Guest Ride Report – The Austin Pilgrimage, Part 2

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Alex Baldridge’s tale of his trip to MotoGP Austin continues! Did you catch Part 1?

Guest Ride Report – The Austin Pilgrimage, Part 2 – The Goods: MotoGP and the Handbuilt Show
Story and Photos by Alex Baldridge

I had just ridden for 10 hours. I was tired and I felt beaten by the crosswinds of the day, but how could I rest when Austin awaited me? I was especially looking forward to the Handbuilt Show Kickoff Party that night. First I had to rally, and rally my riding buddy so we could brave Thursday afternoon Austin traffic to the Ducati Austin pre-MotoGP festivities.

After a convoluted route around the city we arrived at a little after 07:00 pm; it was a madhouse! Every Ducati you could imagine was there and the dealership was stuffed to the gills with Ducatisti who had arrived to enjoy free Tex-Mex, Modelos, and clamber for autographs from Dovi, Petrucci, Miller, and Bagnaia who were all in attendance. Being the wise human that I am, I made a beeline for a cool Ducati Austin GP ’19 hat, did a drive-by cell phone shot of the riders, and headed back outside to appreciate the real Italian beauties.

From there my riding partner and I split ways as he wanted sleep (he is years wiser than I) and I wanted to try and act cool at the Handbuilt Party. The party was at a place called The Castle, which is up on a hill and provides an incredible view of the Capitol even when you park around back. The Revival gang really knows how to throw a party, and a lot of well-known builders and motorcycle personalities attended. After acquiring a Black Feather Whiskey neat, I was able to track down Abhi and Nathan, who I have admired for years; without Abhi’s support and faith you would not be reading this.

I saw many Bonnier shirts, caught a glimpse of John Burns from on his way to a fresh beer, hung out with Alec Padron, met Craig Rodsmith and numerous other builders, and in general had an incredible evening. I was impressed with how friendly everyone was and how willing builders were to spend time speaking with me about their build. I do not have a claim to fame in the motorcycle world, but I was made to feel welcomed by all, and each person seemed genuinely impressed that I had ridden from Nashville to Austin. As the party came to a close I realized how tired I was, it was time to sleep.

I awoke Friday refreshed, ate a free waffle, and headed out on a ride to do some vlogging. I wanted to take in some Texas backroads and wind my way to The Circuit of the Americas (COTA). I was also looking forward to my wife landing and joining me for the rest of the weekend; we had arranged for her to rent a local Ducati Monster through Twisted Road for the weekend so she could join me at Ducati Island. I, not surprisingly, got lost and only just made it to the track before I had to book it back to the hotel to meet her. We picked up the rental and headed back to the track to check the vendor booths and catch some free practice. Ducati Island tickets have two immediate benefits: trackside parking and easy gear check.

This was the first taste of motorcycle racing for either one of us, and man was it awesome! If you have not been, the COTA grounds are massive. There are several good places to take in the racing while wandering the track, which allowed us to both sit on expensive road bikes at the booths, and watch world class talent scream around on uniquely purposeful machines. This had to be heaven, surely! We stayed at the track until 5:00 pm and then headed to The Handbuilt Show.

The author getting a feel for the CBR1000RR at Honda’s tent.

We had a problem when we arrived; we were hungry. Fortunately, Austin is one of the best cities for food, food trucks in particular, and there were a few at the show, so we fueled up on burgers and fries, grabbed beers, and headed inside. I was awestruck for the second time in a day. I was able to see a few of these bikes the night before, but I was baffled by the sheer volume of talent on display in a single room. Each bike was beautiful. I am a BMW airhead fan and there was no shortage of those, including two bikes with BMW’s now-confirmed-for-production prototype R18 motor. It also seemed to me that Craig Rodsmith was the man of the show; his incredible hand formed metalwork was on display everywhere you looked.

My favorite bike on display was part of the Bobby Haas collection; Brian Fuller’s 2029 based off the 1929 Majestic. It’s an incredible looking motorcycle that has a Zero electric motor, titanium 3D printed components, and hand formed metalwork by Fuller’s shop. It is an amalgamation of design and craftsmanship unlike anything else I’ve seen.

