Unexpected Winner

At the Golden Bolt custom motorcycle showcase, form meets function and competition meets camaraderie

Words by Joy Burgess

Photos by Heidi Zumbrun/The Golden Bolt

In many bike shows across the world, some of the top bikes never run – or can’t. And there’s a lot of controversy about that among motorcyclists. Should it really be all about the way a bike looks? An article by J&P Cycles recently addressed the controversy, saying, “Bike building has devolved into building useless piles of metal that actually can’t be ridden (the base idea of a motorcycle) and passing them off as ‘art.’… if you can’t ride it down the road it’s not a motorcycle, it’s a sculpture.”

Turns out, custom-bike builder Kevin Dunworth feels the same way. With years of experience building customs, television appearances on Café TV, Wrench Against the Machine, and Naked Speed, and involvement with the AMD World Championship, Dunworth had the dream of creating a motorcycle show that was different. That dream, along with his experience, resulted in the creation of the Golden Bolt custom motorcycle showcase.

Golden Bolt, Thunder Press
The House of Machines LA – created to honor both man and machine – hosted the Golden Bolt motorcycle showcase, and it’s a hot spot for local bike rides, music events, craft beer, and more.

The Golden Bolt: Tweaking the Motorcycle Show as We Know It 

Dunworth created the Golden Bolt event for the House of Machines – a global brand that brings together all things motorcycles, riding, and community to Los Angeles, Japan, and South Africa – and it’s a revolutionary approach to bike building shows. “It’s our difference in judging style that makes us stand out,” he says. “It’s what I’m most proud of, and it allows us to have something that’s like the Super Bowl of bike building. People often wonder, how do you compare choppers and café racers to come up with a winner? Well, we’re too class oriented. Why not have a show that’s just about having the best motorcycle?”

He adds, “Think about hot rod shows. Hot rods don’t have to follow a specific style. Well, the Golden Bolt celebrates that any style of motorcycle can be a hot rod. A chopper is a hot rod. A café racer is a hot rod. The motorcycle world can be very segmented, but motorcycles should be the glue for motorcyclists.” 

A group of 22 builders were invited to the Golden Bolt this year, but the atmosphere quickly turned from one of competition into one of camaraderie. According to Brian, “It became more of a community than a competition.”

Two things make the Golden Bolt stand out among other bike shows: the unique judging process – which is strictly performance-based and not influenced in any way by the crowd – and the rideability component. With the idea that bikes should be as functional as they are beautiful, every builder has to head out on a ride through downtown Los Angeles, and this is no police escorted ride. According to Dunworth, “Everyone has to ride aggressively, and when you’re dealing with Sunset Boulevard, especially with all these guys (22 builders and a function judge) trying to stick together, it gets nuts quickly.”

The level of talent at the Golden Bolt was high, and nothing proves that more than the fact that the top four bikes in the competition were separated by less than one point when the judging was complete.

While anyone can register to be considered for the Golden Bolt show, the final group of builders are carefully curated. “We try to pick bikes that are the top level in their prospective class, and then let in a couple of bikes built by up and comers,” says Dunworth, “And people say they can’t believe these bikes are so well curated.” 

Some stunning custom builds lined the front of The House of Machines LA as riders prepared to take on the 25-mile rideablity challenge. And this was no police-escorted ride. It often required some aggressive maneuvering to pull it off. 

Brian Buttera: The Builder Who Surprised Everyone 

With only one other – albeit very successful – bike build to his name, builder Brian Buttera from Buttera’s Metal Werx could likely be classified as one of those up-and-comers. In a surprise twist to the Golden Bolt show, his bike won the $30k cash prize. And perhaps no one was more surprised than Buttera himself. “It was unexpected to say the least,” he says. “The top few bikes at the competition were within a really close margin, and the level of craftsmanship was unbelievable.”

Buttera’s Metal Werx walked away with the $30,000 winner-take-all prize, and the win surprised everyone, including Brian. According to show creator Dunworth, “You couldn’t have picked a better man.”

Buttera’s love for bikes traces back to his childhood when he raced BMX and dirt bikes, and over time that evolved into a passion for motorcycles. But his ability to build bikes comes from his fabrication and welding experience. “I got into welding and metal fabrication when I was fairly young, and that evolved into close-tolerance precision stainless work, and that experience transfers into how I build my bikes. This is only my second build ever, and the first one was unexpectedly and overwhelmingly successful, too.” 

One of the big things that separates the Golden Bolt showcase from others for Buttera was the required ride. “This was a pretty serious ride,” he said, “and you had to have a solid, functioning motorcycle that could stand a lot of the grueling aspects.” But beyond that, one of the greatest surprises was how the showcase became more of a community than a competition. “We all came together” Buttera added, “and there was no sense of competition, but camaraderie. Sometimes money changes the dynamic, but that didn’t affect how we helped one another, and that was really special.” 

The winning bike itself, based around a 1955 panhead, which happened to be a swap meet find, featured a completely hand-built frame and front end crafted out of stainless steel and hand-polished before welding. In an ode to craftsmanship, Buttera left all the weld color on the welds. It’s truly a one-off bike, hand-built from scratch, including a handmade rear fender, stainless exhaust, handlebar and 10-spoke offset nickel-plated wheels. 

A key element that makes the Golden Bolt stand out is the rideability component, requiring builders ride their bike through downtown Los Angeles. Brian recalled, “You had to have a solid functioning motorcycle to stand a lot of grueling aspects thrown at you, especially riding down Sunset Boulevard.”

Beyond the stunning craftsmanship there’s the man who made it. Dunworth commented more on Buttera’s character than the bike. “Brian’s character makes him stand out,” he said. “Not only was there the build quality – he executed that near perfectly – but the man behind it; you couldn’t have picked a better man. To see this big former Vegas security guy sobbing was just incredible. He’s so humble and so cool.” 

While it may have been Buttera’s Metal Werx on the check, Brian knows he didn’t do it all alone. “I’m grateful for everyone who had a hand in what happened. While sometimes it seems you’re alone, when it’s all said and done, there are a lot of people to thank.”

NOTE: Stay tuned. There’s a good chance Buttera’s Metal Werx will be building a new bike in the coming year, and Thunder Press will have that story!

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