I’d been looking forward to the IMS Washington DC Motorcycle Show. I’ll admit that I’m not much of a motorcycle show guy – I’m more of a motorcycle ride guy. This was different, though. My normal wintertime motorcycle fix is supplied by the Traditional Timonium Motorcycle Show (Hon!) — which is a combination dealership demand generation and discounting imbroglio, custom bike and chopper/artbike show, and no holds barred monster swapmeet. I’ve found some of my favorite hand tools in that swapmeet. The Timonium show is crowded, chaotic — the parking lot is a freaking deathmatch — and, like nearby Baltimore, is a little bit gritty and human scale.
The Timonium Show is for bikers, hon, and ain’t no bones about it.
The IMS motorcycle shows, on the other hand, are a bit higher production values, have participation by the motorcycle manufacturers, and — at least to my IMS-inexperienced eyes — appeared to be the big time.
Because of my increasing communication and coordination with the Press and PR people from the motorcycle manufacturers, it was clear the IMS was where the deals got done – it was kind of a rolling moto-convention that – if you were lucky – came to your town and allowed you some real face time — a rare modern occurrence — with one’s buds in the business.
I’d been getting the e-mails — “If you’re going to be in Long Beach…”. “Next Week in Miami…”, so I set my plans, got my credentials, and wrote it in thick Sharpie marker on all the calendars.
When the appointed weekend finally arrived, I spent a little time fishing to see who might want to go with me. Sweet Doris from Baltimore evinced little to no interest – it was a opportunity for a ‘Girls’ Day Out’ for her and our daughter. Finn, on the other hand, was all up and all in, so a boy’s bonding day it would be. Although Friday was the so-called ‘Press Day’, Finn had classes, so we settled on Saturday, and set the bones of our plan.
Saturday morning — with a 24 degree start — I drove my Ford down to Finn’s place in Greenbelt, picked him up at his front door, and drove us both 3/4s of a mile to the adjacent metro station.
Greenbelt is the end of the line, so there was a train sitting on the platform when we walked in. We got on the train, sat down, and five minutes later the train started talking — “I am a seven thousand series train… please step away from the left side doors….” — and 25 minutes later we exited the train at a metro station that was technically inside of the convention center building where the show was being held.
The Walter E. Washington Washington DC Convention Center is absolutely enormous. There are at least 2, and maybe 4 main exhibition spaces. There are also somewhere north of 180 large meeting rooms — enough to ‘Death by Powerpoint’ the entire population of Earth. Inside this cavernous complex, the IMS Show — filling most of a single hall — rattles around in the Convention Center like a beer can pull tab that accidentally fell in the can. After a brief stop at the Press Credentials booth – where I introduced Finn – who was holding the camera – as ‘my photographer’ – we got our pair of press passes and entered the hall.
Look, if a little stunt was good enough for Hunter S. Thompson at the ‘Mint 400’, then it is damn well good enough for us.
The American Honda set-up was right inside the door. They had brought pretty much everything they made – which was great, as it afforded us the chance to eyeball and butt-test a lot of models about which we had questions. I rolled up to the their booth to check in with the Press Liason, Collin Miller. The Honda Men politely informed me that Mr. Miller had grabbed an earlier flight home yesterday.
If your life had Microsoft Windows Error Sounds, this one would have gone “GLAAANK!”. Meeting with Colin was one of my primary IMS objectives, and it had been apparently wiped clean by the prospect of another Saturday back in Southern California.
I resolved to just roll with it, but it did set the tone for the rest of the day.
I went straight to the Africa Twin Adventure Sports. I really wanted to love this motorcycle. And I really could love this motorcycle, if riding never, ever, involved stopping. After managing to throw a leg cleanly over the bike without breaking a hip, Finn and I were more or less hopelessly consumed by laughter, after the near impossibility of me getting my feet, or even a foot, solidly on the ground became apparent. My old days racing bicycles taught me to track stop — to sit on a two wheeler at a completely standstill. On the ATAS, I managed to sit, stopped, with at least a full two inches of air under each boot. We would have pictures but the photographer was laughing too hard to achieve critical sharpness.
It was at this point that something struck me. It wasn’t so much about all the motorcycle manufacturers that were here, but at all the one’s that weren’t. Motorcycle manufacture is actually a pretty small business, with perhaps about 12 major manufacturers. So it’s great, that Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki flew the flag at DC IMS. Oh, and my buds at electric motorcycle maker Zero, were too, down at the other, more interesting end of the hall.
But here are the OEMs that took a pass on DC, as a show destination: Harley Davidson, Indian/Polaris, Yamaha, Triumph, KTM, Ducati, MotoGuzzi, Aprilia and Royal Enfield. Now some of these brands were represented by local dealers, but the makers were not there to talk to riders and generate their own buzz. Heck, the only BWW in the whole place was a rat rod 1973 R60 that was in the small custom bike show. I don’t know if this was a lack of confidence in DC as a market, or for the IMS show or US market in general, but I have to think that some of the no-shows were in places like Long Beach and Miami.
At the other end of the hall, Finn and I sought out Robert Pandya, who was running the ‘Discover the Ride’ attraction — an unthreatening, inviting, easy entrance to learning to ride. Robert had worked with IMS, with Zero Motorcycles and with Total Control Training to put people who had never ridden before in the saddles of some Zero Electric Motorcycles. The Zeros, of course, have complete software configurability via any bluetooth smartphone or tablet. So these trainers, with the standard no transmission, no clutch direct drive of all Zeros, had their engine outputs dialed way back and their road speed limited to a point where even a brand new rider could have them circling the indoor track confidently in about three minutes. Personally, when I had my Zero test bike, I used the Zero App to turn the whole bike up to 11s, and might have never thought of this, but it makes perfect sense — a stroke of genius. Robert told us that Discover the Ride had the longest line at the show — a 90 minute wait that stretched all the way to the other end of the hall — and he did. More importantly, their information was showing fantastic conversion rates — up to 65% of the folks that took their first ride were planning to buy their first bike – “65% of folks that take the ride come in thinking that motorcyclists are ‘other people’, and leave thinking that they are.”
Robert is absolutely driven to get new people involved in motorcycling. Like a lot of folks who employ oblique strategies and who are well out in front of conventional thinking, the hardest part is in getting less astute people to just open up their minds and listen to the idea. In 10-12 weeks of running Discover The Ride Robert has helped make thousands of new motorcyclists. Industry heavyweights just need to look at the numbers and then figure out how to do lots more of this.
Another local dealer — Motorcycles of Dulles — was at the show with some Indian and Triumph motorcycles.
At this point, Finn and I were more hungry for a burger, having bikeshowed through lunch, than we were for any more motorcycles, so we Yelped up a joint called the District Tap house, which looked to have a great Tap Line, and had the additional benefit of being open at 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon.
As we walked the block and a half to our burger, we came up behind two guys that were wearing every conceivable piece of KTM Sportswear — orange KTM logo jackets, hoodies, adventure boots, buffalo plad hipster lumberjack shirts done in KTM Orange — the works. Both of them had their head hanging down and displayed body language that looked like somebody had just shot their dog — there hadn’t been a single KTM in the entire show.
“Look Finn — it’s the two saddest KTM riders in the entire world.”
“Oh yeah. Heh.”
So, motorcycle companies that didn’t come to DC. Your fans showed up. Where were you?