As aging riders hang up their leathers, Harley-Davidson and Honda pin their hopes on smaller, affordable bikes for a new generation.
For Fed Pacheco, it was a long journey from motocurious to motorcyclist.
There was a ride years ago in Texas on his uncle’s Suzuki Boulevard, not long after Pacheco had emigrated from Venezuela. A few years later, he decided to take a riding course and got his motorcycle license, though he still didn’t pull the trigger. But when Honda unveiled its new Rebel 500 in November, the 27-year-old finally went all in.
“I just started obsessing about it, to be honest,” he said. “The riding season was coming up and I thought ‘You know what? Maybe, it’s not that crazy.’” Pacheco traced one of the first Rebels on the market to a dealership in New Jersey, walked in and paid $6,800 on the spot. The bike was still in its shipping box.
Honda’s Rebel is the latest entry in a parade of new bikes designed for first-time riders; almost every company in the motorcycle industry has scrambled to make one. They are smaller, lighter, and more affordable than most everything else at a dealership and probably wouldn’t look out of place in the 1960s—back when motorcycling was about the ride, not necessarily the bike. They are also bait for millennials, meant to lure them into the easy-rider lifestyle. If all goes as planned, these little rigs will help companies like Harley-Davidson coast for another 50 years.
“They’re new motorcycles, but they’re also new thinking,” said Mark Hoyer, editor-in-chief of Cycle World magazine. “They’re selling this perception of lifestyle ... it’s a cultural movement; a rebranding of the whole motorcycle industry.”