Austin’s Handbuilt Motorcycle Show Motorcycles, more motorcycles, music and the Wall of Death.


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For a break from the Circuit of The Americas MotoGP routine of interviews and tickling the laptop in the pressroom, I slid on over to Austin’s “Handbuilt Motorcycle Show.” A lot has happened in a year. Last time, builders seemed fascinated with earth colors. Practitioners call this “patina,” but my magic decoder ring called it “the rusty look,” which I first saw at The Quail a couple of years ago (“You polish the steel, give it a solvent wipe, then hit it with this acid…”). This is the reaction, the antithesis, of the unattainably perfect paint and finish of the High Chopper era. The tide comes in, the tide goes out, and what was left on the beach was workmanlike brown bikes made simple, focusing on the journey and not the arrival (or press conference). Now the show theme moved on to “the abstract motorcycle,” something that a 2-wheel version of early 20th-century Dadaists would approve (anybody remember how Marcel Duchamps shocked ’em in 1917?). These 2014 machines combine the looks of Transformer Robots, mechanical combat walkers, and what the guys at the muffler shop do after hours: let the imagination (and the MIG gun) run wild. Sure thing, here’s a 250cc liquid-cooled MX engine I picked up for $ 35, and look at these zoot 30-inch ball bearings from the scrap yard. Can’t wait to let this stuff assemble itself.
The Handbuilt Motorcycle Show scene I’m not sure I could actually enjoy these bikes, because they slap functionality’s face pretty hard. But for contrast and relief, you could also find a track-prepped Honda RC30, an unimaginably perfect pre-war Vincent Series A Rapide, a vintage-revival Manx Norton. Best of all, this scene is about people taking up tools and making things. I was sorry when the whine of the die grinder and the POP! of the acetylene torch could no longer be heard far into the night at the racetrack—nobody trackside builds engines any more; they come in boxes—but here those tools are again. If you came to the show to meet people and have conversation, well, you had to go outside. The current way to enjoy music is based upon too much being just enough. But maybe it contributed to the carnival atmosphere (Austin styles itself “the live music capital of the world”). Just through that door over there, enjoy the show at “The Wall of Death,” which toured with carnivals in the ’50s. Over many years, choppers pretty much congealed into the role of the old French Academy, dictating what was and what was not art. Now that mold is broken, and imagination is spreading across a much wider landscape. What next? Will you build it?
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