V012

Land of Discovery

Finding Inspiration in Portugal

Words by Ben Giese | Photos by Luca Gambuti


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A desire to explore new territory is part of human nature, and our innate craving for discovery is something that is hardwired into our DNA. Much like Christopher Columbus’s first voyage across the Atlantic or Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, this curiosity is something that continuously drives humanity forward. And that thrill of breaking new ground is what sparks our imaginations and helps expand our understanding of the world we live in. 

 

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As the infamous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau once pondered, “What is the origin of the devouring curiosity that drives men to commit their lives, their health, their reputation, their fortunes, to conquer a bit of knowledge, to stretch our physical, emotional or intellectual territory?” He continued: “The more time I spend observing nature, the more I believe that man’s motivation for exploration is but the sophistication of a universal instinctive drive deeply ingrained in all living creatures. Life is growth – individuals and species grow in size, in number, and in territory. The peripheral manifestation of growing is exploring the outside world.”

Back in March Ducati had invited me to Portugal for the release of their new Scrambler 1100, and while riding through the historic city of Lisbon those profound thoughts of human exploration, instinct and our natural desire for adventure were racing inside my helmet. During my visit I stopped by the impressive Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). This monument was constructed in 1939 on the northern bank of the Tagus River to celebrate Portugal’s Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries. The monument pays tribute to all of the fearless navigators, particularly the Portuguese explorers who once departed from these banks.   

Portugal spearheaded early European exploration of the world, and Portuguese captains of the era quickly became the best in Europe, sailing the most maneuverable ships and using the latest innovations in navigation and cartography. The monument includes depictions of many groundbreaking explorers, including the likes of Ferdinand Magellan — a Portuguese explorer who led the first voyage to circumnavigate the globe.

 

Crews of men numbering in the hundreds would depart on massive wooden ships to venture across the ocean and return years later with only a fraction of the crewmembers surviving. In those days, if the ship didn’t sink, crewmembers would likely die from starvation, disease, pirate raids or even attacks from the aboriginal tribes occupying the land they were exploring. Many people believed in sea monsters, huge whirlpools and a searing sun that produced boiling waters in the outer regions of the Atlantic Ocean that would kill anyone who came close. Yet amongst all that terrifying folklore and the loss of so many human lives, these bold navigators ventured onward into the unknown to discover new worlds.

 

Photo by Nathon Verdugo

Photo by Nathon Verdugo

Feeling inspired, I start up my Scrambler 1100 to depart from the monument and ride through the historic city of Lisbon. The significant architecture of this city still echoes the Old World, and I can’t help but think about how these old cobblestone streets I am riding are the same those great explorers once walked.  As I reflect back to that time, and to those people, I come to the realization that the modern-day motorcycle adventurer is not all that different from those early explorers.  Sure, our expeditions might be a bit more calculated, and with a much higher survival rate, but ultimately we share the same passion for adventure and curiosity for the unknown.

Portugal will forever be known as the Land of Discovery, and much like those early wooden ships, my Scrambler 1100 is a vessel for discovery. It’s a tool for exploration and a means for seeing the planet from a new perspective.  With this newfound perspective I saddle up and ride south down the beautiful Portuguese coastline.  And who knows what I might discover… 


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Read the story in Volume 012

Body & Motion

How the Motorcycle Influences Architect Antoine Predock

Words & photos by JC Buck


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It’s six in the morning, and Ben is picking me up outside my garage in Denver. We are about to embark on a six-hour drive from Denver to Albuquerque to meet renowned architect and motorcycle enthusiast Antoine Predock. 

Last year I discovered the work of the New Mexico-based architect, who is celebrating 50 years of architecture, and have been photographing his buildings since. 

I work as an architectural photographer, and I am fascinated by Antoine’s career. So much so that, in my own time, I have photographed his buildings in Arizona, Wyoming, Las Vegas, Minnesota and Colorado. 

 

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Antoine has designed award-winning museums, libraries, university buildings and private residences all over the globe. He has been awarded the prestigious AIA Gold Medal (joining the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn), among many others, and is considered to be one of the most notable American architects of our time.

His buildings are works of art and come out of the ground like geological events. They truly become part of the landscape, with canyon-like approaches, mountainous shapes, dramatic sloping rooflines, and a deep and thoughtful respect for place – historically, culturally and geologically. 

 

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We arrive at his Albuquerque studio shortly after noon, and there he is waiting for us with a diverse trio of his motorcycles on display (Vincent, Ducati and Zero Electric), one for each of us! 

