For nearly four decades, the Progressive International Motorcycle Show traveled from city to city from late fall to early spring, setting up shop in cavernous convention centers in major urban areas. The IMS show was where motorcyclists from around the country could kick tires on the latest models, ogle over outlandish custom bikes and spit-shined vintage machines, shop for aftermarket gear, and get inspired for the upcoming riding season.
Back in the late ’90s, when I started riding motorcycles, I went to the IMS show in Philadelphia. The show was in February, so it was icy and gray outside. My VFR750 was covered and chained up for the winter, and I took public transit to the massive convention center near Chinatown. Even at 25 years of age, I was like a kid in a candy store. I got to sit on a Ducati 916, and I got an autograph from racer Steve Rapp. (Almost 20 years later, while on an Arai press launch, I got to ride with Rapp, him on an Aprilia RSV4 and me on a KTM 1290 Super Duke GT, on my favorite backroad, California Route 33.)
In late November or early December, the IMS tour would kick off at the Long Beach Convention Center near Los Angeles, and it was an annual tradition for those of us who work at various motorcycle publications to attend the media day on Friday before the show opened to the public.
Then the pandemic happened. Like so many events, the 2020-21 fall/winter IMS tour was canceled. For years the organizers of IMS had considered shifting the event from indoors to outdoors, and a nasty little bug called SARS-CoV-2 finally forced it to happen.
For 2021, the show tour was rebranded as Progressive IMS Outdoors. The shows would be held during the summer and fall at outdoor venues where they would take on more of a festival vibe. There would be demo rides from major manufacturers, test rides on e-bicycles, a vendor area, food trucks, live music, and more.
Shifting the IMS shows outdoors was just what the tour needed, especially with the specter of Covid-19 still looming, but it wasn’t without a few hiccups. The Southern California stop, originally scheduled for early July, had to be rescheduled for late November due to a conflict with a venue. The New York City show, scheduled for Labor Day weekend, was canceled due to challenges with Covid testing requirements.
The first show of the 2021 tour was in July at Sonoma Raceway, in the Bay Area of Northern California. Other shows were in Chicago, Central Pennsylvania, Fort Worth, Nashville, Central Florida, Atlanta, and Southern California. In addition to the demo rides and vendors, there was the J&P Cycles Ultimate Builder Custom Bike Show, the IMS Vintage area, and more. At the Adventure Out! area, visitors could pick up a free copy of Rider magazine and listen to guest speakers such as Longhaulpaul (Paul Pelland), Bret Tkacs, Ryan Turner, and Alex Chacón.
The young and inexperienced could explore the world on two wheels at the Discover The Ride area, which included The Kids Zone with Strider, kids’ demo rides on Husqvarna Factory Replica Staycyc e-powered balance bikes, and the New Rider Course with Yamaha Power Assist e-bicycles and speed-limited electric Zero Motorcycles. The Motorcycle Industry Council introduced a new program called the Ride With Us Moto Intro experience, a 45-minute mini MSF course on small gas-powered motorcycles.
At every stop on the tour, IMS Outdoors teamed up with All Kids Bike to donate and deliver a training program to a local elementary school, which included balance bikes, pedal conversion kits, helmets, a teacher’s bike, and a full curriculum to teach kids to ride bikes in PE class.
Progressive IMS Outdoors has already announced dates and venues for 2022. You can find a full schedule at motorcycleshows.com.