Thursday was a great day. Our small group rode all over Manhattan and the weather was fine. Fredo's bike was plagued with problems and liked to shut down about every 30 minutes, so we spent a fair amount of time on the side of the road. We managed to hook up with Greaser Mike and make it over to the Bowl Bash in Brooklyn later in the evening.
The Autumn Bowl is a skater's wet dream; a group of local guys pay dues to make the rent in a turn of the century brick building on the water's edge. Inside, 60' ceilings give the place an immensely open feel. One section houses the famous bowl, seating areas and a row of gym lockers. The other portion has a mini ramp, caged-off chopper workshop and ramp building materials. Outside there was a narrow alley that was crammed with probably 20 or so bikes. It wasn't so much an event as it was just an excuse to hang out, watch some skating and get to know a few people in person that we had only known previously via the internet. Thanks to Aaron and Vander and everyone there for letting us get a glimpse inside this exclusive tree fort. We left way too late considering the run was starting a few hours later on Friday morning. Traffic was thin and it was glorious to blast over the Willamsburg bridge, through the motocross track in Manhattan that they call First Avenue, and finally onto the FDR and over the GW Bridge and back into Jersey, where Fredo's bike decided to once again take a nap. He got it going again and we promptly did what we've done every time we move in the Garden State: we got lost. Close to exhaustion we toured Hackensack and several surrounding towns and eventually made it to the hotel, though we were short one man. Fredo got separated and of course his bike quit. BF Josh and I prowled around in the van trying in vain to locate him and finally made it back to the hotel where he rolled in little while later. Sleep came around 4:30 or so.
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We crawled out of bed Friday morning and my eyes felt like they were full of broken glass. Upon opening the hotel door we were greeted by a steady downpour. Lovely. Once again, we unloaded half the van and pushed Fredo's reluctant shovel inside and jammed to Walt's shop. Walt had been wrenching and organizing and babysitting out-of-town idiots like us for days, but you couldn't tell one bit by his attitude or energy level--he was on point and ready to rock. We followed the unstoppable Gemeinhardt to Chris's coffee shop Cool Beans in Oradell. Chris's hospitality spilled out onto the street where roughly 50 guys on bikes milled about drinking hot coffee in the rain and waiting on the word to hit the road. Walt gave a brief on what to expect and everyone fired up and pulled out. Michael Lichter proving once again why he is the premier chopper shooter by crawling onto the back of Chris's bike, sitting backwards leaning up against Chris with the sissy bar between his legs. Michael rode the whole way like that and took thousands of photos in the process. Talk about commitment to one's craft and trusting the bike handler. Lichter has balls of brass.
The pack stayed tight considering that this wasn't a club ride and no one on the run knew everyone else. Riders peeled off and blocked traffic as we rolled through red lights in one long snake of soaking wet riders hell bent on having a little fun. We made it up the Palisades and about 40 or 50 miles to the first gas stop. The stop took quite a while as riders reassessed their gear, tracked down lost friends, etc. Somewhere around this time Matt from DicE had a catastrophic magneto failure and was left on the side of the road. Being the pro he is, he handled the situation and got to a friend's house and out of the rain. We wouldn't see Matt again until Sunday. It was around this point that we figured it might be wiser to split off into our own smaller group and make better time. We punched the end location into an iPhone and plotted a route on the highway that made sense at the time. With a couple hundred miles to go it seemed like gas stops were going to drag the day out and we were exhausted when we started. Flatiron Mike was down with the plan and decided to roll with us, so we hit the slab and hauled ass north. It seemed like a good call, we didn't really expect the group to stay together the whole way and with so many bikes on the road we figured others were doing the same, breaking down into smaller groups that could be more agile and make better time. I know a couple guys took it as an insult or a cop out, or an indication that we couldn't get our lily white asses wet like the rest. Whatever, we stayed soaked, did our own thing and showed up at the track early enough to get a sit down meal before everyone attacked the poor cafe all at once, did a beer run and started hanging out with the New Englanders that were already waiting in the wet field when we rolled up.
Walt and the crew made it in before dark and he sweet talked his way into gaining access to the defunct horse racing track building. Probably 20,000 square feet and towering, it was one of the oddest places I've slept. It had a refugee staging area feel that was actually really cool. The guys from Lick's Cycle nearby had donated a nice pile of beer and Walt and I pitched in to buy a couple hundred bucks worth of pizza and ice to go along with it. Any good betting track has to have a bar, right? Of course this one did, and I promptly cleaned it up and with the help of Todd and AJ from Lick's, we started tending bar. A couple months ago I had loaned Spartan George some bits from a Linkert to get his knuckle back home to New Mexico from the Bash in California. He sent the parts back with a bottle of his famous "Bachanora," a devilishly tasty Mexican moonshine that he mods with cinnamon and apples. I'd been saving that jug for months and this seemed like a good place to share. After a couple hours of slinging beers, Mike D from our group took over and tended bar until the supplies dwindled and there were only a few of us left standing. It was nearly 2:00AM when I laid down and went to sleep.