He resembled a rock star more than an international architect, with his steampunkish sunglasses, beanie, black-on-black outfit, skateboard shoes, and Ducati T-shirt. Antoine is particularly fond of Ducati motorcycles, we soon come to learn.

He greets us like old friends, invites us into his studio, and gives us a quick tour. The space provides us with a glimpse into his design process, with tables displaying clay models, 3D-printed models, gallery walls of sketches, paintings, large-format handmade collages, photographs, awards, and stacks of books upon books. 

Antoine proceeded to show us his large collection of motorcycles, from a 1929 Indian Scout to numerous Ducati and BMW sport bikes, to his current favorite: a custom electric Zero motorcycle, which had been raced in the Colorado Springs Pikes Peak Hill Climb. 

 

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Following the tour of his studio and my lusting over his beautiful collection of motorcycles, we crack open some S.Pellegrinos (it’s still early in the day) and settle into a small, comfortable seating area in a window-filled corner, with expansive views of the Rio Grande river valley and Sandia mountain range. 

We asked Antoine all kinds of questions, and he talked to us like friends – explaining his process, designing architecture, and passion for motorcycles. He shared with us his body-and-motion philosophy, a tale of a recent motorcycle crash and the archives he recently donated to the University of New Mexico.

It was a time I will cherish: The three of us talking about motorcycles, architecture, design, and life all while overlooking the most beautiful otherworldly and iconic New Mexico landscape.  

 

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Antoine is fascinated with the idea of body and motion. Throughout his career, he has studied how the body moves through spaces and landscapes. For him, the motorcycle embodies this philosophy more so than anything else. 

As he poetically says,

 

“The connection to place, to the land, the wind, the sun, stars, the moon ... it sounds romantic, but it’s true – the visceral experience of motion, of moving through time on some amazing machine – a few cars touch on it, but not too many compared to motorcycles. I always felt that any motorcycle journey was special.”

 

We all know this feeling, and it’s a sensory experience like no other. I can see how this influenced Antoine’s work. Prior to discovering his buildings and learning about his design process, I would not have connected these two. I am now seeing things differently as I ride through a landscape, or in the way I approach and move through a building. I have become hypersensitive to my own body and motion. 

 

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“The body moves through space every day, and in architecture in cities, that can be orchestrated,” Antoine says. Not in a dictatorial fashion, but in a way of creating options, open-ended sort of personal itineraries within a building. And I see that as akin to cinematography or choreography, where episodic movement, episodic moments, occur in dance and film.”

I’ve experienced this with his buildings I have photographed, most notably the Nelson Fine Arts Center at Arizona State University. The building has multiple options to enter, pass by, and interact with the space, from its subterranean levels to ascending its tower into the sky, overlooking the campus.  

 

“Architecture is a ride – a physical ride and an intellectual ride,” says Predock.

 

He wants people to move through his buildings, in fact, he wants everyone to be able to move through his buildings; such as the Human Rights Center in Ottawa, Canada, a stunning futuristic sculptural building, for which he won awards for its accessibility for people with disabilities.

 

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Antoine shares with us a recent motorcycle crash he experienced in Los Angeles: Someone drove right into him while he was riding. He wasn’t lane-splitting or anything aggressive like that (and he did comment on how much he enjoys lane-splitting), but just out of nowhere someone hit him, resulting in a brief hospital visit with several non-life-threatening injuries. He has mainly recovered, although at the time we were meeting, he was still dealing with some pain. 

He goes on to talk about how he wears armor now, to protect him from the elements, like “asshole commuters,” he jokes. Wearing motorcycle armor for protection, he ties it back to architecture – how he designs for place. For example, designing for the New Mexico landscape, the extreme conditions of of which have defined him as an architect. 

“I try to understand ‘place’ on a deeper level than just the physical or environmental aspects,” he explains. “It includes cultural and intellectual forces, too. It’s an inclusive approach that brings in many disciplines and sees place as a dynamic thing.”

 

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Antoine’s education and entire career has been rooted in New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment has defined him as a person, his design process, and his architecture. 

In his words,

 

“New Mexico has formed my experience in an all-pervasive sense. I don’t think of New Mexico as a region. I think of it as a force that has entered my system, a force that is composed of many things. Here, one is aimed toward the sky and at the same time remains rooted in the earth with a geological and cultural past. The lessons I’ve learned here about responding to the forces of a place can be implemented anywhere. I don’t have to invent a new methodology for new contexts. It is as if New Mexico has already prepared me.”

 

Before we wrapped up our afternoon with Antoine, we follow him down to the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning, a building that he designed. I wanted to capture some architectural photographs of him passing by one of his buildings on his motorcycle. 

