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Motorcycle Cities, Brooklyn Pt. 2

Motorcycle Cities, Brooklyn Pt. 2

Brooklyn in Conclusion

Join Jonathan Wieme, the man behind “Motorcycle Cities,” as he makes his way through Brooklyn, NY, USA to experience pure moto culture.
Red Hook and Carroll Gardens 

I continued on… Red Hook, from the Dutch ‘Rode Hoek’ (red corner), is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Brooklyn and is completely separated from the rest of the district, only accessible via a bus line. With just a little imagination, it’s not so hard to see why it was a rough neighborhood, an ideal playground for gangsters such as Al Capone, or drug dealers. Long before that, Red Hook was the center of imports and exports. With warehouses full of everything and anything, like cotton, cereals or flammable materials such as turpentine and benzene.

Its prime location along the Port of New York also attracted the heavy industry in need of a strategic position near the docks, to collect raw materials and ship finished products. As for myself, I’d rather keep in mind what’s going on here today, a high density of garages and bike shops. The beautiful Union Garage NYC boutique, the Custom Italian bikes builders, Moto Borgotaro, and Moto Pistole, the hyper talented Japanese Keino Cycles, and let’s not forget Brooklyn Motor Works, and the small Vespa garage, Scooter Bottega.

Union GarageA 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...

Moto PistoleUnion Street in Brooklyn is the home to many different small garages. At the very end of it, at No.65, there’s Scooter Bottega, where you will find all the expertise you need to service your favorite Vespa or scooter. At No.97, I had already introduced you to Moto Borgotaro, but in that same place, there is this second specialized Italian  garage... Tyler Lunceford’s Moto Pistole. 

He works, maintains, and builds mainly Ducati. In order to have enough room to stretch and split work fairly, Tyler looks after the belt-driven cam Ducati, like my 750 Sport for example. One could say, everything from 1980s Pantah engines. While Peter services the bevel-driven cam Ducati. So the famous 750 SS from the 70s, for example.

No photos here either... Elle magazine and Vogue China have already paid a visit here this week ...ugh. But let’s go back to Tyler, he does not hesitate to give me a little bit of his time and to welcome me into his garage, to tell me his story and his involvement in Brooklyn’s motorcycle scene. It all started at Ducati in Oregon. First, as a customer, then as an apprentice. Several years, diplomas, and certifications later, he officially became a Ducati mechanic. Not a self-proclaimed mechanic or builder, but one who received thorough training and acquired skills from the best. In 2007, he moved to NYC and began working at a Ducati dealer.

But times were tough, he had to leave the dealership, and so, it was time for him to start his own thing. He settled down in Red Hook. A few years later, he moved in permanently in Union Street, next to Peter.

Things have been going rather well since then, his order book is full six months in advance, and yet he manages to juggle between maintenance, repairs, and custom building. To give you an idea, he releases 3 to 4 full builds per year. Both private commissions and personal projects.

But… things are changing. If you go to New York after reading this, there’s a risk you won’t find Tyler in Red Hook. He’s moved to Edinburgh, Scotland with his Mrs. who’s from there. That said, Europeans and Scotsmen will have the opportunity to use Tyler’s services, as he continues to live his passion and work on Ducati. To be continued...

Keino CyclesWe live in a world where all kinds of garages and builders are rising up fast. But only time can separate the men from the boys. And Keino, it seems, has been here forever. And he’s here to stay. Let me tell you his story...

Keinosuke Sasaki, known as "Keino," was born in Aichi and raised in Fukuoka, Japan. Burning his leg on his father’s motorcycle must have left quite an impression: the beginning of a lifetime dedication. Later, working on a Mitsubishi production line, he managed to save some money to finance a one-way ticket to the United States where he started to train as a mechanic in 1998. It was a unique opportunity to pursue his dream and become a bike builder. Keino quickly understood that changing a couple of mirrors and polishing chromes was definitely not the key to success, and after a short episode in a Manhattan dealership, he learned the trade with his mentor, Indian Larry and his friend Paul Cox, mostly working on Harleys.

This great story goes on until 2007, when he decided to follow his own path and projects. Today, you’ll find him on Van Dyke Street, where he combines form and function, looking for the perfect harmony between each single part, each detail on his motorcycles. The bike is just a vehicle, so the sense of purpose must always prevail. Despite a recurrent minimalist approach, he prefers not to stick too much to a particular style. His bikes are just what they are.

