One of the first stories I covered here on Moto Adventurer was the “goings-on” at Progressive International Motorcycle Show (IMS) in Cleveland. Considering typical Ohio weather in late January, it’s nice to fill up an otherwise snowy weekend with a some two-wheeled eye candy. Thus, between Cleveland and Chicago, I’ve attended every IMS each winter since just prior to launching the website.
This being my seventh show, I have to admit things were starting to feel a bit “familiar”. In prior years, I would typically day trip to Cleveland, ogle over the new bikes I wanted to see, chit chat with a few buddies about the latest and greatest, and then endure the three-hour car ride back home. To shake things up his year I applied for a press pass. With badge in hand, I decided to slow things down this year, stay the night for once, and take a deeper look at what goes on at the show.
Have you brought a non-riding friend to a motorcycle show?
You should. Seriously.
Needless to say, I consume a lot of motorcycle media. I sit in front of a CAD computer for 40+ hours a week, which gives me a chance to listen to a lot of podcasts and keep up with moto-headlines during my lunch break. A while back I caught a podcast about the “Give A Shift” initiative. If we believe all of the headlines, motorcyclists are dying breed. Between economics, limitless entertainment outlets competing for your dollars, and a culture that’s becoming more risk-averse by the minute, fewer and fewer riders are entering the fray. When I was a kid we rode bicycles everywhere. While I do live on a busy street, I seldom see a kid on a bicycle anymore (I arguably see more adults on bicycles than kids). If we as riders don’t expose our friends and future generations to the motorcycle world… they won’t find it anywhere else.
What does this have to do with IMS Cleveland?
Funny you should ask, while I missed out on the opportunity to meet him in person, Robert Pandya, the guy who started the Give-A-Shift initiative, was on-site in Cleveland. In conjunction with IMS, Robert helps manage the “Discover The Ride” program, a program designed to give potential motorcyclists a taste of the riding experience in a safe and controlled environment.
Folks that sign-up to for “Discover-The-Ride” get the opportunity to ride a power assist bicycle around an indoor course, offering the first sensation of the motorized, two-wheeled travel while demonstrating they have the balance necessary to ride a full-size bike. From there, attendees are provided with safety gear and get the chance to take a specially programed Zero FXS electric motorcycle around the practice track (this is obviously the abridged version of the program, you can find more details here).
Per my comments, Discover the Ride isn’t just for adults, there’s also a program for the kids. In the Kids Zone, youngsters get a chance to scramble around a dedicated track on Stacyc electric balance bike, with or without power assist based on skill and competence.
Just outside the Discover the Ride area, an entire aisleway was dedicated to approachable current-year models from various manufacturers. Conventional language for these bikes used to be “entry-level” or “learner bikes”, but admit I’m trying to avoid those terms as much as possible these days. While I feel the wind is changing direction, I fear that some new riders in this country still feel judged for riding smaller bikes among their more “experienced” peers. After riding “big bikes” for the better part of a decade, I decided what I really needed was a 250… I recommend more folks give it a try, but that’s a story for another day. At any rate, bikes like the Rebel 300, the Grom, SV650, and the VanVan200 were all lined up just outside the practice track for folks to try on for size. That VanVan with those big beach tires was so popular, I never managed to snag a photo of it by its lonesome. Considering my personal affinity for the TW200, I can see why.
So what else is going on at the show?
So you brought a friend and have exposed them to motorcycle fever and want to see what else was is going on. I’m naturally going to nudge you in the direction that leads away from the pavement. In the last couple of year’s IMS launched “Adventure Out”, a section of the exhibit floor dedicated to adventure riding. Inside the Adventure Out area, you can attend a series of presentations geared toward adventure riding and travel.
This year Backcountry Discovery Routes launched a new section in the northeast (hence NEBDR). For those unfamiliar, Backcountry Discovery Routes is a 501c3 non-profit that specializes in creating suitable touring routes that include on and off-road travel through rural America for dual-sport and adventure motorcyclists. Standing in the back of the “picnic area”, I listened to Tim James (Board VP with BDR) and Jocelin Snow discuss the finer parts of adventure riding, some backstory behind the BDR non-profit and their mission, a few notes about the Mid-Atlantic BDR, and a tease of the Northeast BDR.
