There is a saying in Cleveland that if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change—a description many riders in the city can attest to. One minute you are doused in sunscreen and the next you are scrambling to find that perfectly broken-in hoodie.

One thing that does remain constant in the city and surrounding demographic areas is the motorcycle culture. I say “culture” because it is a melting pot of all things two wheels. Sure, there are niches and cliques within the culture itself, but it is all inclusive and all inviting as a whole.

1951 Sunbeam S7 restored.
An awesome restoration on a 1951 Sunbeam S7.Mike Arnold

If you want to see for yourself, look no further than an annual event held inside Cleveland city limits. Fuel Cleveland is an invitational motorcycle show featuring custom builders as well as vintage and rare bike owners. The event also features invited artists from many different genres including photographers and painters from all over the country. The most inspiring aspect of the show is that it is free! The originators of the show came together wanting to give back to their subculture while progressing it and keeping the party going. And that is what Fuel Cleveland is—a party. I personally have been an invited builder for three years running, and I can tell you that it is a weekend of celebration. It's an honor to display a piece of machinery that I poured my heart and soul into for all to see, and yes critique, but this article isn't about me—it's about my respect and admiration for the event.

Attendees admiring the artwork at Fuel Cleveland, two-wheeled and otherwise.
Attendees admiring the artwork at Fuel Cleveland, two-wheeled and otherwise.Mike Arnold

While Fuel Cleveland is free, it is also all ages. In a day and age where kids are hunched over and squinting at their tiny screens most of the time, it’s a nice option to have. The atmosphere is family friendly with many of the builders letting the little yippers saddle up and grab the reins of their bikes. This year was no exception. The bikes and artwork on display were nothing short of amazing. And if that isn’t enough, the vendors outside the display arena certainly had something for everyone.

Bobby Simmons' Harley-Davidson Panhead.
Bobby Simmons' H-D Panhead.Mike Arnold

This year the show was held at The Madison event center on Cleveland’s east side. The hall is a newly renovated warehouse nestled in the city’s formerly chaotic industrial area. This zone was previously booming with hustle and bustle during the Industrial Revolution that catapulted many Midwest cities like Cleveland into major city status. This area of the city screams industrial, and it’s the perfect setting for a show seeking to highlight similar engineering works of art. While this is a new venue for Fuel Cleveland, it’s not their first show in this part of town. In years past the event has been held in an abandoned warehouse where bikes were displayed on items such as old iron radiators with matching patina, an indoor mountain bike park, and the former Osborne Industries factory, now home to Cleveland’s community motorcycle DIY shop Skidmark Garage, which was also host to this year’s after-party. Because what show is complete without live entertainment and food trucks?

Brandon Keene's Shovelhead custom motorcycle build.
Brandon Keene's tough Shovelhead build.Mike Arnold

The Madison and Fuel Cleveland welcomed visitors to the event with giant, white doors wide open. As you walk in, giant banners for the event and corporate sponsors hang freely from the rafters while bikes are spread out all over the gleaming polished concrete floors with all the little imperfections epoxied in forever. The white walls and ceilings create the perfect setting for the old and crusty to rub shoulders with the new and improved. Walking around and talking shop we settled in, cold beer in one hand and trusty camera phone in the other. Your eyes don’t know where to start, it’s a moto mecca—a total sensory overload.

Chopper at
Choppers don't need pretty paint to look nice.Mike Arnold

There were a few bikes unveiled for the first time by their respective builders, historical masterpieces, and one sick trike. Just when you think you have seen your favorite of the show another tugs at your emotions.

Jesse Srpan of Raw Iron Choppers unveiled his hard work at the show, after having had only the bare frame before assembly at 9 the night before. A mad man in his element.

Austin Andrella of Austin Martin Originals also worked throughout sleepless nights to unveil a new bike at Fuel. His chosen platform was an Evo chop that he rebuilt after originally building it in 2003. He’s come a long way since that creation.

