The West Coast has always been an epicenter for different facets of motorcycling and custom moto culture, but as you make your way further up the coast a different breed of motorcycling was taking shape in the late 90's and early 2000's.
The Pacific Northwest, the famed birthplace of grunge music and boasting some of the most incredible camping the country has to offer, has a unique landscape that became a breeding ground of its own for innovation. The same rain-soaked angst that once fueled the artistic explosion of the Seattle grunge scene brought about a wave of custom motorcycles and off-road machines that only the Pacific Northwest could nurture so dutifully and create. With an emphasis on moto diversity, the city of Portland and its surrounding areas in particular grew and thrived on their own and the leaders of this hype machine for everything two-wheels became Thor Drake and George Kassapakis, the creators/owners of See See Motorcycles and See See Motor Coffee.
See See became an all inclusive space where riders felt comfortable sharing enthusiasm, knowledge, good stories, a helping hand, and a strong cup of Portland's finest dark roast. Though the scene was building steam, the Pacific Northwest of 13 years ago wasn't exactly a mecca for motorcycle shows in America and Thor, his wife Tori, and the whole See See Moto family really wanted to do something that would bring everyone together and put Portland on the map. And so, in 2009, The One Motorcycle Show was born and completely took on a life of its own.
With a combined emphasis on moto art and custom culture, The One Motorcycle Show soon became the Pacific Northwest’s premier moto show. The show changes spaces every other year, bringing a whole different warehouse vibe to the show in each of its locations around Portland. The show continues to grow, keeping the See See spirit in mind. If it's fun and has two wheels, it has a home here. It’s an attitude that we at Old Bike Barn have always shared. Fast forward to the year 2022 when the show was in its 13th year, and it is thriving now more than ever, encompassing a full 3-day weekend moto experience.
From their official site bio: "See See Motor Coffee was and is a grassroots movement of keeping motorcycling alive and well in the Pacific Northwest. In an area where nine months out of the year it rains, it pours and the old man definitely snores... See See wanted to create a community that could reach out to a network of people and riders that had never met or had a place to do so."
Hearing the stories of past years and all the wild times, we wanted to see what The One Moto Show was all about for ourselves, and what we found was a moto community absolutely united in every aspect of moto culture, not just vintage or modern or 4-stroke or 2-stroke, gas or electric. The One Moto Show is two wheels to unite all! Since its inception, the show has transformed the landscape of what the Pacific Northwest has to offer to the moto community with huge diversity in the fields of: flat track bikes, drag bikes, race bikes, wild sixties and seventies vintage survivors, pristine stock motorcycles from every era and region, Vintage American, British, Japanese, Russian, European, minibikes, vintage dirt bikes, 4-stroke, 2-stroke, scramblers, custom choppers both vintage and modern, Honda choppers, Harley choppers, Yamaha choppers, cafe racers, adventure bikes, electric bikes and even a bike that runs on compressed air. If it's got two wheels and a story, it's got a home at The One Moto Show.
There is definitely something to be said when it comes to the element of grit in the microcosm of moto-centric events. Many just feel that the clean trade show convention center vibe is too safe and too sterile, that a good motorcycle show needs just a little bit of dirt, some rusty metal scraps, greasy steel beams and maybe a little broken glass sprinkled on top for garnish. Cut over to the banks of the Willamette River on the south Portland waterfront and you'll find the massive, 33-acre Zidell Yards, a ship house facility originally meant to hold entire barges. The nearly 100-year-old structure hasserves as the perfect blend of ambiance, multicolored steel, and gritty dirt floor allure that would have any moto enthusiast feeling right at home. While you are exploring the grounds, you find the inside houses more than enough acreage to comfortably space out and view over 300 motorcycles and art installations galore. The outside acreage of Zidell Yards also has more than enough room for some pretty exciting motorcycle stunt shows and a massive vendor village nearly the size of the Born Free Show in California. There is also a vintage car, truck, and van show under the arches of cranes and towering steel structures, situated just next to a beautiful view of the river.
