Rust, Dust, and Grease
Article By: Marjorie Kleiman Photos By: Alan Magyar
From February 2020 Issue 275
A hot summer day in mid-August brought antique bike admirers from miles around to the 5th annual Splittin’ Lanes Dodgin’ Gutters Classic Motorcycle Show. We’ve been to lots of cool bike shows at interesting locations, but never at a building that is comprised of bowling lanes, concert space, and a restaurant! That was, until August 18, when the Brooklyn Bowl served as the venue for this event. The show was promoted by Girard Fox and Tim Warner, both of whom are, shall we say, antique bike devotees. Well, it’s even a little more than that. According to Girard, “To say that we are motorcycle enthusiasts doesn’t really convey the level of our self-admitted pathological illness!”
According to Tim, the Brooklyn Bowl is housed in a building that, at the turn of the 20th century, used to be an iron refinery and then a truck depot. He says, “It just celebrated its 10-year anniversary and in that time it’s hosted ex-U.S. presidents, New York City mayors, weddings, bar mitzvahs, freak shows, and world-class musical acts—everyone from Robert Plant to Snoop Dogg to Dr. John to Guns N’ Roses.” The setup inside was totally awesome. There were bikes on and in front of the stage as well as on the walkway leading from the restaurant to the bar, concert space, and bowling lanes.
You might wonder, why a bike show in a bowling alley? Girard explains, “Tim and I originally came up with the notion while feeling sorry for ourselves, due to all of the weekend motorcycle events that we miss out on because of our work schedules at the Bowl. The name was born out of a desperate struggle to link bowling and motorcycling in a single phrase.” Tim says, “We’re not only fortunate to work in such an amazing space, but also the owners of the Bowl are some of the best people I’ve ever worked for.” Girard adds, “They were very generous to take the risk on hosting a vintage motorcycle show in a music venue. Lots of unknowns at first… but no fear was shown!”
Walking into the historic building, the combination of bikes, bar patrons, exhibitors and spectators created a very cool vibe. There was no cliquishness; everyone had come together to enjoy our favorite sport—that of vintage motorcycling. Bike styles represented included everything from choppers to stock models, racers to AMCA high-point classics. Old Indians, Harley Flathead trikes, sidecars, raked-out Panhead chops, Shovelhead bobbers, brands that stopped manufacturing decades ago—you name it, and it was probably there. And to add to the amazing vibe normal Sunday activities were going on as well… families were bowling, the bar and restaurant were open. How do they manage all this? “That’s what’s so great about having the show on Sunday and quite honestly, Brooklyn Bowl thrives on these situations; multiple things going on at the same time,” Tim says. “That is in no small part due to the amazing staff working there. They are incredible at what they do. And it’s awesome seeing unsuspecting little kiddos and their parents celebrating a birthday party up on the lanes enjoying the bikes or random tourists just wandering around gawking at the spectacle around them.”
What was different about this year’s show is that there were lots of choppers. Girard explains, “We never wanted to step on any toes in the past. With two amazing chopper shows in the neighborhood, we made a conscious decision to focus on mostly stock machines, but with the end of the Brooklyn Invitational last year, we felt there was space to bring some righteous choppers into the fold!”
Many nationally- and locally-known builders had bikes on display, such as Indian Larry Motorcycles with the famous Rat Fink bike, Rick Petko with a board track racer, Tim Vanderbas who runs Vanderbilt in Brooklyn, Adam Mucci who’s a top Panhead restorer, Nick Troscano who builds the fastest machines to race at The Race Of Gentlemen, and Austin Johnson, one of the originals from the black chopper community in the ‘60s and the subject of the documentary Sugar & Spade. Tim commented, though, ‘I would argue that anyone who has wrenched, machined, built any old bike is owed some credit and ‘well known’ by someone for their build.”
