Take Folsom Street Fair, add Burning Man, sprinkle a little chopper build and simmer on two wheels. Serve hot.
Call anyone a Dirtbag in today’s society and you could end up with their fist in your chops. But once a year San Francisco is home to a motorcycle phenomenon known as “The Dirtbag Challenge”. It is THE blue-collar biker build off where anyone with an old beater and some imagination can enter their 2-wheeled creation and be king for a day. Initiated by Poll Brown [amongst others] a British import and die-hard motorcycle fanatic who has fuel flowing through his veins instead of blood. Poll was getting increasingly fed up with the custom chopper bike scene that was talking to fantasy riders with deep pockets and no balls:
“ I don’t need a bike with chrome and paint everywhere, I know how big my cock is!” — Poll Brown
And so it begun after beers and a bet amongst friends: The people’s biker build off was born. Today it draws a crowd that goes well beyond the underbelly of the San Francisco motorcycle community nestled in Hunters Point: People come from all over the Bay Area and they’re serious about their commitment: motorcyclists, mechanics, wrenchers, welders, engineers of the real kind as well as blue chippies, laborers, craftsmen, makers, burners, artists, filmmakers, photographers, techies, designers, architects, musicians, relics, families, children, outlaws, blue-collar, white collar, hipsters and even the cops have been known to take a peek.
It’s a proper fixture in the San Francisco motorcycle calendar. Announced on social media sometime in the fall, it varies from year-to-year so you can’t predict or plan ahead and you can’t cheat. That said, you’re not here to win any prize money and no one gives a toss:
No one judges you here, it’s about community, the experience of creating something together and the celebration of sharing it. If you go over budget, the only person you’re cheating is yourself.
There is a passion for culture that goes beyond the token trophies lovingly made from old bike parts by Turk, one of the hosts who owns more motorcycles than SF has iPhones and can single-handedly make anything happen. There is a connectivity amongst participants and onlookers that puts everyone on the same level, united, like-minded, geeking out on design details, engineering choices and feeling that they’re all witnessing something that just keeps happening for them year after year.
The beer is cheap and the screaming bands are cheaper, but everyone loves them. There is more smoke and noise than a volcano could muster: wheelies, doughnuts, burnouts and smoke. Lots of smoke. Rubber, oil, fuel, clutch fluid, more smoke, hydraulic fluid, pot, beer, leather, denim, tattoos, beards and piss and smoke, tons of smoke. If you’re concerned about carbon footprint, this isn’t for you. Best you get in your Tesla, head to the Berkeley hills where you can run barefoot, listen to experimental folk and make pickled organic juniper berries in hemp macrame wrapped jars.
“If you need a wall to do a burnout, you ain’t doin’ it right!”- Poll Brown
A couple years ago, my mate John and I revived a grossly neglected Honda CB750 with minimal time, design and money. We spent many an evening debating wiring, compression, tarting up the old dear so she stood out from your average street rat and used an old skateboard for a seat. Enough so she could cover the required 100 miles to earn her place in the smoke filled cat walk. It was a great fun and I learnt a lot about microbreweries and where to buy beedies in San Francisco.
Bottom line: stop masturbating over bikes you’ll never build much less own. Stop ignoring that rusty old clunker buried under decades of National Geographic mags that you’ll never read at the back of the garage, call your mates and for a thousand bucks or less, build yourself a custom bike in thirty days. All you need is a hacksaw, duct tape, a six pack of beer and an ego to keep your friends entertained as you all argue over how much to cut from the frame or how cool it would be to make exhaust pipes out of extractor hose that stick out 6ft high. Roll up your sleeves and get the grinder out. It’s going to be a long night but you won’t regret it.