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How Yamaha is re-kindling the joy of biking in Japan

Our Bureau | Updated on December 05, 2019 Published on December 05, 2019

The company is wooing kids and adults alike with a host of initiatives

In recent years, motorcycle demand in ageing Japan has been hovering at around 3.7 lakh units, which is a far cry from the heady numbers of the early 2000s.

This has prompted Yamaha Motor to turn its eyes to people ‘who have licences but simply aren’t riding’. As the company states in its recent newsletter, many of these ‘dormant riders’ are young people who went so far as to get a licence but never bought a motorcycle. Likewise, there are middle-aged and older people who used to ride but stopped after entering the workforce.

According to its newsletter, Yamaha began studying the causes that were keeping these people from getting on to a motorcycle. What emerged was that many of them were afraid of heading out by themselves on public roads.

This is when Yamaha established its ‘Riding Lessons for Adults’ with a number of ideas to help them overcome their anxieties. A curriculum heavily emphasising basic riding skills combined with polite, friendly instruction, making rental bikes available for the course and more have made this programme such a success that the number of applicants exceeds the space available at every session held across the country.

In particular, the class that culminates with a short touring ride on public roads has become very popular. These classes are now in their fourth year and work to build on the programme, such as offering a new class exclusively for young riders.

For riders hesitant to buy a bike due to lack of parking space or financial circumstances, Yamaha is running its Yamaha Bike Rental service nationwide. With operations managed directly by the company for added assurance, more than 10,000 people registered for membership in the first year alone. Nearly 60 per cent of the riders renting models in the 125-400 cc range in particular are in their late teens and 20s, making ‘the future for Japan’s motorcycle industry look a little bit brighter’.

Promoting safety

Yamaha states in its newsletter that it has long held activities to promote safe and proper use of its products as well as ways to enjoy them. These activities were at their peak of popularity in the 1970s and the 1980s. Motorcycle demand in the Japanese market at that point in time reached an incredible two million units.

It was around then that Yamaha began its ‘Parent-Child Motorcycle Classes’. What kicked it off was the launch in 1981 of the PW50 bike for children aged five or six. The ‘little bike’ was the result of requests from the US market, which was experiencing a boom in motocross and off-road riding.

They wanted something that would be the first motorcycle for kids who were able to ride bicycles, so that the whole family could enjoy riding together. The PW50 was thus planned and developed to be a kid-friendly machine designed and styled to look like a toy with easy-to-use power, levers that worked the front and rear brakes, an automatic transmission to ride with just the throttle, etc.

Starting young

With its easy-to-use features, it was nicknamed the PeeWee or Y-Zinger and quickly became a worldwide bestseller. At first, the riding classes using the PW50 were held on dirt bike tracks to inspire kids to start motocross racing, but over time the purpose and curriculum changed.

At present, there are three different classes to suit different skill levels. The first is where children take on the challenge and feel the sense of accomplishment in learning to ride for the first time. They also experience the fun of operating a motorcycle.

The second class is for learning traffic rules and good riding manners while the third is meant to strengthen the bonds between children and their parents through motorcycles.

Another programme that draws significant interest from kids is the engine disassembly/assembly workshop. Children dismantle and then reassemble actual engines with real tools using their own hands while staff teach them how an engine works, the names of parts and what they do, proper and safe use of tools, the right work order and the meaning behind work practices and more.

For Yamaha, these programmes for kids do not immediately lead to sales, but the company believes they are long-term demand-creating activities that promote motorcycling culture in ways that may very well lead to future Yamaha fans and customers.

Published on December 05, 2019
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