Showing Off

It’s been a long time since it was cool to go to a motorcycle show. Just corporate shills, and overpriced exotica, and hipsters and posers and fakes.


I don’t care, though. Turns out I like motorcycles quite a bit, enough to overcome my aversion to crowds. Enough to meet up with people I have no excuse not to see more, and be prepared to explain myself.

Black Betty is always ready.

Black Betty is always ready.

Most importantly, perhaps, enough to struggle into my Ralphie suit, clap on a hard hat, and forge into rain-lubricated Seattle traffic. Doesn’t seem like a big deal, I know. Northwest riders ride in the rain, or we don’t ride much, but it wasn’t about the rain.

Outside the show, I linked up with intrepid motorcycle novelist (now there’s a novel title) Dave Preston to share discount passes and a few well-chosen lies. At 117 and still riding, Dave has been doing interesting things on motorcycles since before my dad was born and he’s not slowing down yet. Gangway, sonny! By the way, you should probably interrupt reading this throwaway blog post, open another tab, and go buy his books on Amazon.

I always get inside the show before I remember why I came. I mean, you can see all the new bikes online, download reviews, and flame every jackass who doesn’t see it your way, all without forsaking the comfort of your laptop joystick.

Indian transverse twin

Still, there’s nothing like walking alongside the half-block length of a new Indian, splashed out in pale olive and cream paint and cimarron saddle leather across all its glorious swooping pulchritude, or eyeballing MV Agusta’s Titanio edition, Grom-sized with an elephant’s heart.

Every year there are a hundred vendors to carefully ignore — any booth selling any product guaranteed to palliate everything from psoriasis to cancer, for instance, or any miracle fabric suspiciously resembling the lens cloths your optometrist will hand you for free — but there’s also the Ride For Kids people. They’re always kinda tucked away near the gear check (hurray for free gear check!) and they never make much noise, but they’re always raffling off a bitchin’ custom that’s NOT a v-twin catalog special and their beneficiary, the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, is both an irrefutably worthwhile cause and highly rated by Charity Navigator. Ride For Kids custom Honda CB1100Hopes and dreams: someday I’ll win their bike. Probably be old enough by then to need one of my grandkids to pillion me on it, but that’s not such a bad outcome when you think about it. I have bikes for now and dreams for later.

And the VME, of course. I re-upped my chronically lapsing membership at the show, which means that for once I’ll know the date of the Isle of Vashon TT without anxiously asking every rider I know, sometime near the end of summer (fashion hint: don’t wear white boots).Harley WL unrestored

For an uncool show, there sure were a lot of great people there. Big Greg, holding down the fort at the Europorn — er… Bellevue Motorcycles — booth so Mike could grab some overdue lunch; Brendan, the avuncular hardass who marshals the troops at South Sound BMW; best of all, a random assortment of people whom I do not know but who are not strangers. Dads settling their kids onto mini-MX bikes; delighted women revving up a hog on Harley-Davidson’s “Jumpstart” stand; fifty-something guys glancing sideways at micro-gluteal crouch rockets, then wandering over to think long and easily about sporty standards (okay, that might have been me). Admittedly, there were a few hipster dudes with black yoga jeans and neck-stain beards, but not so many in the show as drifting along outside with anything-but-Starbuck’s cups in their hands. Anyway, all show hipsters were required to remain penned up next to matte-finish Trumpets and “street” Harleys. Sportbikes and dirtbikes are not for them. Too colorful.H2R snout

Plus bikes. Lots and lots of bikes, glittering polychromatically as far as the myopic eye can see. Bright orange giraffes nuzzling each other at the KTM pen inveigle but they do not mock: I can’t even swing a leg over one this year, but I can imagine it for later.
The VME stall and the back line of land speed racers and vintage customs remind us that the hardware changes but the dream remains the same: I’m not a pale suburbanite dawdling toward dementia, but an astronaut-pilot-fireman, making noise and making speed, rocketing straight into a future better than I could ever have imagined it.

Well, that’s what I got out of it, anyway.

The bikes have gone unloved and unridden since an ugly bit of fortune last spring left me walking crooked and regularly tripping over my slippers. No obvious external damage — ten fingers and toes each wriggle voluntarily — but it was late into summer before I could even drive a car. Through the suburbs. KatoomWith an automatic. There’s been no riding to speak of.

I should have gone off to the Triumph intro after the show, because who turns down free beer? I should have gone to Smarty Pants, to hang out with the cool kids. About 27 minutes past the maximum effective range of my pre-show ibuprofen dose, I elected to turn Betty’s chubby black wheels toward home while I could still get a leg up.

Triumph Tracker

The sweetest build for half an acre.

Next year, I’m going downtown on Homewrecker. I’ll have her rigged with a new front brake, and maybe a custom kickstand that auto-deploys every time I tip over (always to the left, it seems) . In the meantime, there’s physical therapy, shop time, gym time, and dreams in future tense.

If you’re shopping for dreams this year, the show runs through 5 p.m. today.


Pipe on custom Gold Wing


  1. Michael Pierce says

    Jack – thanks for taking me to the moto-show in your front pocket. I must have been there. You wrote exactly what I’d have been thinking as I was walking through the show. Some day I’ll figure out how in the hell you get directly into my brain, then spew MY thoughts using YOUR writing skills. The magic, of course – I was able to stay snuggled in a blanket on my Zero Gravity chair here in Portland. Thanks!

  2. Jerome Jansen says

    Dave Preston’s article Recollections for Veteran’s Day is a good read. I loved it.

  3. While I’ve dawdled considerably closer to dementia than Jack, I too *think* I’m still an astronaut-pilot-firewoman. Glad you made it to the show to write about it in your inimitable style, and more importantly, you were able to ride there.

  4. You realize I am now tempted to find some nice boots I can ride in that are WHITE. Not just white but “THX1138” soul quenching white then wear them when ever I ride.

  5. Jack. Nice piece.
    No! I don’t mean that kind! Your words always connect with me about this show. I seem to have climbed out of the bunny-hole and found that feeling like a teenage boy again when he saw Alice. Seeing some of the new “higher priced than ever” bad-ass moto porn from the Big Four and Euro factions was almost like being that teenage boy who dreams and wakes up only to find he was exaggerating his appreciation for his mattress.
    Granted I hadn’t ridden since my company had me on duty so I could make haste to waste money of $12 after the $2 fee, and go maintain good cell coverage. I was glad that you got to ride Betty for many of us.
    I hope you continue to gain strength and flexibility to your best so we can finally get out on a ride together and tell some tall ones and down some of the frothy kind too!

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