Cleveland is located in the heart of the United States Midwest. Much like its sister cites, Detroit and Milwaukee, there is a pure and raw energy that is released. Once a mainly industrial and working-class city, it is now vibrant with American culture. From muscle cars to our mythical Harley Davidsons, their culture vibrates with anything that makes noise and providing a sense of freedom. Even Rock & Roll originated in Cleveland in the early 1950’s. Fuel Cleveland is living proof of this vibrant community.
Like any good show, the Friday night pre-party is a must. My little weekend round-trip Montréal-Cleveland-Montréal was to be intense but always worth it! I step foot on American soil just in time to leave my bags in my hotel room, grab my camera and head off to the Saucy Brew Works microbrewery for the pre-party. Upon arriving, the place is already buzzing with motorcycles and people partying. On the streets around the brewery is a corded line of motorcycles, some of which could definitely be part of the next day’s exhibit. Inside, I find a most impressive selection of house beer that I have ever seen in one place, a heavy ambiance of rock music and male and female bikers from across the continent, all anxious and excited for the next day. I have a few beers and try, in vain, to go to bed early to be fresh and ready for the next day. It is hard to go to bed early when you are in a new city for only 2 days.
Fast forward to the next morning, the alarm wakes me up at 9am. With only a warm coffee and a dry doughnut from the hotel in my stomach (I never understood why Americans love their too-sweet doughnuts for breakfast, but you know, when you don’t have a choice…), I hurry to the show site arriving before the crowd to take some pictures. Madison hall is a few seconds from downtown Cleveland, but also in the middle of a sea of old deteriorating, industrial, brick buildings and rusty fences. Off to a good start. Outside, in the parking, all the vendors are swarming around, finishing their final preparations as the doors are about to open. Inside, the last of the motorcycles are being placed in this magnificent room of white walls also an art gallery. And there is a lot of art. The walls are covered with 15 photographs from 8 different artists. In the middle of all this are 90 motorcycles having all been meticulously selected. Most of them are American, a few European and a small selection of Japanese. A vintage chopper-style motorcycle is in the spotlight of course but there are also original old motorcycles, motorcycles for speed, a few “vintage racers” and even some ultra rare collection pieces. Content with my idea of arriving early to take some pictures, I take advantage of my twenty minutes before the crowd begins to enter. I use the word crowd because that is literally what it is. As of the time it opens, until the end of the day, the hall is packed with people huddled between the motorcycles. During this time, it is impossible to get good pictures with my 35mm camera and fixed lens, so much so that I needed to wait until the end of the event to take my remaining pictures! I later found out that there were between 7 and 8000 people that day!
There is also a lot of action outside around the 50 vendor booths and food trucks. There is something for everyone; from our favourite brands at the booths to builder workshops, you can easily spend the entire day. There is also a lot of hustle on the streets and in the parking lots. There are thousands of motorcycles all around. I take more than an hour to make the rounds searching for the rare gem and believe me, there is an impressive amount of them. The street in front of the Madison has become a playground for daredevils. Wheelies, burnouts and skids, the improvised performance is exciting and the air smells great! Even the policemen stationed at the corner of the street do nothing to stop the illegal performance; they seem to enjoy it. The party is underway as we say! Luckily, we are not in Quebec (sigh and rolling of the eyes…haha)
I returned inside as the day was coming to a close. The public was slowly leaving as I finished my rolls of film. I had the time to meet with a couple of “builders” who were starting to get their motorcycles ready to leave. I met with JP Rodman who told me the story behind his famous Trike with a Volkswagon motor that he built for the Born Free and now exhibited in Cleveland. I also met the talented and friendly photographer Ken Carvajal beside his chopper, built on a Panhead frame, that he had only completed a couple of weeks prior. I fell in love with his motorcycle and even more with his generosity, which ended in an improvised photo shoot of his panhead in a back-alley corner as the sun set. Perfect for a future article in your favourite magazine!
Fuel Cleveland has found the winning recipe, reflected in the unbelievable amount of people in attendance. The raw, rock motorcycle scene of Cleveland has remained engraved in my memories, with hopes that one day Quebec will experience something as intense and bustling. Enthusiasts were well served at Fuel Cleveland, me included, but beyond the motorcycles, each one as beautiful as the next, it was meeting all the new people that I will remember most. My hat goes off to Fuel Cleveland!