[My apologies for the subpar formatting, I was having problems posting the videos and links. You can read the article in its fully formatted glory here:
Thank you :)]
by Deme Spy
Every December, the Progressive International Motorcycle Show (IMS) sets up shop in NYC's Jacob Javits Convention Center. Like a Winter Solstice celebration, it's the last hoorah before the (mostly bikeless) Long Night. As one of Winter's few local motorcycle events, it's no wonder IMS has turned into a sort of holiday.
Like a brothel of motorcycles—without the potential for exploitation or STDs—visitors are inundated with pretty much every kind of bike they'd want to ride, along with a gaggle of accessories, shows and demonstrations.
If this sounds like a biker's wet dream, it is. Yet without proper stimulation even wet dreams can dry up and shrivel. So IMS fans, including yours truly, have asked for more (Progressive Motorcycle Show Could Use An Immersive Overhaul).
What impressed me most about this season's Show was its vibe, best described as a rich mixture of optimism and engagement. I think the weather had allot to do with it.
It was a balmy 50 degrees, and the folks who rode there seemed to walk with an extra swagger. All bikers I've spoken to want IMS to be held during warmer months so they can arrive in situ, preferably with their droogs. But in most other ways that matter, the Progressive International Motorcycle Show lived up to its forename.
Three things became apparent after speaking with IMS Senior VP Tracy Harris: they give a fuck, they're riders too, and they're listening.
I saw a greater diversity of bikes and demos, geared not just towards current riders but future ones as well. Featured displays weren't limited to the superbikes, dope customs and concept bikes that give us the gas 'n oil sweats. There was more of an emphasis on cheaper and smaller, and that was no coincidence.
Offering affordable gateway bikes, and paying more attention to groups overlooked by the motorcycle industry, were both emphasized by groundbreaking white paper Give A Shift (GAS).
Held at the 2017 IMS in Los Angeles—and spearheaded by former motorcycle exec Robert Pandya—GAS's roundtable discussion addressed the shrinking of bikerdom and urged that the industry become more inclusive and accessible. Marketing to overlooked demographics like females and minorities was a key point. Doing a better job of conveying motorcycling's epiphanic lifestyle to millennials was another. For a generation in need of wind therapy—and one more drawn towards large experiences than large paychecks—lower priced bikes offered an answer (Can Millennials Save the Motorcycle Industry?).
Pandya's report emphasized that focusing on high performance models make dealerships lose sight of the importance of less intimidating bikes to increase ridership. Sorta like the media's fixation on supermodels when more compatible folks of all shapes and speeds can score you happiness in the real world.
Manufacturers at IMS seemed to take this advice to heart.
Generation Adrenaline is still fueling sportbike sales, so Honda and Kawasaki continued to center exhibits around their flagship CBR1000 and Ninja H2 superbikes.https://youtu.be/iXlNYsbl6a4
Video: Rogue street rider's FPV—Kawasaki Ninja H2 vs Honda CBR1000RR (2012) ⤴https://youtu.be/qkkt-ulg0DM
Before you decide to ride like that, you should probably see this ⤴
But both manufacturers also declared size (and price) do matter with a shameless full frontal showroom display of their smallest members: the Grom and the Z125 Pro.
Who's Motomini-me is dopest? ⤴
Like hogs to truffles, Harley-Davidson has also sniffed out the winds of change—probably more so than any other manufacturer.
Deeply rooted in Americana (and an image of rebellious individualism), the legendary Milwaukee company fields an army of loyal disciples globally. And its legions of bearded, artisan gearheads are a rare instance of a growing motorcycle submarket fueled by yutes.
But Harley is having difficulty attracting younger riders. So they've rolled up to the grid with initiatives like Riding Academy (offering motorcycle classes at dealerships) while audaciously parading their cutest prospect around the clubhouse—the Street 500, a gateway bike that'll only set you back $7k (Analysts are Wrong about Why Millennials Aren't Buying Harleys).
