Less is more at Long Beach Motorcycle Show

The Times' Charles Fleming wraps up some of the highlights from the Progressive International Motorcycle Show at the Long Beach Convention Center.

After several years of building bigger, faster, more powerful motorcycles, many manufacturers have come to this year's Progressive International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach with smaller, slower bikes designed to attract newer, younger riders.

Of course, industry leader Harley-Davidson was showing off row upon row of massive, gleaming cruisers and baggers, as were Indian and Victory. European pacesetters BMW and Ducati both had several iterations of liter-sized sport bikes too, with huge engines, massive performance and equally massive MSRPs.

But there were signs at the show at the Long Beach Convention Center that even the big-bike motorcycle makers are thinking small.

Ducati unveiled a 400cc version of its 800cc Scrambler, itself revealed a year ago as an entry-level attempt to bring new riders to the high-end brand. The bigger Scrambler sold so well -- 15,000 units in its first year, Ducati North America Chief Executive Dominique Cheraki said -- that the company is now betting growth on an even smaller version.


BMW is trying a similar gambit. The German bike maker used the Long Beach show to tease, but not show off, a 310cc street bike, the smallest nonscooter machine it has sold in decades. Having had enormous success with its smaller sized, more customizable rNineT, introduced a year ago, the company is now coming down in engine size in the hope of growing its sales numbers, especially in countries like Brazil where smaller bikes dominate.

Harley challenger Indian Motorcycle took the covers off its new 1000cc Scout Sixty, a smaller version of the 1200cc Scout that it introduced last year.

KTM showed off its relatively new 690 and 390 Super Dukes, smaller versions of the 1190 and 1290 street machines that are fondly known as "the Beasts."

"The small bike market is exploding," said Justin Dawes, KTM's product marketing manager. "Everybody knows that."

At each of the 15- to 20-minute introductory spiels, early attendees heard one industry executive after another making the same point: The power sports industry has still not recovered entirely from the 2008 recession, and the sport can grow only by adding new riders to the aging cohort of baby boomers who continue to drive sales.

Those aging riders are aging out of the sport, or are increasingly getting on three wheels by riding trikes, or four wheels by driving off-road buggies known as "side-by-sides."

To attract new riders to traditional two-wheelers, Harley-Davidson last year introduced the small-bore Street motorcycles, which at 750cc and 500cc are small enough to use in its rider training programs. This year, the company announced that it would offer free training to all military personnel and all members of law enforcement, emergency medical and firefighting organizations.

The show didn't feature only small bikes for new riders. Kawasaki has a new version of its insanely fast turbocharged H2R rocket bike -- sold on a first-come, first-served basis, in limited numbers and for $53,000. Suzuki showed off a concept for a new GSX-R1000, and a likely bestselling revamp of its SV650. Yamaha presented a flat-track-inspired XSR900. Triumph had a lovely line of retro-inspired Bonnevilles, including a throwback T120. And Royal Enfield had real throwbacks in its line of Bullets and Continental GTs, which look exactly like their 1960s predecessors.

Honda, Ducati and BMW, meanwhile, are going hard after more veteran aficionados of the "adventure" class of riding.

Ducati took the wraps off its 2016 Multistrada Enduro, a more off-road-ready version of its successful dual sport line. Not to be outdone, BMW, which is credited with creating the niche with its R1200GS adventure bikes, showed off its S100XR, a Multistrada fighter.

And going into the adventure arena at last, latecomer Honda finally brought forth its long-awaited Africa Twin, a ruggedly handsome 1200cc contender for the GS and Multistrada crown.

The motorcycle show opened to the public Friday evening and will run through the weekend. In addition to new motorcycles and concept vehicles, the convention center floor is also host to a few classics collections, as well as booths devoted to motorcycle parts, accessories, clothing and navigation systems.

Twitter: @misterfleming