Denver, Colo., Jan. 31–Feb. 1—OK, for one reason or another most of us have seen the Disney never-to-melt mega-monster, Frozen. It has heroes, princesses, ice castles, bad guys, good guys, a near-human reindeer and a talking snowman. But not surprisingly, no motorcycles are seen in pop culture’s most popular polar panorama.

For me, however, that entire perspective changed as January and February merged together over a wild and wintry weekend in Denver. I was in the Mile High City for the 37th annual Colorado Motorcycle Expo, a long-running mash-up of bike show and swap meet that had me somewhat puzzled as I headed north from the sun and sand of SoCal (where the definition of winter revolves around temperature dips into the low 60s and the torture of the occasional gray-skied riding day).

What puzzled me was the hype I had heard about the event: It was touted as one of the biggest motorcycle swap meets in the country.

In the winter?

In Colorado?

There was a bevy of goods on display at the two-day show featuring all things motorcycle
There was a bevy of goods on display at the two-day show featuring
all things motorcycle

But it soon started to make sense to my heat-addled equatorial brain. Sure; if you can’t exactly take a relaxing and comfortable putt 365 days a year, well you use the downtime to buy cool and useful stuff, check out bad bikes, get ideas, get inspired and get ready for when your area’s version of the giant snow creature, Marshmallow (yes, another clever reference to Frozen), gets knocked on his ass by the sunshine of spring. The Colorado Motorcycle Expo creates the perfect downtime diversion.

The show itself runs for two days. Saturday is a full day, but Sunday slides into Super Bowl shindigs, and so, by late afternoon, the beer lines were light and the leathered-up crowd had begun heading for sports bars and wide-screens. But by then, the Expo had more than lived up to all the hype about its size and sincerity. Laid out over the different levels of Denver’s massive National Western Complex, the whole shebang is so refreshingly old school. The bike show features the best of the best in all categories, but the swap meet reminded me of the good ol’ days back at SoCal’s Orange County Fairgrounds in the 70’s—filled with parts and parts and more parts! Sure, plenty of T-shirts and leather were hanging and selling, too, but man, look at all those parts!

Speaking of parts, the show also offered plenty of entertainment—including the very popular and crowd-pleasing wet T-shirt contest, an exhibition that demonstrated just how efficient the heating system was in the complex. It may have been in the teens outside, but inside it was so comfortable that, on stage at least, bulky winter clothing became extremely optional.

Wet T-shirt cuties before the wet-down
Wet T-shirt cuties before the wet-down

As much fun as that little bit of onstage ogling was, it represented further just how old school the entire atmosphere of the event is. Apparently the “contest” had been shut down by local vice cops many years ago, but the Expo fought back. According to show sources, “In 2004, it was discovered as long as the girls stayed clothed, they could get as wet as they wanted, and it’s been happening ever since…This year, research will continue into just how wet white cotton clings to the female form…” Yes! Let’s hear it for applied science!

And the throwback traditions didn’t stop there. Independent riders as well as club members were warmly welcomed. Vendor booths selling support shirts and other merchandise were manned by the American Iron MC, Bandidos MC, Black & Chrome MC, Boozefighters MC, Fly-In Wheels MC, Free Tomorrow MC, Hell’s Angels MC, Invaders MC, Mongols MC, Sober Souls MC, Soldiers for Jesus MC, Sons of Silence MC, Sundowners MC, Valiants MC, Veterans Motorcycle Club of Colorado, Viet Nam Vets/Legacy Vets MC and others. That, in itself, was quite a change from the “No Colors Allowed” signs that now bar the doors into many events. Also pleasant and pleasing was the absence of metal detectors and frisky frisking rent-a-cops at the entrance to the arena.

Expo promoters Jeff and Angie Brown are rightfully—and righteously—proud of the legacy they are continuing: “We’d like to thank all of our vendors and show participants who travel from far and wide to be here. You never know what Mother Nature will bring to Colorado in January, so we really appreciate that commitment and effort they make to be a part of this event…it really is the people that make this a great event…we’ve committed to keeping the atmosphere the show has created over the years. That is what makes this show special, and something to come back to year after year.”

Best of Show winning chopper by Hog Killers
Best of Show winning chopper by Hog Killers

True enough—the friendly atmosphere is indeed special; and so is the show’s annual charity auction that raises a ton of bucks for the Autism Society of Colorado.

Right on cue, Mother Nature did add her two chilly cents to the weekend, dumping a pretty hefty chunk of the white stuff on Saturday night. But still, the next morning, a few serious hardbutts preferred to attend the show on two wheels instead of the prevalent four.

I may have felt like a SoCal fish out of warm water, but by the end of this great weekend I was feeling comfortable with the whole culture and reality of what it’s like to truly be a biker amid the brisk and bleak. I was beginning to understand the lifestyle of the locals—that their winters aren’t a time to hibernate; they’re a time to have fun and to plan and to think beyond the thaw.

I even found myself singing that life-changing line that the locals embrace; and for me, it was now almost true: “The cold never bothered me anyway!”