The Social Rider: Motorcycle as a Service

Feb 04, 2020 View Comments by

The Social Rider: Motorcycle as a Service

Digital transformation and disruptive technologies are concepts that we’ve all experienced very strongly in the last 20 years. Some traditional business models have been shattered to pieces and ceased to exist. New ideas that started as tiny and harmless worms have developed into either beautiful butterflies or dangerous monsters, depending on your point of view.

Recall 1999: Not many held the entire internet in the palm of their hand. A “dumb” cell phone with the game of Snake was the coolest gadget. Music CDs were purchased from Tower Records. People shopped mainly in brick-and-mortar stores. I remember the first time I got a book from a little website named Amazon, which had begun selling books online; how can that be so easy, I wondered.

Fast-forward to the present, and many of those businesses have become digital services. Music is streamed from Spotify, video comes from Netflix, e-books are downloaded from Amazon, Adobe offers Photoshop only as a cloud-based subscription, and the list goes on. Products are replaced by services. It seems that if a business hasn’t transformed itself to operate as a digital service, then it’s either struggling or already dead.

With all those changes affecting almost every aspect of our lives, surely motorcycles can’t be an exception. How will these trends affect the motorcycle industry and the new generation of social riders?

New Business Models
A fundamental principle that dominated the entire automotive industry for the last 120 years is that people purchase and own a vehicle and then sell it after several years as new models and technologies come out. But the classic ownership model is not ideal for buyers, due to severe depreciation, and it is continuously challenged by new approaches.

Let’s examine some potential emerging business models:

Commercial Motorcycle Rental Companies
Renting a car is possible in virtually any country, but motorcycle rental is rare to nonexistent, even in highly developed countries.

Eaglerider has been renting out motorcycles but with limitations on minimum rental time and availability, as they are a niche player. Finally, in October 2019, Hertz Rides announced that for the first time, BMW motorcycles will be offered in select areas in the U.S. This is an excellent move for getting casual riders to tour or enjoy a modern and well-maintained motorcycle without the heavy expenses associated with ownership. Hopefully, other rental companies will follow suit, and a healthy competition will begin.

Rental of Personal Motorcycles
One of the more exciting initiatives that has gathered momentum lately is the ability to rent a motorcycle directly from another rider. There are many thousands of riders, just like you and me, who are interested in a bit of income and have motorcycles in good riding condition that are underutilized and sitting in the garage. The company Twisted Road provides a motorcycle sharing service, allowing people to list their available bikes or rent other people’s bikes. It’s a promising idea that allows riders to experience all kinds of motorcycles, from vintage to super sport, often for quite a reasonable price.

Pay-as-you-go e-scooters, from Lime, Bird, and other companies, seem to be abundant on any street corner in major cities. The service is easily activated online using a smartphone app, which then enables the scooter wirelessly and charges by time or mileage usage. It is an immediate service that doesn’t require a complicated registration process or need to physically go to a rental center in order to pick up and drop off the scooter. The scooter is right there on the street, ready to be used.

In crowded cities with limited and very expensive parking space, this makes perfect economical sense. Why own a scooter if you can simply use one and then park it once it’s no longer needed?

If this model works so well for scooters, perhaps it could work for motorcycles. Fleets of shared motorcycles would allow mobility for longer ranges.

Motorcycle Pool Clubs
A motorcycle pool club can group several riders together in shared ownership. This is common with private yachts and airplanes. Instead of inefficiently holding a motorcycle in a garage with low usage, a club can buy several motorcycles, and the members would use the vehicles following some rules, such as equal time sharing and guaranteed slots. This business model can significantly reduce operational costs and effectively enable a rider to have access to multiple bikes that otherwise would be very expensive or impractical to store.

Similarly, a single expensive and exotic model, such as a specialized racetrack bike, could be used by the members for a fraction of the cost of individual ownership.

Another interesting aspect of motorcycle ownership is maintenance.

The traditional dealership model has a large and expensive building with a dedicated service department. Riders have to ride, or trailer, the bike to the dealership, sometimes for many miles, then return home on public transportation, drive home with an empty trailer, or, if they’re lucky, ride a dealer’s loaner bike. It is inconvenient, inefficient, and time-consuming.

An alternative, service-oriented approach is to have a certified and professional mechanic come to the owner’s house and take care of the motorcycle there. The mechanic would carry all the tools and parts specified by the manufacturer. A marketplace would form and allow mechanics to compete and provide consumers the best service with the lowest prices, utilizing a user ranking system.

The world is changing in front of us, and the rate of change is accelerating. Ideas once considered radical, such as hosting total strangers in your home for a fee via Airbnb, are now the norm. It would be fascinating to see how the motorcycle industry evolves when social riders shape it and move into new directions.

Riders in 2039 may look back and remember those times where motorcycles were a product instead of a service.



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