By now, everyone’s heard that Austin is an oasis of cool in the middle of Texas, but to this seasoned bi-coaster, visiting for the recent Handbuilt Show was a very pleasant surprise, and a little humbling. While busy growing our beards, Austin stole the mojo once animating Williamsburg and the Mission District, which are now dominated by people with, like, real jobs. The Handbuilt Show, in its second year under Revival Cycles, is planted in East Austin, a Hispanic neighborhood with rings of gourmet food trucks circled like wagons in vacant lots every quarter-mile, or even closer.
The Show’s in a large warehouse with an open yard beside, but the interior is air conditioned, while the yard features two excellent food trucks and the American Motordrome for atmosphere—visual and sonic. The food and drinks aren’t free, nor are the T-shirts, but everything else is. Anybody could enter the wide-open doors, and it was still never too crowded, day or night, to slip in amongst the Wall of Death revelers and feel a 1928 Indian rock the boards under your feet, as horizontal rider Charlie Ransom snatched paper money from extended hands. That just never gets old.
The excuse for the April date is MotoGP weekend at COTA, about 30 minutes away, and there was considerable back-and-forth between venues and attendees. We also heard buzz from the locals, who all knew about the groovy moto-show in town; from the clerk of our converted house-to-hotel (the Heywood), to the wait staff at the restaurants at which we ate like kings for the price of a tip at a comparable joint in NYC. Don’t think I’m kidding. We stumbled into a seven-course prix-fixe gem called Qui, which I should have known about (since they’re partnering with Revival in a new café), but our ignorance was gustatory bliss. We went with the wine pairing, and laughed at the bill for a world-class meal.
The motorcycle show featured 110 bikes ranging from a 1911 Flying Merkel to several fresh-paint customs from across the US, plus Colombia and Mexico. It was a representative sampling of what’s happening in the Alt.Moto scene today, with a café racer bias, although plenty of choppers, vintage, and just plain oddballs were parked inside, with enough space that everyone could see everything, even when the joint was busting at the seams on Friday and Saturday evenings. The Handbuilt philosophy is self-explanatory; a generation of screen-gazers needs a kick in the pants, and a wrench in the hand. Because cussing at an old motorcycle, or any Real-Life hobby, builds character, as the Bearded Ones have discovered (okay, some of them). Art counts too, so the walls held an exhibition of painters, graphic designers, and photographers (which in full disclosure included yours truly, as half of MotoTintype, with Susan McLaughlin), and the Oil&Ink Expo.
Trends? The inclusion of several un- and restored and vintage bikes was heartening, as I’ve always said the future of the old bike movement rests with young Custom devotees. While it’s still popular to tart up CB Hondas into café bikes, the real go-fast scene is increasingly wicked, and serious about performance, as displayed by Revival itself with its J63, the Burly Brand tracker, the Apogee Monster, and the sick trellis-fork Ducati of Ian Halcott. Choppers are continuously refining the old school and keeping paint skills fresh, and a few builders managed to surprise even this old dog. Jeremy Cupp of LC Fabrications caught everyone’s eye with his—dig this—speedway custom, which mated a Blast crank to a Duc head, in a handbuilt chassis featuring a gutted upside-down fork with external springs and hydraulics. Jeremy’s work was clever and clean, with some seriously Falconesque tricks, like a spring-and-ratchet tuckaway kick lever, at which I went ‘oooh!’ It was the bike everyone talked about, so it was no surprise it won the People’s Choice award, announced long after those choosing people were gone on Sunday, so just the builders could show their appreciation, which was sweet. Be there next year, y’hear?