St. Louis, also known as ‘Gateway City' has the most easily recognized skyline in
America. Overpowering all other buildings, the 630-foot Gateway Arch makes an impressive
visual assertion. Gateway city is home to the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams football
team. Anheuser-Bush, famous for it's Budweiser Clydesdales, and the coolest Super Bowl
commercials, makes the Gateway their world headquarters. When the last weekend in February
rolls around, the cool winter air is warmed by all the hot exhaust from the coolest iron in the
‘Midwest Coast'. When you hear thunder, and there isn't a cloud in the sky, you'll know the
Wide Open Magazine's annual motorcycle show is in town.
I was in St.Louis to check out the show, to, analyze, chronicleize documentize, and
photographize the event and report to you, my readers for NTHEWIND Photography. So I dug
in with both feet, armed myself with two Canons (cameras, pun intended) and prepared to give
my best shot.
The second annual Wide Open Bike Show, St, Louis, once again came to town, filled the
110,000 sq. foot Wentzville Expo Center with the coolest bike iron, the hottest babes and the
best vendors between the two coasts. Ralph Roades, publisher/editor, promoter extraordinare
once again showed that by paying meticulous attention to details, St. Louis can have a world
class bike show right in America's heartland. The local Budweiser plant knows when the Wide
Open Magazine's motorcycle show is coming to town. They go into overtime production!
I arrived on Thursday before the start of the show to witness the move in. To help with
chaos that usually accompanies hundreds of bikes, dozens of vendors trying to get set up, Wide
Open supplied help and were very well organized. The result was a very systematic move in,
first class from the get go.
During the move in I witnessed a small problem. It seemed that one of the show bikes
was a little too long and was going to stick out into the aisle, a big no-no for the fire marshal. The
neighboring vendor had only tables to display custom painted fuel tanks and offered to switch
his corner space with him. This act of generosity was to set the tone for the entire weekend.
Everywhere, everybody was very nice, polite and ‘cool'. This gave a new meaning to me when I
heard the term ‘brother'. The two vendors ended their conversation with ‘thanks bro' and went
about their business, doing what they love, bikes, so much for the biker ‘Bad boy' image.
Opening morning had me up with the sun, and I just couldn't wait to see all the chrome,
custom painted bikes and displays in their show mode. I made my way to the front door, the cold
chilly morning air sharpen me wide awake. Already there were people lined up. Quite a few
bikes were ridden in and the parking lot was already starting to fill up. Several groups were
mingling together, those that had rode in were dressed in their warmest leather jackets and chaps,
it would have been a chilly ride this morning. I was still envious of them, ‘lucky bastards' I
mumbled under my breath. My indignation didn't last long, I was able to walk past the waiting
lines and get right into the building, flashing my ‘press' card to one of the March of Dimes
volunteers that work the show. Every year Roades donates a portion of the gate fee to go to the
March of Dimes, Bikers for Babies. It makes for a sizable donation.
Lifelong friendships can be made while riding motorcycles. Wide Open magazine's
contributor ‘Fuzzy' has been riding with a group of guys since high school. Loosely known as the
‘Goon Saloon' members demonstrate their support for the Wide Open Show by displaying their
daily ridden bikes. One Goon Saloon member, Jim Ebert showed off his Firemen's special
edition Road King with some superb murals on the fire engine red paint and a very tricked out
display. Another bike brought in by the group was a show winner and featured in a magazine,
back in 1986. Ebe's Harley is exactly as it was back then, with the exception of a few more miles
and a lot of memories.
Put two sick hillbillies together, give them a welder and a grinder, throw them an old 750
Honda and look out! Pieced together with scrap iron laying around the farm and some hidden
treasures from swap meets, Joe Appling and friend Steve Spanier added some wild touches such
as four upswept fish tail pipes and an electric yellow paint job. First time bike builders, they
assembled a first place winner in the metric bike class.
Another first time bike builder, Brian Wagner was bringing in the final piece of his
display for ‘Twisted Thoughts' a large menacing looking sickle. Still wet from a recent kill,
(actually red paint) but real enough to terrify some youths that foolishly happen to get in his way.
