What do you do to celebrate five years of one of the most successful custom motorcycle shows in the country? Well, you move into a new, bigger venue with about 4 weeks’ notice. At least that’s what you do if you’re the leaders of the Handbuilt Show in Austin, Texas.
This year’s show was held in the Austin American-Statesman building, and offered a significantly larger venue than the previous location in the Austin Fair Market.
Stefan Hertel, one of the co-founders of Revival Cycles, who put on the Handbuilt, graciously took a moment out of his day to discuss the new venue.
When I spoke with Stefan at last year’s show, I asked if he had ever considered a bigger venue, and he mentioned that they were looking at larger alternatives.
As it turns out, up until about a month before this year’s show, the team at Revival was planning on being at the Fair Market again, but in one of those serendipitous moments, the Handbuilt Team found the Austin American-Statesman building.
Stefan explained, “We started out planning the Handbuilt Show for Fairmarket again, which has been a great venue and was perfect to get the project launched, but we outgrew it fairly quickly.”
“Last year the crowd was so excited that we had lines for hours, and that’s not an experience we wanted people to have. So we needed to find more room and we were struggling to find the right venue with a certain kind of feel and aesthetic that the show needs to have.”
“There’s kind of this idea of taking over an industrial space, like kind of a working space. And finding that right spot is kind of tricky.”
“Finding someone who is willing to give you 25,000 square feet to throw a show is tough. We didn’t find anything, and didn’t find anything, and then, really fortunately, about a month before the show was supposed to start, Alan’s wife (Revival co-founder Alan Stulberg) had come to an event here (the Statesman), and was like this is perfect and told us.”
Hertel continued, “When Alan told me initially, I was extremely against the idea because I was thinking of the logistics of how we were going to make the transition, and he pushed through that, which was the right call.”
“We hustled and pulled it together to throw a different and bigger party with just four weeks left.”
As I walked around the new venue, it was clear that they made the right decision. Spacing between the bikes was more plentiful, with wide aisles that invited show goers to linger and look.
The one thing I did notice, though, was there was less artwork. I asked Stefan why there was a change.
He replied, “It was a little bit of a double sided thing. One, was we weren’t exactly sure of what we were doing and that was a component that we felt was stretching us a little bit beyond what we needed to. We also didn’t have that many people submitting art this year.”
“So, the art side of it is a little bit different. We might be changing that next year; we’ll see. There’s no set in stone method for this. It’s very much a feel your way through it and make sure everything keeps the right vibe.”
The bigger venue was especially handy on Saturday, as the weather was less than perfect, with occasional rain in the forecast. I asked Stefan if the bad weather was a good thing for the show.
“The fact that we’ve got a bit more space makes me more comfortable. If we had a rain day at the last venue, I would have kind of lost my mind, because our capacity was very low. At least here, we can host enough people in this room to throw a good party, even if it’s raining outside.”
The new venue also allowed for the addition of a dedicated lounge for show supporters, a studio for live streaming throughout the show, and a separate area for selling show swag. Lines to get into the show were short and there was plenty of breathing room for everyone.
The Handbuilt was definitely popular this year, with over 30,000 enthusiasts coming to see over 150 motorcycles on display.
The bikes ranged from big dual-sports, to drag bikes, to fully restored vintage machines like the beautiful Flying Merkel that took center stage next to Craig Rodsmith’s Harley engined, Ducati framed masterpiece.
There were so many beautiful bikes to see! Rather than talking about them endlessly here, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
The interesting thing about the Handbuilt is it’s more than a show. It’s really a destination event for custom bike enthusiasts, with multiple activities over four days.
The schedule kicked-off with an opening party at the trendy South Congress Hotel, which is home to Revival’s retail showroom. The beverages flowed freely as luminaries of the motorcycle industry mingled and shared stories.
The events continued on Friday evening with the grand opening of the show, as well as a builder’s forum at the hotel.
Chris Nelson from Iron and Air Magazine interviewed a panel of expert builders which included Walt Siegl, Craig Rodsmith, Tim Harney, and Jay Donovan.
The insights these builders shared were really interesting. All four builders had very different backgrounds and levels of experience, but their shared passion for motorcycles was abundantly clear.
The show at the Statesman went throughout the weekend and the event finished up with an after party at Revival Cycles’ workshop on Sunday evening.
I spent about three hours at the show on Saturday morning, and frankly, could have spent all day there, had I not had to get over to the Circuit of the Americas for MotoGP. There was so much to see, and frankly, just to mentally process. Every bike had so many cool details. It was impressive.
At the end of our chat, I asked Stefan what he had learned over the last five years. His answer was interesting, “You can never be too organized, and if you think you’ve got it all under control – you don’t.”
“The real trick, though, is that you be an amazing team, and a group of talented people, and everyone needs to understand their roles, and we need to make sure that we’re using everybody’s talents efficiently. That’s the real secret to what we do. It’s the people.”
With that said, I can’t wait to see what the next five years hold for the Handbuilt Show. Even if MotoGP wasn’t in Austin at the same time, I’d make the trip for this show. It’s an excellent, well run, and beautifully displayed event. Don’t just sit there – get to Austin next year!
Photos: © 2018 Andrew Kohn / Asphalt & Rubber – All Rights Reserved