Saturday morning came quick and as soon as bikes started firing we all got up and milled about packing gear like zombies. The weather hadn't changed, rain was still coming down. The day before, BF Josh's Triumph chop had replaced Fredo's in the back of the van about half way through the ride. Rain and open velocity stacks just didn't get along well. He got it going again, determined not to be stuck in the chase van. After sitting around quite a while and people still trying to get food from the overwhelmed breakfast joint, Walt and the crew were talking about changing the route to make it shorter and more direct. Not knowing how Josh's bike was going to hold up and not wanting to add to the confusion we googled it, plotted our own course and hit the road. The popping and sputtering trumpet made it all the way to the campground, aided somewhat by our improvised air box we made to try and keep the carbs a little drier. It eventually gave up from the all-day waterboarding and had to be hauled back to the hotel.
We made it to the campground and were the first ones there again. We assessed the situation and determined the bar/hotel/resturaunt right up the road made better sense than standing around in the rain looking at each other. We checked into the worst rooms I've ever seen in a first-world country, took showers and hit the bar. A while later the troops rolled into the camp and we drove down and hung out around the fire. We unloaded the team van and piled people in for a ride to the infamous Ace of Clubs. BF Josh needs another medal, this one for patience. Shuttling drunk people when he would have much rather been working on his bike was a selfless favor and we all appreciated it. The night for us ended at the hotel bar with some terrible pool playing, even worse karaoke and Sumo passed out in a booth.
Determined not to deviate from the planned route we met up with the pack at the start point for the day and were greeted by clear, sunny skies for the first time in two days. Once the gypsy train got moving we made good time and Fritz's superior route selection became obvious. The ride was mostly two-laned country goodness with a couple little wide-open spurts down a highway or two. The pack stayed together for the most part with only a couple riders dropping off with mechanical issues. Our van, Radar in Walt's truck and the American Icon chase team helped out with tools and splashes of gas where needed, but breakdowns where very minimal for a group this size. At one point we had to safety wire up Rob's pipes, but nothing major and we moved on quickly. Lichter could finally get all his gear out of cumbersome rain socks and shoot at will. Again, he rode on the back of Chris' bike and took the time to shoot nearly every rider in the pack.
It was really nice to not have to worry about navigating and just roll along with the pack without having to worry about taking a wrong turn or stopping to consult the map. The skies stayed blue the whole time, the roads where dry and spirits high. Walt and Darren took off early to make sure everything was in order at the clubhouse for the final party. We made it back into Hackensack in the late afternoon and were greeted by Darren's brothers who treated us to some genuine hospitality that was very much appreciated. We shot a couple outstanding machines for future Chop Cult bike features and then tore into Josh's bike. A soaked ignition switch got hot wired and the carbs cleaned out with some help from Rivet and the Prez. Finally it got loaded up and sent to Walt's shop where it can think about it's actions and dry out a little bit and we'll tear into again in a day or so.
So the net results? Fredo's machine is DOA, so is Matt's for now and we'll hopefully have Josh's up and running by the time we get to New Mexico on Friday. Nick's bike ran flawlessly and he flogged it with the hand shift/clutch set up through all conditions without a single hiccup. Rouser has a new respect for exhaust mounts and the sporto is otherwise rugged as ever. Other than a five minute fix on my throttle and losing a shifter peg, the FXR has been unstoppable but I can't take credit for that, it's just a good bike. The one guy in our posse that makes me proud is Mike D. We had a spot open up in the van at the last minute and we threw him and my 06 Bonneville into the mix. Having plenty of dirt bike experience but virtually none on the street, Mike stepped up hard. He split lanes through Manhattan and carved turns in the Catskills like he knew what he was doing and never once complained. Another non-complainer that we were stoked to have on hand was BF Josh's wife Rebecca. She can drive, navigate, text and do her nails all at the same time and never got too frustrated with us.
The whole trip has been an absolute blast, troubles be damned. We got to ride great roads, hang out with old friends, meet some new ones and were able to check a few things off our personal "need to do" lists like ride in the craziest city in the world, visit Ellis Island, see the Autumn Bowl and show some support for our brother Walter and his crew. Thanks to everyone for having us, we'll be back!