As the morning of New York City’s 2009 Annual Brand X motorcycle show dawned, the gloomy clouds hanging overhead as rain splattered the streets had me queasily wondering if this was an omen for the day.
I’d come to New York just for this show, but now I had to wonder: Would the Big Apple’s motorcycling community turn out in bum weather, or would the city slickers be “too cool” to bother? Silly me. Showing a resiliency and creativity that must come from living — and surviving — in the largest city in the U.S., the crowds turned out in force. After a few sprinkles passed, the sun flittered through and dark skies gave way to a scorching hot August day with bikes to match.
Presented by the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club, “Exhibition of Vintage Motorcycles, Brand X” was held at Works Engineering in Brooklyn. My invite promised a free shot of Jägermeister to the person with the most creative answer to “Why Brand X?” Allegedly, Dave Roper (the only American to ever win at the Isle of Man TT) knew the answer, but I couldn’t get it out of him, so sadly, no Jäger for me. Instead I cruised the vendor booths. Vintage race guy Tex Mawby was on hand, selling Rev’It! gear, and the fine folks at Zero Motorcycles, MotorGrrl, Smith & Butler, Moto Borgotaro and NYC VinMoto had set up shop.
As the temps crept up, more and more bikes arrived, many signing up for the bike show to compete for top honors in the coveted categories of EuroTrash Award, Saved from the Jaws of Death, Compressed Disc, Best Desecration of Japanese History, Best Expression of Mid-life Crisis, and What is That?!? After some friends from the Brit Iron Rebel and TonUp clubs arrived, we quickly moved to find some shade and some beer, and let the tire kicking begin in earnest.
There were easily 500 to 600 bikes coming and going throughout the day, and attendance was in the thousands. There were a lot of creative, unexpected bikes, and a very “Ride ’Em, Don’t Hide ’Em” vibe — lots of projects, choppers, café bikes and more than a few beautifully restored pieces of eye candy. The mash-up of bikes had a fantastic neighborhood feel, complete with a free barbecue and free Asahi beer (it was a VJMC event, after all). Finally, I started to get the “Brand X” part — it really was an open invitation to the entire motorcycle community, a summer celebration of motorcycles, art, music and friendship.
One of the first shows, hosted by moto shop Peak-Point in 2004, was a relatively straight-forward 1970s Japanese bike show. However, Works Engineering, VJMC and NYC VinMoto had been hosting a bike show, as well, and the two camps decided to join forces, picking up steam and sponsors, and turning it into an annual event. The show evolved from Peak-Point’s small shop in Astoria, Queens, to the more spacious Bar Matchless in Brooklyn, to the full-bore street festival now held outside Works Engineering on north 14th Street.
I wasn’t the only one curious what the “art” promised on the event poster was all about, and we found out as “action painters” Naoki Iwakawa and Total Eclipse used the street as a canvas for their painting. I’ll admit to finding it a little weird, but, hell, this WAS New York, after all. A feel-good aspect of the day was a raffle for a 1970s Bonnie, with the proceeds going to a bartender from Bar Matchless who was injured on her motorcycle. Community spirit award, anyone?
It’s definitely a little different, and filled with a survivor instinct/we-can-do-it attitude that unifies the whole thing. Or maybe it’s really an “us versus them” thing? A big middle finger to an overcrowded island jammed full of taxis waiting to run you off the road? After spending a couple days here, I gotta say, it’s probably a little bit of both. And you know what? It works, and New York wouldn’t have it any other way. MC
Works Engineering: Shop, storage, cool race bikes; 168 N. 14th St., Brooklyn; www.worksengineering.com
Peak-Point: General repair shop, engine work, welding; 2370 Brooklyn Queens Expressway W., Astoria; www.peak-point.net
Bar Matchless: Bike night on Mondays, showing modern and classic racing; 557 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn; www.barmatchless.com
Sixth Street Specials: British shop; 703 E. Sixth St., New York City; (212) 979-6535
Motorcycle Federation: Upscale motorcycle “boutique” with a side of coffee bar; 257 Sixth Ave., New York City; www.motorcyclefederation.com
MotorGrrl: Storage/workspace; 117 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn; www.motorgrrl.com
Ear Inn: Bike night on Tuesdays, very mixed crowd including modern ADVers, vintage, Harley, etc.; 326 Spring St., New York City; http://earinn.com