Now, he’s not only working on Harleys. In his garage, I come across brands like Triumph, Yamaha, and Vincent. Talking about Vincent, this “Widow Jane” got all my attention. It intrigues me because custom builds are pretty uncommon on a Vincent. They are too much of a myth, way too expensive, and are mainly known for skyrocketing records in the auctions sales. With this one, Keino wanted to keep the frame as it was, and to work with this limitation. Even if the final result comes out as a real custom, it can easily go back to stock condition. The “Widow Jane” then. The name of the bike, but also the name of its owner’s company. A whiskey distillery located a few blocks down the street.

VAX MotoMy trip is almost coming to an end, and funnily enough, things are starting to change from this point on. Connections are made more easily, my references and previous contacts help to open doors faster. I’m getting into the swing of things. From there on, meetings and places become even more unusual and intriguing.

I pay a visit to VAX Motorcycle. It’s a storage place, a parking for bikes, and much more. A place where pearls are hidden and stories are told. People come here to use the space and service provided by Justin, the owner.

Besides parking your bike, you can come here to use the tools, the workbench, or just hang out with the community. There is always cool beer available and people around to give you a hand or share a story. Here, people are essentially looking for a place to park their bikes. If you’re thinking about leaving it there for the winter or several months, it will cost you $100/month. It will be kept nice and warm, and at the top of the tower.

If you don’t have room at home and you need 24/7 access to your bike, as well as oil changes and maintenance, it will cost you $215/month. There’s no annual membership, here you pay by the month (with a minimum 6 months commitment to prevent excessive use of services and tools). I was really surprised about the diversity here. All makes, all types of bikes, people, and cultures are represented. There are even bikes that are worth less than a month rent, but the fact that this 'piece of crap' belongs to someone, makes it invaluable.

Tim HarneyTalent alert. After meeting Oscar, the space engineering student, here’s another favorite of mine! Tim Harney. It’s a quick meet, 3 to 4 hours before my flight back home - didn’t I tell you things were getting more and more interesting? Really, I’d need three months or more to go through the entire Brooklyn's motorcycle scene.

When there is no visible sign from three blocks away in some hip neighborhood, or 80K+ followers on Instagram, but when almost everyone you met in Brooklyn talks about him… you know you’re meeting someone big.

Tim has been dabbling with mechanics for over 15 years, but it became his profession 8 years ago. The business became profitable about 2-3 years ago. This was no smooth sail. To earn one’s living, one must find his niche, learn to compromise, put his ego aside, and work hard to build a reputation. All these things that Tim has been working on and achieved, and maintained over the last 15 years.

His niche is the old Beemers. In his garage, there are no Japanese or any other too-accessible and popular models - you wouldn’t expect to find a Fiat Punto in a Ferrari garage, right? His customers are mainly young wolves of Wall Street. Big wallets looking for authenticity, even if money isn’t everything. Tim works simultaneously on about ten bikes a year, depending on the condition of each bike and the work to do on it.

Between customers’ requests, there are also his personal projects, his portfolio in a way. He exhibits them during shows, contests, and sometimes in magazines. Just like during the last Brooklyn Invitational where he presented his 1951 BSA.

Faithful to his work ethos, he doesn’t hesitate to push back on a prospective client who may offer a wad of cash and a $10,000 deposit, but show little respect. Refusing the initial offer means that same client might come back later with a more humble mindset. And the project could start.

But towards the end, if mood swings come back, the client might decide he doesn’t like the color after all. Ouch. We’re stuck again. That’s when one must ask himself the right questions, take a step back and look at the situation from a business point of view, in order to reach the right compromise.

An “f you” might be in order, but Tim always chooses to negotiate and offers to change the color again for a hefty envelope. That’s right. The customer agrees and everyone is happy. Tim knows these compromises must be made, in order to cater for his customers’ desires. But he finds his enjoyment in the excellence of his work. To go beyond expectations, to keep aiming for the perfect outcome. Because after all, you’re only as good as your last job.

Williamsburg & Greenpoint

Williamsburg and Greenpoint are located north of Brooklyn. Historically working class, these neighborhoods are now packed with galleries, artists’ studios, and craftsmen of all kinds. Hipster culture and trendy-savvy crowds are also welcomed here.

