During the final throws of an otherwise ordinary day, a cacophony of roaring engines gave life to an unassuming side-street in North East Portland, Oregon. We’d arrived in the city, famous for its unbridled eclecticism and small-town vibe (despite a population of close to 600,000) to take in The ONE Show, See See Motorcycle’s annual gathering of bikers, builders, enthusiasts and those thirsty for a fair-priced PBR.
The ONE Show operates as a venue for moto-centrics to display that “one” bike that, above all others, holds some special value in the heart of the owner, and there are absolutely no restrictions or expectations on what that value is or why it exists. There were numerous piece-meal home builds standing alongside gaudy choppers, early 20th century examples of bikes in original condition sharing space with their heavily modified progeny. With such varied fare, it was nearly impossible to give each mount its due, especially considering the time, effort and history inherent in each machine. On the other hand, the atmosphere was entirely laid-back with no hint of competition or hubris, which made striking up conversation with any of the hundreds in attendance a breeze, though made tracking down builders something of a challenge since they were frequently lost in the crowd, off drooling over another build.
In addition to the bikes, there was also the 21 Helmets display in which artists such as Death Spray Custom, Thor Drake, Wes Lang, Garage 31 and a host of others each decked out a Bell three-quarter helmet with personal touches ranging from scraps of wood to pinstripes to full on cloth covering with buttons and zippers. Huge photos lined the walls, displaying the builders and friends putting their creations to work. Lines for beer and pizza grew exponentially as people filed in, and by nine o’clock it was shoulder-to-shoulder. Outside, a person could catch a breath of fresh air, then line up for a tattoo in the Chrome wagon; the street was lined with countless bikes, and there were almost as many admirers braving the cold as there were inside Sandbox Studios.
The show, now in its fourth year, has grown substantially, doubling every year since its inception and the man in charge, Thor Drake, is nonchalant when describing the event and its development.
“It’s a motorcycle show for people who ride motorcycles. No cover, cheap beer, kind of like what people do in their garage anyways, so why not make it a little bigger?”
His means of spreading the word are just as casual, taking time to invite people while at races, catching someone with a bike on the street or utilizing word of mouth through the shops of his friends.
As a result of his and many others’ work over the years, the house was absolutely packed on Friday night when the show opened. This year’s event gave special notice to dual-sports, and there were plenty on display. The managed chaos of people meandering from bike to bike had a vague hint of order, but that may have been more a result of the fact that everyone in attendance was in a state of awe-inspired bliss and were more than content to just go with the flow.
One of the first bikes to catch my eye was a 1982 Honda CB450 Nighthawk built by Josh Mott of Josh Mott Racing out of Boise, Idaho. It had a classic feel, but was obviously more than a strict restoration thanks to the stout inverted fork, Renthal cross bar, chopped tail and unusual front and rear tire sizes. This bike looked better prepared to hit the race track than to cruise idly down the boulevard.
I got a chance to talk with Josh about the CB450 and it turns out that the bike is a phoenix raised from the ashes.
“The bike showed up here as a boneyard bike, we were going to part it out on EBay, the front end was bent underneath and basically all that was left was the motor. I checked compression on it to see if it would run, checked the spark, cleaned the carbs on it and fired it up and it actually ran really good. It only had like nineteen thousand miles on the motor, so I was like, ‘sweet, I have a bike I can build something out of.’
“I had this concept that I wanted to do a motocross front end, so I took a YZ250 front end and threw that on there. I shortened it by seven inches so there was only five inches (of travel) left, and I was going to do a crazy pipe set-up but ended up putting a mono-shock in there. I cut the whole back end off and made the whole tail section.
“I cut the frame and raked it from 27 to 34 degrees. I cut the middle of the tank out and made a flush mount gas cap and actually centered the tank, too. I have a box underneath the motor that I made with all the electronics hidden underneath the motor.”
He sourced the custom seat from an upholstery shop down the road from his and put on a 21-inch front wheel and 16-inch rear to, in his words, be “really, really different.”
When asked whether this was his “one” bike, Josh was quick to say no, but it is a mount he says reflects his personality, pays homage to his history riding dirt and represents his shop well. (To see more of the Nighthawk, check out this YouTube video that Josh offered up).
He also brought along a sporty 1981 Honda GL11000X Gold Wing that looked more like a dual-sport loaded with a compact car engine spilling out the sides. When he got the invite to the show, about a month prior, he had just finished the project and thought it would fit really well with the dual-sport theme. Decked in red white and blue and complete with Renthal dirt bike bars and Acerbis hand guards the Gold Wing is one of Josh’s favorites to take out on the street.
“You can ride it like a sport bike, but then you look down and realize that this is a beefy bike. Someone laid it over and broke a bunch of pieces off one side, so we just fixed that and made a sweet little cruiser out of it.
“We rebuilt the motor and the carburetors and built a set of 2 1/4-inch exhaust pipes. Then we rebuilt the suspension and added some dirt bike bars, dual sport tires, a Baja head light and some paint and powder coating. It’s honestly one of the most fun bikes I’ve ever ridden.”
Local to the Portland area, ICON came packing some serious end-of-the-world heat with their 2012 Ural Solo St dubbed the “Quartermaster,” as well as a 2011 Triumph Tiger 800XC known as the “Dromedarii.” The Ural was given an oversized backbone, braced headstock, high clearance subframe, reinforced swingarm, knobbed tires and long-travel suspension, giving it the look of some apocalyptic work-horse intended to cart one of the few survivors down a burnt-out city street. The Triumph has a similar disposition, complete with stiff Ohlins suspension, Conti TKC80 rubber, raised subframe, oversized fuel tank, auxiliary fuel cells as well as front and rear load bearing racks. These bikes completely heed the advice of the adage, “expect the unexpected.”
