Once in a while a motorcycling event presents itself and yearns to be attended. Some friends and I have been hearing about a growing bike show in Brooklyn, New York, called the “Brooklyn Invitational.” Only in its fourth year it has been gaining steam and becoming one of the preeminent vintage motorcycle shows in the country. I have been told that the greatest meals that you remember are not entirely the concoction of a good chef, but a confluence of places, events food and drink beyond the palate that sets the stage for an unforgettable gastronomic experience. The person you share it with, the ambiance of the venue, the mood you are in, the wine it is paired with, etc… Same goes for bike shows. The Bklyn Invitational was this past Saturday and me and my crew rolled up to a section of one of NY’s five boroughs that is ordinarily industrial and rough. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, not far from where my Dad grew up. Tough then, tough now. However, this weekend the gritty hard streets gave way to thousands of vintage bike fans on everything from 30’s Harley Knuckleheads to 60’s Japanese. In the thousands of bikes that I saw cruise the strip, as well as parked against the curb, I cannot recall seeing one bagger. At least not one made after 1970. A long trip for a 1 night bike show. We rolled up, NO SLEEP – till we got there. No Sleep, till Brooklyn.
The collection of bikes was as interesting as Brooklyn’s inhabitants. It is said that the “people” make the party. We walked the blocks and blocks of parked vintage bikes amongst attendees from all over not only Brooklyn but the country as well as Australia, Japan, Germany and more. We oogled the Hendersons and Ducatis, the Harleys and Triumphs, the Beemers and Indians. We watched as real deal bikers cruised the NYC strip, their v twins barking straight pipe pops and coughs that echoed off concrete and tarmac. Loud pipes may or may not save lives, but they seem louder in a city. New York’s finest (NYPD) mingled strapped for action but very nonchalant. New York’s Hells Angels thick and tall stood guard over sections of curb like territorial junk yard dogs. A menacing sight achieving I am sure the desired result. Almost all we met were friendly as they could be. Eager to kneel down before the coveted barn find runner or period correct resto to glean its coolness and take in its visual story. With 9 million people just inside its borders NYC has a treasure trove of old bikes. With nearly 20 million people within an hour commute and a dense population from even before Mr. Harley and those Davidson brothers hacked together their first 3 horsepower bicycle, it is the perfect storm of vintage get togethers.
My friends and I walked about the old factory converted for the weekend into a museum. Dozens of priceless antiques with 2 wheels adorned the cleverly lit floors. No risers, no velvet ropes, all bikes leaned left to be oogled and photographed. Easily accessible, each bike, some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, free to be touched (or even straddled) though no one dared. We all understood the taboo of contact however slight. Several movie production crews milled about with big cameras and many freelance photo journalists from dozens of bike mags knelt down to get just that right shot. Bands like Psychic limp, Hessian and Endless Boogie pumped loud raucous music throughout the complex. A bit angry for my taste but I guess head banging scream rock didn’t die with Joey Ramone. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen skin tight jeans held up with belt bandoliers of brass 7.62 rounds! There were old hippies, young greasers, pin up girls, leather clad 50’s style rockers, skateboard crossover bikers, club dudes, punks, hipsters, and every assortment of bike aficionado you can think of (Except DINKS, RUBS, or weekend warriors). The bar scene in the area was funky New York City cool. One bar where we threw a few down had 5 lanes of bowling right next to the bar. Another was built in an old factory with exposed steel beams and an industrial feel complete with a roof top bar and a view of the emptiness where the twin towers once stood. We settled for a red Empire State building and a white Chrysler building just off the West side of our seats. Impressive nonetheless.
My group of 7 shook our heads and wondered why we didn’t have this in Atlanta? It was a mecca at least for a couple of days. No one brought their old iron there for the money. There was no trophies or announced winners. There was no purse of recognition. We didn’t pay an entry fee and the vendors sold a few simple T shirts promoting the event itself, not an insurance company or a bar. They sold only 1 type of beer in the show, $3 bucks, cheap in a city where you can blow $50 on a hamburger. It occurred to us that the show was not organized for profit. No single group seemed to benefit. Staffed by volunteers the event ran seamlessly. No fights, no wrecks, no hassles. The profitability of the event had been stricken from the equation. Perhaps that is the brilliance of the success of the get together. People, collectively interested in cool vintage bikes, brought together simply by the love of the art. The love of the sound. The love of the lifestyle. The love of the history behind it all. I will assuredly return next year. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could pull it off here in Atlanta. If you take money out of the equation, you are only left with one thing. That spark of passion, love, obsession, or interest that goes to the core of why we ride, collect, restore or wrench motorcycles.
I am reminded of one of my favorite bands “The Beastie Boys” and their song “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”, as follows: “foot on the petal, never ever false metal, engine running hotter than a boiling kettle – While your at the job workin nine to five, the Beastie Boys at the Garden, cold kicking it live, – NO SLEEP — TILL BROOKLYN!!!!!!!!!!!!!”Well, not until next fall anyway. Till then:
Remember, ride strong, ride safe, and in the end, make sure you ride home. Written by Steve Murrin, the ‘Original Biker Lawyer’.