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2011 Progressive International Motorcycle Show

By Shadow

New York, N.Y., Jan. 21–23—The city awakened to a blanket of snow as the 30th International Motorcycle Show rolled into town. There were five or six inches of the white stuff on the streets—just enough to snarl traffic and cause major transportation delays. But by noon, the show’s opening time, the sun peeked out from behind the snow clouds, and by 1:00 the exhibit floor was already packed.

With five snowstorms since Christmas, it was going to be a long winter. Since it had been nearly impossible to get our bikes on the roads in the past month, moto-madness had already taken hold of many riders. Sitting on your bike in the garage going “Vroom, vroom!” while waiting for spring just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Sneak previews
Although the show officially began on Friday, the festivities actually started the night before. In years past, new models were introduced in Long Beach, the first of the three biggest IMS shows in the tour; and New Yorkers had to be satisfied with anticlimactic East Coast unveilings. That all changed this year, when Victory Motorcycles and Harley-Davidson first unveiled new mid-year bike models to the New York media, signifying the ever-growing importance of the Northeast market as well as further solidifying the status of the International Motorcycle Show in New York City.

The Victory launch took place at the Amsterdam Billiards, an upscale pool hall and bar in the Union Square area of the city. The new High Ball, based on the Victory Vegas, is touted as a custom cruiser; and features high-rise handlebars, whitewall tires wrapped around spoked 16-inch wheels front and back with an overall blacked-out bobber persona. Motorcycle racer, model and spokesperson Natalie Jackson revealed the High Ball to an appreciative and well-fed crowd (great spread, guys!). As an added bonus, Roland Sands undraped a High Ball he’d been given to customize.

Immediately following the Victory Launch, we took the #1 IRT subway downtown to Don Hill’s nightclub in Soho to watch, amid much fanfare (and three hours of open bar), the unveiling of the new Softail FXS Black­line; a stripped-down model akin to the Softail first appearing in Harley’s 1984 lineup. The model used for the reveal was a blacked-out number, as well.

The unveilings of both bikes were re­peated Friday morning at the Media Day that took place in the morning hours before the show was open to the public, as were the U.S. reveals of new Royal Enfield and Ducati models. Other major manufacturers, including Honda, Yamaha/Star, Triumph, BMW, Kawasaki and Ducati, either debuted their new models on the East Coast or introduced racers or other motorcycling dignitaries associated with their brands.

Kicking it up a notch
Anyone who’d been to the show in the past was in for a treat this year. Multiple treats, actually; as Advanstar Communications, the show’s promoters, made a number of changes for this season’s tour. For one thing, the 30th year of the show brought a new title sponsor—Progressive Insurance. Flo clones (someday maybe we’ll get to meet the real Flo) patrolled the floor, handing out shopping bags and promising goodies if you visited one of the four huge booths they had set up.

Tracy Harris, VP of Expo Operations and VP/General Manager of Advanstar, told me that the company had invested $2M to upgrade the show. As in years past, the major bike manufacturers had huge layouts across the front of the exhibit hall, giving folks a chance to see, and floor-test, this year’s models as soon as they walk in the door. The entire showroom floor, however, had been completely reconfigured; lending a brighter and more polished look and a more welcoming feel. Somehow the show planners managed to fit 245 exhibitors, an increase over last year’s 207, into the same 117,700-sq.-ft. space while never making it seem cramped—except for Saturday afternoon, when one could hardly move between booths.

Based on comments from past show goers, lots of new, more interactive exhibits were added and, in some cases, existing displays were enlarged and redesigned. The Women Ride Experience offered comfortable seating in front of a stage, and the entire booth was surrounded with women’s riding gear. There were seminars and panels on track days and racing; dual-sport riding, long–distance touring and riding twisties; selecting riding gear, new and used bike shopping and more. Gin Shear and Sue Slate of the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation coordinated the activities, and at any given time you could meet or hear from such accomplished motorcyclists as Leslie Porterfield, Kristin Casey, Laura Klock, Gloria Tramontin Struck and Gloria’s daughter Lori.

