It was a celebration to remember—the 25th year of the Donnie Smith Bike Show and Parts Extravaganza, and the man himself was celebrating his 70th birthday. Needless to say, the commemoration of two such momentous events created quite a festive ambiance with everyone
congratulating Donnie on his many accomplishments and partaking of the various birthday cakes appearing throughout the weekend.
Donnie’s love affair with custom motorcycles began, strangely enough, because of his passion for drag racing. After returning home from a two-year stint in the Army, Donnie, his brother Happy and his friend Bob Fetrow established Smith Bros. and Fetrow, a race shop and auto parts store. In 1970 Donnie chopped and raked his uncle’s Sportster frame and found that others liked his work. So he began designing and constructing motorcycle frames, expanding the scope to full customs and sending Donnie on his way to becoming one of the top builders in the world.
Some years ago, Donnie partnered with Neil Ryan of American Thunder Productions to create the Donnie Smith Bike Show, held at the Saint Paul RiverCentre in the downtown district. The show grew to the point that, in 2004, Donnie and Neil expanded the show, adding a second day and extending the exhibitor space to the main floor lobby. The change worked quite well and the event began to draw even more people, eventually growing to become the biggest bike show in the Midwest.
On this Saturday morning, hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts, tickets in hand, waited patiently in the lobby for access to the show. The security ropes were pulled aside at 9:00 on the dot, and thus began the flow of people taking the escalator to the main exhibit hall one floor down. It was a steady stream that would continue throughout both days of the show, warm weather notwithstanding.
The temperature rose to a balmy 70 degrees that day, and was nearly the same on Sunday—a welcome change from past years’ weather that has included everything from snow to freezing rain to flooding. What a treat to be able to ride your motorcycle in St. Paul in March! A fitting kickoff to the Minnesota riding season, it was.
Waiting for the initial rush of motorcycle junkies to dissipate a bit, I began my tour of the lobby vendors positioned
along both sides of the aisle. A few hot rods graced our presence; LeRoy’s Customs’ had a flamed ’32 Ford coupe on exhibit and Easyriders Steakhouse and Saloon displayed a trike with an FL front end flowing into a chopped truck. Chopper City Sports featured Boss Hoss bikes and trikes, and House of Kolor showed of some beautifully painted Harleys.
My friends Dan and Brandy Vuich drew quite a crowd at their Blue Highway Motorcycle Lodge exhibit, and rightfully so. I’ve stayed at their little slice of heaven near Hillsboro, Wisconsin, several times and the name “Motorcycle Lodge” doesn’t quite do justice to the luxurious cottages and terrific touring possibilities.
Other booths offered such biker necessities as leathers, pins, patches, riding glasses and helmets—both standard and fur-covered, with and without horns. Clubs and other organizations promoting their charity rides and raffles were all across the lobby as well as on the main exhibit floor.
Many showgoers make a beeline to the swap meet as soon as they arrive. The swap meet is held in the lower level of the Roy Wilkins Exhibition Hall, adjacent to the main exhibit hall. It’s packed with a huge variety of parts as well as books, posters, tools, decorative items and other trinkets. I’ve seen shoppers leave the show less than an hour after it opens, arms full of tires and saddlebags and such, and return for more rounds of bargain buying the very same day. The swap meet space sells out every year as every vendor in the area knows that it’s one of the best places to show and sell their wares.
Back in the main exhibit hall, a look around reveals a veritable who’s who of the motorcycle industry. Dennis Kirk, the title sponsor of the show, had a large booth set up, and show sponsors Hawg Wired and Amsoil also had exhibits. J&P Cycles, House of Kolor, Kuryakyn, S&S Cycle, Wizards Cleaning Products, Avon Tyres, RideWright Wheels and Terry Components were some of the other well-known aftermarket companies on hand. Also on display were several interesting trailer/camper products (the kind you tow behind your motorcycle). And there was a nice assortment of sound systems, more leathers, apparel, jewelry, handbags and other paraphernalia. Neil Ryan informed me that vendors are selected carefully—the show sells out of vending spots every year—and there was little duplication between them.
