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CCI 40th Anniversary Bash

A former Panzer factory isn’t an obvious Mecca for custom bike builders, but you’d be wrong to assume it wasn’t, because every March Custom Chrome Europe rocks up en masse and presents its Dealer Show at what is now the Phönix Halle in Mainz.

It's quite an experience to walk into a cavernous hall to be confronted by orange fur and mirror balls surrounding some of the wildest custom bikes ever built, but then again Custom Chrome is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year so the show was given a ‘70s vibe.

Unlike other trade shows, Custom Chrome’s annual bash also incorporates a custom bike show with access to the public on the last day, and not just any old bike show because it's also the AMD European Championship of Custom Bike Building – undoubtedly the main attraction, with builders from 19 countries entering 119 bikes in the show – which offers top three prizes of travel expenses to Sturgis to compete in the World Championship. And if that wasn’t enough of a draw, there’s also a whole host of other prizes including the Jammer Old School awards, the RevTech prize and – a benefit of letting the public in – the Public Vote.

Wandering away from the central show hall and all the bikes, there was the chance to check out the potential next big trend as I took a look around the trade area. If anyone has ever doubted just how big, and how central to the aftermarket custom world Custom Chrome’s operation is, this leaves you in no doubt. It is like a who’s who of the custom aftermarket industry. The importance of Custom Chrome within the industry, and the importance of Custom Chrome within the industry – and this show in particular – is underlined by the number of Americans who travel over for it every year to represent their brands. These included celebrity builders like Cory Ness, Cole Foster and Kirk Taylor – the last two who had built bikes to celebrate the company’s birthday.

Cole Foster’s old school Frisco styled chop and Kirk Taylor’s high performance ‘Bagger’ formed the centre piece of a retrospective of Custom Chrome’s history, which featured 40 years’ worth of advertising material, catalogues and candid photography of staff, shows and business venues adding another dimension to the show.

It wasn’t just the bikes on the hall floor that provided the interest, however, for undoubtedly the strangest moment of the weekend was when German actor Ralf Richter took to the stage for the unveiling of the new bike he had just had built by Chopper’s World. Before the covers were whipped off the bike, the gathered crowd was treated to a preview of extracts of Richter’s newest film. Given that my German extends only as far as ordering a round of drinks, I’ve no idea what was going on in the film, other than it looked like a bad Russ Meyer movie, but guess that fits in with the whole ‘70s feel of the weekend!

It was bad enough for me to go and seek sanctuary elsewhere, and such is the community spirit of the CCE Dealer Show that every year, those in the know have a secret get-together for an international wine tasting! Custom Chrome suppliers and journalist from around the world gather together, each bringing a bottle of wine from their home country, and proceed to open and taste them all to see who produces the best. Well, that’s the official line. Unofficially, it’s just an excuse to swap tall stories and have a good laugh over a drink.

After consuming the good, the bad and the ugly, I was suitably buoyed to face the awards ceremony – and it is a long ceremony, with prizes being awarded in six different classes. The flagship ‘Freestyle Class’ is the one to win – judged by a peer panel, and covering the winners’ expenses and entry to Sturgis for the AMD World Championship – and with many bikes entered having already won at competitions throughout Europe, placing a bet on the top five winning bikes would have seemed like a good move, but one thing the European Championship can never be accused of is predictable. Well, to a point.

The top prize was taken, not surprisingly, by Garage65 whose Kcosmodrive has already taken wins in Verona, in Italy and London’s own Ally Pally shows. If you didn’t see it in London, you missed a machine that is as much rolling art as it is motorcycle. How about MotoGP spec tyres and hub centre steering among its many attributes?

Less predictable was the second placed bike, again from Italy, and built by Headbanger Motorcycles. How would you feel about riding a Knucklehead-powered bike with a set of rigid forks, the suspension being taken care of by a pivot in the middle of the frame’s top tube and a pair of pull shocks in the downtubes? Exquisitely detailed, if not necessarily the way forward in suspension technology, ticks the boxes of plenty other builders.

Rounding out the top three bikes was something that I could at least envision being able to ride out of the hall. One Eyed King was built by Cycle Kraft / Ken Factory. Oh, and just to show how international this show really is, this bike was an American/Japanese collaboration, which demonstrated that while it might be the European Championship, it’s actually an international show.

Once the prize giving moved on from the main class, things began to get a little less predictable. In the Modified Harley Class, the Ally Pally-winning ‘True Strike II’, the highest placed British entry, took a creditable fifth against an international audience, demonstrating the quality of the entries in a class that attracted a very broad field. The honours fell to an almost stock-looking ‘48 Panhead with Indian-style leaf spring front end and a muted colour scheme that demonstrated that the Italians can do understated too, and that a Panhead – especially in a wishbone frame – holds a special place even now.

Equally unpredictable was the winner of the public choice award. Being in the fortunate position of attending a lot of custom bike shows, in my experience it’s always the most outrageous looking bike that wins this prize: the more chrome and the wilder the paint the better, so it was strange to hear the name Skull Racer being called out. Built by Sasse van Essen, and having taken second place in the modified Harley class, Skull Racer is a Twin Cam Softail with a few nice touches and some murals on the bodywork, but hardly at the radical end of the scale usually favoured by the masses… then someone pointed out to me that Sasse van Essen is in fact a local boy, and home advantage is always worth a few extra votes. Is it politically correct to say there was some favouritism in the voting among the public visitors?

Now, I have a cunning plan. Next year why don’t you head out for the show? There are plenty of flights to Frankfurt and then it’s just a short train journey Mainz. Yes, it’s a long way but hey, where else are you going to see what Russians can do with a Harley, the sort of twisted engineering that is coming out of Italy, realise there’s more to the Swiss than just cuckoo clocks and chocolate, as well as getting the opportunity to rub shoulders with the royalty of American custom bike building?

You never know. If enough of us make the trip we could maybe even swing the public vote in favour of the Brits… and don’t forget the wine.

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