Destinations: Backfire Moto, Seattle, Wash.

The Pacific Northwest’s motorcycle community thrives at Backfire Moto in Seattle, Wash.
By Robert Smith
March/April 2012
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Shelter Lounge and the 2 Bit Saloon
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Backfire Moto
What:
Backfire Moto is a “Café Racer, Rat Bike, Metric Bobber, Vintage Motorcycle, Scooter and Moped Night” held on the third Wednesday of each month from 5 p.m. — year round.
How to Get There: Backfire Moto is at Shelter Lounge and the 2 Bit Saloon, 4910 Leary Ave. NW in the Ballard district of Seattle, Wash. From Interstate 5, take the NE 45th Street exit and go west to Leary Ave.
Best Kept Secret: Hale’s Ales microbrewery and alehouse, 4301 Leary Way NW, between the Freemont and Ballard neighborhoods.
Avoid: Drinking and riding!
More info: Backfire Moto 

Perhaps it’s the long, dark and wet winter nights in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe an oversupply of Starbucks’ double-shot Americano. Or too much high-test Washington microbrew. Whatever the cause, Seattle has a cultural edge that befits its status as a cosmopolitan seaport. Seattle is where Jimi Hendrix and Quincy Jones came from. It’s where grunge and garage bands were born. Seattle sent us Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. It’s no surprise, then, that Seattle also supports a large and committed motorcycle community.

In 1992, some disaffected Seattle bikers fetched up in a bar and concluded that the Café Racer zeitgeist was threatened by the rise of Rolex Riders and their megabucks motorcycles. The Cretins Motorcycle Club was the result. The Cretins aesthetic, says their website, “loosely resembles the bygone days of the British Rocker clubs. We are by no means an ‘Outlaw Club’ … just a motorcycle lovin’ bunch with a pint of Pabst and a 10mm wrench if you need it. … The Cretins are dedicated to keeping old bikes on the road and helping others do the same!”

Cretin members feature prominently at Seattle’s Backfire Moto monthly street gathering that started as a whisper-campaign congregation of the unconventional, unusual and unkempt. It soon attracted an eclectic collection of powered two-wheelers, from the Moped Army through café racers to modern streetfighters rebuilt from wrecks. The bewildered looks on the faces of the rent-a-lifestyle riders who occasionally cruise by are priceless — particularly when they realize Backfire Moto is the antithesis of their kind of motorcycle meet, where the most chrome wins.

The quintessential ride at the Leary Avenue venue in Seattle’s blue-collar Ballard district is a crusty mid-1970s Honda 500-four with clip-ons, a four-into-one pipe, a spray-bombed gas tank and a bum-stop plank in place of the seat. Just as refreshing is that the pilot is as likely to be female as male, and could be sporting dreads, gel or Brylcreem under their vestigial skid-lids.

This is the most sincere kind of motorcycling: it’s inclusive because the price of admission is low; it’s honest because the relationship between rider and machine is intimate; and it’s blessedly short on pretension and posing. It’s stripped-down, bare-bones, butt-naked biking at its rawest. It’s how we rode back in the Sixties when we couldn’t afford any better. If it had two wheels and an engine, we crescent-wrenched and vice-gripped it into service. We took off the fenders and mufflers and hammered and hand-painted the bodywork. We begged or stole the money for gas, and thrashed our rides until they broke. And when they died, we resurrected them with hose clamps, electrical tape and beer can shims.

Now, the tarnished, untidy Suzuki whizzing by has a skateboard bungeed on the back. Ancient Vespas park next to Guzzi Eldorados and oily Triumph twins. It’s a tangible rebellion against posing and polish. It’s grass roots motorcycling at its simplest: honest, fun transportation — not a vicarious lifestyle statement. If you like Motorcycle Classics, you’ll love it! MC 


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