At IMS, H-D offered the JumpStart Motorcycle Experience, where aspiring Harlistas could straddle a hog, start it up and shift gears on a dyno thingy. In a world of four wheels with automatic transmissions, the iconic brand's intention to demystify motorcycle operation seemed to be working. The cherry-popped thrill on new riders' faces was proof enough.https://youtu.be/NEUnKv7DRJI
The JumpStart Experience at IMS ⤴
Another stab at reaching nubile riders, by offering an interactive app, was not as penetrating. The IMS app used sound waves to recognize a user's visit to a location, earning them virtual patches, swag and a chance to win tight prizes like a motorcycle and a riding jacket. Sadly, it was glitchy and fell short of delivering a seamless (or engaging) experience.
User complaints included excessive battery drain, location recognition problems and other performance issues. Yet the potential is there and IMS is taking the right line—the digital world doesn't have to be kryptonite to a biker's analog one. To the contrary, it can open up a whole other dimension to bikelife. Which is why my startup is launching Biker Quest this Summer—an app-driven, immersive adventure for motorcyclists.
Other than this underwhelming display of technology, and the security guard's refusal to show me the weapons he confiscated (he did, however, relate the most egregious incident to me), the rest of the Show was lit AF.
As is tradition, IMS had a host of events and demos, including a tattoo parlor and barber shop, a stunt show, and a main stage featuring speakers and custom builders.
Product demos were a draw. Personally, I could watch Alpinestars' airbag protection system deploy under someone's leathers over and over again. Adventure Out!—a simulated motorcycle campsite—included ADV product displays and interactions with experienced riders. Grease & Gears Garage offered interactive wrenching instruction. Harley's demo on how to lift a motorcycle that's fallen and can't get up continues to be a favorite. And for good reason. Whether you're lifting a Ducati Monster or a monster Electra Glide (all 880 pounds), it's a skill every rider will use at some point.https://youtu.be/HhUj7EJhZiE
How to get it up ⤴
The bicycle track at Kids Zone made the Show more appealing to youngsters and parents alike. My sense, however, is that the industry in general could do more to reach both of these groups. While investing in cradle-to-license acculturation may be a tall order, if motorcycling is to grow, manufacturers will have to do a better job at becoming lifestyle propagators. Improving motorcycle safety would also go a long way towards bringing both of these groups into the paddock.
Future badass ⤴
Other than holding the event during warmer months, three things remain on my IMS wishlist.
First, engineer opportunities for interactions between guests (without redlining past the gey limiter). Fraternizing with other riders is one of the best things about bikelife, and this could be facilitated through rides and gamification. Biker Quest players, for example, connect online to organize rides for missions.
Second on my list, export the Show beyond the four walls of the exhibition and into the motorcycle community. IMS already encourages participation in motorcycle events year-round with its Continue The Ride initiative. It certainly has the standing to instigate outside rides and activities by clubs, businesses and other organizations during the Show. The positive feedback loop here could become exponential.
Finally, I'd love to see more participation by local creatives . . . and NY has a lot of 'em. Fire, silk and burlesque performers, screenings by the (Biker Alley-bred) Motorcycle Film Festival, and exhibitions by moto-artists like Brooklyn photographer Grace Rosselli would all work well.
At this point I'm hearing Peanutgallery Joe in the back, "hey dumbass, what about the bikes?" Well, Joe, funny you should heckle, because you can find a dope montage of the Show here.
You can also check out Biker Entourage's live streams of the event, which include our resident mechanic and evil motogenius Alex Leal's commentary on the bikes (or search Twitter for @bikerentourage and select Broadcasts).
Take away points? 1) Many of us welcome the use of tech for richer experiences; 2) Most of us want to commune, ride and play with others; and 3) All of us want to ride to the Show without having to deep freeze a teste or clit.
Other than looking forward to the motorcycles themselves, the great news for bikers is that IMS is listening and getting (ahem) progressively better every year.
Deme Spy is grand poobah of BikerEntourage.com.
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