of being corrected while retailers are not getting a reasonable return on their investment;
  • Retailer profitability has been impacted by on-line activity and ASIC’s stance on retail finance:
  • Retailers have no financial capacity to promote motorcycle sports activities as they have in past boom times: and
  • Retailers are constantly harassed by manufacturers’ incompetent staff, who have no financial nous.

“I am happy to put my name to my comments and by doing so no doubt I’ll be a target for social media from those who have little experience either as a rider, industry figure who has had to battle with bureaucracy over countless years,” Stuart says.

“It’s clear manufacturers are puzzled about the motorcycle market decline.

“Regretfully, they continue to gaze at their own crystal ball for the answer rather than opening up a forum with the likes of yourself, other media, rider clubs and even road safety authorities.

“In situations like we have now the more brains engaged the better.”

However, he rejects the idea of yet another industry committee like America’s Give a Shift.

“I’m not sure what they can achieve, given that America’s motorcycle market has collapsed,” he says.

“I think the manufacturers’ focus is totally on the strong Asian markets.”

Stuart Strickland, OAM, career highlights

Stuart Strickland blunt criticism
Stuart in the 1980s
  • Motor Trades Association of Australia executive chairman Australian Motorcycle Dealers Association from 2014 to his retirement last month;
  • Chairman of the Motorcycle Division of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and life member since 2007;
  • Victorian Motorcycle Advisory Council board member;
  • Australian Scooter Federation co-founder;
  • Ulysses Club member from 1990;
  • Honda Australia MPE managing director 2005-2010, executive 1990-2010 and employee 1981-1990;
  • Honda Australia Rider Training program co-developer 1989;
  • Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce motorcycle chair;
  • Director and Board Member, Motorcycling Australia from 2011;
  • Milledge Brothers parts and general manager 1971-81.

Stuart will spend his retirement between his South Gippsland property and Melbourne unit, enjoying his motorcycles and other recreational pursuits.

11 Comments

  1. Good article and some great comments.
    My input is re electric bicycles and motorcycles … these should be embraced by the industry and community as both great utility vehicles (cheap, practical, quiet, low entry requirements, etc), and for their potential to reinvigorate interest in both cycling and motorcycling, and as a pathway from unlicensed cycling to both off-road and licensed motorcycling (eg mountain bike to electric mountain bike to trail bike).

  2. Just Forget about it – US Dinosaurs will be Extinct Very Soon and all that will remain will be our bones and a few rusty seized old bikes and all the old manufacturers will become obsolete except those who will make electric bikes of varying sizes and ranges in rates of distance traveled, battery life, and horsepower will become an electrical term and unit of measurement for such devices of velocipedes, oh, and it will be such fun to hear a Blue Whale again …. and smell the honeysuckle as it wafts on yonder breeze …And the LATTE’S will be ever so freshly made with SKIMMED SOY MILK and we can Sup our beverages all the while checking our twittering face books while revelling in talk of solar panels and the like ….

    AND I WILL BE DEAD AND GONE BY THEN, but I WILL HAVE HAD THE PLEASURE OF A REVVING ENGINE that SUCKED FUEL at a Great Rate while it transferred copious quantities of Giddy-Up Power to a Smoking Burning Rear Wheel that was Wrapped with a BLACK RUBBERY COMPOUND all the While I Slurped on my Bottle of Black Jack D and Smoking funny Herbal Cigarettes that weren’t chock full of tobacco and HAVING A DAMN BALL of a TIME WHILE WAITING MY TURN TO DIE ….

    THEREIN LIES the DIRECT DISTINCTION BETWEEN the DINOSAURS and the LATTE’ SET …

    I AM GLAD to have been a Dinosaur – Glad to have seen Real MOTORCYCLES from the 1960’s to the 2020’s and I pitty the generations who follow, who will probably, Never have the opportunity, to Experience Riding Real Motorcycles from Simple Single Cylinder Engines, to Twin Cylinder Beasts of Varying Configurations and Dimensions to those Fabulous sounding 3 Cylinder 4 strokes that wailed like a banshee at full song and those incredibly Fast 4 Cylinder BUZZ BOXES and on to the Sensual Sounding SIX CYLINDER BEASTIES that were silky smooth but Scaringly Fast and so wonderful at Stretching the ARMS of ANY ROCK APE that Should Wish to Ring ones Neck …. AHHH!!! THEY WERE THE DAYS BOYS, THEY WERE THE DAYS ….

    SO REJOICE YOU TERMINALY GREY DINOSAURS and GET THE HELL OUT THERE AND PLAY MERRY HELL WHILE YOU STILL CAN – BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT I AM GOING TO DO – ARE YOU UP FOR IT ???
    Better to BURN OUT THAN JUST RUST AWAY …..

    frostbite

  3. Great article with very valid points. The feedback comments are great too. Both the motorcycle industry and government (states and federal) need to wake up.

