The One Motorcycle Show

Motorcycle culture is alive and well in Portland.

By Thomas Kinzer, Photography by Thomas Kinzer, Andy Cherney

More than 10,000 people rolled through The One Motorcycle Show in Portland in February-or at least that's the best guess, since admission is free and nobody is really counting. This is Portlandia, after all.

It's significant that the show is free because the quality and variety of bikes on display are unmatched. With everything from bizarre customs to pristine antiques, it would be nearly impossible to swing a be-koozied PBR around without hitting a bike that you found at least interesting.

There were some wonderfully weird bikes, such as the upsweep-fishtailed, unit Triumph swingarm chopper with two plate glass fly screens, one blue and one red. The Open Road has probably never looked more rosy than from that banana seat! Other great oddballs included a nicely executed, stretched Honda CT90 custom and an early Honda Gold Wing modified into an adventure-touring machine.

And if weird isn't your thing, you could inspect an entire row of 13 absolutely perfect original Kawasaki H1s lined up next to a cutaway of a MotoCzysz engine. Keep swinging that PBR and you're likely to hit café racers, bobbers, old-school choppers, custom sportbikes, and vintage British singles. There's truly something for everyone at The One Show. (Oh, one notable and welcome exception would be someone looking for the chromed-out, fat tire choppers that still somehow litter display areas at other events. That someone would notice the utter absence of such machines.)

Beyond the motorcycles, there were also several art exhibits to check out. "21 Helmets" is a helmet art exhibit that is a running part of the show with entries such as an open face with a wood visor and tiled with a burnt wood mosaic, and another with a clever graphic of a final drive chain arranged to look like a brain. Other motorcycle-themed painting and photography exhibits rounded out the mix, each one engaging in its own right.

Still bored? In keeping with Portland's continuing obsession with food trucks, (and now apparently everything-else trucks) a tattoo truck was slotted up into the event doorway. Insert yet another Portlandia reference of your choice here.

Even with all of this to see and do, the real star of the show wasn't the machines or the exhibits-it was the unpretentious, laid-back atmosphere. The super casual, feel-good vibe of the event is more than just a side effect of the low cost of admission or geography. It lies at the core of the show's entire premise. Extend the simple pleasure of hanging out in the garage with some buddies, having a beer, looking at, and talking about motorcycles; into a full-on motorcycle show.

And despite the fact that the show has grown from 68 bikes and around 1500 people attending in 2010, to more than 120 bikes and 10,000 attendees for the fourth annual event, the show's creator, Thor Drake, has somehow managed to keep the spirit of this concept intact.

It all started in late 2009. Bored with his project-building a trade booth, of all things-Thor got together a few friends and decided to put together a show of cool local bikes. Being an advertising student at the time, he was able to make the show look "a little more official than maybe it really was." Not really knowing how many people to expect and then having 1500 people show up for the inaugural event was a big surprise for the small group of friends. But the One Motorcycle Show was born.

Like most shows, The One Show has awards, handing out hand-refurbished 1960s and '70s trophies for a range of categories, many of which are silly. "The only one I try to make really serious is The One Show award," Thor points out. "Last year's winner wasn't even invited to display at the show. He had a mini-bike that he took apart, strapped it to his Harley Panhead and rode seven hours in the rain. He just showed up mid-show soaking wet, rolled right in, and started putting his mini-bike together."

The One Motorcycle Show award doesn't have strict guidelines, instead it's presented to the person who most embodies the spirit and lifestyle of motorcycling in some unique way. For 2013, that went to "Big Al" McElroy; he brought his custom super-single YZ450 dirt-to-roadracing conversion and said, "Go ahead, draw on it."

A majority of this year's 60 invitees came about by the owners running into Thor in the local Pacific Northwest motorcycle scene. Thor explains the invite process, "I just try to feel out each person and why they do it. I like people who build bikes because they love to do it and I try to get those guys. I just think that's cool. There are a lot of people who build bikes because they're worth a lot of money. There are plenty of shows for that. I don't think those guys have a hard time finding shows for their trophy bikes. But I'd rather just be a show for the people who actually like to build and ride motorcycles."

Next up for The One Motorcycle Show is testing the waters outside Portland with an event in Austin, TX, during MotoGP weekend, April 19. If you can't make it to Austin or the fifth annual show in Portland next year, you'll be happy to know there (could be) a next-best thing: a series of beautiful coffee table books that are on display at See See Motorcycles' coffee shop in Portland. Visit the Kickstarter page ( for details on how you can help make the books happen-yet another example of the grass-roots approach that permeates this event.

In person or on the page, Thor Drake's aesthetic manifested into a show appeals to a broad audience. It's not something he really thinks much about. Instead, it's about hanging out, having a beer, and looking at motorcycles with your buddies. To him, that's "just cool." And an activity as natural and essential as breathing. To judge by The One Show's success, thousands of other motorcyclists seem to feel the same. And it's not just about keeping the dream of the '90s alive, it's about a strong, vibrant motorcycle culture flourishing in the rainy PacNW.


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By Thomas Kinzer
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