Motorcycle sales showing signs of picking up after two-year slump

Motorcycle sales have been on the skids for some time, but things may be looking up. If the first quarter of 2011 is any indication, Las Vegas streets may soon echo with the sound of screaming eagles as more riders take to two wheels to beat rising commute costs or just for the joy of it.

In 2009, 655,000 motorcycles were sold nationwide, a drastic fall from the previous six years, during which more than 1 million cycles annually moved off lots. In 2010, though, the numbers dropped even more when annual sales fell to 440,000 nationwide.

According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, which represents power sports manufacturers, street bike purchases increased 7 percent in the first quarter of 2011 compared with the same quarter a year earlier. Sales of scooters and dual-sport models increased 50 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

Sales of off-road motorcycles, though, decreased 5 percent from the same quarter of 2010.

At Carter Powersports in south Las Vegas, which offers everything from $2,500 scooters to high-end bikes starting at $30,000, general manager Gregg Kearns said 2011 has been “a nice improvement over 2010.”

He notes that gasoline prices are hovering around $4 a gallon and the majority of the bikes that are selling are smaller, fuel-efficient models. Buyers are also feeling a little bit better about spending, he said.

“I think people are kind of tired of holding on to their money,” Kearns said. “They’re generally feeling better about the economy.”

While sales of high-end bikes have been a struggle for two years, Kearns said he appreciates any movement on his floor.

“We’ll take any positives we can see,” he said.

Arlen Ness Motorcycles, a 5-year-old bike shop on Boulder Highway, is a little ahead of the national trend.

General manager Bill Biler said the dealership has experienced 7 percent to 7.5 percent growth each year for the past three years. The previous two years, though, were dismal.

“The dealership was built 5½ years ago with the belief it would be possible to sell $50,000 bikes in Las Vegas,” he said.

As a result, Arlen Ness stocked only high-end models.

“It was killing the store,” Biler said.

Three-and-a-half years ago, Biler added mid-priced Victory models ranging from $11,500 to $23,000, to the shop’s inventory.

“Now we’re a viable entity,” Biler said.

Since it added Victory and other lower-priced makes, Arlen Van Ness’ sales have increased steadily.

Other motorcycle brands, like Harley-Davidson, offer a variety of prices that can help attract customers during an economic downturn. Harley offers the Sportster, which starts at about $8,000, as well as he CVO, which retails for about $37,000.

“You have to cover all types of price points,” said J.P. Jaramillo, sales manager at Las Vegas Harley-Davidson.

Southern Nevada Harley shops have sold an average of about 45 bikes per month this year. Jaramillo said the least-expensive bikes, such as the Sportster, and the high-end bikes are selling, but midrange models aren’t.

The average customer isn’t back to finding room for “extras” in a family budget, Jaramillo said.

Harley sales are up this year, though Jaramillo didn’t have specific numbers.

“Last year was the worst,” Jaramillo said. “Things are picking up, though, and turning around. There’s more confidence in the market.”

With that confidence building within the local motorcycle industry, another Las Vegas dealership, Champion Motor Sports, recently opened at 5032 Wagon Trail Ave. So far, the enterprise has been busy.

Co-owner Greg Bunker said the business has sold a variety of bikes, including dual-sport, street and off-road, in addition to parts and accessories. Champion is the only KTM dealer in the Las Vegas Valley, a factor that figured in Bunker and his partner’s decision to open.

“There is a demand for it,” Bunker said.

Bikes carried at Champion are priced from $3,000 to $11,000. Bunker said people are coming in to look at all models.

Contact reporter Laura Emerson at or 702-380-4588.

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