The Sonoma Raceway International Motorcycle Show

“We are hoping that the show brings new riders to our sport, and awareness of powersports and – our brand,” says Jared Malmquist, District PG&A manager for KTM. Jared was putting the finishing touches on the KTM display at the first outdoor IMS show, taking place at the Sonoma Raceway, North of San Francisco. Malmquist need not have worried – the riders came out.

For 40 years, the consumer-oriented International Motorcycle Shows took place indoors, largely in convention centers located in different cities around the United States. With motorcycle interest surging despite the ongoing pandemic, the IMS organizers decided that shows were important, but they should take place outdoors, which would be both safer and more inviting to the consumers the shows hoped to attract.

Once the nine venues chosen for the newly named 2021 IMS Outdoors were locked down, IMS faced a second hurdle – the empty warehouses of most OEM’s, which made them reluctant to divert the bikes dealers were screaming for to the demo fleet. Eventually, the demo trucks of Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha, Enfield, Zero, KTM, Indian, and Harley-Davidson/Livewire appeared at the Northern California show, while Energica and Beta displayed bikes. Kawasaki also brought its Teryx sport side-by-sides and set up a demo track on the hill above the raceway.

The Sonoma Raceway IMS Outdoors show opened to the public at 1 pm, Friday and ran July 16-18. The attendance was a little lighter than hoped on Friday, but by 10 am on Saturday, the motorcycle parking lot was almost full and shuttle buses were busy bringing in people from the automobile parking lot. The outdoor format, in addition to adding an extra layer of safety in a post-pandemic world, gave the IMS Outdoors show a lot of extra room. One use for that room were three different closed circuits: an Intro to Motorcycles course, run on specially configured Zero motorcycles, a Strider balance bike track for little kids, and a loop for slightly bigger kids to practice cornering on Husqvarna electric minibikes. Both kids’ loops saw a steady stream of children and their parents. One little boy, obviously destined for an American Flat Track number plate, was hot shoeing around corners in clear imitation of Jared Mees.

Ryan McFarland, the inventor of the Strider balance bike, gave a press presentation on All Kids Bike, a nonprofit that sponsors a learn to ride a bicycle program for kindergartners in public schools. He presented the alarming statistic that 75 percent of children never ride bicycles. Instead, they spend hours staring at screens. Childhood obesity is a major issue, as is a lack of independence. Bicycle riding has the potential to fix all three problems. All Kids Bike (interestingly, largely supported by motorcycle-related businesses) is now teaching over 60,000 kids annually how to ride. McFarland suggested dealerships spearhead fundraising for the program in a nearby school. “Your dealership can be a hero when you deliver the bicycles to the school.”

By noon, it was very obvious that the major consumer draw was the demo rides. Some people waited several hours to get a chance to sample a specific motorcycle. Dan Quick of Zero was all grin as he watched the line of people waiting to do a test ride. “The pandemic helped Americans realize how rad powersports are. Our dualsports are flying out the door and are outpacing forecasts. We are able to keep stocked by not having a single source supply chain.”

The Zero factory is in Central California, South of Silicon Valley. “We didn’t have much disruption due to the pandemic. What did cause disruption was wildfires in our area. Our product development timeline was impacted just by weeks, not months, and with the launch of the FXE we’re on track.”

Andrew Kihn, Supervisor of consumer events for Kawasaki, was competing with Dan Quick for the Biggest Smile Award. “We are here with two different demo trucks – the Good Times motorcycle tour and the Teryx KRX sport side by side tour, because the IMS is a leading industry event and people come here wanting to demo. It’s the best way to experience our products. We got the tours back out on the road in June and visit dealerships every weekend, with demos, a lounge with video games and other things to make an event out of the demo.”

“There’s been a long demo line here since 9 am. People are eager to see and ride bikes, and our new KLR is at this event, which is a major draw. Our side by sides are here too, and this is a unique opportunity to demo both.”

In addition to the demo trucks, there were exhibits by aftermarket retailers and E-bike manufacturers. Superbike Showroom has a unique business model – they buy trade-ins from dealers and sell to consumers on their website. “We can pay more to dealers than the auction houses – and there’s no waiting to get paid,” says Shawn Owens, Sales director of  Superbike Showroom. “Almost everyone here yesterday was motivated to come by the test rides. We needed this. It’s good to see normal life coming back.”

John Michael Thompson, General Manager of Giant Bicycles USA, was proudly standing next to Giant’s large display, complete with demo rides. He explained how a sideline of E-Bikes might be valuable to a motorsports dealer. Giant, based in Taiwan, is the world’s largest manufacturer of performance bicycles and is a major player in the E-bike market. “Our demographic is people who want to get outside, exercise and most of all have fun. With our pedal-assist machines, we create a flat world, where you don’t exhaust yourself pedaling up hills. E-Bike sales can give a dealer new business and a wider scope. ”

“Giant’s mission is retail support. We are focused on selling our retailers’ inventory first! We do have direct sales, but facilitate in-store pickups through our website and share 100% margin with our stocking retail family. We also have our own financing and will help train service people. We can give a dealer a top return on investment.”

“People were really lining up for demo rides,” said Robert Pandya (Team Manager of the Discover the Ride program hosted by IMS Outdoors) at the end of the day. “The motorcycle parking lot is full. The demo managers are happy with the numbers and turnout.

“We need more promotion of, and assistance to, new riders,” Pandya suggests. “Right now we are in a bubble. It’s up to us to keep the momentum going.”

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