'Old Iron, Young Blood' promotes a new generation of bike builders

Published: Aug. 7, 2017 at 1:14 PM CDT
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Nearly 20 years ago, noted motorcycle culture photographer Michael Lichter snagged a private tour of the Guggenheim exhibit Art of the Motorcycle. That motivated Lichter to set up his Motorcycles as Art exhibit, now in its 17th year at the Sturgis Rally.

"I think that did have an influence on my doing these exhibitions," Lichter admitted. "It was wonderful and I was very impressed with it. But I also had some questions about it because that was production motorcycles.

"I felt that the custom world wasn't represented and I really felt that was more art form. Production bikes are artful but there are many limitations," Lichter said.

This year, Lichter is focusing on the next generation of bike builders; those younger than 36.

"It was time to do an entire exhibition just focused on the younger generation," he said.

He calls it "Old Iron, Young Blood." It is an exhibit welcomed by the old guard of custom bike builders.

"Us baby boomers are getting older so you got to have these young guys step up and what's cool is ... they have their own spin,” custom bike builder Rick Fairless said. “They have different ideas than us old customers so it's wonderful to see these guys."

"Nobody's tying the hands of these custom builders and I've always considered them folk artists," Lichter added.

It is a label that is a little uncomfortable for Brad Gregory, a 32-year-old builder from Glenwood, Iowa.

"Oh no, I've never thought of that. I've always thought of artists as like ... paintings, drawings and I have zero talent in that so no,” Gregory said. “So to see my name as 'artist' is entirely new and foreign to me."

But what about being called a sculptor?

"Possibly I could see that, yeah," Gregory said.

The range of these young artists is quite diverse.

Gregory is a part-time builder working on his fifth bike. He makes a living as a mechanical engineer, which translates well into the custom bike culture.

Then there are builders, like Nicki Martin of Centennial, Colo., who are generational bike builders. It's in their genes.

"Oh, it's totally in my genes and it's in my kids' genes,” Martin said. “I have three kids. They started when they were 2 years old out in the shop; they have their own little tool box."

The Motorcycles as Art exhibit is at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip events center near the east gate. It is free to the public now through Friday from 2 to 10 p.m.