In this day and age of digital communication and fast media consumption, there are – luckily – some artists that remind us why we are in this business. Craftsmen with an eye for detail and graphic design, photography, texture, and a gift for storytelling. On this sunny Saturday afternoon in Antwerp, we find this basic black cover magazine lying on a table in a small bookstore with the enticing title “Motorcycle Cities, Brooklyn.” Written and produced by Jonathan Wieme. It feels like a discovery. And it turns out to be. This deserves a broader audience.
What’s special about Jonathan and “Motorcycle Cities” is that it is his own creative expression about the search for harmony between a city and its motorized inhabitants. Jonathan takes us on a visual journey that captures his adventures and the people he meets along the way. Before we introduce you to a selection of stories from his first two editions, ‘Hamburg’ and ‘Brooklyn’, we’ll take this opportunity to present to you the man behind the magazine.
Passion Drives Perfection
Jonathan is based out of the heart of Brussels, Belgium. He was born and raised in Anderlecht, which is a municipality of the same city. Furthermore, he and his family currently live in the same building where his grandfather and parents owned a grocery store back in the days. Needless to say, his connection with this area is deep-rooted.
Professionally, he and his girlfriend are the owners of NIYONA, an independent studio specialized in the design and production of high-end leather goods. Their work is created on a limited-edition basis and is internationally recognized. The customer base reaches far beyond Belgium and he is currently working on a piece for a client in Sydney, Australia.
Prior to his career change, Jonathan worked as a project manager in IT and advertisement, and after being self-employed for several years, he decided seven years ago to join his girlfriend in the studio. He educated himself in the art of leather craftmanship and even went to Japan to learn more about esthetics, style, and culture.
Being the creative person that he is, Jonathan decided a couple of years ago that he wanted to have something for himself; a journal of trips to cities that he takes on alone. Not for mass production nor to make a comfortable living from it, but to share his stories in a way that he feels is personal and authentic. Like everything he does, the magazine is limited edition and driven by perfection. We sat down with Jonathan to find out what his approach to motorcycles, motorcycle culture, magazine production, and life in general is.
Jonathan - Motorcycle Cities:
My girlfriend, Nina, and I have known each other since we were 16 years old, so that’s over 20 years now! Back then, we had a four stroke Honda XL50 and she comes from a family of real motorheads. My parents-in-law were living the alternative lifestyle and their freedom always appealed to me very much. They made trips to Scandinavia with their sidecar together, and I learned how to do small maintenance and repairs on my bikes from my father-in-law. I’ve been on a motorcycle ever since. I don’t even like being in a car for too long, it makes me feel a bit claustrophobic from time to time.
Riding a motorcycle is something that always had a very practical aspect to me. I’ve been riding since I was 16 years old; to work, to school, to my friends and family, everywhere. We currently live 3,5 kilometers (2.2 miles) from the studio, so I like to take my Yamaha XT500 rather than be in traffic jams all the time. It’s my second XT500. I sold the first one with a profit but I’m keeping this one because they are getting more popular and harder to get as of lately. I also own a Ducati 750 Sport from ‘89, which I use to do my trips with. I have always been into sports and I really have a fondness for motorcycles from the 80s and 90s. For fun, I sometimes ride my Honda Camino moped, and my girlfriend recently bought a Ducati M600. Because I ride so much, I don’t do too many “fun rides” in the weekend. I always try to implement a form of enjoyment to my daily rides, for instance, I take a detour home after work every now and then.
The motorcycle scene in Brussels is not too big and I think I know most people from the local community. Pre COVID, my buddies and I used to meet in a square every Friday night. No one is obligated to come down every week, but if you feel like it, you can join. We’ll have a ride through the city and stop at a couple of bars for a drink and a bite to eat. In this group of 25-30 people, we have some guys that own garages in the city and even a couple of builders that build for events like The Bike Shed every year.
I wanted to create something that was truly my own, like a diary or a travel journal. Something I can have in front of me on the table that is timeless and relevant whether it’s 2021 or 2030, and most importantly, made by my high standards. It has never been about selling a lot of issues, but more about the way they look; it must be perfect from my perspective. “Motorcycle Cities” is a journey through my favorite landscape: The city.