I also got the chance to see Bret Tkacs in the flesh while he discussed best practices when packing for adventure touring. Spoiler: take less stuff. But seriously, Bret got into the finite details about managing luggage and living off the bike during his travels. In a second session that I missed, Bret discussed more “tips and tricks” of long-distance motorcycle travel from his tours of South America, Africa and beyond; from handling border crossings, “bribes”, and things to consider when selecting the right bike for you.
In a side conversation, I chatted with Bret and his wife Christina about Bret’s usual day job as a motorcycle instructor and some of his antics on youtube. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more of Bret “off-script” on the interwebs in the near future.
For more pavement oriented folks, IMS has beefed up the “Vintage Garage” over the past few years. While I didn’t get the opportunity to sit through one of seminars this year, similar to Adventure Out, Vintage Garage has featured speakers and DIY workshops to help encourage folks to get their hands dirty, or perhaps pick up some expert tips for an upcoming project you’re working on (perhaps that final touch to your submission to Garage Brewed?).
What about the bikes?
Taking my first steps into the exhibition area, I was immediately greeted by Harley-Davidson’s new Pan America (and Bronx). Akin to the expansion of “Adventure Out”, it’s obvious that the adventure craze has really taken root in today’s motorcycle community. The whole idea of a Harley-Davidson adventure bike would have been preposterous no more than two years ago, and yet there it sat on display for the masses.
Unfortunately, with glass cases protecting both prototypes, photos simply don’t do either machine justice. I’ve been reluctant to write anything about the Pan America up to this point, considering the number of other articles already covering the topic, but I admit I’m excited to see what Harley-Davidson is going to do in this space. I’ve read a lot of noise in various comment sections about how “heavy” this bike looks (does the R1250GSA look heavy?), and endless remarks about the polarizing aesthetics of the front fairing. I tend to find the adventure “beak” ugly and superfluous… but freely admit that love is very much in the eye of the beholder (agreed, the Pan-Am looks like Bender). As far as the Mo-Co is concerned, I’m much more concerned with what the bike can do than I am about aesthetics.
Standing next to the glass case, the Pan America appeared smaller and more slender than I pictured it based on the press photos. From what I can tell outside of the glass, the bike looks the part; tubeless spoked wheels, Brembo binders, supple suspension travel (for a Harley sitting in a display case), crash bars, V-twin engine, and chain drive. All things I like in an adventure bike.
I admit, with 1250 cc’s of displacement, TFT dash and a bar and shield on the tank, I suspect the Pan America will be out of my price range for a considerable number of years, but I still want to see how this new addition influences the market. Moreover, considering my passion for scramblers and barebones adventure bikes, I’m hopeful there’s a 950 V-twin in the pipeline with less whiz-bang.
And then there’s that other adventure bike on the opposite side of the spectrum. Yamaha has been teasing the new Tenere 700 for literally years now. In Cleveland, I finally got a chance to see it in the flesh (sans the protective glass case). Way back when, I went down to Cincinnati to test ride the (then new) XSR900 at a demo event. A triple with retro styling, I was infatuated from go, but I had to wait to ride that bike for several hours due to the high demand. I consoled myself by taking an FZ-07 for a spin in the interim, a bike I knew nothing about. Despite riding the XSR900 and the FJ-09, at the end of the day it was that peppy 700cc P-twin that really captured my soul. And now Yamaha has put a long set of legs on that bike with a matching set of knobbly shoes. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m unabashedly smitten with this new Yammy. The T7 is probably the first bike I’ve lusted after since bringing home Rosie the Scrambler (that and about any two-stroke these days).
