GOWANUS — A Gowanus garage where city motorcyclists can safely stow their bikes and tinker on them in peace is being forced to leave its Third Avenue building.
Vax Moto owner Justin Walters recently got a surprise order from his landlord to move his business out by the end of May because the building is about to be sold, Walters said.
The building owner could not be reached for comment.
Walters said he's hoping to find another spot nearby where he can recreate the unique motorcycle community he's built at Vax Moto. Clients pay a $200 monthly fee to store their bikes in their own indoor parking spot, complete with a cubby to store gear. They're given 24-hour access to the cavernous garage, where they're free to use tools and work on their motorcycles at no extra charge.
The spacious, secure garage provides a much-needed refuge for city motorcyclists, who sometimes feel like ships in a storm as they fight for space on traffic-clogged streets and battle for respect from bigger vehicles, bikers say.
For bike enthusiast Ben Suhr, discovering Vax Moto was "a dream come true," he said on Friday, his first day as a client. Before finding what he called a "safe haven" at Vax Moto, Suhr kept his bike in his Washington Heights co-op building's garage, where cars would routinely knock it over. When he wanted to work on his Kawasaki Ninja, he had to sneak around in the early morning to avoid incurring the wrath of his co-op board.
Suhr said he considered other garages that cost slightly less, but he chose Vax Moto because of the friendly, welcoming vibe.
"It's not intimidating," Suhr said. "It's just guys who like to talk about bikes and will help each other out."
Walters is scouting for new spaces in the neighborhood, and he's hoping to stay in Gowanus. He had some reservations when he opened Vax Moto in the industrial neighborhood in 2011, but the setting has proved ideal.
Walters is the only tenant in the massive brick, windowless building on Third Avenue between 12th and 13th streets. The 5,000-square-foot-space has a ceiling that soars up to 22 feet, allowing space to stack motorcycles high above the floor on heavy-duty racks lining the walls. Nearby are useful neighbors like powder coaters and machine shops that can make parts for bikes.
At full capacity, Vax Moto holds 120 bikes. They range from amateur race cycles to classic BMWs to Harley-Davidson choppers. For some clients Vax Moto is simply a storage facility, but for others it's a workshop where they can explore their creative side with restoration projects.
One customer just spent several painstaking months putting the guts of a Ninja 250 inside a 1958 Lambretta.
Plenty of friendships have formed inside the motor oil-scented garage, which sometimes hosts events like art shows and full moon rides. The bikers know each other by the sound of their rattling engines.
"That's Roy," Walters said on Friday when he and a leather-vested client named "Cobra" heard the distinctive growl of a Harley with an "open primary" pulling up the garage's ramp.
"We're a community of guys that on some level are cut from the same cloth," Walters said. "The thread that holds us together is our love of motorcycles. We're not an elitist group. We're an equal opportunity motorcycle garage."