When asked how bikes were chosen to be displayed in the show, Girard and Tim explained that one of the criteria is that the bike adhere to the AMCA’s definition of antiques: motorcycles that are 35 years or older. Girard adds, “Basically, if we find a machine that blows our minds, or is simply a stand-out machine that deserves attention, it’s in. We pride ourselves on being all-inclusive and don’t have any preconceived notions of brand allegiance. Over the past five years’ shows, we have selected a wide range of obsolete motorcycle from a multitude of different manufacturers. We are also wide open to rust, dust, grease, metallurgical fatigue, and dangerous, ill-conceived modifications, just as much as we enjoy perfectly restored and meticulously painted examples.”
One example of the extremes to which participating builders ventured was the 1981 reverse Shovel which had everyone doing a double take as they walked by and noticed the intake, kicker, and exhaust on the left and the primary on the right. We didn’t get a chance to ask anyone from Still Kickin’ Cycles why, but we can only imagine the answer would have been, “Because I can.”
There’s no entry fee for bikes in the show, and no admission for spectators. And Tim says, “We always try to offer some added amenities to the bike participants, whether it’s free/discounted food and drink, merchandise, or sponsored swag bags. We want to acknowledge and thank those who bring these amazing machines, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles to our show. We’ve never put this show on with the intention of making money. If we come close to breaking even, it’s a win for us.” He laughs, “Shit. That’s a terrible business model!”
Girard tells us, “We never really considered any trophies or awards when this all started. It’s just not our thing, but people basically demanded that we give out some kind of prize, and ultimately it does make sense to honor all of the lenders’ hard work and commitment to getting themselves and their machine to our show.” And the trophies? Gold-painted bowling pins! Girard elaborates, “I usually find the busted and discarded bowling pins the week of the show, and get those golden beauties cobbled together at 3:00 a.m. on the day before the event.” Tim adds, “People really dig winning those things!”
Speaking of winning, there were several categories that earned those trophies as well as some other prizes. Oldest Machine was Rick Petko’s 1919 Indian board track racer, Longest Distance Traveled went to Luis F. Herrera who brought his custom BMW R75/7 from Mexico City, and the Tom Payne award given to… Tom Payne to celebrate his continued support! Tom brought his meticulous Harley-Davidson VD which has achieved AMA Winner’s Circle status. The top three trophy winners were Best of Show earned by Rick Kaylor for his rare Reading Standard, People’s Choice for Will Aguirre’s 1974 H-D FXE chopper, and Best of the Streets which was given to Walter Curro for his 1926 H-D board track racer that was displayed in the back of a hot rod Chevy pickup truck in the street outside the show.
And that brings us to another delightful aspect of Splittin’ Lanes Dodgin’ Gutters. Tim says, “We have always promoted free and ample motorcycle-only parking right outside the Bowl and without fail, a shitload of people ride out and take over the surrounding streets. We have even pulled a few killer bikes into the Bowl to include in the show. The sheer number of bikes parked out there spawned the Best of the Streets award. It’s seriously my favorite part of the day. I’m running around like a spaz inside and then I’ll pop outside and there is a whole other scene and vibe. It’s great to walk up and down the block checking out the bikes and seeing faces new and old.” Girard adds, “This part of the show continues to grow and is always chock full of surprises. I enjoy the look of concern in the eyes of the scooter-rental tourists as they try to quickly get down the block! This aspect of our event really helps to ‘level the playing field’ in conjunction with the indoor ‘invited’ portion of the show. We don’t want people to feel left out or unwelcome because of the 35-years-or-older concept, and just want to encourage people to ride whatever they have!”
The show is produced by Basket Case Productions, the company that Girard and Tim formed so they could get liability insurance for their first show in 2015 (Tim says they had $7 million worth of classic motorcycles that year!), and also to create an identity for themselves that would function outside of the Brooklyn Bowl setting. Girard tells us, “We have many future plans to create additional classic motorcycle-related events… still “top secret” at this point. But we are always looking for entries for the next year. We may actually be doing two Splittin’ Lanes shows in 2020; one here in Brooklyn and a second at a very exciting soon-to-be-revealed location. And if you are interested in getting a bike in a SLDG show, hit up Girard. He’s road oiler on Instagram.” And watch @basket_case_productions and facebook.com/oiler around the end of the year to find out what else Tim and Girard are planning!