Le Salon de la Moto de Montréal 2018 (The Motorcycle Shows – Montréal)As I steered my cossetted SUV, heater and sound system blasting at equal volume, into the parking lot in downtown Montréal on a sunny but sub-zero Friday morning, I imagined the sound of motorcycle engines echoing off the gothic architecture of the city’s Old Quarter.But this was late February, and in Canada’s La Belle Province, winter’s wickedness compels motorcyclists to hibernate.
Motorcycling has cachet in La Belle Province. One of in four motorcycles purchased in Canada are bought by residents of the Province of Québec. The Québécois moto-culture offers something for every rider. Home-grown celebrity bikers include rock stars Robert Charlebois, Diane Dufresne, and Éric Lapointe, as well as father-son superbike racers Yvon and Miguel Duhamel. There are even legendary outlaw clubs, notably the vaunted Rock Machine.Thanks to its topographical variety, the province provides countless playgrounds for two-wheel advocates, be they on cruisers, scooters, dirt bikes, dual sports, customs, or canyon carvers. Urban guerrillas slice and dice the city streets with skill and style.High-speed autoroutes transform into blacktop snaking through the forests of the Laurentian Mountains. Long-distance adventurers can zoom east along the banks of the magnificent St. Lawrence River towards the Maritimes’ Cabot Trail, or saunter through into serene countryside of the Eastern Townships down to New England and New York. The Province of Québec is a biker’s paradise, that is when weather permits.Quebec’s largest city, a multicultural metropolis five-million strong, Montréal has been dubbed The Paris of North America. Incorporated in 1647 following France’s deployment of seafaring explorers and colonials, the city originally known as Hochelaga dates back to an Iroquois settlement some 4000 years ago.The bon vivant ambiance of the Old Quarter blends with the city’s eccentric silhouette, marked by structures such as the Olympic Stadium with its unique leaning tower, and a bustling seaport. Home to émigrés from the world over, Montréal rivals Chicago and New York for visual, sensory and gastronomic richness.The birthplace of a gamut of famous persons, such as world-renowned poet and composer Leonard Cohen, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and pop diva Céline Dion, Montréal boasts of its rebellious personality and forbidden delights. If you want to have fun, come and see the Northern Lights in this city that never sleeps.To break up the six months until spring finally arrives, The Salon de la Moto Montréal, held this year from February 24-26, populates 200,000 square feet with all things motorcycling, inside the futuristic Palais des congrès de Montréal convention center in the heart of the city.The center’s maze of tunnels offers shelter from winter’s whiplash, while connecting visitors to Montréal’s vibrant shopping, restaurant, and arts scene—both underground and aboveground.The three-day Salon, according to organizers Power Sport Services (PSS), has seen a steady increase in attendance over the last several years, from 34,300 in 2016 to 36,100 in 2018. Their stated demographic is “affluent, ready to buy and passionate about the riding lifestyle”. The audience skews 60 percent male/40 percent female, with the average age just under 40.PSS, which operates a Canada-wide series of motorcycle shows in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, Quebec City and Montréal, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Motorcycle & Moped Industry Council (MMIC) and the Canadian Off-Highway Vehicle Distributors Council (COHV). PPS President Bob Ramsay exhibits an enthusiasm that springs from a lifelong love of the sport and lifestyle. His message “Why I Ride”, addressed to show visitors, tells the tale of an ardent ambassador:“This not your traditional love-story—this is boy meets motorcycle and falls in love, My first time was when I was seven or eight years old—the memory is slipping. Some may think that is too early, but I knew from the first time I threw my leg over saddle and turned the key. It was love like I had never experienced before when I twisted the throttle and that little 50cc mini bike purred ahead. It was only a few months later that I graduated to a 250 BSA. That motorcycle had strength and speed and, in retrospect, a lot of blue exhaust, but I didn’t care as I hung on as tight as I could on the back.“These were my initial experiences and they have never left my thoughts. I ride not for the speed, not for the freedom, and not even because it is healthy and reduces my stress levels. I ride for the absolute love of riding.