Long Beach International Motorcycle Show

International Motorcycle ShowWHAT’S BETTER THAN A HUGE MOTORCYCLE SHOW RIGHT ON THE OCEAN? Cycle World Magazine’s International Motorcycle Show (IMS) wrapped up its 28th expo this weekend (Dec 5-7, 08), just outside of Los Angeles, and as usual, right on the ocean, in the Long Beach Convention Center.

This year’s annual show started its United States tour in October and will be running through to February 2009, making the following 13 stops along the way: Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, San Mateo (outside of San Francisco), Novi (outside of Detroit), Washington DC, New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Minneapolis, and in South Carolina, all in addition to this stop in Long Beach, which is typically one of the largest of the tour.


The 55,000 attendees were crammed everywhere, exploring all things related to motorcycles, but the show’s two most prominent areas of interest were the motorbikes inside the exhibition hall and the demo rides offered outside.


Most visible in this 3-day Long Beach show were the major motorcycle manufacturers, including: Aprilia, BMW, Buell, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Hyosung, Kawasaki, KTM, Kymco, Moto Guzzi, MV Agusta, Piaggio, Star, Suzuki, Ural, Vespa, Victory and Yamaha. The expo showcased many of the latest street bikes, dirt bikes, cruisers, ATVs, personal watercraft and an ample array of motorbike apparel for on- and off-road riding.


Highlights of this year’s show included Harley’s US Debut of the XR1200. As a side note, this is the same Harley Davidson XR1200 that had its world debut earlier this year in Europe – which was a first in HD’s history. Yep, the bike’s initial unveiling was not launched on North American soil at all. Why? Simply put, the XR1200 is NOT a cruiser, making it a distinct departure from the famous line of bikes that have made Harley Davidson an international icon.

Harley’s Director of Product Communications, Paul James, told me that the XR1200 has done well in Europe, as expected, since the European market has a strong sport-bike orientation. Paul noted that the strong pre-sales of the 750 available XR1200s for American dealers bodes well for the launch of the bike for the 2009 model year.


The motorcycle demo rides are always a hit, and over the years there has been a growing presence of more and more manufacturers driving into Long Beach with the big trucks to present their latest motorbike offerings for the crowds to test.

Throughout America, there are limited opportunities for motorcyclists to test ride their next potential motorbike. And here in Southern California, this show has become THE best place to get a chance to test out any single bike, let alone, choose from many of them. In fact, this is such a popular part of the expo that potential demo riders are advised to get in line early in the morning, BEFORE the show even opens, to ensure a chance to test out a bike of choice.

Over the years I have found that demo rides are usually completely booked before mid-morning on both Saturday and Sundays, and this year was no exception.


Even if the rides are completely booked when you get to a manufacturer’s registration area, get signed up for “standby” status. In the afternoon, a percentage of registered demo bikers do not make it back on time for their assigned rides, and if you are there, and registered for “standby,” you’ve got a good chance at getting on a bike, depending upon how many other “stand by” riders are there ahead of you.

Example: I was #22 for standby on the Ducati Hypermotard for the noon ride on Sunday. Noon is about the earliest time you can hope for a standby ride, because a portion of the crowds have gone to lunch, and in this particular case, one registered rider was a no-show and another was disqualified for not having a full-face helmet (apparently Ducati’s insurance company rules). The two available slots got filled by another rider and myself, who were the lowest numbered standby riders present. (Obviously, the majority of standby riders had gone to lunch, as well).


This year was one of the best-ever for the number of choices of different bikes to test ride in Long Beach: Aprilia, Buell, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Kawasaki, KTM, Star, Yamaha, Victory, Kymco, Moto Guzzi, and Vespa were available, as well as the most unique machine on the demo circuit, the Can Am 3-wheeled Spyders. All were offering demo rides.


However, Can Am won the dubious honor as the recipient of the “2008 Motorcycle Intelligence WORST Demo Ride Experience.” That honor was not bestowed as a result of the machine itself, but as a result of the unnecessary time-consuming process Can Am put the demo riders through, which ultimately resulted in a ridiculously short time riding the machine. According to Todd, who was in charge of the Spyder rides, Can Am opted to supply quantity of rides at the expense of quality of rides. (I would say their Marketing Director must not be a motorcycle rider). Compared to all the other manufacturers, Can Am offered the least value in exchange for the greatest amount of tester’s time. After being put through about an hour of the Can Am registration, pre-sales, marketing and qualifying gauntlet, each rider rode the Spyder for about 5 minutes. A potential rider happened to ask me about my experience on the Spyder while I was getting off, and I relayed that the experience was a waste of time: he thanked me for saving him the time and declined the ride. I only wish I had access to the same info earlier….

