A starting point in this neighborhood, and even maybe in Brooklyn, is here at Union Garage, on Union Street. Union Street, which connects one of the largest parks in town, Prospect Park, to Upper Bay, or more specifically the Buttermilk Channel, between Brooklyn and Governors Island. It is almost at the end of this street - or at the beginning depending on where you stand - that this shop, founded by a former journalist, Chris Lesser and two of his friends, is located. Union Garage sells high quality gear and accessories. The best brands, aesthetically and technically, are represented here. Ultimately, there may be a lot of fashion-oriented builders, garages and shops, but specialists in technical and safety gear, providing a real service and giving valuable advice, are much rarer. There may be only four or five of them throughout all New York City, the five boroughs combined.
Union Garage opened in 2012, but Chris’ adventure began much earlier. Inspired by his current neighbor, Peter Boggio from Moto Borgotaro, Chris started his professional life as an apprentice mechanic in the two-wheels business. Peter is an alien in the vintage mechanical world, a BMW, Ducati, Laverda, Norton, Guzzi, and Triumph specialist. Impossible to meet him, impossible to speak with him. He turns down all media requests and does not give interviews. Consequently, he officially opens the shop to the public one hour per week to concentrate on his work. Worse than Daft Punk ... but as good as Daft Punk. Chris confesses that he has been pushing him to make a promo video for five long years, successfully though. Feel free to search the web for Robert Serrini’s short film entitled "Moto Borgotaro - The 1979 Moto Guzzi Le Mans."
Back to Union Garage... A nice selection of brands is available here. Some safe bets such as REV’IT! and Aether. They’re also one of the few places to sell the Belstaff protection range, and they don’t hesitate to promote more local and less known brands, such as Lost World of Queens, a brand of horse leather jacket, or to collaborate and co-brand the Vanson Leather jackets. Alongside jackets, you'll find all kinds of helmets such as Bell, Bitwell, Schuberth, and Shoei and other brands, like Stylmartin, Mission Workshop, TCX, Sidi, and Schott.
About the customers, 20% of them are inexperienced riders and new to the motorcycling world. They want the full gear without really knowing what they really need. Most of them are students, architects, photographers, from a creative background, all in search of a cool attitude. Chris and his team are here to advise them and help them find the best balance between looks, safety and quality, depending on their particular needs and desires.
At the end of the 'tour,' Chris takes me to a small room upstairs... and from under a somewhat dusty table, pulls out a kind of machine, something between a belt sander and a DeLorean, straight out of a Back To The Future movie. This machine, still a prototype, is designed to test the durability and quality of parts and accessories for motorcycles. Knowing that in America - unlike in Europe - there are no standards or official approvals for motorcycle accessories.
The idea or the will of Union Garage is eventually to produce their own motorcycle accessories, under the brand’s name. The machine will be used for research and development, in order to guarantee the quality and durability of their products and materials, and allow them to compare the same type of accessories with other brands. One day, perhaps, the Union Garage standard will become the standard. Speaking of ambition...