I’m very curious by nature, but at the same time a little bit shy and introverted. Having a magazine under my arm opens doors and gives me an alibi to dive into the different motorcycle cultures in places I don’t know. It allows me to gain inspiration and share interesting stories. It’s a creative expression in a search for esthetics. I also take all the photos myself. I like to photograph bikes, architecture, and graphic designs.
Usually this is just a hunch. I try to avoid the obvious cities though. I had subscriptions to a lot of magazines, and I read a lot about the same famous builders or workshops, so really tried to do things differently. The first issue of “Motorcycle Cities” is about Hamburg and I had never been there before. After deciding to go there, I did a little bit of research and just went. I tried to contact the two people I wanted to visit but I remained unsuccessful. So I took the Ducati and rode 900 kilometers (563 miles) to Germany. GPS is not a feature on my dashboard and the notes that were stuck to my fuel tank turned out to be less efficient than expected. But the fact that I made the effort helped me to get the stories for Die Kaffeemaschine and Ehinger Kraftrad. And when you’re there, people always provide me with new contacts and places to go on the spot.
“You Don’t Know If You Don’t Go.”
Brooklyn, NY, USA
Brooklyn was totally different from Hamburg. Intrigued by the garages and the motorcycle scene in this city, I started to investigate. And bang, I quickly stumbled upon 1, 2, 3, 10, 20, 30 garages, addresses, workshops, and other motorcycle-related places, all situated in Brooklyn. I could easily do a series about New York. The community is very close despite its size, and everybody knows one another. The vibe was very different from Hamburg and I’m now looking into a few other interesting cities for the next “Motorcycle Cities” issue.
La Dolce Vita in Italy/The UK Connection
Initially, I was planning to go to Milan and also visit Bologna. You know, bring the old Ducati back to its roots! And after the rawness of Hamburg and Brooklyn, I was curious to see how Milan, with its Southern European, “dolce vita” vibe, would compare in terms of the motorcycle scene. At this moment, I’m also considering UK cities like Manchester, Liverpool or even Brighton along the UK coast. Before the pandemic, I used to travel two or three times a year to the UK. I just love the local motorcycle culture and made some friends over time.
So Many Places To Go
There are still so many places I want to go to, and I just want to discover places and meet people all over the world. Despite the big culture differences or languages barriers, being on a motorcycle always breaks the ice. When you arrive riding a bike, you always have that look of “I see you, and you see me”- only motorcycle people know that feeling.
I never took a course or anything and just like taking pictures, both digital and analog…
SIDE NOTE - Jonathan’s girlfriend, Nina, and youngest son walk in the studio and she immediately says: “He just has a talent for it, when we are on holiday and we’re standing on the same spot, he takes the perfect picture and mine never looks as great.”
Well, it is not always like this. When I was in Hamburg at Ehinger Kraftrad, I wanted to take a photo of Uwe Ehinger after my interview. But I was so nervous that I didn’t take a sharp photo and I saw this on my display. I didn’t dare to ask if I could take it again, so it is what it is. Almost all the photos I took are used in the magazine. This makes it my own and makes it authentic. It is my magazine so I can decide what to do with it!
I hope to get back to Japan at the end of the year. I did my leather courses over there, but I know for a fact that the motorcycle culture is very interesting and totally different from the European scenes. I would go and look for real people and real stories behind them. People that fulfill a role in society, but with motorcycle DNA in their blood. People that you see on their commute and when you follow them home, they are building their custom bike in their garage to ride on the weekend.
On the other side of the world, I would love to go to Colombia, Medellin to be specific. I have a couple of friends that live there and ride motorcycles daily. This city has a badass underground culture but also beautiful natural surroundings. Travelling on your bike gives such different perspectives and I’m eager to discover this in Medellin with my lens.
Brussels would be the final chapter to end this journey with. It is a rough diamond that is best discovered when you have one of the locals as your guide. After this, the ultimate dream would be to have a nice coffee table book. A book with an alternative view of the motorcycle scene all over the world, linked to different cities and their cultures. No superficial content, but a journey that you truly experience with me. One of the biggest complements I get are from people that don’t ride and tell me that reading my stories feels like they were there with me!