A Chat With An IMS Organizer About The Move Outside
I remember the very first IMS expo I ever attended. It was in North Atlanta, at a large convention venue called the Cobb Galleria. A bunch of guys and gals in my riding group had taken the bikes on a chilly January morning around the north Atlanta perimeter, to attend the show on a Saturday. We arrived well before the doors ever opened, purchased our tickets, and awaited the grand entrance. When IMS flung the doors open, The visual moto-feast I beheld raised the hair on the back of my neck. Expansive displays of current and coming models from all the major national and international brands, chrome, paint and rubber from one end of the convention floor to the other. Marques lofted their logo banners, rock music wafted over the sound system, young women walked around passing out show packets. I was in motorcycle heaven.
We spent the day there, straddling bikes, chatting up brand reps, perusing the aftermarket and accessory companies’ wares as well, totally immersed in the thrill of a massive venue full of all things motorcycle. I came back year after year, brought my father a couple of times, one of my daughters joined me another year, and the show never disappointed.
Then it was gone. Due to declining attendance (which I’d never noticed), The IMS dropped the Atlanta show several years back. And by dropping it they effectively dropped the entire Southeast United States as a priority. Unconscionable, considering the long and lush riding season we enjoy in the “Deep South”. We languished at local or regional shows attempting to fill the gap, populated by local/regional dealerships, custom shops, and aftermarket/accessory outlets. These were fine, fun even, but could never replace the big brands shows.
One day, in my inbox, I opened the most extraordinary news– Not only was the Progressive International Motorcycle Shows returning to Atlanta in 2021, they were making numerous stops across the Southeast, and they were moving to large outdoor venues. The clouds rolled back, the sun beamed in the windows, birds sang in the trees, and the glorious scent of petrol and exhaust filled the nostrils. Motorcycle heaven would return.
We had the opportunity recently to discuss the 2021 IMS Outdoors with Lauren Lloyd, PR and Communications Director of Informa Markets, the parent company of IMS, about the history of the long-running powersports show, the transition to outdoor venues, and what patrons can expect to enjoy at this year’s retooled shows. “I ensure this amazing experience gets in front of as many people as possible, that we’re reaching as many consumers, riders and non-riders as possible,” Lauren shared with me. “With this new IMS Outdoors announcement, we’ll pretty much touch every region of the United States, so even if we aren’t in people’s immediate backyard, you can make it into a long weekend, make it into a ride!”
We discussed the long history of the American motorcycle show, dating back to its inception on 1982. The shows changed names and changed hands in the early years, but as Lauren tells it, “we’re now the leading touring event that connects enthusiasts and brands.” With immersive programs like “Discover the Ride”, “The Marketplace”, ride demos, stunt shows, races and more, as the tour swings across the country this summer and into the fall, outdoor extravaganzas are an obvious evolution for the legendary events.
The pandemic of 2020 forced the organization to take a fresh look at their structure, as they asked the questions, as Lauren put it, “What do consumers want? What does the industry need? We got so much feedback, it allowed us to evolve it into this outdoors concept.” As we talked further, she shared how decades of a convention center, “Expo” style format morphed into the desire to “create a more festival-like atmosphere, appealing to all ages, all levels of enthusiasts, non-riders, pretty much everyone.”
The cornerstone of the IMS Outdoors shows will be demos- getting people on motorcycles. Moving to a festival style weekend experience will mean opportunities to ride bikes, trikes and 4-wheelers, with opportunities for young and old, new, non, or seasoned riders to sample the machines. Lauren made a great statement when she said, “It helps us showcase the motorcycling lifestyle, instead of just the product.” Moving into large, outdoor spaces opens the IMS up to offering amenities like on-site camping, outdoor local food vendors, trail rides, guided local day rides, open-air concerts, children’s play areas, the list goes on.
Lauren told me that each IMS Outdoors weekend will take on the flavor of the city and region it occupies. “Each show will be geographically and structurally different,” she shared. “Some will be in urban areas and cityscapes, some out on flat plains, some in mountainous foothills. Like say, in Tennessee, we’re going to feature some local country bands. Each will bring its own unique vibe.”
Without divulging the skinny on too much of their still-formulating plans, Lauren shared that they are communicating with the moto brands about which models will be available at which shows, and what variations may take place as the show rolls into the fall. “Attendees can expect different products at different events, in line with what the OEs will be rolling out.” I asked her if by the later shows, the brands might offer sneak peeks at some of their upcoming 2022 models, and she answered in the affirmative. “That pretty much aligns with our traditional tour format, which previously started toward the end of the year, and that aligns with manufacturers rolling out new models for next year.”
The IMS has, in recent years, been on the leading edge of initiatives to attract new, former and younger riders to the moto-fold, with programs like “Discover the Ride”, offering on-site rider training in cooperation with Zero Motorcycles, the “New to 2” portion of their website with loads of great new and returning rider content, as well as great resources for veteran riders like “Continue the Ride” with podcasts, stories, videos and more. Speaking of more, Lauren confided that their team will be revealing more plans that are solidifying regarding venue details, special guests and events at the various locations, so we plan to stay tuned so we can keep you informed.
We’re thrilled with the new format of the long-running Progressive International Motorcycle Shows, Outdoors! As we (hopefully) emerge from this infernal pandemic this year, its time to ride, time to engage, and time to celebrate- our unique love of riding, our unique rider culture, and our beloved country. What better way than a weekend at a local IMS Outdoors?
To find one on your neck of the woods, check this out-
*Check out our full interview with Lauren below!