Parallel Paths to Austin Motorcycling Bliss: We Do Moto GP & the Handbuilt Show

By Max Klein & Fish
Photography by Max Klein & Fish

Max: All Go, No Show 

I hadn’t planned on going to Austin this year. After taking a ride on the DORNA strugglebus two years ago I figured I’d just stay home, moping about jealously, critiquing the Instagram posts of everyone who went to Austin. Same as being there, right?

But I got wind that one of my AFM sponsors, Aliki Karayan of VnM Sport, would be outfitting a handful of Moto2 and MotoGP riders in her gear, and after some wheeling and dealing, I landed couch space in what amounted to a Team VnM flophouse in exchange for some photography work.

I asked Editor Surj to do the DORNA dance one more time, to see if we were worthy of a media pass. While I waited I secured my airfare, began the sweating process, and worked on a plan B just in case CityBike was treated like a free print magazine.

Fortunately, DORNA found CityBike to be worthy of attendance, and attend I did. I even beat Fish to Austin.

I spent Thursday running around the MotoGP paddock trying to connect with the VnM Sport riders. Thanks to my new friend (and Moto2 Crew Chief) Matt Last, we started off in Tech3 Racing’s garage with Remy Gardner. After a quick photoshoot and some R&D questions with Remy we moved on to find Dynavolt rider Marcel Schrotter for his fitting, got him set up with some new gear, and did another quick photoshoot. We’d planned to round out the Moto2 teams with Sam Lowes, but the timing just was not there so we moved down pit lane into the MotoGP paddock to meet with Hafizh Syahrin. Syahrin is the first Malaysian rider to compete in MotoGP and has a reputation for being an extremely nice guy. He did not disappoint and was arguably the friendliest person in the paddock. We checked in on Sam Lowes one last time and were delighted to find him doing an interview outside his garage. Aliki and I blocked his exits and ambushed him when he was done, for our last shoot of the day.

Friday, I had “obligations” that kept me near the paddock again, the first of which was a tour of the Factory KTM garage at noon. I had made contact with Tom Moen, KTM Marketing Manager, about 15 minutes before and we talked about the epicness of the 1290 Super Adventure S and how jealous I was of him getting to ride the Duke 790. He must have felt sorry for me since he gave me access to the KTM VIP suite for the weekend. With rain in the forecast for Saturday, that made me pretty happy. I love standing at the edge of the track, but shooting in the rain kinda sucks. Shelter, TV monitors, and free food would totally make up for not being feet away from the racers if Mother Nature decided to rain on the parade.

Right at noon, with Austrian precision and a Czech accent, my tour guide arrived. She introduced herself as Patricie Dixon, the VIP Guest Manager for KTM’s MotoGP effort. She brought me and a group of Europeans in Michelin shirts into the garage and talked a little bit about the machines it held. Partway through the tour she pulled me aside, wondering what a guy like me was doing in a place like that. She assumed that since I’m media, I’d already had seen all there was to see. I had to explain that Editor Surj doesn’t let me out of the basement all that often.

Either everyone at KTM is super friendly or she too took pity on me and offered to introduce me to Geoff Dixon, the Paddock Manager of the IRTA (International Race Teams Association).

The IRTA is the part of MotoGP that makes racing actually happen. They work hand in hand with DORNA, allocating funding for teams to travel, getting paddock passes, and making sure that all the teams have their pit and paddock space. After spending 10 minutes with Geoff, I learned each team gets about the same freight allowance no matter how many tons they need to bring along, ensuring that the smaller teams needed to fill a grid can travel with the circus, while the fat cat factory teams get a little help hauling their containers of Grey Poupon. 

Geoff estimated that everything needed to put on a race would fill five 747s tip to tail, including the 60 to 70 kilometers (37 to 43 miles) of cable needed to televise races. Yes, MotoGP is their own production team, and I am also curious how they manage all that cable—I can’t keep three feet of phone charger cable from tangling with my damn laptop cord.

It wasn’t just MotoGP running in Austin, but also MotoAmerica’s Motul Superbike class. In what seems to be a gypsy curse of sorts for MotoAmerica, the first race of the weekend took place in the rain. Saturday was bone dry right up until five minutes before the Superbike race, and everyone was caught off guard. The race went on and despite crashing 10 laps into the 15 lap battle, Cameron Beaubier finished in third place, Josh Herrin finished in second and Matthew Scholtz came from seemingly out of nowhere to take the win. 

While waiting for the podium celebration, Herrin told me that toward the end of his race he was peeking at the giant video monitors around the track and knew that Scholtz getting more airtime than him meant he was in trouble. 

Of course, the rain stopped about five minutes after the race ended.

Sunday’s MotoAmerica Podium was a bit different with Tony Elias on the top step, Beaubier moving up a spot from race one, and Garrett Gerloff in third.

Starting off the international program was Moto3. If you have not experienced a Moto3 race live, imagine a swarm of very, very pissed-off bees swarming through corners with their elbows on the ground. When it was time to make honey, Jorge Martin was on the top, Enea Bastianini in second, and Marco Bezzecchi in third.

Moto2 is a Honda spec motor class for the rest of this season and then Triumph takes over with their signature triple sound. The final Honda-powered podium in America had Francesco Bagnia, Alex Marquez, and Miguel Oliveira finishing first, second and third.

