“Excuse me sir. Can I have a word.” This usually never ends well when it’s the local P.D. …
I try to lose my grumpy Scots demeanour, muster a smile (it makes me look like I’m trying to pass a kidney stone) and brace myself for the usual condescending cop chat. He tells me splitting lanes and crap wheelies are illegal around here but he’s not interested in my indiscretions. I do the ‘dumb Brit abroad thing’ (rather well actually) and we get down to talking bikes instead. He wants to know what my Speed Triple RS is like (I’ve just borrowed one for a few weeks). Don’t you just love bike riding cops?
The fact we are standing in the parking lot of Philadelphia’s most popular motorcycle accessory retailer (RevZilla) should’ve been a clue. He’s here to see Toni Elias and Josh Herrin (who are promoting the upcoming race at NJMP). I have a quick clueless look round the AMA race spec GSXRs and R1M and quickly bugger off with my newly purchased phone-mount gadget.
I’ve had the bike less than an hour and it’s already attracting too much attention for my liking. It sticks out like a rich kid in a dive bar here, drawing envious stares from passers by and disdain for the gentrification it represents in this rapidly changing city. Time to invest in a bigger chain…
With my new fancy phone holder installed the following morning I head north. New York City!
I’m not going sight seeing. I’m off to the 10th annual Brooklyn Invitational. The place to be if you are a biker of the retro persuasion in the tri-state area.
Apart from getting lost, getting wet, losing my toll-pass and turning up late, the journey was fairly uneventful. The Speed Triple has cruise control (I have no idea why) sports bike shove, sports bike handling and a weird seat/tail unit design that means my ass crack gets wet before my toes. I keep amused by rattling up and down the quick shifter. Highly addictive but Id like to have the option to turn off the auto blipper.
2hours of arrow straight New Jersey turnpike is laborious but reading bumper stickers passes the miles, ‘if you’re going to ride my ass at least pull my hair’ or ‘I got a big bick, you that read wrong, you read that wrong too!’ Hilarious….
New York is suddenly upon me. I stop whistling The Velvet Undergrounds greatest hits and it’s into courier mode. Despatching yellow cabs and dithering out-of-State plates. The Triumph excels at this sort of nonsense. It dive bombs into packed cross streets and monos away from stop lights in the best street fighter tradition.
I follow a cool looking dude on a hard tail chop over the Williamsburg bridge. He gesticulates frantically at every pot hole and ridge under the illusion I find it helpful (it’s a US thing) all the while being tossed out the seat and looking serious about looking seriously good (it’s a hard tail chop thing) I ignore him (that’s a courier thing)
After finally getting into the maze that makes up Brooklyn’s hipper-than-you-are streets, I finally roll-up to the Roots Gallery. I slot the Trumpet between a pair of painstakingly prepped Harleys and take a wander up the sidewalk to see who’s turned up. There’s pretty much everything here from a ‘46 Flathead to brand new baggers. A caked-in-mud KTM Adventure leans drunkenly on its weary side stand next to a tasty looking Tenerè. Honda CBs outnumber copious Bonnevilles and there are even one or two sports bikes pointedly parked a discreet distance away. Everyone is welcome. Even me.
The Speed Triple, despite being the most accomplished bike in the street, raises no smiles or nods of approval though. Seems I’ve turned up to another event on the wrong bike. This is becoming a habit. My Öhlins shocks, Brembo stoppers and fried Supercorsas earn me no kudos here.
The vibe on the street is buzzing. A lad on a Dyna clutches-up a decent wheelie. A side car follows utilising only two of its three available wheels despite having two kids in the passenger seat. Next to me a Harley is being hand pinstriped with an uncannily steady hand. The HA patched owner watching carefully for any mistakes. All around me better looking people are having more interesting conversations than I ever have…Probably.
The event itself is held in Roots Studio, the likes of which everyone in Shoreditch will be familiar with. Gritty outside, smooth on the inside. Bikes are displayed in an almost art gallery fashion but sadly a lack of info barring the builders name. Fair enough. Most of these machines can speak for themselves.
Although it’s a small intimate show, the quality of the bikes on display is staggering. Now I’m not a custom bike know it all. Far from it, but I recognise fine engineering and craftsmanship when I see it. The yin to my yang.
Yuchi Yoshizawa has turned up with an outrageous Buell Lightning (I’m guessing here) with all encompassing alloy bodywork it took me 10 minutes of crawling on the floor to realise what it might once have been. Kaichiroh Kurosu’s BMW was easier to identify but only because I’d seen it once before. Then I see something immediately familiar
It’s an early 90s ZXR 750 by Jeff Wright. I’ve been boring people for years with my belief that soon everyone will come to realise these pre-millennium bikes are awesome machines. They have a style all of their own. I even convinced Gary Inman write a piece on them for Mr Porter about 5 years ago. (Link here) Feeling a little smug I grab a Tecatè and squeeze through the beautiful people to the next room.
Twin engined CB 750 you say? Yup, The Born Free show-winning machine is something else. Seems incredible that it’s a race winning bike. Some unhinged loon clocked 173mph on a dry lake bed with this? Rather you than me mate. Hard as nails Harleys tolerate featherweight café racers and evil looking flat trackers. Whatever your jam is, it’s here.
The tattoo artists are doing a roaring trade. If I wasn’t so broke I’d be waiting in line. Custom pinstripes on my new Nexx would be nice too but I give it a miss. Too much to see and I’ve got people to bother.
I grab a reluctant chat with harassed show organiser John Copeland. He’s rightly proud of what they’ve achieved. “10 years ago if you saw a custom bike or a vintage bike you knew them. Now the scene is massive” He waves a hand round at the assembled machines of every style “I feel we’ve done what we set out to do”
So what’s next? He hints that this is the final Brooklyn Invitational but I’m guessing every show curator feels that way from time to time. If it is, it would be a great loss.
Today’s show will turn into tonight’s after party which no doubt will become tomorrow’s hangover. Sadly I have the long ride home, my phone battery is flat and the Speed Triple RS beckons. I jump on on and hoist a passable wheelie. NYPD smile and wave.
New York! What a town