Similar to the Pan America, sitting motionless on the carpet, the Tenere 700 checks all the boxes. Aggressive adventure setup with longer travel suspension and 21-inch front hoop with a 18 in the rear, the reputation of the beforementioned 270° crank parallel twin (much like that British mill I love so much), and that oh so slender frame and “rally” style fairing. Those new LED headlights look sick hidden behind the transparent “rally mask”, and to my shock, there are actually designated handholds on the rear subframe so you can get a firm purchase on the bike when you need to pull it out of a hairy situation. I’m happy to say the latest ADV machine from Yamaha comes with everything I want in a motorcycle and nothing I don’t. The new T7 comes with ABS standard and an “ABS off” button on an otherwise vanilla LCD display. No rider modes, no traction control, no TFT Dash, no Netflix or Apple car play. If you’re looking for a no-frills adventure motorcycle, it has arrived; at a dollar less than ten-large to boot (more Tenere 700 photos below).
Good things come in small packages
After drooling over the latest twin-cylinder dirt cruisers, I found myself captivated by the dual-sport and trail offerings in the Honda and Kawasaki booths. In case you missed it, I covered the CRF250L at great length recently. Walking around the Honda booth I was surprised to find Big Red had dropped the CRF230f (former sister to the 250L’s predecessor) and has brought a new 250 cc air-cooled mill on board for off-road only riders looking for a red bike.
Despite my best efforts to keep up with all the latest moto-news, I somehow missed the recent Revzilla article about Kawasaki’s expansion in a similar fashion with a 230cc trail bike and a street-legal sister machine, the KLX230r and KLX230 (respectively). Along with the KLX250, that now gives Kawasaki two flavors of quarter-liter street & trail machines for prospective buyers. At $4600 with fuel injection, the green 230 comes in about 600 greenbacks cheaper than Yamaha’s venerable XT250.
While not street legal, Kawasaki also launched the new KLX300 trail bike. In a world where I feel more off-road offerings edge closer and closer to full-spec race machines, it was refreshing to see the KLX300 boast a stat sheet just short of European specifications at almost half the price. Beyond my recent article about the shifting tides of the dual-sport market, I’m anxious to see where these new trail “play-bikes” are going.
You Meet the Nicest People On Motorcycles
Not pressed for time, it was interesting to sit back and look at IMS in a different light. I’ve spent days combing over photos and scratching notes about how to describe this year’s show. As much as I was hung up on the new dirt worthy machines, I think I was more captivated by the conversations and relationships forged over the weekend.
Standing in the Zero booth chatting with my buddy Tim Burke, we met Scott and Dan from Motoclectic Magazine. From upstate New York, these guys have been pounding the pavement for the last year or so, working to bring local, image-focused motorcycle stories to the masses with their grassroots magazine. Some folks may say that print is dead, but I’ll argue that when done right, folks will gladly throw down some bills for a magazine that inspires. Dan and Scott both said that they’ve taken inspiration from Iron & Air, but focus on that local feel so readers relate to the characters of the stories.
Circling back around after shooting photos of Discover the Ride, I caught Phil Waters interviewing Tim for an upcoming Cleveland Moto Podcast episode. If you’re a podcast listener, but unfamiliar with Cleveland Moto, I recommend you look them up. At any rate, Phil is incredibly knowledgable about Zero. I gotta tell you, his passion for electric motorcycles is almost infectious. I stood around the booth chatting with Tim long enough to notice that at no point was there not a crowd of 3 or 4 standing around Phil, trying to absorb all the information coming out his mouth (to Tim’s credit, he probably would have experienced the same, had I not been monopolizing his time.).
Per my previous comments, I had similar experiences with Bret and Christina Tkacs, a couple of side comments with Jocelin Snow (including an explanation on why the ladies take selfies holding their phones so high in the air, thanks Jocelin), and lots of conversations and even a few beers with over a dozen friends of mine who also attended the show that weekend. In previous years it was about seeing “all the bikes” and gathering “all the photos”. This year, despite all those paragraphs above, it was definitely about the people. There are a lot of great bikes out there, but there’s also a lot to learn from your fellow motorcyclist, regardless of how, when, and where you ride.
Further Reading: Interview with IMS VP Tracy Harris