I remember like it was yesterday. I received an email from Ms. Gaia Bozzo, event promoter for Motor Bike Expo in Verona, Italy, asking if I’d like to come to Verona to cover what she called the largest weekend bike show in the world. Who needs a good excuse to go to Italy? I don’t. I’d been before and vowed to return one day, so essentially this was fate knocking at my door. I replied immediately with, “Sure, I’ll go,” hiding my boyish excitement inside when in reality I felt like break dancing!
After arriving in Verona late January 17, I grabbed my golf-cart-sized Fiat Panda rental car, loaded up my gear, and sped off on the Autostrade (freeway) towards the Verona Fiere (Expo Center) to have a look around the city before the crowds arrived for the weekend show, January 20-22. The Autostrade is what I imagine Formula One racing to be like. The Panda did a good job of fitting in those nooks and crannies when parking and traversing around the infinite amount of scooters, but accelerating past other motorists, not so much. Enough about that.
After pulling into the parking lot of Hotel Fiera, I walked into the hotel entrance. The foyer was pleasant and the concierge and hotel staff were extremely friendly and very well versed in English. My Italian is horrible, my Spanish on the other hand is pretty good, which worked a little, I think. Who knows? Maybe I’ll forever be known as that American idiot who tried to speak Spanish like it should be known universally. Overall, Italians are very warm and helpful. They also appreciate the attempt of being spoken to in their native tongue, so do yourself a favor and learn some common lingo if you decide to go. The hotel room was cozy and quaint and included a fridge, a couple of American electrical outlets for charging your electronic devices, and of course, a bidet. I looked at it in wonderment for a few minutes. I didn’t know what to make of it. After trying it out, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised at how clean I felt downstairs. After that little adventure, I settled in for the night after having a couple of cold Peronis from the hotel room refrigerator.
Italians are passionate about their motorcycles. They’re very handsy with conversation, almost like simultaneously using sign language.
I set aside a day to myself for exploration, but first I wanted to check out the Motor Bike Expo grounds as vendors and exhibitors set up shop. My first thought was, “Holy shit is this place huge!” Picture your biggest convention center, now multiply that by 10, and you have the Verona Fiere. My second thought was, “How are they going to fill these gargantuan halls? Is there enough content?” I was skeptical. Especially because January in Verona is cold (Italy does border Switzerland after all), and I associate the success of bike shows with the amount of…uh…bikes I see at the show. Were dudes going to ride here from all over the world in this weather? I’d have to wait and see. After staring for an hour at the chaos that happens during setup, I decided to venture to the city’s largest square, Piazza Bra, which houses Verona’s Roman amphitheater among other points of interest. Constructed around 30 AD, it’s the third largest arena in Italy behind Rome and Capua. Having been to Rome, Verona’s arena is far more intact than the Coliseum, but not as vast. After a walk about the square surrounded by ristorante after ristorante (many are very high priced because of the square’s tourism popularity), I decided to trek off the beaten path and much to my delight, I stumbled into one of the many pizzerias situated throughout Verona, Pizzeria San Matteo. Located in the basement of an old church, San Matteo redefined my pizza-eating experiences. Eating pizza alone is good enough for me, but to do so enveloped in beautiful architecture and surrounded by historical artifacts is extraordinary. I stopped in for dinner. I left a loyal customer for life. Try one of the Pizzas con la Burrata (thin crust pizza with your choice of toppings, but as an added cheesy bonus, melted buffalo mozzarella is placed atop the surface). It’s heaven on Earth!
After dinner I headed back to the hotel for a good night’s rest since I was incredibly jet-lagged (Europe is nine hours ahead of PST). I woke up rested and headed toward the Verona Fiere, just a 10-minute walk from the hotel. The California sun must have finally caught up to me since the first day of the show logged a beautiful 65 degrees, perfect for meandering the MBE grounds. January 20 was stunning. Masses of motorcycle enthusiasts swarmed the Fiere from all around as if a new pope had been elected. I didn’t know what I was in for, but I made my way to the front entrance. As I walked through the security hall and into the outdoor area where people can easily traverse from hall to hall, I was shocked at how many people were there. Italians are passionate about their motorcycles. They’re very handsy with conversation, almost like simultaneously using sign language. Being half Italian, I harken back to my father and grandfather’s fiery conversations, so I get it.
When I ventured inside the halls, I focused on Custom Bike Village, which consisted mainly of three halls out of MBE’s allotted seven. Hall number one housed the main stage of the village where the Custom Chrome Europe Bike Show awards were handed out Sunday, January 22. Yours truly served as a judge…more on that later. Also in hall one was the Lowride bike show. Knuckles, Pans, Shovels, Sportsters, café racers, bobbers, choppers, you name it, were stuffed in between the ropes of the 50x500-foot staging area for crowds, media, and anyone interested in the wares to view. Also in hall one I found Milan-based custom bike manufacturer Headbanger Motorcycles that produces bikes with an old style flair similar to Sucker Punch Sallys here in the States. Headbanger’s booth was packed with people checking its display bikes and the beautiful Italian models adorning them. Also on display in hall one was Cycle Kraft’s work; many of you have seen the shop’s work here in HOT BIKE.
Hall number two was jam-packed with custom bike builders. Notables included Garage 65 Inc., IronBorne Customs, DK Motorrad, Hardnine Choppers, Ehinger Kraftrad, Fred Kodlin Motorcycles, and many more. Also present in hall two was Custom Chrome Europe’s booth, set up with multiple parts on display for eager bike builders to get ideas for their next project(s) as well as parts manufacturers like Avon Grips explaining its products to anyone interested.
Speaking of Custom Chrome, MBE also knows the importance of hosting bike shows, so I was asked to judge two different events, the Custom Chrome Europe Bike show as well as hand out a prestigious Magazine Award to what I believed to be the best bike at Motor Bike Expo. Finding one bike that I deemed worthy for such an award was definitely a daunting task, but I was up for the challenge. I found it toward the end of the day. There it stood in all its fluorescently lit glory, IronBorne’s Borderline Board Tracker. The attention to detail in the Shovel-powered racer was immense. I knew it was the best. To my credit, so did those that judged the Custom Chrome Europe show since Borderline won the Championship Class.
For the Custom Chrome show there were four different categories for builders to enter. The winners are as follows: Championship Class (“Borderline” by Ironborne), Modified Harley Class (“Shovel Racer” by Passion 4 Custom), RevTech Performance Class (“Tazio” by Gallery Motorcycles), and Jammer Old School Class (“Shovel 78” by Garage 69), all of which were awarded First through Third place. With many entries to choose from, the task of judging the four shows was tough but the winners were definitely worthy of their prizes.
Also in attendance were many American bike builders and parts manufacturers set up in the American custom builder village in hall three, which hosted the likes of Arlen and Cory Ness, Jesse James from West Coast Choppers, Brian Schimke of TPJ Customs, Sam Wakim from Ride Wright Wheels, Derk Hinsey from Bad Dad Customs, Rick Fairless from Stroker’s Dallas, Russell Mitchell from Exile Cycles, and many more. Fans swarmed their booths to take pictures with the famed builders and learn more about what they’ve been up to via new products or new custom bike creations.
In total, more than 130,000 were in attendance over the course of three days at 2012 Motor Bike Expo. There’s a reason for the attendance being so substantial and it’s simple, the show is truly spectacular! I’m looking forward to 2013 Motor Bike Expo and I highly suggest you check it out for yourselves. After all, you don’t need a better excuse to go to Italy, do you? Arrivaderci! HB