I showed up to the Fair Market venue a few hours before opening time, expecting only to pick up my press pass. Upon receiving it, I took the opportunity to walk the floors to capture some images while it was virtually empty save for the dozen or so Handbuilt Show workers milling about prepping for opening alongside some of the bike builders helping to position their bikes this way and that.
I recall music playing, but I think I was having sensory overload to be honest, as I remember it ever so faintly in the backdrop of my mind as what seemed like hundreds of incredible bikes filled my sights. I began hitting the shutter button incessantly, attempting to capture the artistic vision and individual one-of-a-kind details these bikes all bared. To be in the presence of bikes built by such renowned builders, bikes that I had only seen through a computer screen or a mobile phone– it was humbling to say the least. From Mark Atkinson’s sleek shark like BMW Alpha build, to Maxwell Hazan’s gorgeous 1978 Turbo Ducati 860GT Racer, amongst so many other notable builds, it was hard to not freak out. The incredible thing is that just when you think you’ve already seen everything about a bike and you start to walk away from it, some other mind-bending minute design detail of the bike catches your eye and you’re stuck marveling at it for another 10 minutes. And that’s impressive, being that I have the attention span of a gnat.
Eventually, I made my way outside the venue to check out American Motor Drome Co’s “Wall of Death” tent. There I found amongst red, white, and blue painted vintage Harleys on the lawn, none other than the Wall of Death showmen themselves, Charlie Ransom and Lightnin’ Jay enjoying some downtime ahead of the show. We chatted for awhile about California, various bike related things and I snapped some pictures of them as they talked. They kindly offered to let me shoot from the center of the motor drome that night, and I could barely contain my excitement as I babbled an incoherent “YES” in response.
A few hours later that evening, I checked off one of my long time bucket list items as I stepped through the small entryway and onto the star spangled floor of the Wall of Death. Soon after, in the company of Charlie Ransom, Reckless Reda and Hobo Bill, Lightnin’ Jay fired up his 1927 Indian Scout, and within a few loops of the floor, he was quickly spiraling his way up the wooden 15 foot walls. The roar of his engine loudly filled the air as Jay twisted the throttle and was interrupted momentarily only by the occasional backfire and the excited cheers of the crowds above, as he upshifted until he was in 3rd gear. The sights, sounds, and smells from my place at the bottom of that dome could be likened to no other experience in my life. Charlie performed his death defying acrobatic acts of riding side saddle, hands in the air, and snatching dollar tips from the daring hands of the spectators at the top; Hobo Bill deked his bike along the wall in an insane swooping motion and lastly, he and Reckless Reda shared the wall as they raced their bike and go-kart side by side. As soon as the show had started, it ended, along with my rush of adrenaline. This however was only the beginning of the weekend for the Wall of Death crew – they were to perform every hour on the hour 20 more times throughout the weekend. The notable part about the AMDC crew is how genuine and humble they are, and how they always made time to sit and talk with the numerous fans of all ages that swarmed them after each show, regardless of how tired they were from repeated sessions of risking life and limb for the show.
By end of opening night, I myself was already exhausted from running around and capturing all I could. One day down, two more to go. As I said before, there was always so much more to capture at the Handbuilt Show, such as the excited fans, the many small intricate customizations of these two-wheeled labors of love, or the smiling, familiar faces of the many like-minded moto people I consider myself honored to call friends. It would be an understatement to say that I can’t wait to return to Austin for the next one. Hope to see you there too.
Many thanks to Sasha @CRXXX for the opportunity, the Revival crew for putting on an incredible show, and to all the builders for traveling from all over to share their work.
– Words and Photos by Erik Jutras, Guest Contributor for Cafe Racer XXX