No wonder there’s a hefty concentration of garages and bike-related shops such as Jane Motorcycles, Café Moto, Brooklyn Moto and, up north in Greenpoint, just past the border with Williamsburg, the legendary Indian Larry, Works Engineering, MotorGrrl and Genuine Motorworks’ shop. Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Union Garage

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...

Moto Pistole

Union Street in Brooklyn is the home to many different small garages. At the very end of it, at No.65, there’s Scooter Bottega, where you will find all the expertise you need to service your favorite Vespa or scooter. At No.97, I had already introduced you to Moto Borgotaro, but in that same place, there is this second specialized Italian garage... Tyler Lunceford’s Moto Pistole.

He works, maintains, and builds mainly Ducati. In order to have enough room to stretch and split work fairly, Tyler looks after the belt-driven cam Ducati, like my 750 Sport for example. One could say, everything from 1980s Pantah engines. While Peter services the bevel-driven cam Ducati. So the famous 750 SS from the 70s, for example.

No photos here either... Elle magazine and Vogue China have already paid a visit here this week ...ugh. But let’s go back to Tyler, he does not hesitate to give me a little bit of his time and to welcome me into his garage, to tell me his story and his involvement in Brooklyn’s motorcycle scene. It all started at Ducati in Oregon. First, as a customer, then as an apprentice. Several years, diplomas, and certifications later, he officially became a Ducati mechanic. Not a self-proclaimed mechanic or builder, but one who received thorough training and acquired skills from the best. In 2007, he moved to NYC and began working at a Ducati dealer.

But times were tough, he had to leave the dealership, and so, it was time for him to start his own thing. He settled down in Red Hook. A few years later, he moved in permanently in Union Street, next to Peter.

Things have been going rather well since then, his order book is full six months in advance, and yet he manages to juggle between maintenance, repairs, and custom building. To give you an idea, he releases 3 to 4 full builds per year. Both private commissions and personal projects.

But… things are changing. If you go to New York after reading this, there’s a risk you won’t find Tyler in Red Hook. He’s moved to Edinburgh, Scotland with his Mrs. who’s from there. That said, Europeans and Scotsmen will have the opportunity to use Tyler’s services, as he continues to live his passion and work on Ducati. To be continued...

Keino Cycles

We live in a world where all kinds of garages and builders are rising up fast. But only time can separate the men from the boys. And Keino, it seems, has been here forever. And he’s here to stay. Let me tell you his story...

Keinosuke Sasaki, known as "Keino," was born in Aichi and raised in Fukuoka, Japan. Burning his leg on his father’s motorcycle must have left quite an impression: the beginning of a lifetime dedication. Later, working on a Mitsubishi production line, he managed to save some money to finance a one-way ticket to the United States where he started to train as a mechanic in 1998. It was a unique opportunity to pursue his dream and become a bike builder. Keino quickly understood that changing a couple of mirrors and polishing chromes was definitely not the key to success, and after a short episode in a Manhattan dealership, he learned the trade with his mentor, Indian Larry and his friend Paul Cox, mostly working on Harleys.

This great story goes on until 2007, when he decided to follow his own path and projects. Today, you’ll find him on Van Dyke Street, where he combines form and function, looking for the perfect harmony between each single part, each detail on his motorcycles. The bike is just a vehicle, so the sense of purpose must always prevail. Despite a recurrent minimalist approach, he prefers not to stick too much to a particular style. His bikes are just what they are.

Now, he’s not only working on Harleys. In his garage, I come across brands like Triumph, Yamaha, and Vincent. Talking about Vincent, this “Widow Jane” got all my attention. It intrigues me because custom builds are pretty uncommon on a Vincent. They are too much of a myth, way too expensive, and are mainly known for skyrocketing records in the auctions sales. With this one, Keino wanted to keep the frame as it was, and to work with this limitation. Even if the final result comes out as a real custom, it can easily go back to stock condition. The “Widow Jane” then. The name of the bike, but also the name of its owner’s company. A whiskey distillery located a few blocks down the street.

Vax Moto

My trip is almost coming to an end, and funnily enough, things are starting to change from this point on. Connections are made more easily, my references and previous contacts help to open doors faster. I’m getting into the swing of things. From there on, meetings and places become even more unusual and intriguing.

