Motorcycles in progress sit on elevated racks inside Hawke Lawshe’s bike shop, Vintage Technologies, in Columbia Falls. Like many mechanical shops of its kind, the place has a well-worn feel: tools, bike parts, old photographs and an American flag in one corner add to the visual cacophony. In the middle of it all, and fittingly so, is the owner and master bike builder.
“I was born with a wrench in my hand,” Lawshe said.
And there’s one along his forearm too, tattooed over sinewy muscle, and ode to his trade of choice.
Lawshe is a builder’s builder — he’s in it for the love and the craftsmanship of creating an original work of art on wheels. Lawshe, like his father before him, eschews the modern techniques — the computer-guided millers that can spit out intricate, perfectly tuned parts on command.
As far as Lawshe’s concerned, that takes all the romance out of it, all of the hand-crafted uniqueness that is the signature of the custom bike world.
The Kalispell resident has been working on motorcycles since he built his first bike — a 1958 Cushman — with his father in 1993. Fast-forward 24 years to the present day where Lawshe isn’t honing his craft at his home garage — he’s packing an immaculate white chopper in a large wooden crate bound for Switzerland.
There were legions of bolts turned and wrenches cranked from then to now; countless hours perfecting technique with, yes, actual tools, and last year, the realization of an opportunity that changed everything.
This gleaming white motorcycle headed for the international stage was born out of a simple request for a custom build. The owner wanted a longer front end, a white paint job and custom wheels, among other specifications. But the wheels took nearly a year to arrive and by the time they showed up, vintage motorcycle magazine Show Class Magazine had started soliciting entries for their People’s Champ contest. Lawshe saw a post advertising the competition on Instagram and so began the transformational journey, with the owner’s permission, to overhaul the Harley into something truly extraordinary.
It took Lawshe 240 consecutive 16-hour days to bring “Dyslexia” to life.
And his labors were well worth it. In the People’s Champ contest, the pool of 250 entrants was progressively narrowed to 25, and then again to the final six. The winner got a coveted spot at the Born-Free Vintage Motorcycle Show held in southern California — an invited builders showcase that draws over 100,000 annually.
Lawshe’s creation, a vintage-inspired and totally reworked Sportster, took the top spot. What set Dyslexia apart is the bike’s backward — or, rather, dyslexic — design.
“The flames are reversed, the top end of the engine is reversed, [it has] all custom intakes and exhaust, the kickstand is on the right-hand side instead of the left and the headlight is a late 50s Harley’s taillight,” Lawshe said.
Not every piece on the bike is flipped — Lawshe wanted to communicate the bike’s namesake theme while keeping the Harley style and not verging on gimmick.
“Harley always had the more beautiful setup for me. They make my job easy — they give me a good canvas,” he said.
Dyslexia wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. During a 2017 visit to Sturgis, the quintessential motorcycle rally, Lawshe entered the Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show — a long-running competition for strictly vintage-era motorcycles.
He took best in the Sportster class — Dyslexia’s base model — and the coveted Best of Show award, which also came with a trip to Switzerland and a spot at the international SWISS-MOTO Customizing and Tuning Show, held Feb. 22-25 in Zurich.
“That was a pretty big deal,” Lawshe said of the win. “It’s the culmination of a lot of work, years and years of work, and a lot of these heroes that I have are European-based so I never would have even had the opportunity to meet these people, much less compete against them, so that’s pretty cool.”
During his overseas adventure, in addition to the show, Lawshe is planning stops in Rome and Greece. At the latter, he’ll gather inspiration for his next work in progress — a bike he’s dubbed Hades in honor of the Greek god of the underworld.
Lawshe may have been flung into the spotlight — just last week, he appeared on the Travel Channel — but his mission as a bike builder remains the same.
His shop is Harley exclusive and distinctly vintage-oriented — think exaggerated sissy bars, lots of chrome and long front ends.
“A lot of bikes are built to be ridden and a lot of bikes are built to be looked at — I try to mesh the two,” he said.
And he does it with traditional methods and tools.
The elbow grease is part of the romance of his craft, part of true artistry.
“Everything was done on manual tools with dials and handles and you had to do the math and make the cut, just the real hands-on type of thing,” he said. “You can open a catalog and find a cool piece to buy, well your neighbor can buy the same piece. When you make that part … that’s the only one like it. Even if I try to make an exact copy of it, it’s still going to be different.”
And different is what Lawshe does best.
Dyslexia, much like her creator, is truly one of a kind.
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or email@example.com.