Inside the Industry: After Market or OEM?

When choosing a new accessory for an ATV or motorcycle (bike), a consumer will base their decision on several areas: their reason for needing a new accessory, the price, and how well the item works or looks. The first way a consumer can narrow down their decision: OEM or after-market. OEM is a part or accessory that is manufactured by the original make of the bike, i.e., a saddlebag for a Suzuki C50 that is made by Suzuki. After-market is an accessory or part made by a company that specializes in accessories, but didn’t make the original bike, i.e., HMF Exhausts, Pro Armor, etc. There is no clear cut answer of whether to choose OEM or after-market.

The best choice is first affected by the consumer: Do I want something cheaper? Do I want an accessory that is uniform in looks? Do I want the best performing accessory on the market? The factors into all these questions will differ depending on the bike, on the accessory being looked for, etc. Too often, most consumers assume either a) After-markets are always cheaper and better quality than OEM or b) OEM always looks the best and has the best fitment. Its really not that black and white.

To best guide you, the consumer, to finding the best accessory for a bike, I will present guidelines to my own research, first for a 1982 Honda CM250C, second with a 2009 Ninja 250R, and third for a 2003 Suzuki LTZ-400. To also clarify, for this article, an accessory is defined as an optional addition to a bike, such as a saddlebag, armor, or an upgraded part, such as an exhaust. A part is an original component of the bike, such as the engine, the speedometer, etc. At the end of the article, I will talk about buying parts.

1982 Honda CM250C Research

I chose this bike because it represents the population that has an older bike that isn’t too common. The challenges presented with having a rare, older bike is that choices are very limited, both in OEM and after-market parts. To give you an idea of how quick the manufacturer discontinues accessories for a bike, if I open either a Kawasaki or Suzuki 2006 catalog, most of those accessories have been discontinued today, in 2010. About 10% remain. There may be some accessories available that are OEM, but they are more likely to be used.

To start my research, I am first going to narrow down the brand names. Lets say I am going to be looking for a backrest for my 1982 CM250C. I recommend searching on three fronts: a dealership website for OEM, Google, and eBay.

If I start at Honda’s powersport website, I find the years only go back to 2005. So going straight to the manufacturer won’t work. However, the manufacturer website most likely will have a directory of its dealerships, which is what we want to find. Once I’ve found a dealership that has a website with accessories on it (its best if they have a series of catalogs, such as a 50below hosting), I starting searching for accessories for my bike – Nothing. But I’m not surprised. So for this bike, I can be assured I won’t be finding any new OEM accessories.

The next step is a general search. I recommend Google, though if you did find some online after-market catalogs, such as Tucker Rocky: Street, or KK Cycles, that can work real well too. Under Google search, I used the terms “82 CM250C back rest.” I can also interchange 82 with 83 (both years are almost the exact same), or interchange backrest with sissy bar or passenger seat. I didn’t include Honda at first, because from inside the industry, I’ve noticed when retailers have a limitation on their titles for products, they will disclude the make name first. Unfortunately, I only have found one link, and that is for a used backrest on eBay, which I’m not quite ready for yet. I set that aside, and check some of the catalogs I have found. Two popular catalogs for motorcycles are Parts Unlimited Street and Tucker Rocky Street, but neither have anything for my bike.

At this point, it looks like I’m going to be stuck checking eBay, which only narrows it down to one used backrest. If the listing has a part number, I can start e-mailing various vendors to see if they have it in stock and try to get a lower price. Lesson learned: Sometimes you have no choice.

2009 Kawasaki Ninja 250R Research

I chose the 2009 Ninja 250R for two reasons: First, its hugely popular; second, it has a narrow fitment; and third, its recent. I have a black 2009 Ninja 250R, and I want to change up the graphics for it, perhaps a decal kit.

The first step, again, is to try to narrow down brand names, and first is to check a dealership. Again, try to find catalogs on dealership websites! I have found a 2010 Kawasaki catalog, and it presents me with five Tribal/Flame decal kits with various color combos, each for 59.95 retail, as well as part numbers for each. Now I have my first choice, which is OEM.

The second step is to find after-market brands, and for this, I will try a Tucker Rocky Street 2010 catalog. The first thing I find is an assortment of universal fit graphics, organized by size. They range between 4.99 and 24.95, and mostly feature dragons, skulls or half-naked women. I will have to put this off for now – I will need to first take measurements around my bike and figure up a design. I also note the brand name: Lethal Threat, as well as any part numbers. As I keep looking, I find a lot of universal fits, but nothing quite as cool. I also find some neat decals that fit ZX-6 and ZX-14s. As a quick note, if you’re including a possibility of modification, its best to find a retailer that sells the item and ask them for measurements and what the item is made of), and make a game plan of how possible it is to modify the item – remember, very very few sellers will accept a returned item that has been mauled. I also find some interesting items that aren’t quite decals: Clutch Reservoir Covers. This can provide a nice addition, but for today, I am going to leave it aside.

