There is a certainty in the motorcycle industry.

As per Marshall Goldman infamous book title what got the motorbike brands here, won’t take them there.

The motorcycle industry is living big challenges and deeply needs innovation. Especially in the mindset.

The winning formula that allowed many renown brands to hook the hearts (and the wallets) of motorcycle lovers definitely needs a reset and a boost.

In some key regions such as the USA, the market shrunk in 2008 and it was stagnant since then. In other countries such as China the market developed quite late and it still has interesting potential.

In this very fragmented landscape certainly import taxes and innovation challenges as well as the quest for the youngest generations represent the greatest obstacles to a smooth, traditional business growth.

In most part of the Western countries the target customer of premium motorcycles is aging and becoming increasingly demanding.

A brand new mindset and a set of new tools is what this industry needs to thrive in the next decades instead of walking on thin ice.

What an epic ride!

Let’s try to put this trend into a perspective focusing on two key industry leaders: Triumph and Ducati.

Triumph is the once flagship motorcycle brand of UK industry, then fallen into disgrace and resurrected from its own ashes like the legendary Phoenix.

Founded in 1893, it became the Allies supplier during World War I. The iconic Triumph Speed Twin became the top seller after World War II.

In the legendary movie “The Wild One” Marlon Brando rode a Triumph 1950 Thunderbird 6T.

In 1959 the iconic Triumph Tiger T110, known as the Bonneville was launched on the market.

During the rise of Japanese Honda, Triumph lacked innovation and competitiveness and the company went bankrupt in 1972. Following a decade of financial and commercial troubles, the company went into receivership in 1983 and John Bloor, a British real estate developer, bought the name and manufacturing rights.

Triumph Motorcycles Ltd. was established and the reboot started. Celebrities such as George Clooney, Bradley Cooper, Pink among many other were recently seen riding Triumph bikes. Tom Cruise filmed Mission Impossible 2 on a Triumph Speed Triple as well as Angelina Jolie in the Lara Croft movie.

David Beckham even filmed in 2014 a BBC documentary ‘Into the Unknown’ using specially customized T100 Bonnevilles to travel around Brazil.

The company even opened last year a £4m Factory Visitor Experience at its Hinckley base.

A clear British DNA, beautiful and impactful design, the right price positioning and reliability made of Triumph a success in the past years reaching a production peak of more than 60,000 bikes per year and a turnover of around 500 million pounds with a year-on-year growth of +25%.

It’s the third year record growth thanks to very favorable product launches such as Street Triple, Bobber Black, a new Speedmaster, and new Tiger 800 and 1200 adventure models and to the US launch of its own 60-stop North American tour, where the Brand engages with the coolest buyers arranging special events in the hippest locations.

Triumph customers praise the riding easiness and the cool design along with a handling thoroughbred-smooth and the engineered for an on-your-toes rider engagement as per Josh Max article on

They focus on character, heritage and performance to build the success of the brand. And they are not shy about taking risks and innovating.

On the mainland, in Italy, Ducati, another legendary motorcycle brand is facing tough challenges.

Herbert Diess, CEO of the Volkswagen Group owning the Italian company, recently stated that there is an ongoing evaluation on several alternatives regarding the future of Ducati that go from disposal to a wide re-organization.

Ducati was founded by the family Cavalieri Ducati in Bologna in 1926. After World War they invented the “Cucciolo” a small pushrod engine mounted on bicycles. A very innovative vehicle that rapidly sold more than 200,000 units.

Following the success of the Cucciolo, Ducati moved to larger motorcycles and also started to compete in racing fields.

During the following decades, Ducati always pursued the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” business model and spending in 2009 the 10% of company revenues, €40 million, on its racing business.

In 2007 Casey Stoner won the Grand Prix World Championship ensuring Ducati the winner’s cup for the first time in its history.

As they say Ducati positioning is focused on style, sophistication and performance. Maybe too much sophistication, as many customers reproach the Brand of a too high level of electronics and not enough reliability of the bikes.

Despite 731 million euros of turnover, the marketing investment apparently is still very much focused on the racing niche, which risks not to be a sufficient driver.

Several mismanagements also troubled the racing division: from the bittersweet split with Casey Stoner in 2008, when the champion won again the title with competitor Honda to the lack of feeling with the Italian mega-champion and great personality Valentino Rossi that led him to leave for Yamaha after a few years of competition failures with Ducati to the recent announcement of the champion Jorge Lorenzo about his move next year from Ducati to Honda.

Ducati seems to be unable to nurture and care the greatest bikers and to put all its technology at their own service in order to win despite being so much focused on racing.

What probably is not clear enough to the Borgo Panigale house is that it’s not the machine that wins, it’s the people.

The obsession for technology, electronics and engineering seems to hold back the company into a dangerous vicious circle that neglects key assets for growth such as strong branding, customer service and care, efficient communication and marketing strategy to reach the youngest generations and conquer all the bikers that are not mad for racing.

What Ducati missed the most during the past years is understanding the power of emotions.

Appreciating that inside every bike lover there is a “Cavalier”, a mythological persona like the “Centaur”.

Raising people instead of just benefiting from their talents really is what makes the difference. Acknowledging that the bike has a soul and not just an engine that makes her go fast could be a real turning point.

Branding is a key asset and Ducati in this moment is represented in a very fragmented way. Key icons such the Monster could go through a bold and powerful restyling.

What it is needed the most in this moment by Ducati is to “awaken the Monster” inside of every single motorcycle produced, not to chase BMW Motorrad.

The only way Ducati can thrive again in the market and grow at a faster pace than the shy +4.1% of 2017 is to recreate a deep sense of engagement, pride and respect with its passionate and with potential customers.

And this can happen only if they marry the idea that what got them here, won’t make them the market leaders of the future.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store