The 16th Annual V-Twin Expo commenced on an uncommonly sunny February day at the Duke Energy Convention Center in the heart of downtown Cincinnati. Around 180 different exhibitors from Japan to Florence, Kentucky were doing business in the hustle and bustle of trade-show booths, demonstrations, and seminars. The future of the V-Twin motorcycle industry was being laid out and displayed in the 200,000 square feet of floor space and several annexed conference rooms.

Cincinnati seems like an odd place to be ground zero for arguably the biggest V-Twin business event in the world, but more V-Twin business happens within the 500-mile radius of Cincinnati than any other place on Earth.

V-Twin Expo

S&S Tramp.

Make no mistake, though, this is not Sturgis or Daytona, this is all business. The strictly enforced no-public policy means you can’t get in without a badge, and every year you can see a familiar group of bikers and fans watching from behind security trying to get a peek at what’s happening on the inside.

The show hosts many seminars to aid growth and spur the industry. I sat in on a seminar called “YouTube Video Marketing, Local SEO and Online Reviews” presented by Kent Lewis of Anvil Media. This particular seminar would set an interesting underlying theme that kept creeping into conversation throughout the duration of the expo. It emphasized the importance of social media and the internet itself as a tool for expanding business for anyone in the motorcycle industry.

V-Twin Expo

Paughco “Biker” themed urns for those that want to go out in style.

Wes Perham of L-A Harley Davidson out of Lewiston Maine recounted a story of how one of his YouTube videos demonstrating engine maintenance went viral and increased his business almost 60%. Additionally, other industry folk described how not having an online presence had significantly hurt their business, and coming from an age where they were constantly on the phone, most communication with customers now happens online.

Among the exhibitors, there was definitely a new focus on the online aspect of the moto industry, but according to several attendees, nothing can beat the face-to-face value of meeting other industry leaders at the expo. In the total of my years at the expo, I’ve never witnessed firsthand so many exhibitors networking and forming collaborations. For instance, Erik Paulson of Khrome Werks was telling me about their new partnership with Lincoln Industries, a leader in high-quality finishing, to provide a much more diverse offering of product styles for 2016, including a new touring system for large displacements and a variety of options now in black chrome.

V-Twin Expo

The Garage Brewed Motorcycle Show ran in conjunction with the V-Twin Expo and featured dozens of interesting customs, like this vintage-looking creation built around a 1976 Honda XL350 motor by Terry Heydt.

The mood of the show was excellent and there were good vibes abound. Skeeter Todd of Brock’s Performance was telling me his thoughts on the outlook for this year. “You know, it looks good, 2015 ended strong and, no matter what, being in this business beats the hell out of a real job,” he said with a smile. “I come here every year, and I get to be among friends and talk about motorcycles all day.” He also went on to tell me about the new variety of carbon-fiber wheels Brock’s Performance is releasing this year, Rotobox, and a sleek new bagger swingarm that is in development.

While Harley-Davidson still dominates the product focus of the V-Twin Expo, the Indian Motorcycle Company has an ever-growing footprint at the show every year since their re-emergence at the 2014 show. But the expo, of course, is not limited to a focus of those two companies.

V-Twin Expo

A 1937 Harley-Davidson EL poses. next to an Indian Scout dirt-track racer at the National Motorcycle Museum booth.

Allen Cagle of Rack and Pull Industries described the show as the only place where Harley, Indian, Honda, and other brand-centric product developers can meet under one roof and collaborate and network. And for a guy like Allen whose product applies to all those manufacturers, that’s very beneficial. Allen also had one of the most innovative products I saw at the show. His Straight Shooter is the only live laser-measuring system that exists and can show precisely how a swingarm is out of alignment and display frame damage recognition. Combined with his product, The Rack, they can effectively measure and straighten a twisted motorcycle frame that would’ve otherwise been totaled.

The expo isn’t all business; there is also a bit of showmanship displayed in the many incredible custom bikes in exhibitor spaces. The bike that most caught my eye this year was at the Ken’s Factory booth. Designed and built by Ken Nagai, essentially the Arlen Ness of Japan, and with paint by Buck Wild, the bike was jaw dropping. Ken and the head of his American branch, Nelson Kanno, were more than happy to tell me about the build and their expansion into the U.S. market. Even Dave Perewitz stopped by to take a long look at the bike and talk shop with Ken and Nelson. Ken’s Factory has some of the sleekest grips, risers, bars, and lamp mods I saw at the show or anywhere else for that matter. I predict we will be seeing a lot more of Ken’s products in the U.S. market very soon.

V-Twin Expo

Dave Perewitz checking out Ken Nagai’s Bike at the Ken’s Factory Booth

The expo isn’t all business; there is also a bit of showmanship displayed in the many incredible custom bikes in exhibitor spaces. The bike that most caught my eye this year was at the Ken’s Factory booth. Designed and built by Ken Nagai, essentially the Arlen Ness of Japan, and with paint by Buck Wild, the bike was jaw dropping. Ken and the head of his American branch, Nelson Kanno, were more than happy to tell me about the build and their expansion into the U.S. market. Even Dave Perewitz stopped by to take a long look at the bike and talk shop with Ken and Nelson. Ken’s Factory has some of the sleekest grips, risers, bars, and lamp mods I saw at the show or anywhere else for that matter. I predict we will be seeing a lot more of Ken’s products in the U.S. market very soon.

V-Twin Expo

Vance and Hines Harley drag bike.

Once the lights go down at the show, the fun starts and the free beer and pizza comes out for the exhibitors. While there is an abundance of small after-parties and dinners where the big business happens, there is always one a little bigger and more significant than the others.  This year it was an evening motorcycle show called Garage Brewed that focused on Midwest bikes and builders and was held in the Rhinegeist brewery a few blocks from the convention center. Yes, you read that correctly, a motorcycle show in a brewery. The packed show hosted by the Cincinnati Café Racer Club was free to the public and a breath of fresh air for those exhibitors looking to get their minds away from business and back to the simple love of motorcycles and beer.

V-Twin Expo

Yamaha Blaster by Lance Rogers at the Garage Brewed Motorcycle Show.

My takeaway from the 2016 V-Twin Expo was definitely a positive one. I saw several more companies, designers, and builders collaborating than ever before, and beyond that, a focused push on online business. There was a great sense of banding together within the motorcycle industry, learning from each other, and a lot of perspective on where things might go. This seems like the foundation and stability the V-Twin industry has been looking for since the bubble of the TV Biker Build-Off days burst. Badass products, sleeker-than-ever bikes, and technological collaboration and advancement have 2016 looking extremely promising for the motorcycle industry.

 

  • Alexander Pityuk

    Meanwhile in Russia: Moscow International Automobile Salon (august 2016) will go without Toyota, Lexus, Volkswagen, Skoda, BMW, Audi, Honda, Acura and Volvo. Kinda gives you the idea of the state of motorcycle industry here…

  • donetracey

    And once again, NOTHING from Victory Motorcycles (except Indian, which Victory owns). BEST V-twin motorcycles on the road – and not a peep. SHAME …. I guess Polaris refuses to kick back money to you.

  • Michael Mccormick

    I always check out their website, just sorry I clicked on the Vtwin thing. I’ve owned Guzzi’s,Ducatis, and Harley’s so I was expecting more than the boutique thing