Another local group, Ten Moto Racing, was represented with a number of the team bikes that regularly participate in the American Historical Motorcycle Racing Association. Based in Portland, this group of racers travels the country with bikes they’ve cobbled together themselves for the most part, and in the short time they’ve been together have amassed five national championships and a national team award.
I spoke with team owner, Tom Nelson, to get a better sense of what brought Ten Moto to the ONE Show and to learn more about the history of the effort.
“One of the reasons why everyone on the team likes to participate in the show is that we view it as coming from people who are really motorcycle enthusiasts. They work on them; they understand the engineering, the operations, something about all the manufacturers and makes.”
Most of the team members work with Portland’s Vicious Cycles to help prepare the bikes for race day. Joe Pethoud of Vicious joined with Tom back in 2010 to help organize the team, which operates like a co-op, with each rider owning and working on their machines and with Tom providing the trailer and tow vehicle to get them around the country.
Among the race bikes on display, one with glaring battle scars etched down the left side commanded the attention of passers-by. Heaped all around the bike were plaques of race successes past, and a small info card told that the mount was the 2011 AHRMA 200 GP National Champion. Jon Munns is the owner/pilot of the bike and he took some time to explain the story behind the ride.
“That started life as a Honda CB160; I’ve been racing it for 12 years, nearly every year. Over the years I’ve rebuilt it many times, have crashed probably well over 20 times, I’ve seen it cartwheel at least three times over my head, and it’s still the same basic race bike I built in 1989. Its current iteration is as a 200 GP race bike. I built it for the Honda CB F-160 class up in Portland, though about three years ago I decided to go AHRMA racing instead. We had the opportunity to join with Ten Moto and run the national circuit, which was always a dream of mine.
“It’s built entirely by myself, I do all my own chassis builds, suspension, engine builds, I do get some support from Vicious Cycle, but I probably built about 90%. The 200 GP allows us to use anything up to 200cc with a cutoff year, I think ‘67, with an exception made for the Honda CB175 vertical. It’s a fusion of CB175 and 160 parts.
“The fairing looks like that from one crash at Miller Motorsports Park last September. I miscalculated on a turn where the bike’s in fifth gear, tapped out, knee on the deck, paint-to-paint-to-paint to make the corner work out. I got a little too much paint on the inside and the front end washed away. I was going somewhere close to 95 when I put that bike down, a long slide but I was fine. The bike crashes really well, it’s not too heavy and you usually just end up replacing foot pegs, fairings. I crashed in morning practice and had less than half an hour before the first race started, so I pulled the pegs, swapped out the clip-ons, swapped out the windscreen, washed the dirt off got on track and won.”
Elsewhere, one of the most curious looking bikes proved to be the work of a man named Gustave Sculptor. He took a standard Harley-Davidson Sportster and tricked it out with outlandish metal work, glass blown tail-pipes and a set of bull horns jutting out from the handlebars. He works with a friend out of a shop called Devil’s Den and it was his first time doing significant work on a Harley, a project that took him two winters to complete.
“Some parts are recycled, some parts are brand new, I put a different tank on it, did a lot of welding on it, lot of scraps of this and that,” said Sculptor. “I like when people come up and go wow, what is it? I like it when people are intrigued, they want to look at it for longer, it’s exciting.”
One of the most compelling stories we came across during our time at The ONE Show came from Sgt. Tom Green. MotoUSA’s Cruiser Editor, Bryan Harley, caught up with Sgt. Green during the early hours of the show on Saturday, and the story behind his 1981 Yamaha XS650 Chopper stood out as a fine example of what one bike can mean in a person’s life.
“This is my bike. It was given to me by my brother and several of his friends who built if for a retirement gift. I was in the military for 21+ years and they started building this about six months before my last Afghanistan tour ended. When I got back and retired they ended up giving it to me.
“It’s awesome. It’s hard to even describe. This is the first time anything like this has ever happened to me and I’m still in awe, and I’ve had it for six months.
“The original platform of my bike is a ’81 Yamaha XS650. As far as the motor goes, it’s pretty much stock. But it’s been made into a hardtail, a lot of the engineering my brother and the builders did. They took out the stock rear brake rod and put in a pulley system, so it’s a lot nicer, kinda hidden so it opens it up more. There’s no slop in it, it’s nice and smooth. The made a chain tensioner for it, came up with the idea and built it, it wasn’t something they bought and put on. When it comes to all the polishing on it, they totally took apart all the tires and polished every single spoke, every single piece by hand before putting it all back on. A lot of sweat has gone into this build. It’s really nice.”
Stories like Sgt. Tom Green’s make the ONE Show unlike any other, and as a platform to bring people driven by a pure love of motorcycles together, it’s a singular experience. We whole-heartedly encourage you to find a way to Portland in 2014 for the next show, and if that’s not in the cards, start thinking quick about a trip to Austin, Texas. Drake revealed during our chat that plans are in the works to hold a second show in the Lone Star State this coming April. He’s also working to put together a multi-volume, coffee-table quality set of books which would feature the bikes in the shows since 2010. It’s a Kickstarter campaign, where those interested in supporting the effort can pledge as little or as much support to help fund the project. The target is $50,000 and there are currently 78 backers who have pledged a total of $8,771, at the time of this article.
We can’t stress this enough though, if you have any chance to catch the next ONE Show, do it. You’ll be glad you did.