Fantastic fun for free: Is One Moto the West Coast’s best bike show?

I’ve been some places, but motorcycle shows don’t make up a lot of those places. I haven’t been to Rhinebeck or The Quail Motorcycle Gathering or any other big famous motorcycle shows that motorcycle people know of and attend. I’m not counting Sturgis as a show here, because to me it has always seemed more of a rally. But Sturgis is a place I haven’t been, either, so take that with a grain of salt.

I tell you what, though, I have been to the One Moto Show in Portland, Ore., and it is incredible.

One Moto is held for three days each year in early February. For its eighth year, the show moved to the wonderful reclaimed space of the 100-year-old Pickle Factory, and the place and its two-wheeled contents complemented each other perfectly. The Pickle Factory is simply an old pickle factory (imagine that!) whose briny, burpless heyday was several decades ago. What remains is the type of cavernous industrial space you’d expect Marvel’s latest grungy, unorthodox superhero to use as a lair. Lots of old broken concrete and rusty steel, huge filthy windows but not enough of them. Dark and moody-like.

Show organizers claim that One Moto has doubled in size with each iteration. I can believe it, because I also went to the first show, back in 2010, and the best way to describe that one was “cozy.” But despite such rapid growth, one crucial element—beyond the array of amazing custom-built bikes—has remained: One Moto is free. Free to attend, free to exhibit. This is thanks to a whole slew of great sponsors, including Harley-Davidson USA, BMW Motorrad USA, SeeSee Motor Coffee Co., and more.

Such accessibility exposes the world of custom motorcycles to anyone, and any family, curious enough to step inside. And what I found when I walked into the Pickle Factory made me giddy.

Builders from all over the West Coast, from well-known shops to backyard dad types, put their best motorcycles on display. To my untrained eye, there seemed little rhyme or reason to the arrangement of bikes throughout the place. That only served to make each one I encountered a pleasant surprise rather than, “Oh, cool, another Ducati in a long line of Ducatis.”

Side by side sat a 1928 Indian and 1911 Flying Merkel replica with Yamaha XT500 power. The Indian was for sale, and I watched a couple discuss it quite thoughtfully. The woman then made a very serious phone call, still eyeing every inch of the thing. Arranging funds, perhaps?

There were Harleys and Hondas and Huskies (Husqvarnas) of various sorts, a trio of neat BMW R100s and Urals for days. There was motorcycle art for sale, custom seats and custom helmets, pinstriping services, and all things leather. There was live music and indoor monkey bike racing, while 30 miles down I-5 in Salem, there was pro and amateur flat track racing. There was even an official after party at one of Portland’s most notable strip clubs.

While I imagine kids weren’t so welcome there, I did see dozens of them during the hours I spent at the show on Saturday. Not one of them looked bored. More than 17,000 people attended this year’s show, and young or old it’s impossible not to love everything about One Moto, particularly in its new home. Everywhere you turn, you’re bound to run into a cool old bike—one you didn’t pay a dime to see and one the builder didn’t pay a dime to show you. In today’s money, that is the real marvel.