“The intimate feeling of clean, fresh air, beautiful sites and scenery unencumbered by glass and walls. Riding gives me a keen sense of living – of peace, comfort, joy, and happiness. Why I ride may not be why you ride.“Each person has his or her own reasons to ride. However, if you have never experienced riding then you missed something special. Whether off-road or on-road, whether ATV, side-by-side, motorcycle or scooter, riding offers you something you cannot find anywhere else.”Bianca Kennedy is the Show Manager for the Montréal and Québec City shows. She projects an engaging, upbeat style, mirrored in the event’s relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere.“Motorcycle enthusiasts here are well versed in the sport’s history, but they also want something new,” she offers. “Globalization and digital communication are transforming the social landscape, and we need to be conscious of that. So, we have lots of different activities connected with our online presence. While we stay close to our core constituency, we want the non-motorcycle crowd, to build the audience for the future.”The strategy appears to be paying dividends, with occasional and new riders, along with “people who just love bikes” making up almost half of the event-goers.Kennedy admits that managing the show has been, like motorcycling itself, as much about the journey as the destination. “Being someone who came from a very different part of the events business, and a newcomer to the lifestyle—I’ve only been riding for five years—I had a steep learning curve,” she admits. “But I also know that I bring a fresh approach as a newcomer, and as part of the growing constituency of female riders. It’s been fun, and successful for our organization and the manufacturers with whom we partner. Most importantly, our attendees are giving us great feedback, and seem really happy with what we’re doing.”Indeed, the show has more of a weekend family outing vibe than the usual iron-and-rubber ambiance. This is by design, Kennedy says: “Our indoor stunt riding displays with the Szoke family, show how adult and young riders can enjoy the sport together. We have a number of on-site contests. And there’s a Ladies’ Riding Night, with specific activities for women who want to take that next step into motorcycle culture.”The Salon also tips its lid to the custom builder scene, with its Hangar 17 concept. The program describes the area as “a collective of motorcycle builders, artists and riders, united by a shared passion for the road and a love for everything two-wheels. Hangar 17 is the place to refuel with friends and to connect with builders, motorcycle fanatics and craftsmen who sweat blood, gas, and beer. Pull up a stool, order a drink, and plan your next road trip while surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of freedom and independence.”Besides the complete array of manufacturers showcasing their shiny wares, the Salon headlined several product launches. Harley-Davidson Canada presented its refreshed lineup, with its smaller displacement motorcycles getting equal billing with the brand’s big-inch perennials. Under the theme The Great American Freedom Machine, the Motor Company looked to imagery that evoked the 1960s and ’70s, leveraging the iconography of Easy Rider and Then Came Bronson with a hipster twist.Alpinestars held the Canadian premiere of its Tech Air riding gear, targeting both the professional and recreational segments. Parts Canada, the international affiliate of Wisconsin’s Parts Unlimited, demonstrated the system for the press.Tech Air incorporates impact sensors that deploy the airbags before impact, proposing “class-leading technology…unrivaled as the first integrated airbag system which is completely independent of the motorcycle,” as claimed by Alpinestars. When questioned by media members, the Alpinestars representative admitted that motorcyclists could be looking at purchasing a completely new riding wardrobe; but then, what price safety?Wandering through the show, the spike in moto-lust was stoked by machines from all the major manufacturers—gleaming, seductive sculptures waiting to be unleashed. Straddling these beasts one after another, I, like the others, could not resist a chat, or two, or three, with enthusiastic motorcycle sales agents, exchanging anecdotes and business cards, with the commensurate moto-family hugs, and promises to be in touch.As I exited the Palais des congrès at day’s end, freezing rain coated the streets, a reminder to me winter wasn’t over yet. But it didn’t matter, because Le Salon de la Moto Montréal 2018 had lit the fire inside that would warm my motorcyclist’s heart. I let my imagination take me again, on a future ride, guided by a northern light.Photography by Georges Dutil