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Tuesday 20 February 2024


"All the same, yet somehow different ... "


Verona, Italy, January 19th - 21st

Words & Pictures by Horst 'Motographer' Rösler

Excitement in the custom scene in Europe runs high every January: it's MOTOR BIKE EXPO/MBE time - and the 16th edition at the Verona Expo Center again opened the new season as a showcase for the Italian and European custom bike and motorcycle scene. 

MBE 2024 did not disappoint in terms of creativity and high-class custom-built motorcycles from builders in Italy and all over Europe, yet there were many long-term exhibitors and Big-Name names from Italy missing. 

As were some traditional U.S. customizers, who were attending the Parts Unlimited & Drag Specialities Spring NVP Product Expo, held at the Louisville/Kentucky International Convention Center on the same weekend.

Nevertheless, an "all American" jury (Michael Lichter, Bobby Seeger, Jeff Holt and Cary Brobeck) judged the MBE "Top 10" bikes from the 'Class of 2024' and who got to be crowned the show's "King of Custom" on Saturday. 

The "King of Custom" of MOTOR BIKE EXPO 2024, Geneva/Switzerland based Stephane Grand of "T4" won the prestigious award for his wild single downtube Knucklehead conversion with unique handcrafted parts and very special steering head arrangement. 

There was no lack of cool bikes - and enthusiasm for building one-off motorcycles still seems to be high, at least south of the Alps it is - with 100,000 sq m of exhibition space, 700+ exhibitors and the usual variety of exhibits and shopping opportunities that make MBE such a great visit. 

The only blemish on the weekend was a Stunt Show accident in which ten members of the public were hurt as a "Donut Burnout" went out of control and the stuntcar went off into the safety barriers. The result was the cancelation of all the further planned stunt competitions and displays for the weekend. 

Despite running it's own event in the USA at the same time, the Drag Specialties/Parts Europe team attended in force!

Friday saw numerous bike premieres, including Dr. Jekill & Mr. Hyde's new Race Bagger, a customized BMW R18 by Paul Yaffe and new custom bikes by Boccin Custom Cycles, Bad Boys Garage, Custommade Garage and others. All four of the big European parts distributors were there - Custom Chrome Europe and Parts Europe from Germany, and Zodiac International and Motorcycle Storehouse from the Netherlands - all making their presence known, looking for new ideas, products and clients.

Dr. Jekill & Mr Hyde's Race Bagger featuring a new exhaust system.

However, many leading Italian customizers that had been ever-presents in previous years were missing, as exhibitors at least - maybe just visiting or competing in one or another of the custom bike shows instead.

New names are slowly but steadily starting to emerge as the eternal cycle of renewal starts over again - and with some new ideas too. 

Motorcycle Storehouse again presented a great variety of new parts and bikes in Hall 1. 

Custom Chrome Europe retained its presence and sponsoring at MOTOR BIKE EXPO, with "Highsider" and CPR Custom Bikes present at the display. 

The competitions, including the "King of Custom" (formerly "King of Verona") and no less than 27 (!) "magazine" and "special awards" took their share of the stage time on Saturday - an interminable process of 'me too/we too' that takes considerable time. While magazine and special awards are handed out to the builders or owners without presenting bikes or even images of the winning bike on the available big screen (you can later find the printed canvas awards placed next to the bikes all over the halls), the "Top Ten" as selected by MBE staff are first lined up on the limited room in front of the main stage, then presented one by one on stage while the jury ask the builders about their bikes.

As ever, not everybody was convinced that the best bikes won the best prizes, but narrowing it down even to a Top 10 is a near impossible task. The judges did a great job though and crowned Geneva/Switzerland based Stephane Grand of "T4" with the top award - and a new 'Ultima' brand Shovelhead engine donated by Custom Chrome Europe.

New set-up in Hall 2, the Eternal City Bikeshow attracted the Chopper crowd at its display and gave U.S. magazine "Choppers Magazine" the chance to hand out its "Best Chopper" trophy to the 1954 (H-D's 50th anniversary year!) "Shitty Shaker" created by "Wild Wheels."

Despite the Friday accident, which, unsurprisingly, garnered local TV and Radio time, the Saturday and Sunday crowds were good, with more bike awards on Sunday and the OE halls taking more of a central role in the day - with the likes of Aprilia, Benelli, BMW Motorrad, Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki, Keeway, Moto Guzzi, Moto Morini, Ohvale, QJ Motor, Royal Enfield, SYM Sanyang, Suzuki, SWM, Talaria, TM Racing, Triumph Motorcycles, UM Motorcycles and Yamaha all present at what has become a mini mid-Winter 'EICMA'-esque gathering of the major mainstream brands as well as the custom industry.

Of particular note was SWM (Speedy Working Motorcycle), one of the many legacy Italian and other European market brand names to have come back in Chinese ownership in recent years - and their display created quite a buzz.

Paul Yaffe's BMW R18 Bagger 

Featured in AMD last year, SWM are the company that has taken advantage of Harley's lapsed design rights and protections with 'Stormbreaker' - an as-close-to-original Chinese made copy of the 1200 cc Sportster 'Forty Eight', with the Euro 5 emissions compliance and € 9.990,00 price tag that Harley said they neither could meet, as they could not justify the costs and poor returns on such a project. No matter that it would have attracted 'fresh meat' to the brand - after all that would have compromised the much sought after exclusivity that now drives its sense of self.

Ironic, since most of the Harleys sold in Europe are built just south of the "People's Republic" in Thailand anyway. SWM are now finally forecasting that it will be available through its growing European dealer network from June 2024.

The Zodiac truck did big business, as always.

One of the exhibits that did come from the USA, however, was shown by Italian custom shop Hazard Motorcycles - last year's "King of Verona" winners, this year displaying a superb original, restored Harley-Davidson "Topper" scooter in pristine condition.