Wagner, with help from Mike ‘Wolfman' Baker, took four torturous years to assemble his
dream machine. The bike's namesake was given by his finance, Dawn. It makes me wonder
about how such a sweet innocent looking ‘girl next door' type could come up with a name like
that, look out Brian!
Right across the Twisted Thoughts machine was a twister of a different sort. Traveling
all the way from Rochester Hills, Michigan, Dave Wiegand and partner Gary Orban, had on
display a bike with a tornado theme paint job inspired from the movie of the same name. Starting
on the front fender the tornado continues across the hand fabricated fuel tank, then flows across
the seat and onto the rear fender. Details were from the movie, complete with the flying cow and
an airborne tractor. A traffic stoplight is painted on the rear fender, the red light works as the
bikes brake light, a cool touch. Searching for minute details, one can find a guest appearance of
the wicked witch of the west from the movie, Wizard of Oz. The bike has a proprietary
supercharger system that will propel this two-wheeled tornado into speeds of 250 mph, just like a
tornado. The supercharged bike won their business, simply called ‘The Motorcycle Shop' a
prestigious best paint award.
Looking at all the magnificent machines, I had to wonder how all this started. I think men
have been messing with machines since the invention of the internal combustion engine. I
wonder how the first chopper got built. Maybe some guy was putting an engine in the frame of a
bicycle and it was too heavy and the front forks just kind of stretched out. His buddies came over
and says ‘ hay Wilbur looks like your ex ‘ol lady's favorite tree landed on your bicycle, when did
you chop- her down?'
I'm not sure, but I seem to remember reading something that was written by somebody
more knowledgeable and smarter than me. It seems this person actually did some research and he
read somewhere that when the war veterans came home, (that's World War II to all you
historically challenged people), these guys were use to carrying guns, knives and hand grenades.
It seems that after fighting for freedom our government wanted to take all these cool things away
from them. There were a lot of motorcycles left after the war. The guys that wanted to settle
down and raise families wanted cars, the mini van hadn't been invented yet. So that meant that
there were lots of motorcycles and they were cheap. Now our ex army guys that didn't want to
live with the same ‘ol lady for the next gazillion years bought the bikes, because the one's that
got married their ‘ol lady wouldn't let them.
Now here is the best part, these motorcycles were still of the Army kind, with all the
heavy duty stuff you need when fighting a war, like big ugly fenders, metal racks and other Army
stuff and worse yet, they were painted green. So our ex Army guys started to take off all the stuff
that wasn't needed. They cut the fenders short, took off the heavy mufflers and hence forth the
first ‘Bobber' was invented.
I was seeing everything at this show, from bikes built on a limited budget by back yard
builders, to full-blown customs that displayed every thing that was possible when you have very
deep pockets. This show had something for everyone's taste, from mildly customized stock
Harley's, metric cruisers, from ‘old school' choppers, to the widest creations possible. One thing
everybody had in common, was the love of the ‘Art of the Motorcycle.'
One of the ‘Old School' builders I came across was Mark Langford, owner of Just Us
Bikers. His creations reflect the style that was being built in the late 60's early 70's. His bikes
have been recently built, but could be easily confused with a bike that was built back then. It's
refreshing to see how some things never go out of style.
Going to the other end of the spectrum; I had the good fortune to meet and interview
Donnie Smith. Donnie is the promoter of the ‘Donnie Smith Michelob Goldenlight Invitational
Bike Show' and is a collaboration with Neil Ryan of American Thunder. When asked how he
got started, Donnie got a twinkle in his eye, settled into his chair and began to reminisce about a
much simpler time and another place, far from St. Louis. ‘Well after the movie Easy Rider came
out, a few of us went out to a little town in South Dakota called Sturgis. That was back in ‘73 and
I've been out there every year since.'.... I'll save the rest of the interview for another time. When
asked about this show, he paid compliments to Ralph Roads for putting on such a quality family
show. ‘Look at all the families with kids' he motioned as two youngsters went by with their
parents. Getting up to leave I looked over his display of custom bikes, I'd say a lot has changed
for him since that first trip to Sturgis.
