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Artistic Chops

From his Columbia Falls shop, Hawke Lawshe develops custom motorcycles, including a new chopper that is a finalist for the top custom-built bike in the nation

COLUMBIA FALLS — Choppers, baggers, sportsters, vintage scoots resurrected from a bygone era of bikes — this shop off U.S. Highway 2 is a museum of metal. Its curators have grease-stained hands, the minds of mechanics and the eyes of artists. Their work involves everything from fabricating a custom Harley to restoring the bones of a classic ride.

Though it’s quieter here in wintertime, as Montana’s motorcycle culture hibernates, that twin-engine roar throttles up in spring.

Hawke Lawshe built this full-service motorcycle shop, Vintage Technologies, much the same way he tackles a new bike: one piece at a time, with careful precision and unwavering passion.

Born and raised in the Flathead Valley, Lawshe constructed his first motorcycle when he was 16. He gathered boxes and buckets of parts and pieces and began forming a 1953 Harley Davidson Panhead, which he still rides.

“I’ve been a big-time gearhead from birth,” he says.

For 14 years, he worked a full-time job at Jesco Marine and Power Sports and tinkered with motorcycles as a hobby.

“I’d spend my night and weekends working on bikes,” he says.

Then, in 2009, he formed the framework of what became Vintage Technologies. He launched the startup repair shop in his garage and eventually expanded to his current space near Glacier Park International Airport, where he and a talented crew of technicians are part of the motorcycle lifeblood in this corner of Montana.

“We build them mild to wild, new or old,” Lawshe says of his crew’s work. “We’re all over the charts with it.”

In Montana, it can be tough maintaining a rumbling enthusiasm for motorcycles. After all, Mother Nature only bestows a few months of sunny weather and favorable driving conditions. It’s shops like Lawshe’s, which are few and far between because of the brief riding window, that form the hub of the local biker community and culture.

In summertime, the shop is humming with activity — maintenance, upgrades and makeovers from locals and visitors alike.

“Our service shop is slammed all summer long,” he says.

Come wintertime, the engines die down as the shop fills up with an eclectic selection of stored bikes.

Recent months were uniquely busy, though, and the shop featured an uncommon sheen of chrome. In November, Lawshe began work on a fully custom chopper. His client explained what he was looking for, and Lawshe began envisioning it in his mind.

“We try to give people an extension of their personality,” Lawshe says.

He’d built about 100 bikes in his lifetime, and he wanted this one to be unlike anything he’d ever created and just weird enough to keep it interesting. Over a span of about 600 hours, Lawshe developed “Dyslexia,” a fully custom chopper that features almost everything about the bike reversed, flipped or inverted while keeping a classic styling of a 1970s rigid long bike. The exhaust tips are upside down. The heads are swapped front to rear and spun 180 degrees. Everything that’s usually on the left side is featured on the right, including the kickstand. To create the frame, Lawshe twisted and turned sheet metal into a curvy chrome body.

“I was trying a bunch of different tricks that guys aren’t using and trying to find something in the motorcycle industry that hasn’t been used or overused,” he said.

Artistic acuity runs in Lawshe’s blood. His father, the late Hank Lawshe, was a renowned painter whose western art was widely acclaimed and earned him Best of Show at the 1977 C.M. Russell Art Show.

Now the younger Lawshe is approaching his motorcycle work with an appreciation for vintage bikes, and his latest creation has landed him in a national competition judged by some of the best motorcycle minds in America.

The Born Free Motorcycle Show is an annual gathering in Southern California that draws tens of thousands of people to celebrate vintage bikes. As part of the festival, Show Class Magazine, one of the top industry magazines, holds a competition called “People’s Champ” that features custom-built bikes from around the world. Hundreds of bikes were entered, and Lawshe’s “Dyslexia” was chosen among the top 25 finalists. At the end of March, he advanced to the round of 13 finalists thanks to an outpouring of support and attention via Instagram, where Lawshe posted updates of the build. At the end of this month, a panel of bike experts will whittle down the list to six.

“It’s fun. It’s not common for me having to compete to show,” he says.

The ambitious concept has required tireless work on Lawshe’s part — nearly 200 pieces of hand-machined parts, some as small as coins, are required for the bike once its fully built.

“It’s been a challenging nightmare,” he admits.

But for Lawshe, the hardest part, after all these months of work, is stopping.

“I can’t leave anything well enough alone,” he says.

Vintage Technologies will appear at the SMEG Motorcycle Show at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on May 20. For more information about the shop, visit https://www.facebook.com/pg/vintagetechnologies1.

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