Next to the Women Ride Experience, the Allstate HUB provided a stage for seminars on tires, windshields, helmets, riding techniques, accident scene management and other topics. Across the exhibit hall, The DIY Garage hosted seminars on building a café racer, motorcycle suspension, adjusting valves and other service and repair topics. Dave Perewitz even gave a fascinating and well-attended demonstration on custom bike painting!

The Marketplace, a perennial favorite, featured a number of aftermarket companies and their product experts who were on hand to answer questions or make suggestions about motorcycle parts. Sadly, Nick Nichols, a.k.a. Mr. Motorcycle, product specialist at the Marketplace, passed away last year after an extended illness. His joking, friendly demeanor and deep knowledge of the motorcycle industry will be sorely missed.

Just behind the Marketplace was the all-new MotoFlix theater where visitors could sit down, relax, and enjoy some popcorn while watching clips from famous motorcycle films. In the back of the exhibit hall, Team No Limit stunt riders Jason Britton and Eric Hoenshell performed wheelies, stoppies, burnouts, endos and other acrobatics.

The show also featured several other motor­cycling personalities such as Paul Teutel Jr., actor/model Tyson Beckford; actor/rapper Ice-T and his wife, glamour model Coco; JD from Criss Angel Mindfreak; UFC mixed martial artist Diego J. Sanchez; and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider (he also founded the Bikers for Babies charity rides) and family, now featured in A&E’s Growing Up Twisted; all of whom signed autographs, chatted with fans and posed for photos.

Ultimate Builders
From time to time, the IMS has tried its hand at judged bike competitions; none of which were very successful in the New York market—until this year, that is. Advanstar brought in Biker Pros, a marketing and communications firm that’s headed up by several motorcycle industry veterans, to organize the Ultimate Builder Custom Bike Show. The winners of each tour stop will compete at the American Championship finale at Daytona Beach, with those champions competing in the AMD motorcycle show at Sturgis.

There are three classes—freestyle, modified Harley and performance custom—and the judging is conducted by the competitors themselves. The New York show had 30 bikes entered, each with its own display inside custom-made stanchions. Eric Schroeder of Tribal Iron Choppers won a trophy for the People’s Choice award. The performance custom class prize of $1,000 was taken by John Loughlin for his FOH Cycle Fab creation; a 2001 Triumph 995i Speed Triple. Jason Bochniak won $3,000 in the modified Harley class for Phoenix, his chromed-out 2006 Softail Deluxe. It was his second win in the series, having taken first place in the Washington, D.C., show just a week prior. And the freestyle class win brought Joey Serrano $3,000 for his Lot Lizard retro-style Panhead built by George Stinsman, owner of Chaos Cycle.

One purpose of the Ultimate Builder competition is to offer national exposure to the custom bike builders who participate. It’s also the only show in the U.S. to feed finalists to the AMD championship in Sturgis. And with the top-notch talent the promoters were already able to attract in the first year, this contest has the potential to become the country’s premier bike show series.

Staying power
The IMS is one of the longest-running motorcycle shows in the U.S., and a big part of its popularity is the wide appeal to both the riding and non-riding public. A multitude of vendors were plugging everything from riding gear to motorcycle re­sorts; bike covers to cleaning products. Vintage displays drew a lot of attention, including the National Motorcycle Museum’s exhibit featuring vintage racers and trick riders; the Antique Motorcycle Club of America and the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club’s classic cycles; as well as several motorcycle artists and painters. The Swag Wagon appeared at several locations and attracted both kids and adults who would spin the wheel to win various prizes.

Although a recent survey shows that 75 percent of IMS New York attendees ride or own a motorcycle, the show offers enough diversions to entertain the entire family. What’s more, I saw groups of MTA (Metro­politan Transit Authority) workers ambling down the aisles, mixing it up with sport bike, cruiser, veterans and other motorcycle clubs. The IMS is a big deal even for New York City, and it’s not unheard of for city workers to visit during their lunch breaks or at the end of their work day.

This year’s attendance was 67,772; about the same as the past four years’ worth of New York shows, give or take a few thousand. It’s the largest show in the series—although New York is now running neck-and-neck with Chicago—and the ability to maintain those numbers illustrates the show’s staying power. The introduction of new features and activities this year combined with the revamp of already-popular exhibits has proved to be a winning formula.

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