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Hot, Fast and Loud: Motorcyclists Roar to Red Hook's Custom-Ride Mecca

By Alan Neuhauser | January 23, 2013 10:27am

RED HOOK — The once-sleepy south Brooklyn waterfront is going hog wild.

Motorcyclists from across the region are roaring into Red Hook, seeking out a trio of custom motorcycle shops renowned for churning out chrome-laden bikes sure to make any subway-shackled New Yorker yearn for leather jackets and the open road.

The three shops — plus a tri-color motor scooter shop on Union Street — offer widely different styles of bikes. But their owners, already a close-knit community bound ever more tightly by the ravages their garages suffered during Hurricane Sandy, share a single love, one they impart to their customers.

"You can be a [guy] from Long Island, or a fashionista from Manhattan — a rider’s a rider," said Carlos Dos Santos, co-owner of Brooklyn Motor Works on Pier 41.

Atop a motorcycle, "everything’s tuned out. You just have that one point on the horizon that you look at. It’s like meditation on steroids.”

Read on for DNAinfo.com New York's guide to the treasures that can be found behind each shop's metal roll-down doors, and which garage might be right for you.

Pier 41 near Liberty Warehouse
Owners: Carlos Dos Santos, 35, and Zach Cooper, 29
Founded: December 2010
Specialty: "The excessive."

Dos Santos has a motto: “'If the end of the world is tomorrow, what do you want to be riding?' The loudest, most badass bike imaginable,” he said.

That translates to Harleys: big, shining, powerful, customized hogs, each finished with intricate paintwork to match Dos Santos and Cooper's precision mechanical craftsmanship.

"It's very concierge, very boutique," said Dos Santos, who also described himself as "mechanical engineer meets caveman," citing Mel Gibson’s post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” as one of the biggest inspirations for his designs.

The shop builds bikes from the ground-up, and it modifies pre-existing motorcycles bought elsewhere. It’s also a certified DynoJet tuning facility and a big-time distributor of after-market parts, which attracts shops from across the city for high-end tuning and equipment.

"There's more here than just the performance," Cooper described. "We can go through with a fine-tooth comb."

Nevertheless, when it comes to building bikes, “A lot of what we do is the mechanized equivalent of a wild night out with the boys, doing shots all night," Dos Santos said with a laugh.

The shop, once located at 74 Verona St., was devastated by 4-feet of floodwater, which destroyed bikes, equipment and a lounge area for guests that included leather couches, a pool table, a big-screen TV and video games.

For now, Dos Santos and Cooper are working out of an unmarked garage as they await a move this summer to a larger space on Pier 41.

“It's going to blow the old spot away," Dos Santos said. " It’s really going to be something that complements the community." 

12 Van Dyke St.
Owner: Keino Sasaki, 39
Founded: January 2008
Specialty: No-holds-barred customization, initially for Harley Davidsons, now for bikes of all types.

It was Harleys that pulled Keino Sasaki to the United States. Born and raised in Fukuoka, Japan, he trained to be a history teacher before pursuing his dream of customizing motorcycles.

"There was a custom motorcycle scene in Japan, but it was small, and it was following the U.S.," he told DNAinfo.com New York. "Harley has a diversity of style, and the custom scene has more diversity."

The works he creates at his shop on Van Dyke Street don't adhere to one particular design. But taken together, they are at once both brash and delicate, featuring curved, colored frames that swoop upward from seat to handles.

"Anything that catches my eye, anything I'm inspired by, I just do it," he described, as soft jazz music floated from a speaker nearby. "Architecture, art, equipment, the beautiful organic look of it. I don't look for inspiration. It comes to you."

A custom bike built from the ground-up costs about $40,000, and takes six months to a year to build. A preexisting motorcycle can cost $10,000 to $20,000 to customize in about two to six months.

"You look at the guy on a motorcycle down the street. It makes crazy noise, doing wheelies. I was attracted to that image of not-normal — it's OK to be not-normal,” Sasaki said. “It's cheesy, the motorcycle-rebel image. I don't want to use that, but it's still the image."

97 Union St.
Owner: Peter Boggia
Founded: 2008
Specialty: Vintage European motorcycles

A slice of Old-World Europe lives in the Brooklyn garage owned by Peter Boggia — a space he once split with Sasaki of Keino Cycles. A native New Yorker, Boggia fell in love with Italian motorcycles, traveling to New Orleans in 1998 to apprentice under what he describes as one of the most accomplished mechanics in the industry.

Forced to move back to the five boroughs following Hurricane Katrina, Boggia built a reputation after rebuilding a classic Moto Guzzi Lemans salvaged from the storm.

"We are in business because we believe in the value of machines that are designed to last forever," he writes on the shop's website. "A properly maintained vintage motorcycle can be just as fun and reliable to ride as a modern bike — and thoroughly more rewarding to own."

The shop specializes in BMW, Ducati, Laverda, Norton, Moto Guzzi and Triumph motorcycles. It posts its latest projects and sales on its blog.

65 Union St.
Owner: Robbie Rhodes, 43
Founded: The shop has been open for more than a decade, but Rhodes took over in 2008
Specialty: Vintage Vespas

Plopped amid the brick-and-metal garages of the neighborhood's mighty motorcycle shops sits Scooter Bottega, a bright, tri-color building that is Brooklyn's only motor scooter service shop.

"Vespas are a very classical way of getting around," said owner Robbie Rhodes, who moved to the United States from Shropshire, England, in 2006. "It's best for getting around a city. That's what they were designed for…. It's economical, it's cheap on gas, it's easy to get from A to B. You can get there in style."

What's more, scooters and motorcycles are not mutually exclusive, he emphasized, pointing that he, himself, owns a motorcycle.

"You don't necessarily need a big 500cc motorcycle — you can only keep up with the traffic, you got so many [stop]lights," Rhodes said.

The shop services all kinds of motor scooters, and Rhodes regularly restores and sells vintage models. Restored scooters can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000, depending on the year and model.