Needing a break, I got a Bud from a friendly gal at the Budweiser bar, and parked myself
on the bench in front of the band that was playing, Leather and Lace. The drummer was a cute
blond and I later found out she had a great personality. The lead singer was also a cutie, and
could really sing the tunes. Not being bored with the music, but knowing I still had a job to do. I
wandered over to where a couple guys from Kansas City, Gary Paul and James Stephenson, had
set up a pool table and a Hi Striker, you know the game where you have to ring the bell by
swinging a large mallet. I think they were having as much fun at the show as their customers.
Spying a camera on a tripod was like a minnow to a large mouth bass, and I'll take the
bait. It was there, I meet Wayne Thompson, a board member for the American Bikers Relief
Fund. Thompson, a fellow photographer, journalist, and all around Biker freak, we hit it off right
away. He was volunteering his time and equipment to photograph people on a radical custom on
loan by Brad Brooks of Mystical Custom Creations. Brooks' creation was mystical enough to
mesmerize the judges into giving him first place in his class.
Next to the American Bikers Relief Fund I found Don and Pauletta Jones. They had
traveled all the way from Oklahoma to set up their German Roasted Nut stand. It was just what I
needed to help me finish my Bud. When you're at the show next year be sure and stop in and see
them, nothing goes better with the Americas best brewski than some good ‘ol German nuts.
On up the aisle I meet Tim, the builder with Iron Hog Cycles. I noticed that one of the
three bikes on display was sold. ‘Yea we sold that bike just as the show opened. It's a basic bike,
but a good value for the money' It looked very tricked out to me, but I guess next to the other two
bikes they had, it was plain. One of the two had what was one of my favorite paint jobs. On the
red background it was covered in skulls, not just a few, but dozens.
One of the most professional looking booths I saw belonged to the Pure Evil group. When
I asked about it, they told me part of their company builds exhibits for corporate clients for trade
shows. So I guess that explains that, now how about the bikes? Are they for sale? ‘Well yes, but
we'd rather build a bike just for the customer, you know that way it will fit their personality'.
With a custom-built bike to fit your personality and a ‘Pure Evil' clothing line to wear,
what more could a guy want? How about something to haul it in? At this show there were
several regular motorcycle trailers to look at and about a dozen ‘Toyhaulers,' and I'm not talking
about the toys you keep hidden in your sock drawer either. What I'm talking about is the hottest
thing going in the RV market today. There is a ramp backdoor style that allows you to ride your
scoot into the back cargo section and living quarters in the front. These combos make the perfect
traveling companion, other than having one of the Wide Open girls with you.
Speaking of the Wide Open girls, I finally got to meet Val Berry and several of my
favorite calender girls. They were busier than bees in the spring and sweeter than the honey they
make. The girls were hawking Wide Open event T-shirts, selling subscriptions, calenders and
posing for pictures, these gals never seemed to get tired and always had a smile on their face.
Motorcycle Works had one of the most unusual bikes in their booth. It looked like a
regular, (as if anything at this bike show is ‘regular'!) two-wheeled bike until you look closer at
the rear wheel. It's actually two tires close together. I sat down with the builder, Frank Pedersen,
for an explanation, inquiring minds want to know.
In a slight bit of a Norwegian accent, Pedersen smiles and his eyes light up like when you
ask Grandparents to tell you about their grandchildren. ‘Everybody was building something with
the widest tire they could find. At that time it was about a 250. I wanted to build something that
would just ‘blow ‘em out of the water'. I got the widest tires I could find, 335-35-18's, the rear
tires from a Dodge Viper. I mounted them on two Drag Star XP 18"x12"'s. I built the frame on
the outside of the wheels, and nobody had ever done that before.'
He went on to tell me about how he likes to build things that look unridable, but are. ‘I
like to create new things that haven't been done before, but it's getting harder. I like to go so far
off the beaten path, you can't even see the path'. Indeed, (my comment)
So how much does it cost to tap into all this expertise of this experienced creator? Not as
much as you would think. In their booth he had two bikes that were reasonablely priced, one of
them being the subject of the book ‘How to Build a Cheap Chopper' how about that, a celebrity
bike, that's less than 13 grand?
