Yeah, so the Brooklyn Invitational Custom Bike Show takes place in an art gallery. So what? Ain’t nobody gonna shush you here. The Invitational is a blast, a blow-out — a party with bikes, basically — and it kicks off what’s sure to be a great month for motorcycles in New York City.
But rest assured, this isn’t your typical bike rally, either. Sure, motorcycles lined the curbs an industrial stretch of road near the Williamsburg waterfront, tattooed crowds milled about the sidewalk smoking rollies and drinking cans of Banquet Beer, and the occasional show-off would race by and rattle the windows up and down North 14th Street. But inside the Root Gallery a couple dozen motorcycles, on display in a white room under spots and floods and tastefully arranged with plenty of what art nerds call “negative space,” were the main reason we all came. And despite the increasingly bougie neighborhood and occasionally vapid posturing, the Invitational never fails to bring out the finest craftsmen (and women) in the game.
From skinny choppers to a cherry vintage MV Agusta, from ground-up builds to repurposed stockers to a downright fucking terrifying sidehack rig mounted on top of a BMW boxer, this year’s ninth annual installment of the event was likely its best ever. Organizers Keino Sasaki, Jessica Wertz, and John Copeland once again brought the goods to Brooklyn, turning an austere photo studio into motorcycle Mecca replete with tire tracks and free tattoos.
Oh sure, there was a mountain of Coors 30-packs on one wall, a (damn good) chick-fronted metal band wailing in a side room, and a small section for vendors to hawk “Titties and Beer” t-shirts and other stuff. Figure in an alleyway of port-a-potties, a private room for builders and friends, and the ubiquitous presence of New York’s Finest, and the Invitational had all the hallmarks of a typical bike rally. But inside the gallery itself, iron and rubber were the star attractions.
Adding a new wrinkle, a cool collection of custom painted gas tanks were displayed on pedestals scattered about the room for the first "Arts & Crafts Far Out Paint Show," including a gorgeous multi-colored metal flake job by Robert Pradke and a black and white coffin-shaped tank by scene mainstay Darren McKeag, highlighted by a preserved, tattooed pig foot in a glass jar. “FTW” indeed.
Another new element to the Invitational this year was the corporate sponsorship of Indian Motorcycle. To celebrate, Indian tasked three of the most famous fabricators and designers in the world to put their own spins on its new Scout Bobber, and all three latched onto the Bobber’s sporty stance in their creations.
Keino turned the Bobber into a veritable silver bullet, adding a bulbous racing fairing, brushed aluminum fuel tank, and fire engine red accents including spoke-laced wheels. Skateboard icon and flat-track enthusiast Steve Caballero teamed with Roland Sands to build a sweet racer replica decked out in RSD components, replete with number plate.
And Satya Kraus really nailed the project, outfitting his Scout with a longer fork and smaller front wheel to give it a stretched nose, while wrapping a Scrambler-style gold exhaust up and under the seat to exit at the rear. All the bikes were rad, to be sure — but when Kraus fired up his Bobber, it brought out a chorus of low whistles and a round of applause from us, the often hard-to-please motorcycle journos in the room.
Even Roland, Steve, and Keino, truly gracious dudes who appreciate quality and know exactly what turns people’s cranks, strode in from across the room for a closer look.
All three Indians were granted places in the Invitational, and I did overhear some grousing in the gallery from jaded attendees who were somehow offended by the brand’s presence. But screw them.
Fact is, the Invitational has grown from a grass-roots, local bike exhibit to a nationally recognized motorcycle art show — and god knows, nothing in Brooklyn is getting any cheaper.
If the organizers took a few corporate bucks to make sure the event stays at the Root and continues to be a success, then more power to them. It’s not like there were Bud Light banners all over the walls; Indian had three bikes in the show and a small table of merch in the corner.
Purists can bitch that the Brooklyn Invitational “ain’t the same” all they want — but stuff grows and changes; lighten up and have some fun, Jack.
Frankly, I was kind of wishing there was more fun to be had inside the Root, and judging by the crowd loitering outside on the sidewalk (including a few moto-celebs like Paul “The Vintagent” d’Orleans) I was not alone. There was plenty of spare room, and the gallery could have found a way to include more vendors, bands, or whatever.