PHOTOS: Andrea Wilson, Ari Henning
Just as nature slowly restores itself after a cataclysmic event, our little corner of the motorsports landscape has green shoots inching up through the dark forest floor. Haven’t seen them? I have, most recently at the International Motorcycle Show that just rolled through Long Beach, CA. This was the fourth of 13 stops on the tour that wraps up in late February in Charlotte. In previous years, the normally sunny Southern California weather turned ugly for the early December shows. Some blamed low attendance on stormy skies and rain-averse riders.
Along with most of the Motorcyclist crew, I attended the press day on Friday afternoon and watched the general public enter as a steady stream when the show opened to them at 4 p.m. I returned on Sunday morning to witness the Long Beach Convention Center as packed as I’ve ever seen it. (At least since last year’s Imprinted Sportswear Show.) Vendors in small booths on the outskirts of the big manufacturer displays were often three-deep in customers. Bodies don’t necessarily mean sales, but they’re a good indicator of interest.
In some ways, the IMS events are strange animals for the press. We didn’t see anything strictly new. Bikes like the 2013 BMW R1200GS and F800GT were shown at Intermot and EICMA this year, and news reports have been out for months. But this was the first time I’d seen both in the flesh. I’m happy to see BMW carefully refine the GS’s often-controversial styling. The ’13 bike is clearly a GS but seems a bit more of a piece, a bit less like a reconfigured swingset holding a boxer motor. That new water-cooled engine looks great, too, simultaneously beefy and compact. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly BMW can spool up and move that engine into the rest of the R-bike line.
Still, there was plenty to do. We were treated to the recorded sound of the new Indian powerplant, teased by the Polaris folks via video. Shocking news on that front: It sounds like a large-displacement, almost-45-degree V-twin. Remember you read it here first. Polaris brass brought a group of journalists together for dinner Friday night to reinforce the idea that the company will be a fantastic parent for the re-emerging Indian brand. To commemorate the end of the current Indian designs, Polaris introduced the Indian Chief Final Edition. It would be easy to just stop production and pretend it had nothing to do with the company it purchased as much for the brand equity as anything. So this move, a tip of the hat to the retiring bike, strikes me as a classy sendoff.
Ducati, in Ducati fashion, held the final press conference of the day to celebrate the Monster’s 20th birthday. Stefano Sbettega, Ducati’s marketing and communications director, brought Nicky Hayden to the stage for the announcement that concluded with free booze for the assembled scribes. That’s why you go last. Oh, and the Monster? Ducati will bring in just 200 of each model—696, 796, and 1100—for 2013. Because the bike has changed so much since Miguel Galluzzi’s original was unveiled in 1992, the red-and-gold scheme isn’t quite successful as retro. Evocative, but not a direct reproduction of the bike that, arguably, saved Ducati.
Friday was great but the treat was Sunday—the chance to watch enthusiasts try on motorcycles and see what’s new in apparel and accessories. I stood back to witness old guys hobble over to the CB1100 in Honda’s display, stand with arms folded, and then give in to the urge to swing a leg over it. More than a few had that distant stare that we guys recognize as Deep Thought. Interesting, too, that the bike I most often saw with someone in the saddle was Kawasaki’s Ninja 1000 fitted with color-matched hard luggage. I wonder what that suggests.
I spent more than a few minutes with Twisted Throttle’s Kevin Nixon, who reported continued strong sales for anything related to adventure bikes, from the company’s new super-bright Denali DX LED driving lights to semi-hard luggage. The bikes in the Twisted display were dripping with ADV gear and surrounded by people every time I walked by.
If the motorcycle industry’s gradual regrowth doesn’t accelerate soon—or, worse, can’t be sustained—it won’t be for the lack of interest at the consumer level. The key influences will be affordability, practicality, and the availability of financing. On those counts, it seems like we’re making real progress.