The first AIMExpo Show in Orlando Florida

The first AIMExpo Show –   Orlando Florida

I was spoiled beyond belief to be sent to the inaugural AIMExpo Show held in Orlando from October 15th – 21st.  The first three days were reserved for media and industry attendees, while Friday night through Sunday afternoon hours were for the public.  I had an amazing time!

Caveat 1:        I was not spending my own money for the most part. 

Caveat 2:      Although I’ve attended 20 or so Seattle International Motorcycle Shows, I’ve never attended an industry expo previously.

On the way to the airport I shared a ride with a fellow who was off to attend a convention on the assassination of President Kennedy. The 50th anniversary is upon us, and this man has been fascinated by the event for the entire half a century. Spending your own money for air fare and hotels to attend a convention on an “unsolved” murder seemed a bit odd to me, and then I remembered. November of 1963 was just after I had my first ride on a motorcycle and I’ve been fascinated by my own special interest ever since. How much time and money have I spent on motorcycles in the past 50 years?  Not that I would trade with him…

My flights there were relatively trouble free, and a shuttle van dropped me off at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando – one of several Rosen hotels.  All of them are huge.  This one features 1334 rooms on 24 floors and all of the amenities you could imagine, and some you could not if used to a more mundane existence. Like me.   I was greeted at the desk and handed an envelope with my name typed on it, and it was explained that I would be staying in a “VIP” room on the 23rd floor. My room pass card would allow the elevator to reach that floor, and a lounge on that floor that would begin serving afternoon treats in about 5 minutes. Further, the sky bridge on the 2nd floor would take me to the Convention Center.

Reeling from my first exposure to VIP living, I unpacked, passed on the lounge, and went out for a walk.  I meandered over to the Convention Center, which is several times larger than anything I’ve seen in Seattle, and went it to retrieve my entrance credentials.  The first thing I saw upon entrance was a display for the famed “Ace Café” in London – bikes and large posters and – wow – not a representative from the Ace, but owner Mark Wilsmore!  This was my first indication that this was not your average motorcycle show.  Later I had the chance to speak with Mr. Wilsmore, shake his hand, and thank him for what he has done for my sport.  He seemed a little confused, and I’m sure that most people he meets want to get his autograph or have a picture taken. I’ve never been into autographs, and I would rather shake a hand and have a conversation. It was a nice moment.

It occurred to me that I was exhausted.  Getting up at 1:45am will do that! Back to the hotel, and 12 hours of sleep was a good cure.

I was up and at ‘em on Wednesday, checking in to the Expo just after it opened at 9am,  Wow!  There were hundreds and hundreds of exhibitors, most of them aftermarket goodies for all manner of motorcycle tastes, with some displays catering to dealer needs for displays and infrastructure.  At first I made an attempt to approach the vast number of aisles and displays logically, but that soon went out the window and I wandered hither and yon as various items distracted me.  Along the way I chatted with Bill Niwa, formerly of Ride West and now a product rep for Rev!It apparel, and Lee Parks of Total Control fame.    Both were really pleased with the show, and Lee commented “I love anything that is not Advanstar!” (Advanstar promotes the Seattle show.) I also spent some time with Rolfe Imo-Gabbe of Rok Straps fame, and while there had some fun with famous racer Chris Carr. I had worked with him on an event 10 years ago and reminded him of a hilarious story that ensued.  I would tell you but I really have to act it out, so ask me some time!

At the back was a huge enclosed in glass area for media and product presentations, replete with food and goodie bags for those in attendance, presided over by Greg White of Greg’s Garage. I have a funny story about him as well, but did not have a chance to share it. One of the people sharing a table with me was famed designer Jesse Rooke.

But the bikes!  A huge display of about 80 bikes from the Vintage Japanese club was a treat, as I’ve ridden or owned most of them.  There was also a tasty selection of café racer customs in support of the Ace Café display, which had been moved from the outer foyer into the main hall.   One custom house displayed a “Bat bike” from the movie and several other wild creations.  One of them had front and rear tires so wide I did not see how it could turn.

Factory displays?  Not so much.  Yamaha was there, and I sat on the new 900cc triple, which impressed me exactly as expected – sort of a Triumph Speed Triple “light.”  It should sell by the bucket load.  Suzuki and Kymco and Hero and Eric Buell’s EBR were also represented. The new EBR sport bike had a neat feature I noticed. A fan in a niche in the fairing would blow hot air out and around a lip protecting the rider’s leg – a nice design idea. 

