The One Motorcycle Show 2019

Words by David Bumpus | Photos by Dylan Hoey

It was painfully cold and rainy as a safety-vest clad security guard waving a blinking red cone  ushered me across one of the main thoroughfares of North Portland, Oregon. I hustled and sloshed my way through the unseen puddles in the dark towards a warehouse complex in the distance called “The Pickle Factory.” People were lined up at the chain link fence, pulling deeper into their parkas and jackets. The line stretched back to the street, wrapped around and along the sidewalk. I shied away from inquisitive glances as I shuffled up to to the front of the line and told the guard, “Hey, I’m media.”

She pointed further down to a tent, “Cool. You can get your pass over at that table.”

I thanked her and hurried over to the table where I grabbed my credentials.

Portland was expecting “Snowpocalypse” that weekend--the worst snowstorm of the century--and it was just me that night since my photographer was temporarily waylaid in Southern Oregon.

I turned and looked at the two enormous displays of Indian motorcycles set up like twin walls of full-stacks at a concert that form a sort of gauntlet to the entrance of the factory. A fitting way to step into The One Motorcycle Show, Portland’s annual custom motorcycle show and core community event.

The One Show, as it’s usually called, is hosted by Thor Drake. Drake is a real mensch, a humble do-it-yourselfer, and a motorcycle community pillar. He owns See See Motor Coffee Co. and See See KTM, puts on Dirt Quake, and otherwise is largely responsible for some of the zaniest indie motorcycle events around. For The One Show, he handpicks 100 builders from across the country, who then find some way to get a custom bike that best represents their work up to Portland for the show.

The One Show is beautiful in layers. Firstly, it’s one of the drivers behind the revival of the custom motorcycle scene, drawing heavily from the cultural quirks and vintage-inspired taste Portland is known for. Secondly, it’s a place where any voice in the motorcycle community has a seat at the table. No matter what kind of bike you like, you’ll find something in that vein done masterfully well here. At The One Show, you aren’t going to wade through meadows of choppers identical but for their paint jobs; you’ll find early twentieth century hand-shifters that people still flat track to genre-bending builds exhibiting distinct craftsmanship like brat trackers made from modern naked bikes.

The One Show has always been an unbridled celebration of the diversity of the motorcycle community. There are no such things as outsiders or people who just don’t fit in here. If you ride, there is a place for you.

As I stepped into the Factory for this year’s show, an awesome wave of motorcycle culture washed over me. I passed between custom bikes lined up like the stone columns of a pantheonic temple, and rock blared from the sound systems scattered throughout the Factory. To the left, all versions of the new Indian FTR 1200 were lined up the walkway like a kind of pyramid crowned by the race version at its zenith, backed by a banner of Brad Baker broadsiding the bike through a dirt oval.

The work I saw on some of the bikes was met only by the creativity underpinning the builds. From the macro to the micro, many of the bikes on display were absolutely exquisite. Rococo etchings on engine cases, extreme minimalism, and outrageous humor were some of the smallest treats the builds had to offer. I floated from room to room, enjoying the variety of visions and voices. 50cc choppers with fur seats, motorcycles celebrating their 100th birthday, and well-done light customs of contemporary sportbikes all graced the series of rooms. No bike was out of place.

Soon, people began to pour into the Show. They moved through the rooms, milled at the booths, crouched in front of the builds to take in each piece of work. Throughout the weekend, representatives from every corner of the community passed through: leather-clad MCers, families, rockers, riders decked out in post-apocalypse-proof ADV gear, and even the simply curious. The Show welcomed all.

The motorcycle community is growing by the year. Different people come to it for different reasons, whether because they’re seeking freedom, the thrill, or to find themselves. The community continues to embrace everyone who seeks a place, and The One Show is the perfect example of that. 

The motorcycles aren’t the only thing that makes The One Show The One Show; it’s the people. Without the people, The Show would just be a room full of machines. But at one point, I took a step back and people-watched with a couple builders I knew. Many of the show goers walked among the bikes, stopping and examining one in more detail if it piqued their interest, and then would continue along. A lot of other show goers had a very different vibe, though. Small groups of people would appear dressed in carefully thought-out outfits tailed by photographers whose necks were ringed with cameras featuring enormous telescopic lenses. These stylish persons would then stand in front of a bike that fit their vibe and take their jackets off and put them back on over and over, turning their heads left and right, trying this pose and that, and the photographers would circle them, cycling through cameras and lenses and settings, looking for just the right shot. If an unaware passerby strayed too close, the photographers would shoot out their arms and tell them to get out of their frame. Startled, the passerby would jump back, apologize, and look for another way around.

One of the builders I stood with on the sideline pensively scratched his beard. “I don’t like that. That’s not what this is supposed to be about.” We all nodded in agreement.

The modern motorcycle community has its roots in rejecting the mainstream, but it was done for the sake of expressing one’s individuality, and not just projecting the image of which out into society for the sake of external validation; to have society acknowledge you as an aspirational individual. Sometimes, motorcycling now seems to be more about having the best branding, and not seeking something for yourself. It’s dangerously close to becoming about the pursuit of being thought of as cool instead of the pursuing what you need for yourself.

But motorcycling has never been about who’s the coolest. It’s always been about finding yourself and your people because you didn’t really fit in anywhere else. It’s about freedom; without the weight of other people’s judgement or worrying about their perception of you inhibiting you.

Eventually, those groups of people would get what they needed from that bike and move somewhere else. We let out a collective sigh of relief when they did, grabbed a cold beer from one of the drink booths, and got back to the bikes.