A number of dealerships and custom shops were represented, including Indian Motorcycle of the Twin Cities, St. Paul Harley-Davidson, Roadsmith Trikes, Fury Motorcycles, DD Custom Cycles, Lee’s Speed Shop, Bikeman Performance, KraZKustoms with Patriot Custom Cycle, Route 65 Classics, Hoffman Designs, Siouxicide Choppers, Precision Customs, Main Street Bikes and Trikes, Custom Bike Paint, and promoter Neil Ryan’s American Thunder.
For those interested in antique bikes, the National Motorcycle Museum had a small display that garnered some interest. And the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, Viking Chapter, was on hand with a nice assortment of antiques, including a ’71 H-D Super Glide, a ’34 Flathead, ’48 Indian Chief, ’60 Harley Topper, a ’23 Harley and a few British and Japanese bikes. One that drew a lot of attention was a ’73 H-D X90, a.k.a. the Shortster. This bike was one of the Harley models made in Italy, and I must have heard a half-dozen offers to buy it. After all, who wouldn’t want a miniature Harley in their stable?
Donnie Smith Custom Cycle was set up squarely in the middle of the exhibit hall, where Donnie and his crew showed off some of the bikes on
display. Donnie spent both days of the show greeting friends (Paul Yaffe was one surprise guest who showed up to wish him a happy birthday) and fans, signing autographs, posing for photos… and sharing birthday cake. Between Donnie’s display was a bar set up by Budweiser, another event sponsor. Between the bar and the stage, tables and chairs were set up for people to relax, people-watch and listen to 92.5 WQRS morning show host Brian Zepp broadcast. The stage is where hats and coozies and such were being given away all weekend, and the seating area was a strategic location for snagging prizes.
Show hours were extended for the Saturday night happy hour that kicked off at 5 p.m. The bar stayed open and the Second Generation Band took the stage and delivered their rendition of some old-style country music. The band called Donnie to the stage and sang Happy Birthday, and then Donnie proceeded to sign three cases of Bud aluminum bottles as a birthday commemoration. Before we knew it, 7:00 had arrived and it was boots and saddles time.
The party continued at The Whiskey Junction in Minneapolis where the Second Generation Band again took the stage. The show promoters generously provided free shuttle service between the St. Paul Hotel—just across the park from the RiverCentre—and The Whiskey Junction, saving us from parking woes and driving while under the influence.
Center of attention
The show’s main event was, of course, the judged bike competition. A wide variety of motorcycles, from colorful and exotic customs to near-stock restorations, were displayed in multiple rows that extended nearly all the way across the exhibit hall. The Pro Class, with 17 entries, was displayed in a special carpeted area and protected behind stanchions. In the 35-category Open Class were 125 bikes, plus several more entries displayed in bike shops’ exhibit spaces.
One bike that attracted a ton of attention, and won Best Paint to boot, was Scott Maeyaert’s INK—the bike with a full-body tattoo built by Deadline Customs. Dana Hallberg laid down the paint, and Jeff $Urman, a.k.a. Money, airbrushed the tattoos. The bike doesn’t just present a pretty picture; it sports a highly modified 120R engine built by Jason from Faribault H-D, a full custom body and frame modified to accept a 26″ wheel. And some of the “tattoos” serve double duty as brake lights and turn signals!
The emotions that some of these machines evoked during their builds were obvious. Bikes named Pure Insanity, Affliction, Surrender, Born Lucky, Second Chance and Crazy Ambition told their own tales. Many of the builders spoke about their handiwork with great pride, and some shared stories of great challenges that had to be overcome to bring their creations to life.
Mike Savage is one such proud builder. Mike and Randy Hocker are partners at Phat Rides Custom Cycle of Loveland, Colorado. As Mike pointed out some of the design and engineering intricacies on Randy’s ’65 Panhead, he brushed over his own challenges, including a recent bout with prostate cancer and a heart attack. At 63 years old, he’s not about to let a few health issues stop him from doing what he loves.
Randy’s Pan has the original engine and transmission, and pretty much everything else is handmade. Motocross wheels were modified to accept the right number of spokes. The rear perimeter brake was cut out of stainless steel. It’s got a motocross throttle, foot clutch, suicide shift, and handmade controls. The fuel tank was milled out of a piece of aluminum and split with a crossover added, taking 130 hours to construct. Mike and Randy built the frame and front end, and even made their own leaf spring in the front. As he says, “The fun is building it; trying to figure out how we’re going to do it.” This shining example of American ingenuity took first place in the Panhead class.