Another interesting bike story came to me by Larry Curik, president of Lone Star
Choppers. Larry Curik works for Mid- USA Motorcycle Parts. Working with Mid USA's
Bobber kit and adding his own bike building expertise, Curik was under the gun to finish this
project before the V Twin Expo in Cincinnati or face a firing squad. Stuffing USA's Power
House 114 Big Twin in the frame and using a mix of his parts and USA's, the project was born.
The only outsourcing was the paint. Chrome plating was out of the question, it takes too long.
Stainless steel was used and polished in house. From the start too almost finished was an
incredible eight days, 127 hours, and the machine and Curik was on their way to Cincinnati. I
said almost finished, the final touch.....TEX-EFX, a striper from Texas flew in to lay down the
pinstripes the morning of the show. The name of the bike ‘El Loco' adequately describes the
craziness it takes to complete such a project. Crazy or El Loco, this bike took first place in the
Bobber class at the Wide Open Show.
Needing a break from all the chrome and iron, I decided to head back toward the front
entrance. I needed to feast my eyes on another pair of Big Twins.
Miss Sturgis, Debbi Davids, was signing posters and posing for pictures. For once I
didn't mind being on the other side of the camera, my own little sweetie took my picture with the
stunningly beautiful and very personable model.
Traveling all the way from Sturgis, South Dakota, representatives from Glencoe
campground had set up a booth to inform the people about all the new additions and attractions
waiting for you when you make your trip to the ultimate bike rally this year.
I was on my way to another interview when I had to stop and admire the bikes from Kim
Suter. I was just about to take a picture of the display when Wide Open's calender girl, Alaina
just happens to walk by. Figuring a little Miss February would sweeten an already sweet display,
she was more than willing to stop for 125th of a second to have her picture taken.
Aaron Schneider, is the general manager of American Rebel Motorcycles a dealership for
American Ironhorse and Victory motorcycles. When asked how they got started he replied that
when his Dad started to ride he realized that the area, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, needed a custom
bike shop. But he didn't want just an average shop, but one that will answer to what the customer
wants and to take exemplarily pride on customer service. That service has paid big dividends and
the shop has expanded to include a total engine rebuilds, chrome plating service and powder
coating. Out front they have added more accessories to choose from. He ends with saying that
everybody is welcome to come by their shop, wether or not they need to buy something, or just
for a visit.
When I asked if I could get a picture of their group, he asked if I wanted just his
employees or his customers also? . It seems he brought some customers along for the show too.
Now that's customer loyalty. Your picture is in the picture section of my website. Now tell all the
people that stayed home if they had come to the Wide Open Show, they could have also beenon
One of the things I liked about the Wide Open Bike Show was the vendors. When you're
at the show, you can put your hands on the frame you've been saving for, try on that pair of boots
you've been needing, look at all the new styles of leather jackets, stop by the Wide Open booth
and pick up a T shirt, renew your subscription to Wide Open and have the Calender girls sign
your calender. You can also buy something that you know you'll need, such as some Pig Glow
cleaning products. Roades has kept close reins on the quality of vendors, and there was no flea
The closing awards ceremonies came way too soon. Ralph Roads presented a large and I
do mean large check to the March of Dimes Biker's for Babies Fund. Prizes were thrown into the
crowd. Drawings were held, a small and I mean small motorcycle was won. Wide Open Girl,
Alli, handed out plaques to the class winners, I took pictures of all the winners, they are posted in
the picture section of my website After the awards, I got all the winners together for a group
photo. With the click of the camera shutter the last picture was taken and it was over.
To seek out the wildest, most radical, custom motorcycle machinery on the Midwest coast.
Locate the sexiest, hottest babes in the galaxy, bring them all together with the finest vendors on
Mission accomplished, the lights are out, Roades has left the building.
My Mission; to report this show to my readers.
Keeping it NTHEWIND Photography