At the 2018 American International Motorcycle Expo

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Vegas, baby! That’s the phrase that shot through my mind as I pulled up to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for the 2018 version of AIMExpo.

You may remember from a previous AIMExpo article that I wrote, that I found the energy level to be a bit low at this show. I wondered if being in Vegas would bring a new level of excitement and energy to the show that it lacked in the past.

Besides the glitzy location, the show was held in conjunction with Las Vegas Bike Fest and Monster Energy Supercross, with all of the events being lumped under the label of Powersports Industry Week. Maybe this could be a big deal?

The Mandalay Bay Convention Center is a huge facility. The walk from my hotel room to the show was almost 15 minutes and that was without ever leaving the building! The show itself was physically large, with row upon row of vendors hawking their wares. There was also a series of rooms downstairs for dealer meetings and seminars. Overall, this was an expansive event.

AIMExpo’s timing was somewhat unfortunate, as it was wedged on the calendar between Intermot in Germany and EICMA in Italy; two of the biggest motorcycle trade shows in the world. Because of that unfortunate timing, manufacturers have not yet completely embraced the American trade show.

The big four Japanese brands were all well represented, as were Indian, Harley Davidson, and Can-Am, but that was about it. Triumph had a very small presence, but otherwise, the European manufacturers were completely absent.

No Piaggio Group, with their Aprilia and Moto Guzzi brands, no Ducati, and no BMW, Husqvarna, or KTM. This fact was somewhat disappointing, considering how this show is billed as the motorcycle trade show for all of North America.

To make matters worse, the timing of the show limited the number of product introductions, as most manufacturers were saving their big intros for EICMA.

Now don’t think the show was all doom and gloom, as it surely wasn’t, but trying to compete with likes of EICMA is an uphill battle.

Though there weren’t many motorcycle introductions, the few that occurred were interesting nonetheless. Kawasaki led off the event with the introduction of their updated Ninja ZX-6R, ZX-10R and RR, and H2, H2R, and H2 Carbon. Stunt rider Jason Britton was on hand and rode the ZX-6R onto the stage, but kept both wheels safely on the ground.

Yamaha continued the trend of updated sportbikes this year with the introduction of their reworked R3. The R3 has been popular with the track day crowd, and the new version looks to be a good evolution of an already popular model.

It was also good to see the oddly styled, yet intriguing, three wheeled Niken in-person. I’m not sure what the market is for this bike, but from an engineering standpoint, it’s definitely interesting (and complex). Is there a real market for this bike or did Yamaha build an answer to a question that nobody asked? Only time will tell.

The only other significant bike introduction at the show was that of the Indian FTR 1200. Though formally introduced at INTERMOT, this was the American debut of this widely anticipated motorcycle and there was a lot of buzz surrounding the event.

American Flat Track Champion, Jared Mees, was on hand to give his perspective and sing the bike’s praises, as were a number of heavy hitters from Indian’s corporate headquarters.

The FTR is a handsome machine and looks to have a number of atypical features for an American motorcycle, including good rake and trail numbers, big brakes, and a sporty riding position.

Though not a perfect sports bike, it was encouraging to see Indian step out of their cruiser comfort zone to display something new, different, and frankly, pretty exciting for the iconic American brand.

Speaking of iconic brands, Harley Davidson had their orange and black display right by the show’s main entrance. I entered the area in anticipation of seeing some of the many bikes that were introduced earlier in the year to much fanfare.

Much to my surprise, I found nothing! Nada. Zilch. Zippo. Not a single mock up, picture, or nary a mention of the previously announced Live Wire, street fighter, or adventure bike.

Disappointed doesn’t adequately describe my emotion as I stared at the standard Harley cruiser fare. Yawn. Talk about a missed opportunity. Well, at least their paint is pretty.

Contrary to the lack of excitement at the Harley exhibit, the folks at Vanderhall were creating a lot of buzz, with multiple models of their three wheeled platform on display.

I know, I know, three wheelers aren’t motorcycles, blah, blah, blah. Well, the fact of the matter is, these machines are good for the powersports industry, keep riders in seats longer, and bring much needed revenue to dealers.

I took a quick 20-minute spin in one of these low slung fun machines, and all I can say, is you have to try one. No, it’s not a motorcycle, but it’s a different kind of fun.

With only 1,500 pounds to propel and almost 200 horsepower on tap the Vanderhall Venice moves out of its own way quickly. Throw in go kart like handling, and you have a machine that will keep you smiling (and acting like a kid) for hours.

Over at Honda, I felt pretty nostalgic since it was my first time seeing the Monkey and new Super Cub 125 in person. Both are great little bikes with excellent fit and finish and fun personalities to match. When added to the hugely popular Grom, Honda’s lineup of small bikes continues to impress.

Besides what’s mentioned above, most of the other exhibits at AIMExpo displayed the status quo. There were plenty of bikes to look at and accessories to buy, but nothing was really earth shattering. We will have to wait until EICMA for the big product intros.

Though not containing any product intros, one of my favorite parts of the show was the Moto Culture section. Custom builder Kevin Dunworth did a great job of curating a display of custom bikes and artwork that were displayed in a casual and welcoming setting.

Roland Sands Designs, San Diego Customs, and Dunworth himself, amongst others, displayed some excellent custom builds. Throw in some very cool motorcycle photography by Heidi Zumbrun and you had a great place to chill out, grab a seat, and talk about bikes.

In addition to the indoor displays, the show had a demo area right outside the convention hall, which was very convenient. Eight manufacturers had models to try out for varying amounts of time. Kawasaki’s rides lasted around 20 minutes and stayed mostly in town, while Honda had a 50 mile loop that included a ride to Red Rock Canyon. Pretty cool!

The first two days of AIMExpo were for industry only with the second two days open to the public. The industry days were actually pretty well attended and the mood seemed fairly upbeat.

On the other hand, the consumer portion of the show was very quiet. Saturday had a bit of a crowd, but Sunday was surprisingly subdued with demo rides being available late into the afternoon. For perspective, demos at the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach are typically booked solid by 10 AM.

So, was AIMExpo a success? On the industry side, I’d say yes. There were plenty of good opportunities for networking and crosstalk among professionals. On the consumer side of the show, I’m not as sure.

The crowds on Saturday and Sunday were pretty light and the synergy with the other local powersports events never seemed to materialize. It didn’t appear that many of the chaps and do-rag crowd from Las Vegas Bike Fest made it to the South end of the strip, and I wonder if Monster Energy Supercross may have cannibalized some of the consumer crowd on Saturday with their pre-race fan fest.

AIMExpo is still figuring out its way in the world. Competing with the like of EICMA and INTERMOT is a daunting task at best.

Next year, the show returns to Columbus, Ohio and is earlier on the calendar, which will help deconflict the schedule with the big events in Europe. It will be interesting to see if the show can gain more traction with the industry for product introductions. We’ll see how it goes next September.

Photos: © 2017 Andrew Kohn / Asphalt & Rubber – All Rights Reserved