2021 International Motorcycle Show at Sonoma Raceway

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Despite grim reports of a new wave of COVID-19 cases, you can’t shake the feeling that America’s vast and voracious economy is returning to boogie full blast. And the motorcycling community of Northern California threw a sort of outing party with the Progressive International Motorcycle Show (IMS) at Sonoma Raceway. The show marked the return of IMS to Northern California after a six-year absence and everyone I spoke to involved in the show – attendees and exhibitors – seemed to agree with me when I said that the show seemed to have a new energy that made I feel a little glimmer of hope for the future of motorcycling in the United States.

The Sonoma Raceway pit area had plenty of room for a scaled-down show. Photo by Alan Lapp

This year’s show, held at the Northern California Star Circuit booths, was compact compared to the giant showrooms I remember from decades past, but it had everything you needed. – with some exceptions. Leather-clad Christian bikers checking your gear? Yes. Sellers of earplugs and anti-fog goop? Sure. Vintage and custom bike show? To verify. Live bands, alcohol and (expensive) food? If, if and if. Demonstration rides? Oh yes.

But no Triumph, BMW, Ducati or Honda factory involvement, showing that there are still doubts about the effectiveness of showing your products in this way. In general, the supplier list was shorter than I remembered 10 or 15 years ago, contributing to the smaller and more intimate nature of the event.

For new riders, the reduced size is not a problem – they haven’t gone to the full-size events of decades past. It’s a “great moment to be here on all these bikes,” 23-year-old Kevin Pearson told me. He just got his first bike – a Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 – last Halloween and is in that happy period of a rider’s career where he soaks up information about the bike like a sponge. IMS provides tons of it all at once, allowing Pearson to try out helmets and riding gear, learn about new rider groups and riding activities, and test drive the bike he’s read, the all in a weekend. He rode an electric motorcycle for the first time along with many other bikes.

Kevin Pearson represents a lot of the new riders I met at the show. He drives a Husqvarna Vitpilen, even though he “was in love with the retro aspects of motorcycles”.

Demonstration rides dominated the event. Sonoma’s pit area isn’t that big – maybe a few football pitches – so it was hard not to notice the constant comings and goings of the demo pilots, both in groups and as self-guided soloists. I ran through Livewire and Indian FTR in under 40 minutes, but there was too much wait time for Pan America. Also, I didn’t want to participate in the longer guided tours offered by KTM, Zero, Royal Enfield, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki. This would have taken the whole weekend, although the login processes were well managed and efficient and there was usually not a long wait for the bikes.

No lines for testing, it just meant there weren’t a huge crowd. I went on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning but heard it was much more crowded on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon as the large motorcycle parking lot filled up enough to force it some participants parked in the parking lot at the top of the hill overlooking the stands (there was shuttle service for us non-walkers). At the time of going to press, the folks at IMS have yet to produce attendance figures, but they are likely a far cry from the good times of 15-20 years ago and woefully below the modest numbers of 28,000 attendees. reported by IMS during the last San Mateo Show in 2014.

Demonstration rides dominated the event. Photo: Progressive IMS Outdoors / Manny Pandya Photography

Reed Idlewild, 41, is one of those people who returns from good times. Kind of a back-to-school cyclist, Reed has been riding for 20 years, but he’s been more of a pendulum cyclist for the past eight years. However, when his wife’s bike was destroyed and he started to consider buying a new one, he thought to himself, “Do I want to keep doing this … and I said damn yeah! ” Interest rekindled, he arrived at the show “at 8:30 am and I did demonstrations all day”. He liked that the rides took place right in the middle of the show, so you didn’t have to commute between crowded and noisy convention halls and ride areas. “I’m sad that some of the other manufacturers aren’t here,” he continued. “It’s smaller but I’m having a good time.”

Another key demographic isn’t riding at all – but wants to. For example, Jackie S., 34, has always wanted to ride: “It was always a childhood dream, but because of my family and my profession, I put it on the back burner” until now . She came to Sonoma to check out the new Yamaha R7s and Kawasaki Ninja 650s at the instigation of family friend Nicole, who received a used Yamaha YZF-R6. Both women signed up to take the CMSP course shortly, and both were stunned by the fun and excitement of the people and products at the show. “It’s awesome. Coming here was like, OMG, yeah! Watching all kinds of people from all over and all the different motorcycles… it’s like food, the way it brings people together.

Attendance was low both times the author visited the event. The ironically titled sign sits halfway through the motorcycle parking lot, which was less than a quarter full on Sunday morning. Photo by Alan Lapp

Crowded rides (multiple sources reported they had been booked all weekend) make happy OEMs and happy attendees, but it probably wasn’t such a good time for the sellers, some of whom were spending tens of thousands of dollars and have crossed the country to make it to the show. Glove pusher, motorcycle educator and friend of-MO Lee Parks, a decades-long veteran of these shows, bought the smallest booth he could and was happy to attend and talk about the California Motorcycle Safety Program (which he runs throughout his training operation at the control) but no longer sells its DeerSport gloves at shows.

“I knew we wouldn’t have enough people and we would be upside down,” Lee told me. “I only had 10 people asking about the gloves – it was not a commercial success for the sellers who had to sell at the event. Eighty percent of the time it was dead, we weren’t talking to anyone. Lee pointed out that not only did the event take place in a new location and time of year than usual, but it also conflicted with other Nor Cal motorcycle events, including the AHRMA races at Laguna Seca the same weekend. In addition, the MotoAmerica races were also in Laguna the previous weekend. If things were as miserable for small businesses at the event as Lee says, I would expect the show to be in jeopardy next year for lack of booth sales.

A nostalgic look at the classic and custom motorcycles on display. Photo by Alan Lapp

Still, I enjoyed the show and had a great time, and thought it was well organized. The disappointing attendance did not faze the industry; Lauren Lloyd, PR for IMS, told me, “A few OEMs and aftermarket executives who attended the meeting said, ‘This is exactly what the industry is doing. needed, ”so we’re thrilled for Chicago. “I’m excited for next year.


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