Outside of the event, it was easy to find yourself falling in line with a crowd of onlookers that lit up with childlike wonder when gathered around a large open lot on the east side of Zidell yards. You could often see the faces of different people from every age group smirking, smiling, and cheering from a distance and wonder what everyone was smiling about. Well everyone knows that it's fun to look at motorcycles in a stationary format as works of art, but See See Motorcycles is all about motorcycles being ridden. They put together a host of different motorcycle stunt shows throughout the weekend including trials bike stunt performances, Icon motorsports high performance stunt shows, the stunt riding of Redbull's Aaron Colton, and the Seattle Cossacks Motorcycle Stunt and Drill Team performing daring feats of balance, acrobatics, and impressive skill riding their vintage Harley Davidson's in ways you wouldn't even imagine possible. Each show throughout the weekend shocked and awed the crowd, whether burning rubber and impressive wheelie skills were your thing or even motorcycle jumps, flips, and death-defying flaming feats.
The show also featured an impressive amount of moto themed artwork. Hanging above all of show bikes was art ranging from photography, sculpture, printmaking, painting, pinstriping, junk art, and so on. This also included several large art installations and even an appearance from one of Old Bike Barn’s favorite moto artists, Makoto Endo, who has set up every year at our Old Bike Barn Crossroads area of AMA Vintage Days. Makoto had a painting that he spent the entire weekend finishing and even after all these years, we still are impressed watching him work out the process in his head and translate it to canvas using only chopsticks and ink. ICON Motorsports also put on the 21 Helmets Showcase inside the One Moto Show this year where different artists, painters, and sculptors put their unique spin on an ICON helmet. Each one was a reflection of the artist's own style and creative medium, whether intricate airbrush or acrylics or even something more out of this world.
The work that the See See Moto family put into making year 13 of their show the best one yet was evident in a myriad of ways. One of the event founders and See See family, Tori Drake, absolutely nailed one of the most impressive and incredibly diverse bike show lineups we've seen in years. Curating over 300 machines on two wheels to fill the massive Zidell structure was no easy task though. We spoke with two of the show's many collaborators, Tori Drake and George Kassapakis, about their roles in the show this year and some highlights about the show’s origins, the origins of See See, and what they love about motorcycles in general.
Just to get started, how long have you been doing the show?
Tori Drake: I've been with Thor and the show since it started in 2009 in a tiny little warehouse off Tillamook and the interstate in Portland. It was kind of serendipitous because Thor had a space built out for a trade show booth and he had another month with the space so we did a motorcycle show there. There were probably 60 bikes in the first show with art on boxes and the show just grew from there. We had another year in the same spot and since then, every two years we find a different space somewhere here in Portland.
I feel like that keeps it really fresh too, like the vibe of some of the shows back in the Midwest like Mama Tried and FUEL Cleveland and so on. Though it can sort of bea necessity too sometimes because you party a little too hard in one location and then it's like "oh OK, maybe let's find somewhere else now.".
I would say it's intentional but also not intentional. We'll find a spot and then outgrow it quickly. Sometimes we come back and they've turned it into condos or something and it's no longer available. It's been a fun learning curve to find a new spot each year to fit this many bikes. There are literally 300 bikes in here.
This year’s flyer says 200+ motorcycles and you curated all of the bikes this year, right?
Tori: Yeah, I curated a little over 256 bikes, but when builders show up there's always that chance that they have this extra build or they have a friend who had an extra bike that they wanted to throw in the truck. Then on top of that you also have sponsor bikes and vendor bikes. It's all part of the show. I'm just feeling lucky that we had the space for 300 bikes in the show and all of the space for a car show and all of the demos and the stunt bike shows.