The last check is eBay to see if there’s any used items. First I find a vendor who custom makes his own graphic kits. For 18 pieces and to fully the dress the bike, its 65.00. After changing my search terms to “Ninja 250R Graphic,” “Ninja 250R Decal,” and adding 2009 in there, I don’t find much else other than brand decals. So I’ve narrowed down my choices:

OEM Tribal Flame Decals for 59.95 Retail, which would give my bike a uniform look that will also be guaranteed to fit very well. Its a lot of money for a small kit, however, but it does look nice. Further questions to ask on this to a seller would be what the decals are made of – are they just simple stickers, are they vinyl, are they thicker? Also, try to haggle a price down. 59.95 is a retail price, and its not unreasonable to try to get 5-10% taken off of that.

Lethal Threat Generic Decals, from 4.99 to 24.95. The price of these can rack up, but I do have the nice option to pick and choose, putting a look together that is just for me and to my liking. I will have to figure out fitment myself, however. If I choose this option and I decide to buy quite a few, I should see if I can get them all from the same seller and for combined shipping, and maybe again, a 5-10% discount since I’m buying in bulk.

Custom Made Kit for 65.00. Unfortunately I’ll have to trust the seller that he knows what hes doing – this a good time to check feedback for the item. However, I’ll have a wide arrange of colors to choose from and its a large kit which is worth the money. Lesson Learned: In this instance, OEM is more expensive, but has a better guarantee of fitment and quality. After-market may be cheaper, but offers a more customized experience.

2003 Suzuki LT Z400

I chose this ATV as well for two reasons: Its still recent, and its fitment is wider than you might think. There are some bikes and ATVs out there that are almost extremely similar to each other. The KFX 400, DVX 400, and LT Z400 are typically the exact same, from body to engine. To find information like this, its best to check fan forums for your bike to see if anyone else has discovered this, or to see if a seller or dealer might let you in. For this bike, I am going to be looking for some armor.

The first place is to check for OEMs. This time, I have three OEM companies to check: Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Arctic Cat. Kawasaki has nothing, but both Arctic Cat and Suzuki have a skid plates available. Suzuki has an A-Arm Guard Set, a Main Skid Plate and a Swing Arm Skid Plate. Arctic Cat offers an entire skid plate kit for 199.95 Retail, and gives details that its made of 8-gauge 5052 aluminum.

Next I check Tucker Rocky ATV 2011. I find a lot of brand names: AC Racing, Cobra, & Pro Armor, all with various items and combinations.

And lastly, on eBay, I actually find the same brands, but of course, lower prices.

At this point, a new type of research is needed: All sorts of material terms are coming up; various types of aluminum for example. A Google search can find which is the best quality. Another way to find what is the best quality is to visit some powersports forums and see what other customers prefer as their skid plates.

In the end, I found that although Pro Armor wasn’t the cheapest, they seemed to have the most recommendations. Sometimes you’ll find the best quality is from a company that has engineers and designers that specialize in one area. If you consider it, Arctic Cat, Suzuki and Kawasaki have accessories to design and manufacture in all areas: seats, graphics, etc., and have to split up their creativity and engineering. Especially in armor and performance, finding a company that specializes on that accessory is the best way to go.


No matter how you structure your search, remember these guidelines: 

  • Research; make lists, research your research. Go until you find the best deal or the best quality. If there’s a term you don’t understand, find out!
  • Ask sellers and dealers: Don’t be afraid to get a hold of dealers or sellers. They may not always have the information, but they can at least guide you somewhere where you can get the information.
  • Hold on to part numbers: It makes research very quick, especially when asking a dealer about an item. Also, many catalog search engines will accept a part number.
  • Bookmark your favorite sites and catalogs. You may spend the most time just trying to find your resources. Once you do, hold on to them, it may save you time when you look for your next accessory.
  • Haggle. If you’re buying online, the best way to haggle in my experience is to call a dealer. 5-10% is usually a reasonable discount.
  • Take time to decide. If you’re overwhelmed by information, come back to it tomorrow. Most accessories are hundreds of dollars, and even more time installing the accessory. Make a decision you won’t regret.
  • Ask for photos: Often sellers have stock photos. If you’re looking on Ebay and have doubts, ask for an actual photo.
  • Look for installation instructions: Many brands publish some of their installation instructions online. This is a great resource to see what hardware and tools you’ll need, how tough the installation will be, and also get a decent idea of the item’s quality.

Another Note

Throughout this article, I bring up a lot of catalogs. All of those mentioned can be found on my website of Leesons’ Arctic Cat. I invite consumers to use that as a research – it doesn’t mean you have to buy from me. And if you’re having a hard time finding something, My co-workers and I are often willing to help.