THE GRID: FULL SPEED AHEAD

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In early 2004, CurtCo Media plans to begin publishing Robb Report Motorcycling. The company has pitched the new magazine as a luxury lifestyle publication targeting the affluent enthusiast. CurtCo expects that its initial distribution will be 100,000.

This upscale biker title is one of many products designed to appeal to an evolving market of approximately 6.6 million riders who spend about $7.5 billion a year on new bikes. A quarter century ago, the typical motorcycle rider was a male under 25 who would take off on his motorcycle to find freedom out on the open road. Today, 9 in 10 owners are still male, but they tend to be older and more upscale, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. In 1998, when the group conducted its most recent survey, the average motorcycle owner was 38 years old, up from 27 in 1980. The majority — 60 percent — were 35 or older, up from 24 percent in 1980. Their median household income was $44,250 in 1998, up from $17,500 in 1980. And one-third had a household income of $50,000 or more, compared with just 2 percent in 1980.

To locate these riders, American Demographics teamed up with Claritas to create the accompanying map. We found that motorcycle owners tend to live in mostly white, rural counties in the West and Midwest, with a smattering in northern New England, where traffic-free back roads abound. For the PopUpdate boxes, we looked at counties with 50,000 households or more to zero in on those where motorcycle ownership is highest.

Motorcycle riders are more likely than average to crave excitement and enjoy showing off, according to Mediamark Research, Inc. Although the older riders want touring bikes or cruisers with more relaxed seating positions, they also favor off-road styling that suggests rides on the wild side, says Mark Reese, a spokesman for American Suzuki Motor Corp. Suzuki and its competitors are pursuing these older, richer Boomer thrill seekers with bikes that promise comfort and style. In July, American Honda Motor Co. introduced the Valkyrie Rune cruiser, a limited-edition chopper that will run $27,000. With its big fenders, lots of chrome, and a more exposed engine, it is designed to look like a one-off custom bike, says Lee Edmunds, a Honda spokesman. The smoother rides and gas-and-go convenience of today's cruisers are a marked contrast to the bikes of yore, which often required roadside fixes because parts would fall off due to vibration, says Steve Rice, Kawasaki product specialist.

Today's typical bike owner is more educated than his predecessor. He also aspires to clean living: He's far more likely than the average consumer to have used a nicotine patch or gum to kick his smoking habit in the past year. That leaves all the more time to enjoy the motorcycle before taking that final ride off into the sunset.

*The Motorcycle Index measures a household's propensity to own a motorcycle. It compares the average local share to the average share of the population nationally that owns motorcycles. The national average is 100. For example, households in Hawaii County, Hawaii, are 35 percent more likely than the national average to be motorcycle owners.

Sources for map and PopUpdates: Claritas and Mediamark Research, Inc.

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