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Common Tread

Indian Larry Block Party anchors motorcycle week in Brooklyn

Sep 23, 2016

Thirteen years. It isn’t a long time. Heck, lots of us have bikes older than that.

Indian Larry Block Party
Taking in the scene at the Indian Larry Block Party. Photo by Thomas Weiss.
A lot has changed in motorcycling since the first Indian Larry Grease Monkey Block Party was held on the gritty fringe of a burgeoning Brooklyn neighborhood back in 2004. The recession killed much of the flash-and-chrome fashion of “American Chopper”-inspired customs. (The fact that a bunch of those $50,000 motorcycles were virtually unrideable didn’t help.)

“Sons of Anarchy” quenched the fair-weather fanbase for a while, even as the show’s manufactured drama and often the bikes themselves were derided by purists. Later, cafe racers became en vogue, thanks to their stripped-down style and affordability — a fad that also flamed out once “affordability” got removed from that equation. Today, it’s all about DIY rat-bikes and scramblers and go-anywhere ADV machines. And in a couple years? The hot motorcycle trend will be surely something else. (Any predictions? Post your guess in the comments.)

Indian Larry himself was only around for that first block party due to a tragic motorcycle accident later that year. Still, each September in Williamsburg — a neighborhood now fully engulfed in gentrification that’s also seen its share of changes since 2004 — the husband and wife team that soldiered on behind the name of Indian Larry Motorcycles, Elisa and Bob Seeger Sr., continue to throw the Grease Monkey Block Party to celebrate his legacy and the camaraderie of the custom motorcycle culture the man was so intrinsic in creating.

Indian Larry Block Party
The Indian Larry Grease Monkey Block Party has its own welcoming vibe. Photo by Thomas Weiss.

But for motorcyclists, Brooklyn in September isn’t just about Indian Larry. A week of moto-centric festivities actually kicked off last Wednesday night at The Gutter, a divey beer hall/bowling alley that hosted the annual International Motorcycle Film Festival. Founded by Via Meccanica and Miss-Fires founder Corinna Mantlo, the festival, now in its fourth year, celebrates moto-culture around the world by curating short- and long-form films into a cohesive festival for cine-moto lovers. Past judges have included historians like The Vintagent, Paul d’Orleans, and JP from The Selvedge Yard; this year’s installment featured dozens of narratives, documentaries, and experimental films by filmmakers and motorcyclists from all over the United States, as well as Canada, New Zealand, and Europe.

With the film fest underway and lasting through the weekend, the moto-party moved to Manhattan on Thursday for the annual Indian Larry/Hard Rock Cafe Bike Night in Times Square, where hundreds of bikes descended on the Crossroads of the World to show off under the bright neon, er, LED signs and marquees. Now, I was personally unable to document that event because, like most New Yorkers, I never, ever go to Times Square. But those who did go said it was a blast, and I can attest that whenever hundreds of motorcycles roll into Midtown Manhattan, the cacaphonic roar of echoing exhausts and astonished gapes from unsuspecting tourists are, respectively, awe-inspiring and freakin‘ hilarious.

Indian Larry Block Party
Scenes from the Indian Larry Grease Monkey Block Party. Photo by Thomas Weiss.

The next day, thousands more bikes and riders descended on Hipsterville on a beautiful early-fall afternoon to say hello to old friends and dig the scene in Brooklyn. Judging by the club patches and license plates, most made the trek from Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut — but many rode in from places far-flung from the Tri-State area, like Ohio, Florida, and Quebec. The Block Party has become the anti-rally for many, a place where tough-guy posturing and hucksterism isn’t welcome but all makes and models are. Long-lost pals exchanged bro-hugs, spike-haired rugrats in Agnostic Front T-shirts darted between legs, and families and loved ones were inquired about earnestly. Like the bikes for which Indian Larry became famous, the vibe at the Block Party is open, honest, and true to form. Bullshit gets rooted out quickly and all that’s left are friends, family, and iron. And a few beers.

Plenty of independent vendors like Led Sled and DeadBeat Customs lined the block in front of the Indian Larry Motorcycles shop, and more gathered around the corner in front of the Works Engineering building on 14th Street — but massive OEM tractor-trailers and cheesy corporate beer gardens were nowhere to be found. Food and beer vending was handled by the Indian Larry folks themselves. For a $20 wristband, attendees could grab a cold Coney Island Beer or a burger from volunteers, and inside the shop itself inksters offered tattoos for tips in the shadow of parts, project bikes, and famous Indian Larry creations, such as Chain of Mystery, one of his three “Biker Build-Off” winners.

Chain of Mystery
Indian Larry's "Biker Build-Off" winner, Chain of Mystery. Photo by Thomas Weiss.

Bands played throughout the day as dozens of NYPD’s finest stood around on street corners and let the revelers cut loose; when an impromptu burnout pit broke out one block over, the cops redirected traffic, made sure the riders had plenty of room, and kept things under control. Their smiles had me wondering if many of them were Motor Officers assigned to the most plum gig of the summer. Through it all, Bobby Seeger maintained a jovial smile and a welcoming vibe, greeting attendees like old friends and fielding the frantic queries of sweaty volunteers with a reassuring pat on the back.

Indian Larry Block Party
Scenes from the Indian Larry Grease Monkey Block Party. Photo by Thomas Weiss.

“Our 13th Indian Larry Block Party was on point once again, bringing it all in during the week,” Seeger told me later, citing the teamwork of everyone on and off the payroll to the sponsors in making the event a success. “We just enjoy having a good time and throwing parties.” And after 13 years, they’ve gotten really good at it.

One thing the Indian Larry Grease Monkey Block Party does have in common with other bike rallies and events is its mission of charity. For the past few years, 100 percent of the proceeds from the Block Party support the Aidan Jack Seeger Foundation, offering family support and advocating newborn screening for adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a genetic brain disease that claimed the life of Elisa and Bobby’s seven-year-old son in 2012.

Indian Larry Block Party
Scenes from the Indian Larry Grease Monkey Block Party. Photo by Thomas Weiss.

Indian Larry Block Party
Scenes from the Indian Larry Grease Monkey Block Party. Photo by Thomas Weiss.
The Indian Larry Grease Monkey Block Party is not the end of the party, though. From noon to 10 p.m. tomorrow at Root Studios, just a couple blocks from the Indian Larry shop, is the Brooklyn Invitational Custom Motorcycle Show. The Invitational makes for a nice complement to the fun block party and entertaining film fest; it’s essentially an art exhibit, held in a 16,000-square-foot gallery with its subjects displayed with a curator’s eye for maximum impact.

And the mood is what one would expect at an art opening — reverent, respectful, and relaxed (just swap out the whispers, wine, and cheese for laughs, beer, and tacos). Unlike a typical motorcycle museum, the bikes here aren’t dusty remnants of nostalgia; these are current, vibrant works of art designed to inspire. This year, attendees can ogle works by renowned fabricators such as Keino Sasaki, Roland Sands, and NYC Norton guru Kenny Cummings. For the straight dope on what’s happening in the world of custom motorcycles today, and what to expect in the years to come, the Brooklyn Invitational is a can’t-miss. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.

Indian Larry Block Party
A Works Engineering sidecar racer with a BMW boxer engine. Photo by Thomas Weiss.

So if you find yourself near Brooklyn next September, be sure to check out the 15th Annual Indian Larry Grease Monkey Block Party, and surely the Fifth Motorcycle Film Festival and Ninth Brooklyn Invitational Custom Show as well. Just leave the attitudes at home.