It's neat to see a venue like this have this much space to utilize, but still have this feeling and this ambience where it's like a comfortable room, especially for moto enthusiasts. It's gritty and dark and carefully lit and spacious. It just feels comfortable in here. You set it up with a very good flow for viewing the bikes and everything had a good space. There were no bad spots.
Yeah, definitely. Also a little history, my great Uncle actually worked in this very room for 40 years of his life building ships in Zidell yards. The building has been closed for the last couple of years especially to ship building but we were able to salvage the use of all this before they do anything else with the space. We are just grateful to have such an awesome spot and with a history that we're connected to.
Well I think that the combination of the really versatile line up of every moto genre mixed with how well you presented the art and the whole vibe and flow of the space made for the perfect atmosphere and like George spoke of earlier, just a feeling of inclusion and a sense of community. Like no good bikes were left out. There's something for everyone to be stoked on.
Well yeah that's definitely the idea we've had behind it for years and it's continually grown.
The show has taken on a life of its own, becoming the Pacific Northwest’s premier moto event. How has the moto community, as well as the various moto sponsors you have, helped the event?Would you say it's more of a community effort or mainly the See See Moto family?
George Kassapakis: It is a community effort but, as you see, sponsors like Progressive and Indian Motorcycles are big corporate sponsors. e put on the show for years on a shoestring budget, and we couldn't grow it anymore. We struggled to pay rent, we struggled to come up with new spaces. This is Thor's brain child. He did it for a couple years and when I showed up, I brought the business aspect to it so it could make enough money to continue and grow. You can only do $1 beers for so long, and the event used to even be free for 10 years.
Well something I see from covering a lot of moto events is it takes a lot of coordination and there's a lot of moving parts involved and sometimes it takes a little more than just one train of thought to come up with the best event that you can possibly put on.
We've since brought on some really great people like Mahala, who is helping produce the show, but for nine years Thor and I did the show alone. I pulled all the permits, got all the beer, hired all the people and man, I was exhausted!
The show includes a vast array of bikes from every era and genre of motorcycling. Which ones are you personally most excited about?
George: Personally, I have 30 bikes. I've got bikes from the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, and even some new bikes. Bikes from the 80sare kind of my thing though, and I love 2-strokes too. But 80's bikes, I mean, it's what I grew up with and it's what I dreamt of as a child of the 80s ,you know? GSXRs, RGVs, the GP bikes… that’s what I mostly own, along with some TDRs, 250 2strokes and stuff like that.
There were definitely a good amount of those peppered into the lineup of the show.
Did you see the black and yellow TDR here? I have that bike and that Yamaha was the first design to have that offroad, yet street, dirt feel. That thing would turn on a dime and wheelie in every gear all day long. That was the bike, you know? We couldn't afford the big bikes growing up,like the GSXR 1000.Old dudes had those, but a 250 2-stroke that put out 50 horses? That's how I got into 2-stroke. Those 80s 2-strokes are my jam.
I spoke a little bit with Tori about how she curated the bikes and how she chose them. Can you weigh-in on this? Do you feel as though the bikes in the show specifically reflect the moto culture in the Pacific Northwest, or is it more a reflection of the culture as a whole?
George: I think it's a reflection of the entire world really. I mean there's BMW's, there's even CZ's, Russian bikes like Urals, and there's everything else in between. The whole idea of this show was to make everyone equals. Even scooters! It's all about two wheels!
Speaking about the rest of the world, can we talk a little bit about your origins building and riding motorcycles growing up in Greece and how you came to bring that fun riding spirit to Portland?
