Do You Live in a Motorcycle Country?

Do you sometimes feel lonely riding your bike, like you’re just about the only rider around? Or does it seem like every third person you know also rides a motorcycle? We decided to take a look at the raw numbers to see which countries embrace motorcycles the most, both in relation to car ownership and overall population. The results might surprise you.

For our analysis we looked at the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Sorry, New Zealand. We did attempt to find statistics for you but with no luck.

We then went to various sources (either Government or Industry) to find out how many motorcycles were sold in each country for 2014, how many cars were sold in 2014 and their respective (human) populations. Canada is the exception to this – we had to rely on 2013 data but it’s unlikely to really change the result much.

With the data, we did our best to filter out scooters from the motorcycle sales as well as only focussing on passenger cars (instead of light trucks, etc). Different countries define vehicles in different ways, so it won’t be a perfect comparison but again, it won’t make a big difference to the end results.

So out of those countries, which one buys the most motorcycles in comparison to cars? The United States would have been my first pick, followed by the western European countries. And we were half correct, Spain, Italy and France (in that order) all buy motorcycles at the highest proportion to cars than to the other countries in our analysis. Surprisingly however, the United States falls behind Australia and is only slightly above Germany.

Chart Total Motorcycles Sold 2014 to Cars Sold 2014

But perhaps that can be explained by way of America being the king of car ownership. Americans own more cars per 1,000 people than anyone else in the world with the exception of the rich tax havens of San Marino, Monaco and Liechtenstein (where everyone drives Ferraris and Lamborghinis). That’s doesn’t quite explain it though, as Australia ranks only 3 places below the United States for car ownership and their percentage of motorcycle sales to car sales is well above the United States.

So what about if we compare motorcycles bought in 2014 compared to population? One would expect the order to be roughly the same, yes?  Well no, not at all.  Comparing motorcycle sales to total population actually changes things considerably. Australia now becomes first in the data, with a percentage of 0.34% of motorbikes sold in comparison to population. That’s followed by Italy, Spain and France who are all very close. Using this metric, the United States drops down the list to be in line with Canada and the United Kingdom, being only ahead of Japan.

Chart Total Motorcycles Sold 2014 to Total Population

This isn’t an ideal comparison however, as it would be better to compare total motorcycles registered in each country, rather than just in a particular year. Unfortunately, this data is a bit more difficult to find but we can go as far back to 2009 using statistics provided by each country’s respective industry representative (as the latest data from Canada is 2013, we went back to 2008 to ensure each we’re comparing the same length of time). Does this change things much? No, except for one exception – Italy.

Chart Total Motorcycles Sold from 2009 to Total Population

Italy leapfrogs Australia and jumps into first place if we look at sales from the past 6 years. How so? Because in 2009, Italians bought 403,325 motorcycles – almost as many as the United States last year, but from a country with less than a fifth of the population. But since 2009, sales of motorcycles have continued to slide and no wonder – Italy was one of the hardest hit countries in Europe by the GFC and has been in numerous recessions since 2009. If you think motorcycle sales were hit hard in the US, Italy makes it look like a summer vacation.

Sales of motorcycles in Italy peaked at 444,987 in 2006. In 2013, they had dropped to 153,491 – a reduction of over 65%. Yet despite the economic woes the country is undergoing, Italians still buy motorcycles at a higher rate than almost everyone. So does this make them king of all countries for motorcycle ownership? We did our best to answer this but unfortunately we could not find total motorcycle ownership data for Japan, Germany or Spain. But for everyone else, here’s what we found:

Chart Total Motorcycle Ownership to Population

There you have it, Italy is undisputedly the most motorcycly (it’s a real word, trust me) country on the planet. Over one in 10 Italians own a motorcycle as at the end of 2014.

But why is it so? No doubt weather plays a major role – hence why the United Kingdom and Canada languish down the order. Colder climates generally aren’t as fun to ride motorcycles in as milder ones such as Italy or Spain. Culture has a large part to do with it as well – Italy has long had a love affair with exotic machinery, what with the being the home of Ferrari and Lamborghini among others and motorcycles are a cheap way to replicate that exotica and thirst for speed.

One might argue that it’s unfair to compare the United States, a country that spans similar distances to Europe and has massive cultural differences from coast to coast, varied climates and so forth. But on the flipside, Australia also has those vast distances (and extremely hot temperatures that aren’t conductive to motorcycle riding) as well.

So there you have it. If you live in Italy, be thankful because motorcycles there are part of the national character, followed by Australia, France and then the United States. For those in the UK, there’s probably not much you can do about the weather except move.


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