Winter day, summer sunshine
MINNEAPOLIS, MINN., FEB. 1-3—The Progressive International Motorcycle Show rode into the Twin Cities on the coattails of the 2019 Polar Vortex, which hit Minnesota with a record 78 hours of sustained below zero temperatures leading to what local news anchors amicably spun as a “once in a generation” event. After a near 80-degree whiplash in temperatures, with Minneapolis settling at a balmy 40 degrees on the opening Friday of the show, it was time to forget the cold and plot a two-wheeled escape.
As the crowds fanned into the Minneapolis Convention Center visitors had to make the choice between first grabbing a beer from a local brewery stand or heading directly to the bikes on the showroom floor.
The first bike that caught my eye did not disappoint. It was a 2008 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy owned by Mike Rinowski and part of the J&P Cycles Ultimate Builder Custom Bike Show. The cruiser has a unique story in its own right with the first three years and 41,000 miles of its life spent roaming across Vietnam in honor of America’s fallen veterans. My own experience of riding on those tropical roads pales in comparison to doing it with a 96 c.i. V-twin. I looked for Mike hoping to swap stories about the 125cc scooter-clogged streets of Saigon and Hanoi and the intimidating lawlessness of the freeways, as well as the amazing food and impressions of Vietnam’s pseudo-communism.
While I couldn’t find Mike, I was now primed to move on to the Indian Motorcycle display that was drawing some serious hometown support. Visitors milled around, perusing the latest midsize, cruisers and touring bikes while taking turns pulling on the throttle, squeezing the clutch and testing out the comfort of the seats.
Directly behind Indian was an armada of Harleys for sale by Twin Cities Harley-Davidson, Wild Prairie Harley-Davidson and St. Paul’s H-D dealership. The Harley-Davidson bike girls I spoke with and photographed were optimistic that sales would be good over the weekend. Charged with taking names and contact info, the girls chided a young man who said he was 15 years old, had been riding for years and owned two Harleys that he had rebuilt himself.
“Are you sure you are telling the truth cuz you are sure a cute young man?” one asked.
With that reminder of adolescence checked off the list, it was time to visit some of the show’s signature events like Discover The Ride, Shift and Adventure Out! Discover the Ride had a new rider course set up in partnership with Zero Motorcycles that allowed showgoers to test an electric, zero-emissions bike. The bikes were pretty cool, but the sound they made going around the track was akin to a vacuum cleaner.
More impressive was the wheelie experience managed by XDL’s stunt pros. Still using the Zero Motorcycles, there was no restraint on torque unlike the bikes used in the new rider course. While some of the stunt pros showed off their skills with ease, raising the bikes anywhere from 45 degrees to near 80 off the platform, a few novices took their time opening it up before eventually succeeding. The wheelie experience appeared to be a fan favorite throughout the course of the night.
Over at Adventure Out!, Peter Starr was giving a presentation about his experience riding a Kawasaki Ninja through Thailand. Why someone would ride a Ninja through Thailand? Well, as Starr put it, the Thai company he went through supplied the wrong bike. While his anecdotes were pretty spot on when describing the culture—generous people with the backdrop of a military junta-run government, the large amount of young men that join monastic life before marriage in an act of celibacy, and the amazing roads in the northern mountains—he got one key detail wrong about the death of the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Starr stated that Adulyadej, who had god-like devotion from citizens, was mourned in 2013. It was in 2016 that the King passed. What he did get right was the visceral disdain Thais have for their new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, who is widely decried as a womanizing “playboy” with three ex-wives, a violent temper and a strange penchant for poodles. As the story goes, a drunken then-prince, held a birthday party for one of his poodles, wearing nothing but his birthday suit. Photos were snapped and leaked to the press. National outrage ensued.
Regardless, Starr’s stories were applauded and the audience was surely transported away from the cold winter to the open road, even if for a few moments.
As I continued to follow the crowds to the next popular exhibit, I found myself looking at the strange custom designs by Alabama’s Confederate Motorcycles. With designs presenter Ernest Lee (an apt name) described as “enlighten American inspiration,” I couldn’t help but think the 2019 P-51 Combat Fighter model looked more like post-Soviet utility combined with Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Their 2005 Helicat was more up my alley. Ringing in at 113 c.i. with a $45,000 price tag, Lee said: “Right here. This one right here! Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Peter Fonda have one.”
True or not, he got a laugh from the crowd.
After that, I looked over the show’s vintage exhibit presented by Ton-Up Minneapolis and the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association. Too many beautiful old bikes to pick a favorite!
With that, I was ready to head out and call it night but before I could a biker stopped me.
“You know why I am here?” he asked. “Helps remind me we won’t stay frozen forever.”
I can only assume other visitors over the weekend felt the same way as we did.