 

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The strong and rectilinear university building, with its articulated southern-facing façade, is a modern interpretation of the New Mexico landscape, specifically inspired by the cliffs of Canyon de Chelly. It sits on Central Avenue, a main east-west street that was once part of the famous Route 66. 

The sun was raking the southern facade as cars passed by, and I capture a handful of compositions with Antoine on his electric Zero Motorcycle, beautifully showcasing the scale of the building in comparison to Predock and his motorcycle.

While there on campus, which happens to be graduation day, we join the architect inside to see dozens of celebrating graduates of the Architecture and Planning School in their red caps and gowns. Antoine is greeted with hugs and smiles as he congratulates the students.

We say our goodbyes, and just like that we are on the road back to Denver. As we passed through the New Mexico landscape with the sunset in our rearview mirror, I couldn’t help but think about body and motion. What a great philosophy and way to live this life. 

 

Body. Motion. Life. It’s all about movement.


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Story featured in Volume 012

Italiano

Moto Guzzi's Italian Heritage

Words by Brett Smith


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Behind a red metal gate in the small Italian town of Mandello del Lario are the ingredients to building great motorcycles. It’s an imposing 10- or 11-foot-tall barrier that gives the impression of something substantial happening on the other side. But it’s nothing like the foreboding gate Charlie Bucket encountered in front of Willy Wonka’s factory (“Nobody ever goes in … nobody ever comes out”). 

No, the century-old façade of Moto Guzzi doesn’t stand in an attempt to shield or withhold secrets. Moto Guzzi wants everyone to know what’s coming out of its factory, which sits a few blocks inland of the Lecchese branch of Lake Como. Looming over the east side of the town is Grigna, the 8,000-foot-tall mountain massif. 

 

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Everything is assembled in the Mandello del Lario factory, but what’s even more important to Moto Guzzi is that it’s an all-Italian brand. Even the parts they don’t directly manufacture are made in Italy by Italian companies. “Heritage is our strength,” press officer Alberto Cani told half a dozen journalists as they carefully sipped nuclear-hot coffee and nibbled Italian pastries. That heritage is the reason why we’ve flown to Northern Italy in late March: We did it to ride Guzzi’s lineup of V7III models, because to fully appreciate and write about an all-Italian bike, made by Italians with Italian components, it’s important to ride the bike on the Italian roads near where the bikes are made.  

Moto Guzzi isn’t the oldest Italian motorcycle manufacturer – Beta (1904), Gilera (1909), Benelli (1911) and others came first – but Moto Guzzi is the oldest to have been in continuous uninterrupted production, which started in 1921 with the Normale. It was a 500cc model that featured a single horizontal cylinder and produced a whopping 8.5 horsepower. Top speed: 52.8 miles per hour. The bike had no front brake, no headlight and no suspension. 

 

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The Guzzi story, however, actually began in the middle of the Great War, when Carlo Guzzi put forth the idea of building a better motorcycle to his friends. Guzzi was an engineer in the Royal Marines; Giorgio Parodi and Giovanni Ravelli were pilots. In 1919, they built a prototype with financial help from Giorgio’s father, Vittorio Emanuele Parodi. In a letter dated January 3, 1919, he wrote to his son: 

“Although technically I am little more than a donkey, nevertheless I feel able to give a quite competent and practical judgment on the convenience and the probability of success in a similar imprint …
“The answer that you should then give to your classmates is that I am favorable in maxim, that the 1500 or 2000 lire for the experiment are at your disposal … but that I reserve the right to personally examine the project before granting my support defined to seriously launch the product. That if by chance I liked it I am willing to go a long way without limitation of numbers.”

 

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Two thousand lire (the monetary unit of Italy until 2002) was enough for the young men to start work on “a new kind of moto.” Sadly, before their prototype was finished, Ravelli died in a plane crash. To honor him, the remaining founders designed the eagle logo, which is always looking forward on the motorcycle. The original prototype was called the G.P. (Guzzi-Parodi) but to squash the possibility of G.P. being solely linked to the initials of Giorgio Parodi, they (wisely) settled on Moto Guzzi as the brand name, as Moto Parodi sounds like something one would eat.

Carlo loved racing and realized early on how much that exposure could benefit them. They had success very early. In late May, 1921, only 10 weeks after the official founding date, they raced from Milan to Naples. That September, Gino Finzi won the famous Targa Florio event around the island of Sicily. Three years after that, Guido Mentasti won the first-ever 500cc European Motorcycle Championship riding a Moto Guzzi. Then, in 1935, Irishman Stanley Woods won the Isle of Man Senior TT. It was the first time a non-English brand had ever won the prestigious event. 