Finally, MotoGP. Marc Marquez was the Texas roadracing equivalent of an old west gunslinger looking to add another notch on his gun belt, and he got it in a race that was yet again a bit of a slaughter. The elder Marquez brother remained undefeated in Texas after he developed his usual COTA lead and held it for the bulk of the race. Maverick Vinales worked his way up to second, 3.5 seconds back, leaving Andrea Iannone 6.7 seconds behind the leader in third. Really, the only “racing” that took place after the halfway point was the fight for eighth place, with Tito Rabat, Jack Miller, and Aleix Espargaró battling till the very end.

I never saw Fish in Texas and haven’t heard from him since. I hope he has not been absorbed into the hipster ooze he messaged me about on day one.

(See more MotoGP photos at the end of the post.)

Fish: Barbecue & Builders (mostly barbecue)

Max is our resident racer, but I just used racing as an excuse to eat Texas barbecue. Based on advice from my personal accountant and fiancé, the combination of CityBike and MotoGP meant that a trip to Austin could be a “business expense.” In my excitement, I shared my travel plans with Editor Surj, who saw an opportunity to include Revival Cycles’ Handbuilt Motorcycle Show in my itinerary.

I agreed to attend as long as it didn’t interfere with my beer drinking or barbecue consumption. A 5 AM non-stop flight got me to Austin in time to make it to Shiner, Texas (population 2,069) for a tour of the Spoetzl brewery, followed by a stop at a Buc-ee’s, Texas’s world famous, muy grande fun-venience pit stop.

Sufficiently stocked with bulk beef jerky and Beaver Nuggets, we hit the Revival Cycles retail store. Located on South Congress Avenue, Revival’s retail store is stacked with all the accessories you’ll ever need to ride a modern Bonneville or Scrambler with the utmost authenticity. Revival also has a shop located elsewhere in Austin where they build high-end custom motorcycles, but I’m not gonna lie: I chose to eat barbecue instead of visiting it.

I did, however, forgo eating my way through Austin long enough to attend the Handbuilt show. My fancy-pants media pass got me in two hours before the general public on Saturday morning, making sure I could crack my mustache wax jokes without offending paying attendees. 

My visit to Revival’s retail store had me expecting banana seat CBs and faux-Seventies Sportsters, but 10 feet in, I was met with a Brough Superior SS80. So much for my assumptions. The Brough, known as the “Rolls Royce of Motorcycles,” is one of my father’s favorite motorcycles, and was posed for a portrait being painted of it by Makoto Endo. 

A few steps further into the building, I discovered a proper-looking rigid tail chopper built from a new Indian Scout by Karlee Cobb of Klock Werks. It ticked all the “proper modern chopper” boxes for me: not too retro, not too modern. 

I was already swooning and I hadn’t gotten to the main concourse.

I spied a Yamaha GTS 1000-based build by Samuel Kao of JSK Moto. The GTS is akin to Honda’s Pacific Coast: arguably before its time, but just as easily described as over-complicated, excessive and unnecessary. 

The hub-steered, dual-swingarm monstrosity doesn’t stand out visually in stock form. This bike, however, will not be ignored. With a face that would send Sterling Archer running, the JSK Moto build is beyond cool.

Moto Guzzi’s corner featured a collection of V9-based custom builds. The V9 holds a special place in my heart as the first bike I was allowed to wheelie on film for CityBike—you could call it the origination of my Foundation for the Preservation of Front Tires—so Moto Guzzi’s display definitely warmed my heart a bit.

I know I’m far from the first person to spoon TKC 80s on to an inappropriate motorcycle, but I now feel like I’m one of the cool kids, thanks to the modern Royal Enfield shod with my favorite knobby rubber that would have looked perfectly at home in my shop. 

I also spied two scrambler-style Sportsters, one even sporting mock Seventies AMF-style graphics. Both seemed more about style than the Carducci Dual Sportster, but I can appreciate the spirit catching on.

There were more standouts in the BMW section: an airhead-based chopper in gray sporting a single-disc Harley 39mm front end, a blasphemy that made me much happier than it probably should have. As I walked away from that bike, I was drawn to a Paris Dakar-styled K-bike. My knowledge of the K family is limited, but I’m sure some purist somewhere is wringing their hands at the idea of a sideways inline-four GS.

I named the back wall the “bad ideas” section after noticing a turbocharged Shovelhead with no front brake. Parked near it was a turbocharged pre-unit Triumph. I’m not one to cast stones, but boosting a bike with that bad of a reputation for reliability seems like a recipe for walking more than riding.

After finishing my rounds, I met with Kevin Murray, owner of Velomacchi. He’d brought the Rural Racer, his take on Yamaha’s XSR700, to the show. The Kineo tubeless spoked rims Surj found so enthralling captured my attention as well. 

Kevin lives not too far from where I spent my formative years in Oregon, so we had a great conversation about his regional inspiration for the build. I was reminded of the cars and bikes I built in my younger years, how gravel road capability was a much higher priority than paint or polish, with lighting as a close second.

Once the show opened up and the crowd rolled in, there was no shortage of selvedge skinny jeans and borrowed nostalgia. I wouldn’t call it a full-blown fashion arms race, but I did feel a bit underdressed and out of place. I guess CityBike t-shirts are not appropriate for all occasions.

I followed my visit to the Handbuilt show up with a drive to the town of Lockhart, where I found fulfillment in what must be described as red meat heaven, and managed to make it through three separate “no forks” barbecue places before tapping out.

I made it to Moto GP on Sunday, but there weren’t any barbecue pits or breweries onsite at COTA, so I was a bit unenthusiastic.


Mo’ Moto GP Photos:

This story originally appeared in our June 2018 issue.

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