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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Smokey Child's trip across the water.

Hi GBC, it just occurred to me that I did a short article for SCCMC on a previous visit to USA (Report 1), this might be of some use to you. On my latest visit, (Report 2) I managed to talk to a few of the local Brooklyn bikers to get their views on what it is like running a motorcycle in such a huge and busy built up area.

Report 1
Just returned from hols in USA mostly in New York but trippies up to Michigan and Connecticut. Staying with my son in the Williamsburg Brooklyn area, which is of a largely Hispanic population, and is 4 storeys up on the corner of a built-up busy urban crossroads where it can get rather noisy. There are police sirens, fire-engines, ambulances, refrigerated lorries, mixer trucks, ice-cream vendors, reversing bleepers, car alarms, house alarms, shop alarms, taxi horns, drunks, singers, would be-singers, people who do not knock at doors but shout loudly in Spanish to see if anyone is in. There are even loud Scottish people on holiday shouting at loud Puerto Ricans to be quiet. There is also music from various sources, TV's, radio's, vans, taxis and cars fitted with the loudest sub-woofers this side of Cape Canaveral. I could swear the building shook when some of them went past. But do you know what, they were all relatively quiet compared to (I did not think the day would come when I would ever hear myself saying this) compared to passing or pausing motorcycles. Yes b. Harley Davidson's with slash or no pipes, Ducatis with race cans and Kawasaki's with no cans winding up the revs dropping the clutch and melting the rubber. Interesting for the first few goes but at midnight or 2 in the morning it can become a little wearing.

USA riders do not seem particularly safety conscious, either for themselves or for anyone else judging by some of the manoeuvres which I witnessed. Most popular riding kit seems to be t-shirt, shorts, trainers, no gloves and sometimes a lid. I did however see one guy riding down 5th Av. on a BMW with a Labrador on the front in the riding position holding on to the handlebars. It was wearing sunglasses and a helmet. I am still not sure who was in control. Brings a new meaning to "handles like a dog". There was some bike high-spots to the visit however. When visiting the Sloane museum in Flint they had a special bike exhibition which included a reasonable selection of old Britware. Also at the Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield Village Dearborn there was a good selection of all kinds of machinery from Harleys and Indians of course to Hendersons, Excelsiors, Whizzers and everything else in between. I was also slightly taken aback when visiting Keihl's Pharmacy in New York on the corner of 13th and 3rd Av. Keihl's is a kind of olde-time up-market, very expensive purveyor of beauty aids and applications, owned by Aaron Morse who has a huge collection of American motorcycles. I visited this establishment with my wife. (No I did not buy anything before anyone asks.) Inside I was surprised to see a good selection of oldish and newish American bikes including an ex Steve McQueen 1934 Indian "suicide shift" as they describe it. This shop was definitely not at all like Boots or Superdrug. Did not manage any biking on hols. but if it is OK to mention "car" in this publication I did have my first ever shottie of a Buick Reatta sports car, also a Porsche 911 RS America. I do believe I could get to like them. Still love BSAs though.

Motogrill workshop proprietor



Connecticut bike blessing

Hmmm, bikes not welcome?

Report 2
Like here although I don't like doing it, it is possible to categorize the different types of motorcyclists by what they ride. Harleys in particular seem to be pretty much a race unto themselves. One striking difference between here and the UK is that there is quite a lot of old Brit-iron running about and in day-to-day use, particularly late model Meriden Triumphs.
Hinckley Triumphs also appear to be very popular particularly the Bonneville models, there also appears to be a good spread of everything Japanese, German and Italian. One major difference compared to the UK is that I do believe that the almost total lack of silencing on a lot of bikes wouldn't escape the attention of our local constabulary, but when you see some of the crazy traffic and crazy drivers it is one way of alerting them to the (vulnerable) motorcyclists presence. But by and large everything is pretty much the same as in the UK in relation to types apart from I didn't observe many lightweights except Vespa scooters which seem to be gaining popularity, particularly in the Manhattan area. One guy I spoke to said that lightweights aren't too popular because of their perceived vulnerability in heavy traffic. As far as the classic scene goes there is a huge mixture of everything. I was lucky enough to be given a tour round a couple of bike garages and was pretty amazed at the variety of machinery within. One of the main problems about living with a motorcycle in such a huge built up area with mostly flatted houses is that their simply isn't many places to store a bike. One of the solutions is to rent a space in an outdoor off-street car-lot with all the attendant storage hazards that it can bring.

The other solution is to rent a space in one of the growing number of bike stores cum workshops. These take different formats but several of them in the Williamsburg area have bike shops, do it yourself workshops and in-house mechanics. Rates for repairs vary but they seem to average round about the 80-90 dollars per hour mark. Just total up some of the times you spend on your own repairs and potential costs could become quite frightening. Conclusion – apart from the low cost of fuel in USA we are doing pretty well in Scotland and the UK compared to motorcycling life in the Big Apple.

Williamsburg workshop

Smith & Butlers Boutique

Parking lot...

A New Jersey workshop

And A New Jersey frame builder

BIG THANKS SMOKEY for the words and photos. Don't be shy guys and girls, write something about bikes or bike trips, take a few photos and send 'em in...go know you want to...!


Anonymous said...

Interesting to read a report on the other coast of the "States".Good to hear lot's of British bike's in museums and out and about.I got my first pillion ride on the back of an old pre-unit Triumph,in Massachusetts-about 1960. Loved British bikes ever since. Interestingly, been seeing more bikes with quieter exhaust systems out here. Every now and then someone roars by with open exhausts.Errr...what's that about my Commando's "mufflers"...?
Hairy Larry

The Chief Bodger said...

I can attest to what Smokey Child says, there is a big difference between the UK and the US when it comes to riding on bikes.

On my trip home back in Sep/Oct, I saw only one British bike on the road and that was an Enfield, probably from India.

I see more Brit bikes here even in this place full of of HDs and crotch rockets.

Geordie J. said...

What an excellent insight into the way of things across the pond. Some surprises! The weather must be great for getting out on the bike though!

rbobby572 said...

Riding a motorcycle in New York City? Can't be enjoyable. I don't like driving a car there. Upstate New York is the place to ride.(north of Albany) Lake George,The Adirondack Mountians. I have a question.How do New York City riders compare to an urban area in the UK??

Anonymous said...

Thanks Smokey for a great report

It's fantastic that so many old brit bikes are still being used as daily transport across the pond. Something I'm very much in favour of.

Graham B

Anonymous said...

After re-reading the report...not all USA riders are un-safety conscious. For years now in California a helmet has been required. I don't agree with the law, but wore helmets in the "ol days" most of the time anyways.Most people I see out here are dressed for the occasion, while riding. The sport riders seem to be very fashion conscious with gear matching their "rockets". HD and other cruiser riders looking tough in black leather. Scooter folks...well, I'd hate to see the abrasions that would be incurred kissing the tarmac in a skirt or shorts, and no gloves. The worst riding exhibitions seemed to be age related out here. (Yes, I did a few wheelies and broadslides in my time....try to save those for the dirt these days). Some day I'd like to visit the east coast again. Haven't seen New York since the World's Fair 64-65. Hairy Larry


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