Columbus is the center of the motorcycle world for the next few days, the city having landed a trade show expected to attract 20,000. It’s one that Columbus officials hope will make its home here.
American International Motorcycle Expo, or AIMExpo, had been held in Orlando since the event’s inception in 2013. Organizers chose Columbus over several other locations in the Midwest for this year’s show, said Larry Little, vice president and general manager of the event.
“If you do the math and you do the map, this is the absolute epicenter from the concentration of dealers,” he said. “Within 500 miles of here are 40 percent of all the dealers in the country.”
And now, Columbus has an opportunity to become the expo’s long-term home. For next year, organizers have booked space in Las Vegas, but they have tentative plans to return to Columbus in 2019 and after.
While the event’s name has “motorcycle” in it, the event’s focus is much more broad, featuring manufacturers and dealers of ATVs, snowmobiles and watercraft, among many others.
The expo began Thursday morning with speeches from the top executives at Harley-Davidson and Polaris Industries. Friday will see a continuation of product launches, test drives and training events for the industry, and are closed to the public.
The event will welcome the public on Saturday and Sunday, with tickets starting at $ 16 for a one-day pass, or $ 14 if purchased online at www.aimexpousa.com.
The event takes up nearly all of the Greater Columbus Convention Center, along with outdoor space nearby, where licensed motorcycle riders can take test drives.
Local motorcycle enthusiasts and people in the business are eager for the city to make a good impression.
“The opportunity for us was simple: We get to welcome our industry to Columbus. The (question) is do we get to welcome them again?” said Bob Althoff, owner of A.D. Farrow and Co., the Columbus Harley-Davidson franchise.
His dealership has a large space on the show floor and is organizing a petition for visitors to encourage AIMExpo to come back.
“This is the biggest event in the industry, so to have it in Columbus is huge,” said Frank Lark, vice president for marketing at Iron Pony, the Westerville motorsports retailer.
Another key participant is the American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame in Pickerington, a perennial destination for enthusiasts.
It is scheduled to induct this year’s hall of fame class on Friday evening at a convention-center event. Those being honored are off-road racing champion Eddie Lojak Sr., world champion motocross racer Bob Moore, filmmaker Peter Starr, team owner and safety advocate John Ulrich and aftermarket performance leader Don Emler Sr.
For a trade show, 20,000 visitors is large, especially in a city Columbus’ size. For some perspective, AmericanHort’s Cultivate show, which took place in July, attracted about 10,000 industry professionals, according to Experience Columbus, the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau. The difference is that the AIMExpo is open to the public on some days while the horticulture show is not, so the two events are not directly comparable.
AIMExpo visitors have booked an estimated 8,500 hotel rooms and will spend a projected $ 3.3 million while here, according to tourism officials.
The motorcycle industry has been slow to recover from the economic downturn of the late 2000s and has taken merely gradual steps back toward the record highs in the middle of that decade. One of the recurring themes at the show, from dealers, analysts and others, is the need to expand the customer base to younger buyers.
“In the United States, motorcycles are not seen as primary transportation,” said Evans Brasfield, managing editor for Motorcycle.com, a website that covers the industry for a consumer audience. He is among those attending the show. “That’s one of the hurdles the industry needs to overcome, showing how great it is to commute by motorcycle.”