According to “reliable industry sources,” (always wanted to use that phrase), the deal was that Honda was committed to the show but got a new big guy in charge, and he “doesn’t believe in motorcycle shows.” Even stranger, Kawasaki (I was told) had committed a ton of their promo budget to a tie-in with the movie “The Lone Ranger,” which bombed, so they were out of money for the year!   Don’t know if either of those is true, but great stories!

BMW and Harley and Triumph, et al, were not represented, which one could assume was a cautious approach to a first-year show.  AIMExpo is already booked in the same location at the same time next year, so perhaps things will get better in that regard.

For at least the first three days of the show, which were for media and industry types only, there was a veritable college catalogue of seminars each day, usually about 4 per session in large rooms. One week from my retirement, I chose to attend none of them.  Don’t know what happened on the weekend days the show opened to the public.

Several hundred booths offered aftermarket goodies and supplies. Virtually everything you could think of for any bike (and some you could not), or for a dealership, was on offer.  I was impressed by the MTA booth (Nelson-Rigg and others), the Risk Racing display, Impact canopies, the Shark Kage multi-use ramp, Global Vision eyewear, and the “Lunasee” Hi-Viz wheel lighting displays. Most of these had knowledgeable and friendly people to answer questions, or just shoot the motorcycle breeze.  I will be recommending some of these products for further investigation by Ride West.

Many of the displays featured companies I have never heard of, almost all of them Chinese. There was an amusing difference in marketing.  American displays usually feature knowledgeable men and women all togged up in branded apparel, some of it quite fetching, to be quaint. Ashley in the Risk Racing booth was spectacularly fetching, but also friendly, outgoing, and extremely knowledgeable about their products, if you could stop ogling long enough to listen to what she was saying. Their “light mine” is a particular favorite product for me. It’s a golf ball sized item with magnets sticking out all over and a light. The idea is you can attach it to your bike and have the light shining exactly where you need it. I had one but gave it away to a documentary motorcycle film maker who lives and works in India, because I thought he would have more use for it than I.  They have now added a larger version that also impresses.

By contrast, many of the Chinese distributor booth personnel were dressed in jeans and plaid shirts and looked like graduate computer studies nerds.  Nothing wrong with that – just a noted difference.

There was also a display for “Nutcase” helmets.  I told them I thought the product name was for something that went inside a jockstrap, and we joked that a second product line might be an idea.

Another oddity was a display for “OPP” – some aftermarket sport bike stuff. Remember the rap song years ago that used the initialism “OPP” and caused such a ruckus?  I was startled to see it as a brand name, but the current folks assuredly do not know the history, and I was not about to tell them!

Next up was a shuttle bus ride to a 2nd location a mile away – an enormous outdoor area with demo street rides available from Suzuki, Kymco, Yamaha, Hero, and EBR. If that was not enough, there was a free dyno run set-up, and also a demo course for dirt bikes and a separate demo course for ATVs.  It was incredible!  I strolled around and took pictures, but chose not to gear up for any of the demo rides. As a spoiled puppy, I have already ridden most of the vehicles on offer. I could have been tempted by a demo ride on the new EBR sport bike, but they were not open when I was there.  Amusement (for me) was provided by a factory rep demonstrating a “Quadski” ATV/water craft with wheels that folded up for aqua use.  Just what you need to do with that $42,000 you have sitting around.

Back at the hotel I chose to use the pool area – I mean really, you have to!   After about an hour of sloth I decided that the show was much more interesting than the pool, so I got dressed and went back!

On my second tour I had a great time with the two principals of Vanson Leathers. Kim remembered me, although we had never met, because she remembered working on the custom set of Vanson leathers created for me when I worked at Cycle Barn. We spent about an hour together, as the three of us seemed to have similar senses of humor.

One thing I did miss out on was the premiere of a new documentary film produced by the Motorcycle Industry Council called “Why We Ride.”  I would really have liked to see that, but I had previously arranged to have dinner with old friends who live in the area.

Next day it was up early again for two crowded flights home. 

This show has to be considered a major success, particularly as a first time effort, and it raises several questions.  Is Advanstar (the promoter of the Seattle show as part of a national series) paying attention?  Will they respond?  Will AIMExpo remain a one shot  Florida deal, or do they have visions of national expansion as a series?  I do not know the answers, but if you have the chance to be in Florida in mid-October next year, I heartily encourage you to attend.

My profound thanks to the Motorcycle Industry Council for their kindness in sending me.

Copyright 2013                                        David Preston



About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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