Some observations from the media event at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show this morning:

Honda unveiled a bike for the masses in the NC700X.

Honda introduced a bike that will grow the market. The NC700X from Honda was the first unveil of the morning and it set a strong tone right out of the box. It’s a purpose-built machine, with that purpose being to expand the North American market. It’s geared toward the new motorcycle rider, or the returning rider, in an accessible, easy-to-like format with your choice of manual or automatic transmission. According to Jon Seidel, PR guy for Honda, the engine is based on the engine of the Honda Fit.

You see where Honda is going with this: to make a motorcycle that is like their cars. Reliable, rideable, and accessible. I’m sure they’ll get slings and arrows sent their way for an appliance-like bike, but in this case I’m all for it. The more riders, the better.

I straddled the bike and even at 6’2, it fit just fine and I didn’t feel cramped at all (unlike some other smaller bikes I’ve tried out like the Kawasaki Versys 650 and the BM GS650.) I’ll be anxious to test one out when they hit dealerships this summer.

The Victory Judge unveil.

Polaris is working hard. And it’s working. I noted yesterday that I thought the buzz headed into the show was all about Victory. And it was easy to see why. The Victory folks are good guys who are pushing hard to unseat that ‘other’ American cruiser manufacturer. Victory was busy as hell this morning, unveiling a custom bike that will benefit the family of a downed motorcycle rider (the unveil was a sincerely touching moment, as the builder’s voice waivered throughout his presentation in sadness for the loss of his friend and colleague…to a car accident.) and then pulling the cover off of the new Victory Judge, another mean-looking cruiser. Tomorrow they’ll show off the Cory Ness custom version of the Judge.

The Triumph booth was mobbed all day.

Triumph is the hottest girl at the high school dance. You know, the one who knows she’s hot? The one everyone wants to talk to that you can’t get near? I’m not just saying this because I’m a Triumph lover. It was impossible to get a conversation going with a  Triumph employee this morning. The booth was absolutely mobbed from start to finish. They have some of the hottest models and it was even a challenge to get close enough to one of the bikes to see it upclose or try it on for size. The silver Triumph Explorer looks great, less than 300 lucky American collectors will get the Steve McQueen commemorative-edition Bonneville, and the new Speed Triple R is simply badass.

The Ducati fashion show was…awkward. I don’t even know where to begin. The sight of bikers with leather and tatts standing around while fashion models strutted down a catwalk in clothes that were just not suited for motorcycle riding, was odd to say the least.  When Ducati started sending bare chested male models down the runway, it went from odd to downright creepy. I looked around, and the folks in the audience were grinning uncomfortably, looking at each other with a quizzical WTF? look on their face, looking at the floor…it just didn’t work.

That said, the Panigale, the Diavel, and the Multistrada are just gorgeous, work-of-art machines.

Harley is not even trying. I hate to bash any motorcycle company, but on a day when every other manufacturer was cranking out new technology, pulling the covers off cutting-edge machines, showing off their research and development prowess, Harley sent their PR guy out to address the press with a 15 minute monologue about their motorcycle museum. Their museum. They showed off a bike from 1932. 1932.  And the poor PR guy had to spend time in his talk discussing the Evel Knievel section of the museum, and the toys (yes, toys) they have on display. Oh boy. When is the next flight for Milwaukee?

I mentioned my disappointment with the Harley presentation to an exec from another motorcycle company, and he replied, “They have 30% market share. They don’t have to do anything.”  That’s called corporate arrogance, folks. Given what I saw from the other manufacturers this morning (especially Polaris, which is now coming after Harley with two guns blazing – Victory and Indian), they won’t have that share for long.

Husqvarna president Kris Odwarka shows off the 'belle of the ball' Concept Baja.

Husqvarna Stole the Show. It only made matters worse that Harley had to follow Husqvarna, which blew the roof off the Javits Center with the unveil of their Baja 650 Concept, a fantastic dual-purpose bike that combines the look of a 1960’s scrambler with 2012 technology. The coolest thing about this bike? A dashboard built into the crossbar of the handlebars. It seemed pretty clear in talking to Kris Odwarka, president of Husqvarna North America, that this is a concept that will become reality, although the timeframe and price point was decidedly unclear.

The media stayed pretty much in formation, traveling in a pack from booth to booth during the first half of the morning. But once Husky displayed the Baja, all that changed. Half the pack remained in the Husky/BMW booth trying to get close to Mr. Odwarka, while the other half continued on to see the Harley monologue. From that point forward, the media pack was quite a bit smaller and the Husqvarna booth was jammed.

I didn’t check off a couple of the to-do’s from yesterday’s pre-show list. The new Cory Ness Victory won’t be unveiled until tomorrow and that’s when The Gunny makes his appearance. Given the weather forecast I’m not sure if I’m going to stick around for it. And I never connected with my favorite Girlie Motorcycle Blogger or her fella.

But I will say this. The guys from Iron and Air are rock solid. Just three guys from New Hampshire who set out to create a new eZine on custom motorcycles who are kicking ass and taking names. This is a full-time endeavor for them, so that should tell you their level of confidence. Good work, guys – can’t wait for the launch!