Editorial: The Dirtbag Challenge Motorcycle Build Off

I found an interesting documentary film about an annual “build off” event in the San Francisco area that ties in with Stevie Ming’s build “The Skirmisher.”  It’s called “The Dirtbag Challenge,” they bill themselves as a “Low Rent Chopper Build Off.”  The challenge is to build a custom motorcycle within a set overall budget and time frame.  The budget is $1,000 USD, time allowed for the build, thirty days.

The Dirtbag Challenge started a few years ago as a reaction to high dollar custom bike builds, and the perception that only by spending a ton of bucks could you have a custom motorcycle.  This is quoted from the Dirtbag Challenge web site.

There is a belief that custom bikes are the exclusive right of rich pretty boys and media personalities, rolling around on cookie cutter motorcycles that cost the same as a small family home.  Well, that’s bullshit.

Well said, Stevie Ming has proved that true with his Skirmisher project.  I think Stevie would get along very well with this group of builders, they are creative, resourceful, and build bikes meant to be ridden.  I would say the philosophy of the founders of the Dirtbag Challenge is close to that of The Biker’s Garage.  Our magazine is all about what you can build with your own two hands and creativity, not some high dollar piece you bought from someone else.  Those expensive customs do have a place, mostly on a pedestal, or trailer, but certainly not in my garage, and I’ll bet, not in the garages of our readers.

The Dirtbag Challenge has few rules, and they are quite simple.

1. One month build time.

You can start your bike on the day that we announce the Dirtbag Challenge, one month before the day of the actual show.  Notification will be given here on this website and also on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/DirtbagChallenge

2. One thousand dollar budget.

This includes the price of the donor bike, all parts, and all work.  Yes, you could cheat but then you’d be a loser.

3. One hundred miles.

On the morning of the show, meet up with the other Dirtbags and ride with us.  We will ride at least one hundred miles over every type of road.  There probably won’t be a chase vehicle.

4. No Harleys.

This is to keep it fair, to give everyone the chance to shine. We like Harleys, we ride Harleys but this is about being different and thinking outside the box.

I love this notation at the end of their rules page:

That’s it, that’s all there is.  The rest is up to you, use your brain, we are not your mommy.

I have to laugh at that last bit, it’s simple and direct, you either get it together or be left in the dust!  And, according to my research, that happens quite often, at least one third of the competitors never finish the required 100 miles!

If you get the impression that these entries are just thrown together piles of junk, they’re not, some are quite well thought out.  One example is a Yamaha RD 400 based street fighter with leading link springer forks and road race expansion chamber exhaust.   According to the bike’s builder, Julian Farnam, his process for the build included no less than fifty pages of sketches, which were later turned in to full CAD plans.

rd 400 street fighter

rd 400 street fighter front forks

Some take a more traditional hacksaw/blowtorch approach, but still build solid, rideable bikes.   A good example would be  Jason Pate’s 1979 Suzuki GS 1000 bobber, built for the 2008 Dirtbag at a cost of $850, which, until it’s recent sale, was his daily rider.

suzuki gs 1100 custom bobber

suzuki gs 1100 custom bobber rear view

Many of the challenge entries are Japanese based, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha, but you will find English and European makes as well.  It’s not uncommon to see a few Triumphs, BSA, BMW, Ducati, and even Moto Guzzi motorcycles among the competitors.

The Dirtbag Challenge has grown larger every year, it’s evolved from a simple competition among friends, to a full blown party with bands, beer, babes, lots burnouts and other types of what some would call “antisocial activity.”  If rock music, beer, tattoos, scantily clad women and loud motorcycles offend your sensibilities, you might want try something less stressful, like say, a scrapbooking convention.  I don’t know about you, but The Dirtbag Challenge looks like a blast to me!

If you don’t believe me, check out these trailer clips of the documentary provided by Paolo Asuncion, Rattler Productions, and Vargas Films.  (Warning, some of the content is not suitable for children.)

Here is a up close, and…. ah…  a much more “personal” interview with one of the founders, Poll Brown, his philosophy on building bikes, and the future…. well….. ok then!

This year they have a calendar, I don’t know where you buy one, but, every garage should have a girly calendar right?

Want to have a DVD of the Dirtbag Challenge documentary?    You can get your copy on the documentary’s Facebook page.  www.facebook.com/DirtbagDocumentary

dirtbag challenge the rigid rideA second Dirtbag Challenge documentary will be filmed this year, it’s called “RIGID – A Dirtbag Challenge.”  It is a story about riding  5,000 miles coast to coast along the Trans-America trail.  I have looked at the Trans- America site, and even with a properly equipped dual sport, or adventure touring motorcycle the trip seems daunting.

I have come to the conclusion the riders in the “RIGID” challenge are nuts!  Here’s a quote from the RIGID – A Dirtbag Challenge Facebook page.

Many ‘ADV’ riders have done the Trans-America trail.  But how many have done it on hard-tail, home-built choppers?

That’s right, they’re riding off road, cross country, 5,000 miles, on rigid choppers!  All I can say stay tuned folks!

Words By:  Terry Cavender

Quotes From:  The Dirtbag Challenge

Trailers Provided By:  Paolo Asuncion, Rattler Productions, and Vargas Films

RD 400 Images Provided By:  Julian Farnam

Suzuki GS Bobber Images Provided By:  Jason Pate