The International Motorcycle Show

I don’t understand why the International Motorcycle Show is held in February in Chicago when it’s still too cold to actually ride a bike without a ton of gear, but when a co-worker invited me to head up and check it out I jumped at the opportunity. And yes, we pussed out and took his truck.

I expected to do more gawking than anything else, but I was surprised to learn all of the major manufacturers had plenty of bikes available for visitors to sit on. They kept everyone off the custom bikes, of course, but if anyone wanted to sit on a shiny new Victory or a custom-painted Harley, they could do so without getting hassled. I even spotted kids climbing on to some of the bikes, and nobody gave it a second thought.

Mike Chief Vintage

This is what sitting on a $35,000 bike looks like.

I was most blown away by Indian. It looked like they had all of their bikes present except the Chief Bomber, and their bikes run about $30K on up. Yet nobody gave us a hard time for climbing aboard and getting a feel for the bikes. If they took one look at my bank balance they’d probably have had security tune me up in the parking lot just for breathing on the chrome.

But hey, I did it twice.

It's Mine Now

They don't disconnect the batteries in case of fire. They do it because most visitors would run over their grandmothers to take one of these home.

Then they had to clean off the tank.

Harley had a nice setup, including a slick, custom model sitting out on the edge of their display area.

The Ace

I'll never complain about skulls on a bike.

And, of course, I sat on it, too. I think the ape hangers at that height would get uncomfortable on long runs, but they do look sharp on this bike. Shorten ’em just a bit and swap in a softer seat and I think we’d have a winner for my stubby ass.

Harley ran a regular demo on how to pick up a bike. Better yet, they showed how even smaller ladies could do it using just their legs and the correct leverage, and the lady running the show invited women from the audience to come out and try it. One caught on pretty quick, and the other had to get rid of the idea of having to use her arms. Once she did, the bike went right up on its wheels. I haven’t dropped a bike yet, but it was good to see the proper technique in case I do have a problem.

I also learned Harley announced their new Sportster 1200 Customs that weekend. They look good stock, but with Harley-Davidson’s new H-D1 program, riders can order custom work direct from the factory and have the bike delivered in about four weeks. From what I hear, buyers can tweak out their bike online, then bring the spec sheet to a dealer to process the order. It’s a cool program I’ll have to ask more about when I’m ready to upgrade my ride.

Ducati set up shop across the aisle from Harley, and the difference in atmosphere between the two booths was night and day. The Harley setup was sprawling and relaxed, with music from rock and punk bands like Dropkick Murphys playing from the loudspeakers. Ducati, meanwhile, had a cluttered booth and a revolving stage that made it look like a fashion show, complete with some watered down techno bumping from the speakers. Where Harley felt very American, the Ducati display had a distinctly European feel. And not in the timeless, classical sense but in the pretentious, elitist sense. Their bikes didn’t catch our eye, either, so we didn’t stick around long.

The other bikes to match the Harleys for style and comfort, in our opinion, were the Victory bikes.

Victory Vegas

A very modern take on the classic cruiser.

The Victory bikes had a modern feel compared to the Harleys, and come in at a lower price point. I can see benefits to both bikes, and from a practical standpoint, Steve and I both felt a visit to the Victory shop in East Peoria would be a must if we were on the market for new wheels. Victory doesn’t quite have that Harley allure (backed by Harley’s excellent marketing machine, of course), but their updated look isn’t half bad. Steve took a liking to their Cross Roads, a beefy touring cruiser.

Of course, the Indians are still the dream bikes. You could land both a Harley and a Victory for the price of an Indian, though, so unless I sell a boatload of copies of The Pack: Winter Kill, it’s not going to happen.

There were really only two stinkers in the show. First, neither of us cared for the Can-Am Spyder.

Can-Am Spyder

The backwards Big Wheel.

It looks a little strange, but it felt even stranger. Part of the problem may be my stumpy wop legs, but I just didn’t dig the forward-leaning feel of this thing. Steve jumped on and came to the same conclusion: this one’s just not for us.

Stinker number two was the Hyosung ST7.

Hyosung ST7

The only crooked bike I've ever sat on.

This South Korean company has a big line of scooters, but now they’re breaking into the motorcycle market with a handful of models. They don’t look bad, and I liked the saddle bags on the ST7, particularly the metal hinges and the tie-down points on the interior. However, we learned the engines are a lot smaller than they appear. The bike above is under 700cc, and the one just outside the pic to the left is only a 250. Both seemed much bigger, and the 250 had a tank that would have fit a bike three times that size.

Even worse, though, the bike felt crooked. No matter how I adjusted myself on the seat, the bike wanted to lean to the right. If I leaned my body to the left, the bike felt balanced. I’m hoping it had more to do with the floor or the rug than the bike itself, but I saw no reason for it at the time.

We rounded out the day by gawking at the custom bikes. The show held an Ultimate Builder contest, and the contest entries ran the length of the center aisle. Vistiors were encouraged to vote for their favorites. I took plenty of pictures of the custom bikes, but here are a couple of my favorites.

For design, I liked the first bike we saw upon entering the showroom.

Snake Bike

Om nom nom!

Badass. Click here to check out the front view of the mouth. This one would turn a lot of heads, no question about it.

The second I like for the paint job.

Skulls

A bike Death would ride.

It retains the cruiser look and feel, but I love the way most of the skulls fade away into the paint job. Throw some short apes on her and call it a win. Click here for a closer look at the front fender, or click here to see the painting on rear fender.

We spent about five hours there in total, but it felt a lot shorter than that. I almost came home with a Bell Drifter half helmet but instead sprung for an Indian work shirt. Dealers sold everything from leathers, jackets and patches to vacations, sunglasses and bike stands. A few Chicago-area motorcycle dealerships set up shop and had some good deals on used bikes, and every major manufacturer was present except for BMW.

I shot pictures all day, and there are plenty more photos in the Flickr set, including a lot more custom bikes. All in all, it was a good way to kill a Saturday. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

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