At the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show

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Located on 5th Street in downtown Austin, the Fair Market is a nondescript, 16,000 foot event center. But once a year, as it has for the last four years, the Fair Market is transformed into the home of the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show.

This magical metamorphosis turns a simple, industrial looking building into a playground for motorcyclists and motorcycles of all varieties.

Local builder, Revival Cycles, started the Handbuilt back in 2014. Alan Stulberg and Stefan Hertel are the co-founders of the show, and they have grown this event into one of the premier custom motorcycle shows in the United States.

Held during the same weekend as MotoGP, the Handbuilt takes advantage of the large crowd of motorcyclists that descend on Austin for the weekend of world-class racing.

Standing near the front of the venue, with the look of an attentive father, was Stefan Hertel. I asked him how he felt this year’s show was going, and with a smile he said, “I think it’s going awesome.”

“The first couple of years were a little rocky; a little rough. We now have systems in place and we learned a lot. This year is the smoothest it’s ever been. The attendance is fantastic, everyone’s having a great time, the builders are awesome, the bikes are awesome, we can’t ask for anything more than this.”

During its first three years of existence, the Handbuilt was free, but this year, there was a nominal charge for admission. I asked Hertel about this and he mentioned, “As the show has grown, we needed to add the admission to help support the show, because it is an immense cost for Revival to undertake this event.”

“The feedback really hasn’t been adversarial at all. Everyone understands what it takes to put on this event; they appreciate what’s gone into it, and in some ways, I think they have a little more respect because there is an admission fee.”

He continued, “I’m happy with the choices that we made and I’m glad we did it free for the first couple of years, because we could grow it and learn from it, and as we made mistakes, no one was upset because they didn’t pay anything. Now that we’re charging, we’re trying to make sure that it’s a tightly run ship and everyone’s getting what they deserve.”

As I wandered the show, it was evident that the organizers put a lot of effort into the design and the installation. The bikes were artfully displayed, using the architectural features of the building to enhance their presentation.

Eclectic motorcycle artwork adorned the walls, motorcycle artifacts were peppered around the display floor, and of course, there was a large counter selling a variety of show merchandise.

One of the great things about the Handbuilt was the variety of motorcycles on display. Unlike some shows that stick to one niche, this show offered something for everyone.

There were custom sportbikes, Scramblers, Choppers, and vintage bikes. Some of the customs were from established shops, while others were built by independent, garage-based builders. Regardless, the quality of the bikes on display was superlative.

As previously mentioned, there were a number of vintage bikes at this year’s show, including a few from the Quail Motorcycle Gathering. As many of you know, the Quail is a motorcycle Concours d’Elegance held annually in Carmel California.

I asked Hertel about the Quail display (which included green grass, a la eighteenth green) and the tie to the Handbuilt Show.

“The quail does an excellent job of presenting motorcycling at a very high-level. They recognize that they are catering to a very specific format, and they recognize what we’re doing is addressing another part of the industry, and both of these parts are important.”

“We respect and appreciate what Gordon (McCall) and the guys at the Quail are putting together, and they recognize what we are doing, that we can funnel some interest, and get some younger people involved.”

The Quail is next weekend and it will be interesting to see how this cross-marketing works out for both the new school builders and the old school collectors.

As I wandered the show, I tried to pick a favorite motorcycle. A few that stood out included Craig Rodsmith’s turbo Moto Guzzi with a hand-polished dustbin fairing, JSK Moto’s Project Cobalt Storm, and a turbo 860 Ducati by Max Hazan.

These were just a few of the many amazing bikes at the show, but honestly, I couldn’t pick just one favorite.

I asked Hertel if he had a favorite and he noted, “I get asked this question a lot and I really want to come up with a simple answer, but there isn’t really one. There’s something I like about every bike in this room. I may not like the entire bike, but on the whole, everything here has something to love about it.”

“Some of the bikes from the garage builders are just fantastic. The fact that they are able to do that in their spare time, with very modest budgets, and very simple tools really gets my attention.”

“I’ve got all day, every day, to do my job, and I’ve got a pretty well set up shop, and these guys are on my heels way too close. They pushed us to step up our game, and in return, we hope we can inspire them to have new ideas and to push their game.”

Turnout for the show this year was quite good and many attendees talked about the lines to get in. I asked Hertel if there was a possibility of moving to a larger venue in the future, to which he responded, “We are looking at alternative venues and I think we are at a point now where we need to find a little more room.”

“We love this venue; it fits our energy and our vibe. And when we do finally move it will be because we found something even better. It’s time, because the line is getting a little excessive and people are having to wait a little too long.”

Talk of a new venue led me to ask Hertel about the overall future of the show, to which he answered, “We have a lot of ideas about where we want this to go, but we haven’t decided yet.”

“We’ve considered maybe taking it on tour to different cities; different venues. There’s some stuff in the kettle brewing and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that what we roll out is top notch.”

Overall, the Handbuilt Show was very enjoyable. The variety and quality of motorcycles on display is seldom matched anywhere, the attendees were a lot of fun, and no one took themselves too seriously. I was in town for MotoGP, but I’m very glad I made the detour to downtown Austin for the Handbuilt.

Photos: © 2017 Andrew Kohn / Asphalt & Rubber – All Rights Reserved

Andrew Kohn

Space industry professional full time. Motorcycle writer and photographer part time. Motorcycle rider all the time. Ducati and Honda owner. A&R’s own Captain Slow.