Customs at the capital
Austin, Texas, Apr. 19–22—Alan Stulberg is co-founder of Revival Cycles, an Austin-based shop that believes a motorcycle is not only a useful means of transport but that it should have an aesthetic expression—a “motorcycle is art” sorta mantra. With this concept firmly in place, Revival founded the Handbuilt Show, an invitational bike show held annually in the heart of Austin. But with the spiraling popularity of the Handbuilt and attendance on the rise, this year’s 5th annual was relocated from its former site at Fair Market to the Austin American Statesman building on South Congress Avenue.
The Austin American Statesman is the major daily newspaper in Austin and prints items from the Associated Press, New York Times, and the Washington Post along with other national and international news. But its strong coverage of central Texas, especially in the political arena, and its extensive coverage of the Austin music scene makes it the most widely read paper in Texas. A huge proponent of supporting all things Austin, especially the weird stuff, it seems a perfect fit for the Statesmanto embrace the Handbuilt. And with 35,000 square foot of available space, the cavernous Statesman venue offered three times greater display capacity inside and approximately five times more area outside than Fair Market—more space, more bikes, more people, more fun, more weird.
Although it may not be an easy task to qualify for an invite to the Handbuilt, this year the number of those on display exploded reaching 140 bikes along with 30,000 attendees. That’s pretty damn big even for Texas. And since the show is open to all marquees, there was a little something for everyone from classic chopped hawgs to pristine antiques to Japanese, British and German customs—all unique, each with its own fan base.
The event began on Thursday night with a Kick-Start Party at the South Congress Hotel, a swanky establishment that is also home to Revival Cycles in a corner section of the building. Tonight’s party featured an upstairs “supporter” pool deck and complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cocktails where you could rub shoulders with the show’s builders, Revival team members and those of the press. Downstairs was a party for all other attendees.
Friday the doors to the Handbuilt opened at six in the evening and did not close until midnight. Saturday’s times were noon until midnight while Sunday, the hours were noon until 6:00 p.m.—an evening, all day, afternoon schedule that seems to work quite well and garnered plenty of active participation.
Although the threat of rain on Saturday seemed imminent, the attendance was huge with overflow auto traffic having to park next door at the Texas DOT offices. That parking was full by mid-afternoon with vehicles waiting for spots to open. Motorcycle parking was ample and conveniently located next to the Statesmanbuilding but bike attendance seemed lighter than last year probably due to the weather conditions. Along with the bike show inside, the thrill of Charlie Ransom and the American Motor Drome Wall of Death’s hourly performances had crowds standing in long lines to witness antique Indians and Harleys racing around the vertical walls of a 14-foot-tall wooden-plank barrel, praying for adequate speed and centrifugal forces to keep them glued to the cylinder. They even delivered their new Australian Criss-Cross Pursuit Race featuring a bike and go-kart.
One amazing example of the craftsmanship on display at the Handbuilt was a 1941 Indian 741cc V-twin built by Jon MacDowell out of Boise, Idaho. Featuring an elegant stainless steel frame along with a bewildering stainless front fork (totally engineered and “handbuilt” by MacDowell), this highly-polished (sans any paint) beauty also had a handmade aluminum gas tank and rear fender along with intricacies involving transmission and clutch innovations. Diversity abounded at the show with an immaculate copper yellow 1912 Flying Merkel next to a super-radical gooseneck 80” UL Flathead H-D and a bike that featured a surfboard attachment. And then there was Project 21, a 1958 T-21 350cc twin-cylinder Triumph owned and built by John Stoner from Colorado Springs. Purposely built to break land speed records, Stoner engineered and hand built the turbo-charger system and is attempting to set 21 land speed records in various categories. He estimates this attempt will take eight to 10 years to finish. Vintage antiques, classic choppers, café racers, American, European and Oriental, the Handbuilt brings them all together.
This year’s Handbuilt culminated on Sunday evening after the Statesman’s doors closed with a wrap party at Revival Cycles. And once again this event remains a shining example of what a batch of dedicated Texas gearheads can accomplish all for the love of the two-wheel life. It is a premier motorcycle show that only seems to improve with age, this being the best to date. With the Austin vibe infectious, the bikes superb, and the nightlife over the top, this is an event you need to experience in person. Keep it weird, Austin.