2009 Triumph Speedmaster in New York City - Gotham Junkie
Hitting New York City On Triumph's Speedmaster
By Lee Klancher
January 8, 2010
New York's mythic status is taken to new heights when you work in book publishing. The industry orbits around the Big Apple. When I worked at a Midwestern book publisher, we envied, idolized and mythologized NYC book editors, with tales whispered about exorbitant salaries, penthouse suites, and halls teeming with overworked editorial assistants paid three cents an hour who lived packed like rats into roach-infested 10-square-foot apartments underneath creosote factories.
The myth grew exponentially for me, as I didn't visit the city until a four-day business-pleasure brawl in 2006 injected the town into my bloodstream. The food, the energy, the cabbies, the freaks, and the fact that you can walk into a bookstore at midnight and it's packed all convinced me that Leary had it right: New York is a drug.
Late nights at dank bars with nefarious characters. Subway encounters. Thick air scented with peanut satay, pepperoni, and rotting garbage. Jam-packed 4 am parties in tiny apartments wall-to-wall with microbrews, publicists, hash and hipsters. Neighborhood pubs and street-savvy crash-addled bikers.
I came back, again and again. Never drove. Don't drive New York, they said, or the Parking Nazis will throw you in a hole or a drunken bus driver will cheese-grater you into the bottom of a sewer where rats will gnaw your bones.
But the city seduced me to take it for a spin. I craved a careen across the Brooklyn Bridge. A fetid blast through the Lincoln Tunnel. Wheelies on Broadway.
A call was made and promises exchanged. The end result was a black-nasty Triumph tucked into a back corner of a tidy garage in the East Village and a date with a private tour guide who knew the city.
The black nasty was a 2009 Speedmaster, the speed-sleeked version of the British marque's America model. Fed juice through a fuel injection unit, the current Speedmaster is a lean, low custom. But the name has history, as the moniker was used by American distributors to give the T120R some stateside appeal. The original Speedmaster has classic lines and a bad boy image that makes modern Brit bike freaks weep and moan like evangelists experiencing The Rapture.
Naming a new bike the Speedmaster is a ballsy move characteristic of a reinvented company that had to burn down to come out and is headed by a guy who started his career building wheels in the factory to pay for his racing habit.
The 865cc vertical twin-powered bitch kitten was sitting on the sidewalk in the front of Rising Wolf Garage on a Saturday noon, sex appeal and drag bars warming in the morning sun.
Mike Wernick owns the garage with his wife Nuri, and the couple rents out spaces to New York City motorcyclists. I had profiled the Wernicks and their garage for my book Motorcycle Dream Garages, and they had agreed to house the bike over the weekend. A former firefighter, Mike is a fixture in the New York motorcycle community.
I called Fink. He was game. Said he knew some great roads. Said he rode a Bat Bike. I was down with it. Hoped he would show up in a caped suit.
Fink sat gassed up and good to go that Saturday. No costume. Batman logos covered his midnight black Star Stratoliner. Wernick took one look and split. Fink and I hit the road.
The Speedmaster dug New York. Seamless torque squirted the bike from stoplight to stoplight. The chassis was taut and crisp, the handling efficient and quick when ducking cabbies and crazies.
We cut east to FDR Drive, a battered 9-plus-mile strip of asphalt which runs north along the East River (and, between 23th and 30th streets, is built upon rubble from bombed British cities used as ballast in war-time Limey freighters). Six lanes of rattling traffic hammered along at 60-plus, ignoring the posted 40-mph speed limit and communicating with the one-finger salute and long get-the-eff-out-of-my-way horn blasts.
New Yorkers honk at slow drivers, cabbies who cut them off, fast drivers, leggy blondes, stray dogs, drivers on cell phones, jaywalkers, Giuliani supporters, and out-of-state license plates. Near as I can tell, they honk when the wind blows.
Fink slipped the big black bat bike through the traffic like a dancer. He did the heavy lifting and I drank in riding the heavy metal city. Rusty bolts on iron-clad overpasses. Blank-eyed warehouses. Crusty barges moored with ropes bigger than my thigh.
We crossed the Hudson on the 4,500-foot span of the George Washington Bridge. Built on ash and bone, the shuddering suspension bridge takes 100 million vehicles skyward each year.
Fink's first stop of the day was Nyack, an old ship-building town across the Hudson from Sleepy Hollow that sports a revitalized waterfront area and a ne'er do well history that includes the infamous "Ghost Busters case" in which a house in town was deemed haunted by the New York Supreme court. Home owner Helen Ackley claimed poltergeists woke her up every day by shaking her bed. She told everyone on earth this story (including Reader's Digest) but neglected to inform the man who bought the home.
We left the town spirit-free, and headed back across the Hudson to have lunch in Tarrytown. Over a plate full of fish, Fink told me his story.
He grew up in Biloxi, Misssissippi, delivering newspapers on his first motorcycle, a small machine of Polish descent. Spent some time in the army. His dad wanted him to join forces and go into the garment industry, but he chose to head to New York City in search of opportunity instead. After busting his ass getting a business degree at night school, he found the opportunities he was seeking at Schick. He put a together a deal to bring one of the first widely-successful electric shavers to America. That launched a 30-year career engineering new skin and hair products for Schick and Clairol before starting his own consulting company in 2000.
Riding was a passion Fink lost touch with as he raised two daughters and pursued his career. When he found himself with more time on his hands a few years back, he took an MSF course and got back into riding. He's 72 years old and now rides passionately and regularly.
"I told my wife when I go, I want to be riding my motorcycle," he said. We got back to just that after lunch, and explored some roads with enough twists to put the Speedmaster to the test.
The engine really shines on this bike, with solid midrange power and a distinctive sound. The exhaust is quiet but not overly so, and emits a low-rpm whir evocative of the flying cars used in old Jetsons cartoons. At freeway speeds, the bike has ample roll-on power. The top gear ratio was a bit low for my tastes, but the bike was smooth even at 75 miles per.
The seating is a bit more forward and upright than some swept-back cruisers. This made it easier to corner a bit more aggressively, while keeping your back straight (which is comfortable for longer rides). The seat height is low enough for smaller stature riders as well.
The road continued on to Bear Mountain State Park, a heavily forested area with winding pavement, great views, and heavy weekend traffic. The gorgeous getaway only a few hours from Manhattan would make for a great weekday ride when roads are a bit clearer.
A late-night dinner at a neighborhood Italian bistro waited, so we burned the six-lane back to the City. Fink went home to his wife, and I headed out to revel in New York's buzz. A bleary twelve hours later, Fink took me to Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood to drink in the Brooklyn Bridge at dawn.
A survivor of assaults from Lebanese terrorists and blowtorch-wielding Al-Qaeda members, the Neo-Gothic limestone, granite and cement series of monoliths looms over this area (DUMBO is an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).
Gray, somber and as mythic in stature as the stories told around book publisher's water coolers, the bridge stands tall and true. On occasion, iconic representations of legends live up to their name.
The Speedmaster and I didn't make it to Broadway, but a hard tug and a generous right hand rewarded me with air under the front wheel on a broad boulevard. My itch to ride the city was scratched, complete with a little wheelie fantasy-come-true on a modern interpretation of a 1960s bad boy dream.
Lee Klancher is the author of Motorcycle Dream Garages ([www .motorcycledreamgarage.com](http://www .motorcycledreamgarage.com) ) and a co-founder of 671 Press (www.671press.com ).