BROOKLYN, N.Y., SEPT 22–The first day of autumn is an exciting time to be in New York City. An estimated one million people converged on lower Manhattan to celebrate the 86th annual Feast of San Gennaro. And across the East River at the Root Studio in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, several thousand people gathered for the 4th annual Brooklyn Invitational Custom Motorcycle Show.
Every city is made up of many communities. Inside these communities are smaller groups and subcultures. What makes the Invitational so interesting is the blending of artists, photographers, designers, gearheads, hardcore bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts. This is a direct reflection of the driving force behind the event. Bike builder Keino Sasaki, artist John Copeland and photographer Jeffry Schad came up with the idea in an effort to put New York City in the forefront of the bike-riding community with a cutting-edge motorcycle exhibit. Some of you may remember that a decade earlier the ice was broken when the Guggenheim Museum on Manhattan’s Upper East Side featured the exhibit “The Art of the Motorcycle.”
It’s tough to compare the Brooklyn Invitational to any other New York motorcycle-related event. There’s the annual International Motorcycle Show at the Javits Convention Center. The IMS takes place inside a huge hall in the dead of winter and the show features all new makes, models and accessories imaginable. Upstate New York is host to some big multi-day events like Americade that promotes itself to riders “for whom motorcycling is a social hobby, but not some form of rebellion.” To veterans of the big rallies with coleslaw wrestling and television stars signing autographs, the Invitational will either be a culture shock due to only a small handful of vendors and the lack of circus antics and freak show sidelines, or they will take in the show like a breath of fresh fall air because it’s all about the bikes. When Copeland was asked about ways to make a good profit from the show (admission is free), he simply replied, “It’s not about the money; it’s never been about the money.” He added that the Root Studio has been very supportive, and he also counted on Asahi Beer and Stumptown Coffee Roasters as sponsors.
The bikes parked outside formed a show all their own and spoke volumes about their owners. The asphalt in front of the studio hosted a virtual history of Harley motors. Scott Knoff of Island Cycles in South Jersey said, “I’ve never seen this many Flatheads, Knuckleheads, Panheads and Shovelheads in one place, and they are all ridden!” Bikes with faded paint and worn seats were parked next to meticulously restored machines. A lot of handmade parts and backyard engineering keeps these motorcycles on the road and set apart from the latest fads. Noticeably lacking were the touring bikes, luggage racks, themes, ultra-fat tires and way-oversized front wheels.
Guys with grease in their DNA and 50-weight oil coursing through their veins were kicked back against the buildings on 14th Street near the studio. Civilians who may have known nothing about motorcycles could still appreciate the work, clean lines, patina and metal fabrication that make up the art of motorcycles. And the crowd adds to the coolness of this exhibit. A good percentage of the people are younger, vibrant, more energetic and seemingly all amateur photographers. Cameras were everywhere! Women wore all types of boots, dresses long and short, and sported fresh looking tattoos on fair skin. The women were accompanied by males wearing everything from sweaters tied around necks to remnants of what their ’80s punk-rock parents wore prior to conceiving them. Retro? Maybe. New Yorkers can pull off an understated style that screams urban, but quietly.
Inside the Root a couple dozen bikes were displayed representing the East and West Coasts, as well as the heartland of America. About 25 builders were invited to exhibit, including some you may have heard of, such as New York City’s Paul Cox, Trevelen Rabanal of Superco Customs from East Los Angeles, California, Andrew Williams from Departure Bike Works of Richmond, Virginia, and Walt Siegl out of New Hampshire. Other builders including Aski Sakamoto, Alex Lerner, Dave Barker, Dave Freston, Yaniv Evans, Scott “T-Bone” Jones, Steve Bonge, Tom Fugle, Dave Polgreen, Denver Dan, Brandon Holstein, Jason Jessee, Michael Barrigan, Max Schaaf, Kosuke Saito, Kim Boyle, Jeremiah Armenta and, of course, Keino Sasaki, all had bikes in the show, as well.
A Shovelhead built by Jeff Wright of Church of Choppers in Des Moines, Iowa, really embodies the spirit of the show. Jeff is a talented artist, photographer and designer—and apparently has mad welding skills. His skillset is such that it appears the one-piece frame was born of molten steel poured all at once and finished immediately. The design of the machine incorporates a chopper stance, girder front end and even looks to have some sportbike inspiration fused in. The 2-into-1 exhaust isn’t chrome or wrapped, but appears to be white powder coat. Hundreds of hours must have gone into making the parts, because they are definitely not found in any catalogs. For folks not used to looking outside the box, the one-off seat will have a funky way about it. The common thread of the invited builders is the creative integrity, individual expression and love of machinery that is stamped in the craftsmanship of each bike.
Photographs, many from bygone days, adorned the walls, including some by Steve Bonge that recalled New York City-based bikes and street scenes. Other artwork included pieces done by Cicero DeGuzman Jr., James Stone, Ken Nagahara, Michael McCabe, Michael Schmidt and Troy Critchlow. A handful of vendors offered shirts, hats, belts, handmade crafts and DVDs, as well as having bikes in the show. The vendors seemed more like they were sharing part of their riding experience and community rather than participating in a commercial venture. In fact, Dice Magazine, a big part of this culture, hosted a party the night before to release their latest issue.
Tired of sitting around watching mind-numbing television? Need some inspiration to start messing with your bike and having some fun? Check out a DVD called 6 Over by Wild Honey Productions that was available at the show and can be found online. It has an easy way about it, much like On Any Sunday, but features tough, clean street bikes. The message is: Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing; just have fun with your bike and hanging with your buds. Max Schaaf, one of the builders featured in the Invitational, is in this short film.
Creative, innovative, talented and artistic individuals, whatever medium they represent, are what make New York City and the Brooklyn Invitational so cool. Like New York City, the Invitational is hard to define. It must be experienced.