Lichter’s Motorcycles as Art Going Ton Up!

May 24, 2013
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
Cruiser Editor |Articles|Articles RSS|Blog|Blog Posts|Blog RSS

Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

Ton Up! Speed  Style and Cafe Racer Culture - Michael Lichter Motorcycles as Art exhibit 2013

One of the highlights of our annual pilgrimage to the Sturgis Rally is visiting Michael Lichter’s “Motorcycles as Art” exhibit at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip. Every year the talented photographer decides on a theme and assembles a collection of motorcycles, artwork, photography and memorabilia to support that theme.

Lichter is one of the hardest-working men around, hitting up just about every major motorcycle rally yearly, and has a way of catching the essence of the industry through the lenses of his cameras like nobody else. His pictures often depict base emotions and stirring images, like the one-legged biker resting his prosthetic leg against his motorcycle as he sleeps in Sturgis’ City Park called “Early Morning” or the hilarious “Busted in Daytona” where a biker standing in a window is making faces at his friends on the street who are getting harassed by two policemen who are oblivious to the jokester behind them. His collection of photos spans over 30 years during his tenure as photographer for Easyriders magazine.

The theme of this year’s Michael Lichter “Motorcycles as Art” exhibit is ‘Ton Up! Speed, Style and Café Racer Culture.’ It will be on display at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip in the hall next to the east gate from Aug. 3 – 9 with free admission to the public and Buffalo Chip guests. This year will be a celebration of the café racer, from its origins to its current popularity. So far there are over 30 motorcycles scheduled to be on display, including models that were instrumental to the café racer scene from marques like BSA, Norton, Moto Guzzi, Rickman, Triumph, Vincent and more. A full list of builders and collectors is included in the press release below as Lichter has added the likes of Chabott Engineering’s Shinya Kimura, respected moto-editor Dave Edwards, Richard Varner of Champions Moto and David Zemla of Burly Brand. Motorcycles in the exhibit will range from a café racer built by third-

Lichters Motorcycles as Art exhibit always draws a crowd.
Michael Lichter’s ‘Motorcycles as Art’ exhibit always draws a crowd during the Sturgis Rally.
Victory cafe racer built by Zach Ness.
From the contemporary to the classic, cafe racers of all ilk, including this one built by Zach Ness around a Victory Motorcycle, will be featured in Lichter’s 2013 ‘Motorcycles as Art’ exhibit.
Michael Lichter talks to the media about his work at the 2010 Motorcycles as Art exhibit.
Lichter gave the media an insightful look at the stories behind the photos when he had the largest collection of his framed work on display a few years back.

generation motorcycle customizer Zach Ness to Willie G.’s #0001 1977 XLCR. A 2013 “Motorcycles as Art” party for media reps will take place a little earlier than usual this year as the soiree is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 4 from 6 – 8 p.m. instead of its traditional Tuesday night time slot.

Mr. Paul D’Orleans from The Vintagent is co-curator of the exhibit this year. D’Orleans is one of the most knowledgeable men around when it comes to makes, models, and the history of motorcycling, and his wisdom is only matched by his passion for riding. We know. We just saw him do a 115-mile spin through Carmel Valley riding two-up on a vintage 500cc Triumph trials bike at the Quail Motorcycle Ride. In addition to putting together this year’s event, D’Orleans and Lichter are collaborating on a coffee-table book appropriately called “Ton Up – Speed, Style and Café Racer Culture,” which will be published by Motorbooks International. It will feature the motorcycles in this year’s exhibit shot by Lichter as well as a comprehensive history penned by D’Orleans.

There’ll be plenty more outstanding memorabilia representing the café racer scene at Lichter’s 2013 exhibit as well, from café racer photos shot in England during the height of the movement in the ‘60s, paintings by Triumph ‘resident artist’ Conrad Leach, vintage leather ‘Rocker’ jackets from the Lewis Leathers archive and plenty more. Be sure to check out the press release below for full details.