After the show, we went for some late-night eats at Gourdough’s, a local spot known for their massive and delicious doughnuts. It had been 6 years since we last had a Gourdoughnut, and it was more enjoyable than I remembered. Bellies full, we sped down the backroads as the temperatures dropped, to the comfort of our hotel. More of the same awaited us on Saturday, plus a planned ride with some Twisted Road members, or so we thought.

Saturday, it appeared, had other plans for us. Friday had been chillier than forecasted when I checked the weather the day before I hit the road. In fact, it is worth mentioning that on Tuesday, April 9th, the forecast for Saturday was 90 degrees F, so that’s what we were packed for, but Mother Nature has a sense of humor that baffles me. When we left our hotel at 10:00 am to meet the other riders at Flat Track Coffee, it was 52 degrees and cloudy. We had heard that entry into COTA was pushed until 10:30 am due to lightning; we should have heeded the same warning. Five minutes in and the flood gates were unleashed, like a cow pie…well if you have heard the phrase you know where I’m going with this.

We arrived at the coffee shop soaked, with the exception of my torso thanks to my REV’IT Mantis jacket, and chilled to the bone. The other riders were huddled under an awning clutching their mugs, and thankfully, the coffee was good, because we weren’t going anywhere. Shortly after we arrived, the storm worsened with more shock and awe and sideways rains. The ride was called off and made a beeline for the track the next chance we got, arriving about 2:00 pm, just in time to see the end of free practice and qualifying.

After the track we had a Rizoma event to attend, so we quickly changed at the hotel and headed back downtown for the announcement of the Rizoma Design Challenge. We hung out with more riders, builders, and industry insiders for the evening, and again I was amazed at how welcomed we were. After the event, feeling beaten by the wind, rain, and cold for the day, we headed back to the warmth and comfort of the hotel. It was hard to look forward to Sunday at this point, unsure of what kind of mood Mother Nature would be in when we woke up.

The Moto3 race was scheduled to start at 11:00 am, and not wanting to ride in any colder temperatures than what we had to, we headed toward COTA at 10:00 am. When we arrived, Ducati Island was overflowing with fans, and that meant we had to park in their “overflow” lot also known as the sloped, wet, grassy spot just by the Scrambler demos. Amazingly, no bikes were dropped and we headed for our seats for the first time. The races commenced and we were captivated. I won’t pretend to be some sort of MotoGP guru and try to wow you with information I had to look up on the internet, but know that one of the most fascinating things for me wasn’t just watching these guys go around turn one, where our seats were, but also observing at how much faster each class was. Moto3 was the most engaging to watch because the riders stay grouped up for most of the race, and the turns are pure entertainment. The new Triumph motor in the Moto2s is a lovely thing to listen to in one bike, so you can imagine the orchestra as 22 of them turned the track.

MotoGP started out just as expected, Marquez set a blistering pace through six laps, more than 3 seconds in the lead, then the front end gave and he was off the bike. In the Turn 1 stands it was a mixed response withe a lot of 93 fans around, but the majority were excited, not so much because of a dislike of Marquez, but because Rossi would have a chance to take the COTA crown. Alas, it was not to be, but it sure was exciting, and Alex Rins ran a hell of a race.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay for the Moto America Super bike race, needing to get the rented Monster back to its owner and then get my wife to her flight back to Nashville. After taking care of that, I headed to the Revival Cycles’ Handbuilt Show After Party at the shop. Black Feather Whiskey was on hand with the libations, and the shop was open to explore.

Most of the builders I had met the first night at the Kickoff Party were there, and many others I had met either at the show or the track were in attendance as well. The rest of the evening I tried to take in as much of the culture as I could, and add contacts and make plans to see new friends in distant places on two wheels one day. I stayed as late as I could before heading back to the hotel. I needed sleep to prepare for my journey home; I had decided to do the entire trip in one day and check the Iron Butt challenge off my list at the same time.

After a full three days of everything motorcycle, I slept like a baby, but 3:00 am comes awful quick.

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