Buzz for the Mooneyes show held every December in Yokohama ramps up rapidly in America, with starry-eyed builders and chopperazzi alike clamoring for The Golden Ticket in today’s motorcycle scene: an all-expense-paid trip to Japan from chopperdom's Willy Wonka himself: Mr. Shige Suganuma. Shige-San is Mooneyes’ proprietor and the organizer of that company’s custom culture extravaganza. After experiencing Mooneyes personally two of the last three years, however, I was personally ready for a change of scenery. CustomBike 2010 in Bad Salzuflen, Germany, is Europe’s biggest chopper expo, and attracts vendors and spectators from all over the continent. Given that distinction alone, we felt Bavaria’s bro down deserved its day in the sun. Throw in an opportunity to brush up on my high-school German and this trip was too good to pass up.
A day in the sun is just what the 50,000 Europeans who attended CustomBike the first weekend of December would have killed for. Instead, eager EU chopper freaks were greeted by the first heavy snow of the holiday season. When it wasn’t snowing, it rained. When it wasn’t raining, it poured. Booze, that is. From kegs, bottles and crockpots. Every beverage you can imagine, but one potent potable in particular: a red wine and rum mixture served hot that smelled like Axe body spray and tasted like Robitussin. Travel companions Mike D. from Biltwell and Tyler Malinky from Lowbrow dubbed Germany’s holiday concoction “purple drank” after the ghetto narcotic preferred by rappers and running backs. I gave the Bavarian mind bomb two strikes, but after my third, I was out. On their last night in town, Mike and Tyler closed every kiosk that served this toxic nightcap. So much for moderation.
Speaking of moderation, when we entered the show on Friday morning, signs of restraint were hard to find. Apparently, most builders from the country that invented the blitzkrieg apply similar gravitas to the art of bike design. Don’t get me wrong—there were plenty of stylish bikes on display in Bad Salzuflen; you just had to know where to look. I started my hunt for holiday treasures at the W&W booth, and I wasn’t disappointed. W&W’s slogan is, “A Biker’s Work is Never Done,” and the talented folks at Germany’s oldest homegrown wholesaler and megastore practice what they preach. The W&W booth itself looked liked a hillbilly’s porch, and that was a good thing. Real sod—not carpet, concrete or some other interior décor—covered the 100’ x 30’ space, and provided plenty of room for everything from flathead projects and S&S pans to tweaked Dynas and late-model Sportsters. A rough-hewn bar with free beer and coffee formed the centerpiece of the space, and was flanked by an enormous biker-shaped shadowbox on one side and a Mercedes Benz all-terrain truck on the other. The latter prop served W&W’s Wrecking Crew on their fabled motorcycle adventure in 2008, and was the most talked-about non-bike prop at the show. W&W’s in-house R&D manager Paul led his co-workers over Canada’s famous ice highway, and gave me a peek inside the Teutonic super truck that followed his team the whole way. Compared to the flame-print gin palaces that constitute tradeshow booths for most V-twin brands, this monster mudder’s chutzpah was real, not screenprinted.
After finishing the nickel tour at W&W’s booth, Mike D, Tyler, our friend Henry and I plodded through the four halls of Bad Salzuflen’s convention center. ChopCult readers familiar with Easyriders’ Big Twin Expo in Cincinnati might be shocked to learn just how big Germany's CustomBike is. According to vendors who have attended all three events, this cavalcade of chrome is two times bigger than Cincinnati, and larger than Mooneyes by a factor of three. Funnel 50,000 chain smokers through CustomBike’s two main entrances and you have a recipe for agoraphobia and second-hand lung cancer. Show organizers pegged spectator attendance on day two at around 25,000. That’s a lot of Lucky Strikes to light under one roof. Fortunately, the air at the Christmas festival across the street from our hotel was crisp and clear. After enjoying the free dinner CustomBike organizers served to exhibitors and VIP’s, we took a cab to the village and quaffed purple drank ‘til 2 a.m. When in Rome, as they say.
Tyler and Mike had to catch a train late Saturday night, so Henry and I hit the show solo on Sunday. Compared to Saturday’s Superbowl-sized crowd, the Lord’s Day was a walk in the park. Weather for the weekend was shittiest on Sunday, so the absence of flesh provided a literal and metaphorical breath of fresh air. The comparatively empty aisles allowed spectators to watch both teams in the biker build-off wrap up their machines. I didn’t stick around to catch the winner, but I did hear the punchline of a joke between two slightly self-righteous Dutchmen:
How do you fuck up a knucklehead?
Let a German build it.
While the proud Nederlander's cheap shot did give me a chuckle, I don't personally blame the German builder's country of origin for the monstrosity that took shape on the lift in front of him. The Teutuls are Americans, after all, and the lameness of their bikes is legendary. Before praising or denouncing an entire nation for its contributions to the chopper universe, cynics and patriots alike should look at the men and machines in their own backyard. If my motorcycle misadventures on three continents in the last two months have taught me anything, it’s this: countries don’t build great motorcycles—people do. Sometimes the coolest bikes in the world are parked in our own backyard.