Chris Graves' tough-as-iron Shovelhead.
Every time we see Chris Graves' tough-as-iron Shovelhead, we have to stop and take in the details for a few moments.Mike Arnold

Other masters had already loaded in and put down the sidestands. Biltwell showed up with its “spare parts” desert racing Harley Sportster. The original had been raced in Baja, and this one was created from its spare parts. Zane Cook brought his chopped-out KZ400 up from Columbus, Ohio, and fresh from its Born-Free Show invite, its three-finned fender decked out in a soft blue painted by Kacey Elkins of Krossover Customs. Kacey himself also had a bike on display, showing that his talents aren’t just in the paint booth. He has come to have a distinct style and is master of the underside swingarm suspension. Making the trip from the country to our north was Rob Chappell, of Origin8or Custom Cycle. He came with his matte-black perfectly executed Triumph bobber. It was nestled in a corner of The Madison, breathing life into the attendees escaping the hot sun right outside the doors. These details in placement of the bikes was evident throughout the hall. The team of Fuel Cleveland did not disappoint in curating such a fine display for all.

Chris Milanowski's Flathead custom motorcycle build.
Chris Milanowski's tight Flathead build.Mike Arnold

But it isn’t just about the bikes here at Fuel. This show has invited artists from other avenues as well. The white walls served as the backdrop for jaw-dropping guitars, paintings, and many other types of media. You couldn’t help but take as many photos of the art as you did your favorite motos. Chris Galley of Devil Chicken Design always sets up shop as a vendor at most shows as well. This is fitting because after seeing his work inside you instantly check your bank account in hopes of taking one home. Darren McKeag was also on hand pinstriping in the vendor area and it was great for attendees to be able to see this master perform his craft in person rather than just in social media videos.

Darren McKeag painting Converse at Fuel Cleveland.
Darren McKeag doing his thing on a pair of Converse at the show.Mike Arnold

A huge list of talented photographers slapped their favorite prints on the walls as well. I just so happen to be the subject of one of Mark Adams’ photos on display and, in all honesty, I look old and beaten. Ken Carvajal showed up and displayed his portfolio, which had me glued to the floor for a whole tall beer. He and others made sure you knew the artists were just as important as the bikes.

Dyna stunting outside Fuel Cleveland.
Dyna stunting outside Fuel Cleveland.Mike Arnold

Throughout the day everyone hears and sees all the buzz outside. Rows and rows of bikes parked along Payne Avenue. Kids lined up along the chain-link fence and adults out in the street. Wheelies, stoppies, burnouts, and a side hack Harley strutting itself down the street leaned over with a lucky volunteer airborne drew all the spectators. The smell of burnt rubber permeated the air almost as much as the scent of local and authentic Puerto Rican culinary treats available.

Ed Vanaman's Harley-Davidson Jay Springsteen XRTT replica build.
Ed Vanaman's Harley-Davidson Jay Springsteen XRTT replica build.Mike Arnold

Then the 8 p.m. closing time comes and goes. There isn’t a fight to be the first to load up and get out of town. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Like-minded people chatting and taking their time, maybe finally getting to take a break from the same hustle and bustle of that industrial revolution. Slowly the place begins to empty and we are left with nothing but oil spots on the gleaming floor, Fuel Cleveland leaving its mark on The Madison, Cleveland, and the heart of all its attendees.

Emma Myers' Sportster chop custom motorcycle.
Emma Myers' awesome Sportster chop.Mike Arnold
Custom Evo chop by Austin Martin Originals.
A tough Evo chop by Austin Martin Originals.Mike Arnold
Flathead racer from Kickstart Cycle Supply.
Flathead racer from Kickstart Cycle Supply.Mike Arnold
Attendees look at custom motorcycle at Fuel Cleveland 2019.
Fuel Cleveland 2019Mike Arnold
A bratty Honda CX500 next to a Suzuki GT750 "Water Buffalo."
A bratty Honda CX500 next to a Suzuki GT750 "Water Buffalo."Mike Arnold
A Knucklehead on the lawn at Fuel Cleveland.
A beautiful Knucklehead showing its age out on the lawn at Fuel Cleveland.Mike Arnold
A mint-colored Panhead sitting pretty outside of the show.
A minty Panhead sitting pretty outside of the show.Mike Arnold
A goosenecked Sportster chopper on its way into Fuel Cleveland.
A radical goosenecked Sportster chopper on its way into the show.Mike Arnold
A Yamaha XS650 rides past Fuel Chicago custom motorcycle show.
A rigid Yamaha XS650 makes its way past the show's opening.Mike Arnold