Last year’s “Motorcycles as Art” theme was “Come Together, The Spirit of Born-Free,” in homage to the Born-Free show in SoCal that Grant Peterson and Mike Davis conjured up. It paid tribute to the small shops and the talented wrenchers out there who build what they ride and still take pride in their craftsmanship. They’re the type of guys who reinvent uses for recycled parts off hot rods and other metal mediums. In 2011, Lichter’s exhibit was called “Slant Artist – An Eccentric View on Motorcycles and Art” and celebrated hillclimbers of old and the racers who dared to battle almost impassable inclines on archaic machines as they raced the clock and each other. Sculptor, master of bronze, motorcycle builder and collector Jeff Decker was the special guest that year. For the 10th anniversary celebration of “Motorcycles as Art” in 2010, the “Eternal Combustion – 30 in the Wind” exhibit paired custom builders together who each built a special motorcycle specifically for the show that also featured an outstanding collection of Lichter’s photography, which at the time was the largest display ever of his framed-work. There’ll be plenty more good stuff in store for this year’s ‘Motorcycles as Art’ exhibit, courtesy of Michael Lichter, Paul D’Orleans and the hard-working crew at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip.

Ton Up! Speed, Style and Cafe Racer Culture – courtesy of Michael Lichter

Lucky number 13 for the annual “Motorcycles as Art” exhibition at the legendary Buffalo Chip during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally this summer is titled “Ton Up! – Speed, Style and Cafe Racer Culture,” focusing on the origins and continued popularity of the Café Racer movement worldwide.

Co-curators Michael Lichter ( and Paul d’Orléans ( have assembled a comprehensive display of 32 machines from 12 makes and 6 decades, plus never-published photography – from the original café racing scene in 1960s England to the present, paintings by Triumph ‘resident artist’ Conrad Leach, images from the Ace Café Collection, vintage leather ‘Rocker’ jackets from the Lewis Leathers archive, the “One-Show” 21-helmets display of custom painted helmets, painting by Andrea Chiaravalli and photography by Erick Runyon with other artists to be announced.

The 30+ confirmed bikes for this exhibit include premium examples of 50s/60s Café Racers (Gold Star, Norvin, Triton, Dunstall, etc) from Herb Harris (Harris Vincent Gallery), Yoshi Kosaka (Garage Co), Mark Mederski (National Motorcycle Museum), Gordon McCall (Quail Motorsports Gathering), plus Willie G Davidson’s #0001 1977 XLCR, and machines from Alain Bernard (, Arlen Ness (, Barry Weiss, Brian Klock (Klock Werks Kustom Cycles), Bryan Fuller (, David Edwards (, David Zemla (, Dustin Kott (, Giuseppe Carucci (, Greg Hageman (, Jason Paul Michaels (, Jay Hart, Jay LaRossa (, Kevin Dunworth (, Ray Drea (Harley-Davidson design director), Richard Varner (, Roland Sands (, Shinya Kimura (, Skeeter Todd, Steve “Brew Dude” Garn (, Steve “Carpy” Carpenter (, Thor Drake (, Vincent Prat (Southsiders MC) and Zach Ness ( Included in the show are original or modified machines by BMW, BSA, Ducati, Honda, Harley Davidson, Moto Guzzi, Norton, Rickman, Triumph, Vincent and Yamaha.

Each year, the “Motorcycles as Art” exhibition garners tremendous media coverage from around the globe, and thousands of enthusiasts in person. This year’s exhibition will get even more recognition as it will live on in the coffee-table book “Ton Up – Speed, Style and Cafe Racer Culture,” published by Motorbooks International. Michael Lichter will photograph all the motorcycles in his Sturgis studio for the book, which will also include the jackets, artwork, and photographs from the exhibit. Paul d’Orléans’ is writing a comprehensive history of the Café Racer movement for the book; from its deep origins in speed-modified road bikes from the ‘Teens, to the ‘classic’ period in England in the 1950s/60s, through its various resurrections in the 1970s, 80s, and especially, with the advent of Internet motorcycle blogs, TV shows, and ‘Café Racer’ magazines, the explosive popularity of the style in the 21st Century.

“Ton Up! – Speed, Style and Cafe Racer Culture” sponsors, without whom we couldn’t include GEICO Motorcycle, DHL Worldwide, Handy Industries, Hot Leathers, Keyboard Motorcycle Shipping, Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys and Spectro Performance Oils. The exhibition will be open August 3rd – 9th 2013 and is located next to the east gate of the Buffalo Chip and offers free admission to the public, and Buffalo Chip guests.

The ‘Motorcycles as Art’ exhibitions are hosted each year by the Legendary Buffalo Chip, this year celebrating its 32nd consecutive annual concert series, which attracts the music industry’s hottest stars to their famed camping resort every August during Sturgis Bike Week. The “Chip” is set on 580 acres 3-miles east of Sturgis.

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