  4. Like many industries, the motorcycling world is dominated by dinosaurs who spent a lot of energy clinging to the “old” ways. They failed to embrace the community who are, after all, the ones with the $ to spend.
    By fragmenting their own marque they ensured that the two-wheeled world would remain splintered and unable to unite for a common cause.
    For the last 20 years, they have failed to support new technology which was designed to strengthen the relationship between the riders, the sport, the industry and the government.

    Conservatism is imprisoned by nostalgia and is bankrupting the future.

  5. While all the observations are very on-point, I’d suggest there’s straightforward reasons why the industry is where it is.
    Some thoughts on points made…
    Based on enthusiasts; – hasn’t it always been though? From the age of cafe racers and through-out all the different genres of motorcycling such as adventure touring, trials, Motorcross, etc; the respective sectors have been successful all due to enthusiasts , rather than bean counters and policy makers. The exception may perhaps be electric motorcycles.
    Never been embraced by State or Federal governments as a legitimate means of moving people around economically; – this is common in developed economies the world over, however imagine if the roads and streets ended up like Bangkok or Jakarta, may not be ideal either. Kuala Lumpur shares more similarities to Australian road infrastructure, yet more scooters than motorcycles.
    Over-regulated, especially regarding use of land for off-road motorcycle use; – Fair point, however that is the case for nearly all aspects of regulation such as taxes, business, road use, etc; where federal, state, and council governments are making laws.
    Risk adverse millennials show very little interest in motorcycles; – All statistics point to a higher risk of serious injury per riding capita compared to car drivers, that’s a given, and something due to both third parties as well as rider error. However perhaps the reduced interest is augmented by the higher utility of a car compared to a motorcycle; whereby a car can be used to carry more, insulated from the weather, both hot and cold, does mess with your hair etc etc. There’s also wider availability of public transport.
    Electric-powered bicycles (on-road and off-road) threaten the motorcycle market; – isn’t it at least better to have a culture of riders on two wheels, rather than four? The threat is that there are too many, or that they ride on the roads and footpaths?
    Paltry fines for motorists who cause motorcycle accidents (deaths) through inattention; – Do fines really act as a deterrent though? Unfortunately riding on two wheels in a road environment dominated by cars is likely to always be a challenge.
    Licence and insurance costs spiralling to ridiculous levels; – How do claims per rider compare to claims per driver? Both personal injury and vehicular damage. That and time and resources required to assess and process a car vs motorcycle claim.
    Motorcycle advocacy lacking funding or recognition for the good work they do which restricts their effectiveness; and
    Negativity around motorcycle safety, promoted by government road safety authorities. – Definately agree there seems to be a lack of coherent, consistent advocacy for motorcycling, which is a great pity. However just look at the heated and polarising viewpoints shared in motorcycling social media… Maybe that’s a reflection of why the industry and community is where it is.

    In the end, it goes full circle I’d say. A diverse community of independent thinking enthusiasts, who ride for the freedom that only a rider understands. And while wishes for less regulation, less fees, less cars, cheaper bikes and cheaper fuel: actually they just want to ride with like-minded mates.
    And why are there less new riders? The real reason is that the secret is out… Motorcycles may be advertised to make men more attractive to girls, however you just end up with a bunch of blokes riding with ya!
    The opposite can be said of female riders attracting guys however!

    1. This pretty much nails it. One of the reasons there are less new riders comming through is the expense in getting your license has risen dramatically in the past few years. It used to cost a few hundred dollars to get your L’s, that price has almost tripled now.

  6. I agree with the comments made. I remember when the Wacker family decided to move on from their almost century old business due to Harley Australia taking over the distribution of bikes. They commented at the time that they where not savvy in the retail space. This dictating of manufacturers to retailers is not limited to the motorcycle industry. I am sure the vehicle industry will feel the same as well as some earthmoving industries.

  7. Couldn’t have said it better myself, particularly the hatred of motorcycles through government agencies.

  8. Great article – thanks Mark.
    Perhaps an advisory forum made up of real world business and motorcycle enthusiasts, who have long years of experience and something viable to help rebuild our industry. As Stuart states; No real world experience or business knowledge, ie incompetent staff.
    Offer real world enticements to have new riders enter our sport. Bikes used to be a cheaper form of transport, however the automotive manufacturers have multiple ways to have new customers/drivers enter the market with low cost finance, and $20k vehicles.
    Significant govt subsidies for rego, insurance and road tolls. Rebates from insurance companies for riders participation in basic to advanced education.
    Train drivers to look out for bikes and turn their heads before changing lanes.
    Shall I go on. Let’s have something underway before we’re all dinosaurs, or shall we just turn off the lights now?

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