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Progressive Motorcycle Show Could Use An Immersive Overhaul
No matter who happens to be conducting services, you can count on Big Commerce’s cathedral in the city to showcase the state of the art. Last weekend, the Progressive International Motorcycle Show at NY’s Javits Center offered an exciting glimpse into, well, Progress and the future of motorcycling.
There were a number of notable developments. The yearning to recreate an idealized past was evident, as the infusion of garage-built subculture into the mainstream’s motorcycle aesthetic permeated the Show. Motorcycle boundaries continued to blur. Racetrack tech, like throttle maps and traction control, are now standard on many factory models. There was more of an emphasis on moto candy than eye candy, as racy floor models eclipsed racy human ones.
And of course there were the bikes.
Lineages continued to refine. Harley distilled its retro sensibilities into the Road King—a polished, beautiful Buck Rogers throwback. Ducati continued to nurture the offspring of its love affair with the track (performance) in all its bike genres. And Japanese and Italian sportbikes alike increasingly resembled a Filippo Marinetti wet dream.
But the show pretty much looked like every other Progressive Motorcycle Show I’ve been to. Indeed “the largest and most influential touring consumer motorcycle show in the US” felt a lot like Groundhog Day, except in a warehouse-full of motorcycles.
So how bad could that be? Admittedly, not bad at all.
There were dope customs, lit concept bikes, sick factory models, and cool tech up the ass. While I could spend the rest of your time covering the bikes, brands and specs of the show, I’ll leave that to more competent motojournalists, like the comprehensive coverage in Business Insider’s All the coolest bikes and gear at the 2016 New York Motorcycle Show.
I’ve included some of the gratuitous motoporn you’d expect below. But my job here is to rain on parades (and rides), and suggest improvements to this tired format. Heck, I’ll even call this a manifesto (thanks Marinetti) for bringing out the enormous interactive potential the IMS could bring to the table.
At times the Show felt like a humdrum museum of classical art. The static motorcycle displays presented like the cold, unadorned marble exhibits which misrepresent the kaleidoscopic culture that produced them. Many are unaware that classical statues were originally brightly painted (in ways that would’ve seemed garish to the Victorians who embraced them). Conventional museum exhibits obscure the fact that the statues presided over the bacchanalian, the deeply sacred and everything in between. Likewise, how can a fixed display evoke the depth of experience and meaning a motorcycle can bring?
With a number of notable exceptions—including demonstrations, the errant stunt show, and the ability to personally mount these masterpieces of motorcycling (try mounting a statue of Aphrodite at the Met)—the experience felt predictable and same-old. Much like walking through a museum. And like all petri dishes, it was a poor representation of what motorcycles can do in vivo.
The good news is that the gas, metal and passion that fuels this worldview on two (or more) wheels should offer enough inspiration to break through the staid marble that confines its enormous potential. With attractions like a tattoo parlor, guest speakers, and a live artist’s studio, IMS is already moving in the right direction.
Some suggestions you ask?
Go warm or go home: have the show during the riding season
The folks at IMS have heard this before, but having the show during rideable months in the Northeast, one of the world’s largest motorcycle markets, seems a no-brainer—even if the space costs more during the high season. A late Spring or early Fall compromise could also work.
If you’re one of the few diehards who’ll brave the cold to ride to the IMS, helmets off to you. But the cold is a deal-breaker for most motorcyclists. The day before, I participated in the NY Sportbike Riders' annual Santa run, where we ride up to random kids in the City and give them toys. Yeah, the look on their faces always trumps the nut-shrinking cold. But, were it not for such a compelling reason, my pussy would hurt like everyone else’s and I wouldn’t be riding.
Holding the IMS during warmer months would not only get way more people through the door, as they’d ride their bikes to the show (like practically every biker I’ve spoken to), but would open up a whole set of opportunities for interaction (see below).
Unmute, move, repeat
How about giving us the full motoporn experience?
Not being able to hear these technological marvels come to life felt a lot like watching porn without the sound. Let visitors turn on the fucking engines. Better yet, create interactive experiences that add depth to a moto encounter.
Demo rides, only offered at the Show’s Long Beach CA stop, would be awesome, albeit wishful. While the nature of being confined to an exhibit area presents obvious legal, health and financial limitations, given enough creativity and resources even dimensions of motion, handling and experience can be approximated.
Motorcycle treadmills? Wind tunnels? Virtual reality tech? Synthetic drugs engineered for a two-minute trip? Yeah yeah I know, “lawyers!” “ordinances!” “air quality!” “jailtime!” These may be lame suggestions, but it’s not my job to come up with better ones. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s the incredible potential of our species to validate the old saying, “where there’s a will there’s a way” or, as Captain Picard would say, “make it so.”
Have more unexpected, outside-the-box stuff . . .
There was some cool schizm at the Show and a touch of the unexpected, such as artist Makoto Endo’s workspace and an olde tyme barber shoppe giving haircuts. Unveilings, demonstrations, film tie-ins and other events are popular. Have more of them.
. . . including spectacles and entertainment
This could involve unconventional formats; everything from interactive theater, magic, science shows and tasteful burlesque performances, to comedy, hooping and silk performances. How about film screenings from the International Motorcycle Film Festival? IMS can draw from local performers and artists to keep costs down and include the local creative community.
Maybe it’s the oxygen that gets forced up our skull cavities, but for whatever reason a biker’s mind is more open than most. Feed it.
The power of immersive experiences
This could include an app-driven ARG, which would entail personal, interactive, multimedia experiences with storylines or themes. Think scavenger hunts or poker runs, except with badass digital functionality and an emphasis on the immersive. Add augmented reality and an app for a seamless, guided experience and you have a game changer.
Such an ARG can drive traffic to exhibits in an engaging way that can: build product interest, encourage communion among participants, present exhibitors with unique opportunities for interactions, and leave players with authentic and memorable experiences.
Better yet, why not turn the idea of an exhibit on its head by bringing it outdoors? How? By getting attendees outside as part of said ARG’s play, preferably on the motorcycles they rode in with. The game would do more than simply bring them to cool, or biker-relevant, local spots. It would present them with fun and edifying adventures, and add a dimension to their IMS experience that most bikers seek—communion with other riders.
I’m partial to this suggestion because of its great potential in guided experiences (plug on its way), and because that’s what I’ve been up to these days. After a successful test game earlier this year, Biker Entourage (bikerentourage.com) is releasing the first ARG for motorcyclists in the Summer of 2017, Biker Quest. Harley-Davidson NYC and other motorcycle businesses are already on board. Bringing this to the Show could add an unparalleled depth of interactivity.
Come on IMS. You’re like my six-year old 848. You’re awesome and we love you . . . but we’re starting to expect more.