Retro Revolution

1st Dec 2018 7:00 am

Rishaad talks about how retro-themed bikes like the Jawa and various Royal Enfields are making a comeback and if they are here to stay.

Business in mature motorcycle markets like Europe and the USA has been cooling off. This is due to an ageing biking population and a bunch of young digital zombies unwilling to take their place. Thankfully, things are very different in developing Asian markets, especially on home soil. Here, the average motorcycle buyer is young and increasingly willing to spend more dough on their dream machine. And retro machines are playing a big role in both scenarios.

Given the tough situation in the mature markets, it’s easy to understand why retro-bikes have become so mainstream. Nostalgia is big business, especially when a vast number of your customers wistfully recall their younger days.

In India, though, it’s only in the past decade that we’ve been properly exposed to a wide and growing range of enthusiast-oriented motorcycles. Today, everyone wants the best and online comment sections overflow with complaints of missing USD forks, digital displays, slipper clutches, LED headlights and the likes. We want the latest, the greatest and we want it all at an affordable price. Yet, somehow, Royal Enfield bucks this trend by consistently posting record-breaking sales.

RE’s success in India is down to very different reasons. Here, Enfields are status symbols that give their owners the feel of a big and ‘powerful’ machine. It also helps that we are, by and large, an easy-riding market and not one with vast awareness (or interest) in motorsport. Check out the sport-biking scene in neighbouring countries like Thailand or Malaysia, especially during a MotoGP weekend, and you’ll see the difference.

In this vein, the latest RE 650 Twins follow the same retro recipe that should work wonders, both in India and overseas, especially at those prices. And now, with the re-entry of Jawa, we have another retro-driven motorcycle manufacturer in the mix. If Classic Legends pulls off a set of quality, fun-to-ride bikes, along with a good aftersales experience, it should find success as well.    

However, there is a question: how much space does retro-motorcycling have in a rapidly developing market over the long term? Sure there’s huge excitement right now, but what happens in 10 years’ time when all these young customers evolve to desire more from their machines? It happened in the mature markets and it sure as hell will happen here, especially given how we demand outright, ‘paisa vasool.’ But there’s a catch, and it’s a big one – in about 10 to 15 years’ time, I predict that the shift towards electric mobility will be immense, and it’s something we aren’t likely to have a say in. At that point, nostalgia will have reached its very peak. And that’s why I think retro motorcycling is here to stay, after all.

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