By Mitchell Nicholson
Springtime means flowers blooming, birds chirping, and the understanding that summer is just around the corner. In Austin, Texas, it means motorcycles are coming to town. For the weekend of April 20-22, 2018, Austin will play host to both extremes of the two-wheeled world: MotoGP and the Handbuilt Show. From the Wall of Death to Ducati Island, Austin is the place to be for one of motorcycling’s cultural phenomenons.
MotoGP is the first event you’ll want to check out. COTA, or Circuit of the Americas, is the only track in the United States that holds a MotoGP event and the facilities are not to be missed. Rolling up to COTA you’ll see the blazing red tower, affectionately referred to as “the mullet” by the locals. From the moment you pull into the parking lot you’ll begin to feel the amusement park atmosphere. New for the 2018 racing season is the “mini-COTA” go-kart track — once you lay eyes on the Americana that is turn 16, you will need to try your hand at ripping around a track, albeit at slightly less ludicrous speeds.
Once you’ve gotten a taste of speed at the kart track, you’ll want to stroll on over to the manufacturers tents. It’s here that you’ll be supplied with a bevy of beautiful motorbikes to demo. This is an amazing opportunity to try multiple models from different manufacturers without the slightest hint of salesmanship encroaching on your free-wheeling good time (you certainly won’t get that at your local dealership).
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better way to kick off spring.
By now you’ll probably have convinced yourself that you need a new bike, so the gear tents are up next. You may have ogled the latest premium lids from AGV or jackets from Dainese online, but it’s only in person that you’ll get a hands-on inspection of multiple gear makers’ full line-ups. Not being restricted to the few pieces your local shop has in stock, you’ll be sure you’ve seen it all when it’s time for your next purchase.
When you’re done playing with motorcycles and trying on new gear, make your way through Ducati Island. It’s here that Ducati wants to reward racing fans to concerts, a look at the latest bikes, and a party unlike any other. At the center of the affair you’ll find reserved parking on COTA’s grassy frontage for riders who decided to cruise in on Italy’s sexiest motorcycle brand.
After imbibing a little, you can treat yourself to some of the finest racing ever witnessed. Friday and Saturday is practice and qualifying, then Sunday blows you away with racers reaching speeds over 200 mph. While a lot of people tend to shy away from the action, you should not. Walking through the paddock and getting up close and personal with racers who come buzzing through on scooters is a little surreal, to put it lightly. Don’t be surprised when Marc Marquez, last year’s MotoGP champ, brushes by on the way to his pit garage. It’s shoulder to shoulder with athletes and fans alike on this frenetic weekend. The infectious nature of all these pieces — the venue, the parties, the sport, the athletes, and the insane machines they ride — make it nearly impossible to not get caught up in the drug that is MotoGP.
But wait, there’s more.
Once you’ve spent your days galavanting trackside, a trip downtown is mandatory. What better way to spend your evenings than visiting with some of the best custom motorcycle builders in the world? The Handbuilt Show is put on by Revival Cycles, a local custom motorcycle outfit. They’ve spent a year prepping for an all-out deluge of bikes, beer, and the always formidable Wall of Death. This may sound a little intense for those without a wizard-like beard or full-sleeve tats, but fear not! The Handbuilt Show is about welcoming anyone who appreciates functional art.
The real anomaly of this event is that, with so many builders roaming the show floors, the playing field gets equaled. Nobody knows who is and isn’t a builder, so everyone is extending pleasantries. The result is a good time had by all who are willing to join in. Once you’ve spent a few hours staring mouth-agape at the impeccably designed choppers and cafe racers, you’re sure to be parched. The Handbuilt Show has you covered, so grab a beverage and amble up the steps of the Wall of Death to gander at the old-timey freak show that is motorcycles doing things that motorcycles shouldn’t. This oddity is just one more drop in a cultural bucket of motorcycle fanaticism that you’ll be sure to fill over the course of the weekend.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better way to kick off spring. The experience you get in Austin for one weekend in April is enough to make anyone yearn for more moto eye candy. Whether you enjoy staring at bike or find yourself straddling the fence of fandom, April 20-22 is a good time, and you owe yourself one.