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My own private motorcycle show, yo

December 18, 2011
Show entrance

The Washington State Convention Center (Orin O'Neill photos)

For 2011 the annual Progressive Seattle International Motorcycle Show changed venues, moving to the heart of downtown at the Washington State Convention Center.

Boxes of insurance

Sponsor Progressive Insurance’s area was the first thing you saw as you walked in the door. As always, picking up a box of insurance was quick and easy.

Last year, the major insurance companies occupied slightly more floor space than the major motorcycle manufacturers. Not so this year, as such recent no-shows as Triumph and BMW (albeit a dealer, not the factory, which meant no Beemer scooters) were present.

Yamaha Zuma 125

Yamaha Zuma 125

There were exactly four scooters on the show floor. Four. One of them was the 2012 Yamaha Zuma 125. The larger Zuma gets a facelift that makes it more closely resemble the recently-introduced 2012 Zuma 50F, though it doesn’t get the 50F’s reshaped seat. Either Zuma’s minimalist, easily replaced plastic body panels would make it a great choice for residents of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, where scooters get knocked over or moved by entitled twits who think parking spaces have their name on them.

Ducati 1199 Panigale

Ducati 1199 Panigale

The star of the Ducati stand was the 1199 Panigale. All the Ducati people were schooled in the proper pronunciation of the bike’s name (pah-ni-GAH-lay), a product specialist told me. I rather like how the turn signal and mirror are combined; I imagine a lot of these will be raced, and since the prep rules require removal of lights and mirrors, this can save a bit of work.

Wide aisle

While the show occupied two halls and the passageway between them (which featured several custom bikes), there was still quite a bit of empty space. Previous shows were packed with vendors, but the slack economy must have been keeping them away.

Half helmets

Still, if you were looking for a piss-pot helmet, they were on sale for half off.

Inflatable gecko

And the sponsoring insurance company wasn’t the only one in the house.

Triumph Thruxville

This is a Triumph Thruxville. Don’t bother looking on the Web site, you won’t find it. The Thruxville is a one-off mashup of Bonneville and Thruxton. I rather like it. The Bonnie has always been on my shortlist of motorcycles, should I ever decide to make that move. My weakened legs can hold a Bonneville up.

As it happened, I discovered I most certainly cannot hold up a Tiger 1050. Part of the problem was a too-high seat, but the Tiger is top-heavy in any case, like the Suzuki V-Strom and other similar “adventure” bikes. Honestly, I thought the damn thing would fall over. But my suspicions were confirmed. I won’t be riding one of those. Ever.

Suzuki TU250X

Suzuki TU250X

OTOH, I could easily see myself on a Suzuki TU250X. Not because it’s about the same size and weight as the GTS, but because it’s a motorcycle. Two wheels and an engine. No lifestyle or costume requried.

Harley custom

Unlike, say this one.

Gold custom

Or this one. In fact, bikes similar to these made up the overwhelming majority on the show floor. And wrinkles, gray hair/beards and liver spots were characteristics of the overwhelming majority of show attendees.

Any other industry would be doing just about anything possible to broaden its customer base. Not the motorcycle biz. An employee of a prominent local motorcycle dealership told me the reason they dropped their Honda franchise after many decades was Honda’s response to a down market—cut production. Not do more marketing, not introduce compelling new products, but wind down. This from the company that once devoted as much time and energy to selling the idea of owning and riding a motorcycle as it did to selling motorcycles. But then, nobody else is, either.

VME display

The Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts (VME) display of vintage motorcycles

That the most activity at the show surrounded the Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts’ annual display speaks volumes. By the middle of this century, I firmly believe the only motorcycles on U.S. roads will be vintage bikes ridden by old people.

And that depresses the hell out of me. Favicon

There are more pix on the Scootin’ Old Skool Facebook page.

  1. December 18, 2011 3:02 pm

    “Any other industry would be doing just about anything possible to broaden its customer base. Not the motorcycle biz. An employee of a prominent local motorcycle dealership told me the reason they dropped their Honda franchise after many decades was Honda’s response to a down market—cut production.”

    I do see some of the companies looking forward. BMW’s new scoots, for example, are designed to be appealing both to the commuter and the traditional motorcycle rider. The move towards more automatics as well, even Harley-Davidson is exploring automatic transmissions. Increased urbanization, increasing gas prices and the continued lack of good paying jobs will actually boost the need for other forms of transportation in the future. A smart company knows this.

    The problem, however, is how to change the American perspective on scooters and bikes. Let’s be honest. If you’re riding a scooter it’s “not a real bike” and if you’re on a bike in the U.S. it’s either a sports bike (like your pics show) or it’s a Harley and your name is Tubby and you served time in the joint.

    From a marketing standpoint…how do you change this view? This culture? Give it another 20 years and scoots/bikes will be as common as cars are today. It will happen, the future has already been written on that end.

  2. Robert Brown permalink
    December 18, 2011 5:47 pm

    Good write up Orin. Confirms that could I have gone (I wanted to but had to work), I would have been disappointed and felt like I spent way too much money making it happen (gas, hotel and food). When Bobskoot gets back, I’ll hear what he had to say. The Vancouver show is coming up next month at the Tradex in Abbotsford and I really don’t have high expectations hearing how things went in Seattle.

  3. December 18, 2011 9:22 pm

    I went down to the show for about four hours and then went back for two more hours, to look over the prototype motorcycles, VME, Triumph (and other makes) missed yesterday.

    I hate to say it, but I missed even the few – four – scooters on display. It was quite a change from 2002, when I recall one manufacturer’s rep (forget which one) telling that it was “the Year of the Scooter” and how more were coming.

    I think that the older motorcycles, scooters and mopeds that you see coming down the pike will have as much to do with the cost of the new machines, and where the American economy is headed, as much as the industrial design of the older machines.

    I really liked your shot of the main entrance, as much as the motorcycles themselves.

  4. December 19, 2011 2:27 pm

    Good to finally meet you Orin.

    Thanks so much for driving down and joining us for a bit of wandering and lunch.

  5. December 19, 2011 2:32 pm

    Trobairitz, good to meet you and Troubadour and SonjaM too. Stay tuned for my next post…

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