As a point of comparison, each of the other manufacturers offered about a 15-mile group ride, which generally lasted about 20-30 minutes, depending upon the route taken and the group leader’s inclinations to give his group a spirited experience. Almost all the manufacturer’s rides began exactly at the scheduled time, except Can Am, where I was asked to arrive at 2:45 for a 3:00 ride, which didn’t actually begin until close to an hour after I arrived.


Conversely, Harley offered the best sign-up process this year. First, they had the largest staff to handle registrations, and second, they used license-scanning machines to speed up the registration process itself. Third, unlike each other manufacturer who required rider’s to register at the beginning of Saturday AND Sunday, HD honored Saturday registrations for Sunday rides (saving rider’s time). That was enough to grant Harley the “2008 Motorcycle Intelligence BEST Demo Ride Experience.” However, they aced the experience altogether when I realized that they were letting a number of riders go on their own individual rides, in addition to the group rides they offered.

NOTE: In all fairness, their largest registration staff was actually a result of shared staffing with Buell (an HD subsidiary), which was right next to Harley. This efficiency still resulted in the fastest registration process.


Overall, the demo riding experiences are usually a pretty good time for all riders – well, the vast majority of riders. I understand that at least one demo rider landed a bike inelegantly without getting hurt enough to require an immediate trip to the hospital.

Having said that, I was surprised by my Buell experience, which I will pass off as a quirk.

As it turned out, the very last group ride of the weekend was at the Buell tent. All the other manufacturers had shut down their rides and some were even taking their tents down. Buell was calling off the names of the final riders (about a dozen), and for the only time of the weekend, there were merely three (3) riders present.

Hence, this was the easiest standby opportunity I have seen in years.

I made my request to go with the group as a standby rider and was declined. That made no sense, so I asked again, and even a third time, but was told they did not have a standby status(?) and the group took their last ride, leaving a bunch of lonely bikes and at least two standby riders rebuffed.

For years, including this weekend, I have observed the demo staff of every manufacturer do their very best to ensure that each demo ride is full, and that as many riders as possible get on their bikes. Since I have experienced great service at the Buell tent in the past and since I had interacted with some of the Buell staff over this weekend, I will just guess that this guy was tired and grumpy – although he should really be a back-line employee and not interacting with public, since he was obviously oblivious to the fact that he was getting paid to let riders try Buell bikes so they might buy them.


Amongst the biggest manufacturers offering demo rides, most notably missing were BMW, Honda and Suzuki.


It was apparent that Honda and Suzuki spent their show money on their exhibit space inside the IMS instead of outside for demo rides. (However, note to Honda and Suzuki Marketing: I would more likely buy another Suzuki and/or Honda if I could DEMO RIDE them, rather then sit on them in the exhibit hall, which I can also do at any authorized dealer….)


Suzuki commanded the biggest exhibit space and Honda won the “2008 Motorcycle Intelligence BEST Overall Motorbike Exhibit” with all their featured machines prominent on the most conspicuous yellow carpeting of the event, all the while lighting them up with the largest array of custom lighting this year. Even if you wandered into the exhibit hall dazzled and confused by the hundreds of shiny bikes and thousands of people, without knowing the difference between Harley Davidson and Kymco, at the moment you set foot in the Honda exhibit you KNEW you were viewing a whole bunch of bikes from ONE manufacturer.


Oddly enough, BMW not only didn’t offer their bikes for demo rides outside this year, they also cut back on their inside exhibition space and number of motorcycles on display, opting for the least prominent exhibit space for a major manufacturer, especially for BMW. Heck, they didn’t even display their second best-selling RT sport-touring bike, or their LT full-luxury tourer. BMW seemed to be signaling that they are buttoning down the hatches for the global economic slowdown, while the other manufacturers offered a more optimistic presentation for their future and for motorcycling in general.


I look forward to the IMS every year and this year was another great event. Whether you are general motorcycle enthusiast, or a narrow-niche zealot, both inside and outside the motorcycle show you are sure find something that will inspire your motorbike passion. This article could not cover all that could be seen or that happened over the weekend. Be sure to visit MotorcycleShows.com for more info and make a mental note to attend the 29th annual International Motorcycle Show in December 2009.

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