George: That's a really good question. Do you remember the Honda Passport? That's what all the kids had. Anything 50CC and under and you could ride it at 16. Everyone had these Honda Passports and the first thing we did was go and get a 72 CC cylinder and a bigger carburetor and now you can do wheelies. That's what I dreamt of. My first bike was a Honda minibike. Do you remember the Dax? Well, it was smaller than that. Same sorta design, though. We had big dreams, but we were poor and gas was expensive. I was sick though, I had a sickness for it. It’s what we did, we were obsessed with it. We rode our scooters to get coffee, talk shit with all our boys, and in the summer we would ride to the beach. Then I came to the States in 1994 and it just felt like nobody was riding here. I ended up meeting some great people, and that's when I met Thor around ‘95 or ‘96. But my dream was always a year-round, all-seasons coffee shop that caters to motorcycles. I got connected with Thor and his brain works completely different from mine and I love it. It's just so creative, but we had to figure out how to make money with that creativity. My dream was to keep motorcycles going all year round in the Pacific Northwest which was, and is, sort of impossible unless you keep pushing people to do it. So that's kind of how we met. He had a moto shop and I started running a bar and that's when it clicked, like this is the right guy to do this idea with. I had the coffee and the service industry experience and he had the design and the dream, that chaos in his head.
As See See became established, you sponsored a lot of racing, which is so great for the community. You, Thor and Tori all have flat track riding experience so with that, how do you feel that See See has influenced the Portland community in a way where you've brought something different and exciting to racing, and for that matter even vintage motorcycling in general in the Pacific Northwest?
George: I feel like we brought motorcycles back to the Pacific Northwest.It was sort of gone, but it was just timing, too. The late 90s was just a different time here and I don't want to take full credit for it, but I definitely want to take some credit. I mean we helped push it.
You essentially ushered in a new era for motorcycling in the Oregon community in many ways.
George: Well that's the thing. We just wanted for everyone to try it, just to get on two wheels and have fun. That was our whole thing with really wanting to be inclusive, you know? We never wanted people to see this as just a moto cafe and think, "oh I can't go get coffee there because I don’t have a cool enough motorcycle." We want everyone tocome enjoy and learn about motorcycles because it’s for everyone. Everyone's welcome, and that's one of the things that Thor and I really agreed on.
That same spirit really translates well in the show also.
George: One thing we didn't want to be was just a Harley show. There's nothing wrong with that; I have Harleys. We always just wanted to be a little more inclusive. I mean, Indian is our biggest sponsor but we aren't an Indian show. We make it for everyone and we focused on that and we've stayed on that track. That is what was important to us about this show.
With the show progressing from starting out somewhat small and free to now becoming a paid event with multi-day passes, are you ok with that? Do you think it is this necessary evil in order to continue to put on the event
George: It really was. It was a necessary evil. I like how you put that. What people don't see is a lot of those things behind the scenes. You’ve got the Fire Marshal, you’ve got the police, you’ve got the city all breathing down your neck. You have people start asking questions and blocking off traffic and then asking " what's causing all the traffic?Oh, it's this huge motorcycle show " It all takes a lot to pull off the show
The show this year was sold out, is that correct? Even one of the days was sold out to where people were being turned away at the gates?
George:It's unfortunate, but yeah. There's been a lot to follow with Covid protocols and all these things. We did timed tickets and VIP, but tried to keep everything fair. It really kept things spaced out well.
The event also has some really good music throughout the weekend. Who picks the bands and what were some of your favorite bands of the weekend?
George: The Prince cover band was my favorite. I loved Danava too, but I love Prince's music and that band nailed it so well.
I will say it was pretty refreshing to see a mosh pit at a motorcycle show. With my background touring in the punk and metal scene playing in touring bands, that was usually my experience with Portland. Covid definitely made that vibe go away so it was really nice to see when that Danava set got fired up.It felt like the good ol' days.
George: Danava has played for us many times throughout the years and they are the best, just the fucking best. We try to get local bands and the idea is to keep it local. PNW local at least.
Where would you like to see the event go next from here? Do you have anything special you're holding out on for next year? Is Zidell Yards the home of the One Moto Show again?
George: It is, and it's gonna be even more dialed in. Unlike previous years we don't have to reconfigure every time. Stay tuned, because it's gonna be good!
Photos and words by Mike Vandegriff