Opinion: Virtual reality

Those who live on Vancouver Island are quick to point out that they can ride all year long (thanks for rubbing it in), but the rest of us who can’t or won’t are likely chomping at the bit waiting for spring to arrive. Motorcycle shows typically provide a glimmer of hope this time of year, but most, if not all have been delayed then cancelled for obvious reasons.

Many people have taken on new hobbies and vices over the last two years and I’m no exception. Beyond an increase in alcohol and cannabis consumption, I’ve also been plowing through the pile of books collecting dust on my nightstand that I’ve been meaning to read for years. Not being able to travel or attend concerts and music festivals which would normally fill my weekends, I decided to buy a boat. You only live once, right?

Taking on a new hobby has meant starting from scratch to learn the ins and outs of use and ownership. I’ve been spending the long winter nights reading opinions and insight from experts and experienced boaters on how to navigate various waterways safely and legally.

Forced to cancel an in-person version of the Toronto Boat Show for the second year in a row, organizers have decided to ramp up a virtual format with various elements including an online marketplace and interactive online seminars. Filled with helpful topics on everything from boat buying and maintenance to safety precautions and solar power solutions, I’ve been digesting a wealth of new information that would have taken me years of trial and error to learn myself. Some presenters focus on more technical themes while others have been sharing stories and helpful suggestions from travels near and far so that others can make the most of their own excursions. So, why aren’t motorcycle shows doing the same?

Attending the motorcycle show has always been one of the highlights of the winter season. It helped kick off the year by offering the opportunity to replace gear and browse accessories, research possible travel destinations and maybe even buy that new motorcycle you’ve had your eye on. Even if you didn’t spend a dime after paying for admission, it allowed you to connect with friends and be reminded that winter won’t last forever.

The hope has of course been that in-person events would return and there wouldn’t be a need to pursue the virtual route, but new variants keep crashing the party. I know that funding and logistics are both significant challenges and that nothing can replace the human interaction of an in-person experience, however I can’t help but think about the far-reaching impact the absence of such events will have on the community. Getting into motorcycling can be intimidating for some, so they will naturally look to those with experience for guidance. Without the ability to sit on a selection of new bikes before buying or speaking to motorcycle course instructors, potential new riders may be lost entirely. Not to mention the great programs that let kids ride a mini bike for the first time. They’re the future of the sport.

If motorcycle shows are to survive, they will need to adapt to consumer and industry needs. Even with vaccination requirements and mask mandates in place, some people will prefer to stay home, so maybe a hybrid approach is needed. Perhaps the motorcycle industry is one that doesn’t lend itself to a virtual experience, or it is possible we’ll all be interacting as digital avatars in a fabricated meta universe in the not so distant future. I can’t say I have the solution to this problem. If I did, I’d own a much larger boat.

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