I pay a visit to VAX Motorcycle. It’s a storage place, a parking for bikes, and much more. A place where pearls are hidden and stories are told. People come here to use the space and service provided by Justin, the owner.

Besides parking your bike, you can come here to use the tools, the workbench, or just hang out with the community. There is always cool beer available and people around to give you a hand or share a story. Here, people are essentially looking for a place to park their bikes. If you’re thinking about leaving it there for the winter or several months, it will cost you $100/month. It will be kept nice and warm, and at the top of the tower.

If you don’t have room at home and you need 24/7 access to your bike, as well as oil changes and maintenance, it will cost you $215/month. There’s no annual membership, here you pay by the month (with a minimum 6 months commitment to prevent excessive use of services and tools). I was really surprised about the diversity here. All makes, all types of bikes, people, and cultures are represented. There are even bikes that are worth less than a month rent, but the fact that this 'piece of crap' belongs to someone, makes it invaluable.

Tim Harney

Talent alert. After meeting Oscar, the space engineering student, here’s another favorite of mine! Tim Harney. It’s a quick meet, 3 to 4 hours before my flight back home - didn’t I tell you things were getting more and more interesting? Really, I’d need three months or more to go through the entire Brooklyn's motorcycle scene.

When there is no visible sign from three blocks away in some hip neighborhood, or 80K+ followers on Instagram, but when almost everyone you met in Brooklyn talks about him… you know you’re meeting someone big.

Tim has been dabbling with mechanics for over 15 years, but it became his profession 8 years ago. The business became profitable about 2-3 years ago. This was no smooth sail. To earn one’s living, one must find his niche, learn to compromise, put his ego aside, and work hard to build a reputation. All these things that Tim has been working on and achieved, and maintained over the last 15 years.

His niche is the old Beemers. In his garage, there are no Japanese or any other too-accessible and popular models - you wouldn’t expect to find a Fiat Punto in a Ferrari garage, right? His customers are mainly young wolves of Wall Street. Big wallets looking for authenticity, even if money isn’t everything. Tim works simultaneously on about ten bikes a year, depending on the condition of each bike and the work to do on it.

Between customers’ requests, there are also his personal projects, his portfolio in a way. He exhibits them during shows, contests, and sometimes in magazines. Just like during the last Brooklyn Invitational where he presented his 1951 BSA.

Faithful to his work ethos, he doesn’t hesitate to push back on a prospective client who may offer a wad of cash and a $10,000 deposit, but show little respect. Refusing the initial offer means that same client might come back later with a more humble mindset. And the project could start.

But towards the end, if mood swings come back, the client might decide he doesn’t like the color after all. Ouch. We’re stuck again. That’s when one must ask himself the right questions, take a step back and look at the situation from a business point of view, in order to reach the right compromise.

An “f you” might be in order, but Tim always chooses to negotiate and offers to change the color again for a hefty envelope. That’s right. The customer agrees and everyone is happy. Tim knows these compromises must be made, in order to cater for his customers’ desires. But he finds his enjoyment in the excellence of his work. To go beyond expectations, to keep aiming for the perfect outcome. Because after all, you’re only as good as your last job.

Coney B**ch

Ultimately, in many workshops the business model is driven by the current purchasing power and the desire to attract the big wigs of Manhattan. Not a massive surprise… However, all these guys were not born with a true rider’s soul and the humility that goes with it.

Often, they’re drawn to it merely because they’re following a trend or fashion. Therefore, it could be damaging if this trend came to an end, or if they just moved on. But rest assured, it’s unlikely to happen in the short term, however, a natural selection with occur. As Keino said “time will tell.” Let’s say that, as in any cycle, opportunists will be the first to jump off the ship. But I hope that the boat will bring all the good people I met to safe harbor.

 

This edition of M/C is dedicated to all the victims of the 22nd of March in Brussels, 2016, the 12th of January in Istanbul, the 13th of November in Paris, the 10th of October in Ankara, and in memory of all others who perished in the attacks perpetrated by the Islamic State.

All of them cities, all of them human beings, affected by hatred and terrorism.

Remember the ones you love, do not forget them.

Words & Photos by

Jonathan Wieme

The man behind Motorcycle Cities. An independently published magazine that we just happened to stumble upon during a leisurely Saturday afternoon stroll through Antwerp.

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