John Copeland, Jeffrey Schad, Keino Sasaki and a few friends have been pulling together the Brooklyn Invitational Custom Motorcycle Show for the past five years, and it is always a good time. The show is presented in a uniquely Brooklyn way: in a gallery setting on the Brooklyn waterfront. It’s an art show for people who consider custom bikes art. The Invitational gets bigger and more diverse every year, with builders, artists and attendees coming from all over the world.
On the eve of this year’s show, which opens at 3 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014) at the Root Studio, 131 N. 14th St., we asked the three organizers to answer some questions about the show. These are their joint answers.
You guys have managed to show motorcycles as art more successfully than anyone else. What made you think of doing a show that way?
We all come from different backgrounds, but know each other and became friends through motorcycles. When we started, there wasn’t anything going on in New York that compared. I think we just approached this by thinking in the same manner as curating a gallery show. The point was to showcase the work and the bikes, without all the bullshit of a normal bike event.
How do you guys get so many top-notch builders from all over the country to be a part of the show each year?
We always feel honored that people are willing to be a part of it. It’s a long process and a lot of work. Frankly, this started as a very grassroots show, and we contacted friends and acquaintances for the beginning shows. Since then, we have been fortunate to have made many more friends in the motorcycle world who are willing to be a part of it, and it keeps generating momentum because of them.
What is the process for choosing who is an invited builder?
It is a bit of a complicated process. First is the quality and diversity of the motorcycle style as a whole, then the builder, and location are the main factors. There are so many bikes out there we would like to see, but we have limited space and budget.
I am sure you have been approached and asked by someone if their bike can be in the show. Are there any big names that you had the guilty pleasure of turning down so far?
We don’t want to name any names here, and we don't feel pleasure in saying no to people. Some people take it really, really personal. But yes, the inquiries are amazing, but we have limited space and we care about the integrity and diversity of the show, which is what most people love about it.
Tell us about one of your favorite memories from the past shows.
Just the madness and excitement of the show is a rush. We can’t believe the amount of people that come at this point. A favorite part is seeing the show set up and ready to open without anyone in the space.
The Root Gallery space is a pretty fancy spot and I am sure it isn’t cheap. How have you managed to keep the show free?
Every dollar that the show generates goes right back into the show. We formed a non-profit. We also donate to some local charities.
I remember the first year that you had it down a dark alley. What made you clean it up and what do you think was lost and added to the show?
Well, it’s always been a struggle to find the right venue, both in terms of location and feel. We had the first show at the Autumn Bowl in Greenpoint. Our friends had the space and were kind enough to let us do it there. When the time came the second year, the Autumn Bowl was gone, so we had to find a new venue, which was difficult. Doing the show at Root let us take us our vision for the show to the next level.
There are always a ton of bikes and people doing their own thing on the street. What are some of the ups and downs about that whole sideshow?
Each year we have tons of people and bikes come and go. Most of them are respectful, but some are not, by doing wheelies and burnouts. We don’t want anybody to get hurt or harass the neighbors. Law enforcement knows what we do here, but if they see things get out of control, they may need to shut us down. It almost happened before numerous times. It’s important for people who attend to remember that we all need to respect the venue, the neighborhood, and the police. We want people to know that and use common sense. We want everyone to have a good time.
What do you guys have planned for the future?
We are sending a bike from the Invitational, in conjunction with Mooneyes, to Yokohama (23rd annual Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show) this year. That is a great thing and a humbling partnership, as we greatly respect the history and imprint they have on motorcycle and car culture throughout the world.
Do any of you have a new bike that you have built to show off this year and what is it?
One of us does. You’ll have to come see to find out!