Lonnie Bender of Racine, Wisconsin, was another dedicated builder who divulged the story behind his ’77 Sportster that he’d entered into the Pro Class. He got the bike 28 years ago, and says it’s been through 10 configurations since. After nine years of the Sportster laying in pieces, Lonnie was getting ready to rebuild it again when he had an accident with nitro fuel, causing burns over 10 percent of his body. His buddies saved the bike (it was still in pieces) before the fire department got there. In spite of the burns, he was still able to complete it before the Columbus show earlier this year. Everything is handmade except the pipes and seat upholstery, and he did his own paintwork as well. Lonnie’s bike took first place in the People’s Choice competition at the Columbus show. The Sportster, which he named Insanity, didn’t place in the top five winners of the Pro Class at this show, but the bike and its owner sure had heart.
The most inspiring story I heard was told to me by Ron Coleman, owner of a custom entered into the Pro Class. The builder, Reece Good, owner
of Ultra Craft Customs near Kansas City, Missouri, had previously built several award-winning bikes. He and his shop were gaining national recognition when tragedy struck. Reece and some of his friends were on their way home from Sturgis in August 2006 when he was hit during a random drive-by shooting. He was put into a medically induced coma, still with a bullet inside his brain, and given only a five-percent chance of survival. Reece eventually began the slow process of recovery and rehabilitation, and several months later he was able to return home.
Reece had started on the bike the week before he had left for Sturgis, and he was able to finish the bike after his recovery. The striking Pro Street named Second Chance took first place in the Pro Class.
The next 25
It’s rare to see so many expertly crafted customs in one venue, but this show attracts some of the best builders around. Guy Ohland, one of the judges who also acts as event emcee, commented, “The Best Paint category was very difficult to judge. There were so many fantastic paint jobs—between the depth of the paint and the styles from flat to shiny. The talent pool is huge right now. And we saw such extremes—from the simple bobber to the big-wheeled bagger. There’s truly something for everyone here, and it makes it more challenging to judge.”
Donnie commented on the trends he observed at this year’s show. “Well, baggers are the in thing, as everyone knows. But there were a handful of very, very nice older restored bikes, and a lot of very high-quality bikes in our Pro Class. We really get bikes across the board; old builds, bobbers, baggers in the Open Class—a little bit of everything. No one comes to the show without seeing something that reminds them of what they had or what they wish they have.”
Bob Cashwell from Drag Specialties, who I see at rallies and shows throughout the year, summed up the event nicely. “Bike for bike, it’s probably the show with the best builds in the country.”
Donnie, here’s to another quarter-century of the best bikes in the Midwest. And we can’t wait to celebrate your 71st birthday with you next year! 4
Box and screen results
Donnie Smith Bike Show Pro Class Winners
1) Ron Coleman of Ultra Craft Customs, Kansas City, Missouri
2) Greg Wick, Rapid City, South Dakota
3) Outlaw Customs, Pipestone, Minnesota
4) Dana Hallberg of Deadline Customs, Forest Lake, Minnesota
5) Tyler Parham, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Best Paint: Scott Maeyaert of Chanhassen, Minnesota, H-D FLTR Road Glide
Best Display: Kurt Peterson of Glenwood, Minnesota, 2010 H-D FLHX Street Glide
Best Lighting: Lee McAndrew of Brookfield, Wisconsin, 2006 H-D FLTCU Ultra Classic
Best Antique: Bill Lykken of Grafton, North Dakota, 1957 Triumph T110
Best Bagger: Dave Dupor, DD Customs of Lake Villa, Illinois, H-D FLTR Road Glide
Best Bobber: Lorne Penner of Brandon, Manitoba, Triumph bobber
Best Chopper: Bob Henry of Roseville, Minnesota, 1958 H-D FLH Panhead
Best Pro Street: Doug Friend of Forest Lake, Minnesota, 2010 custom Softail
Best Sport Bike: Darren Gronholtz of Prior Lake, Minnesota, 2005 Suzuki Hayabusa
Judge’s Choice: Sundance Bar & Grill in Williamsburg, Iowa, 1972 H-D FLH Shovelhead