 

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As sales increased, so did the emphasis on winning. In 1949, the first year of the World Motorcycle Championships, Bruno Ruffo won the 250cc class on a Moto Guzzi; in fact, the brand took 7 of the top 10 positions in the standings. Six years later, with the help of an engineer named Giulio Cesare Carcano, Moto Guzzi showed up at the Belgian Grand Prix with a 500cc eight-cylinder monster. The first version of the “Otto Cilindri,” a 90-degree V8 four-stroke, produced 68 horsepower. But in 1957, Italy dropped a bomb on the racing world. Moto Guzzi, Gilera, Mondial and MV Agusta made a joint announcement that they were abandoning their racing efforts at the end of the season, citing the rising cost to race and a decline in sales. MV Agusta pulled out of the pact and went on to win 17 consecutive championships in the 500cc class. 

The V8 motorcycle never had the chance to reach its full potential, but in the end its engineer, Carcano, gave the motorcycling world an even better gift: He developed Moto Guzzi’s first 90-degree transverse V-twin, which was put into the 1967 V7, the original version of what I’m riding around Lake Como. It became the eagle brand’s bestselling motorcycle and the engine style most closely associated with Moto Guzzi. The V7 was considered the first Italian sportbike and remains classic over 50 years later. To continue to call it a sportbike, however, is a bit of a stretch by today’s standards – it’s a 750cc that puts out 52 hp, has plenty of power, and yet is easy to ride. 

 

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At first, I was terrified of riding in Italy. I had never ridden in a foreign country. But after several hours of riding wicked tight tornantes (Italian for hairpin bends), I didn’t want to get off the bike. We left the shores of Lake Como and climbed up to 4,000 feet of elevation in the countryside between the southern branches of the lake. My fingertips were already getting stiff when the patches of snow showed up on the sides of the road. Then my fingers just went numb. 

Being surrounded by so much beauty, classic architecture and adorable elderly Italians ambling across roads in front of me – or just watching me ride by from their stoops – frigid fingers were easy to ignore. After 100 kilometers of riding, we returned to Mandello del Lario for a factory tour and museum visit. Walking around the inner courtyards felt like taking a step back to the 1920s and ’30s, when these buildings were erected. In 1921, the factory was 3,230 square feet. By 1970, it had ballooned to 383,000 square feet. Much has changed; the wind tunnel built in the 1950s is no longer in use, but it was such a revolutionary testing mechanism that it remains intact and serves as a showpiece. Even though the grounds still have a pre-WWII feel and look, the guts of the buildings now house modern assembly lines, dyno rooms, offices and loading docks. 

Standing near the final assembly area, we watched a red-coated inspector critically examine every Moto Guzzi. His process was meticulous, performed with mesmerizing precision. High season at the factory had just started, and the 120-employee workforce can push out 65 bikes a day, depending on the model. Yet, from the engine builders to the shipping department, nobody seemed to move with any kind of urgency. It’s not a race. It’s not how many or how fast; it’s about how good and how enjoyable. 

 

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The number of Italian makers that have come and gone since the early 1900s is well into the hundreds. From Acerboni, Aermacchi and Aetos all the way to Zenit, Zepa and Zeta, a list of the defunct marques is as shocking as it is long. It also points out a striking realization that Moto Guzzi has done something special: It has survived wars, dictators, economic crashes, buyouts, major sales declines and model flops, and never once ceased production. And for nearly 100 years, they’ve done it all from a small Italian town that’s home to barely more than 10,000 citizens. 

You don’t have to travel all the way to Lake Como to experience a Moto Guzzi. No matter where you ride one, you’re going to experience the decades of development it took to give you that bike – the races done, the feats of endurance, the expeditions, the countless miles spent riding around the Dolomites. Moto Guzzi motorcycles may be manufactured behind a red metal gate, but they’re developed in the tornantes of Northern Italy.


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Read the story in Volume 012

Everchanging

Hidden New York City

Words by Carmen Gentile | Photos by Jason Goodrich

Produced by One Down Media


 

Early Saturday mornings are serene in most major American cities. Last night’s revelers have already staggered or been driven home, conceding the streets to the well rested and those who can rage beyond the dawn. 

New York, of course, is not your average city. Not only does it never sleep, Gotham doesn’t even micro-nap. 

I witness firsthand New York’s legendary freneticism while riding alongside Blue Thomas, my friend and guide on a New York moto adventure, two minutes into which he’s nearly clipped by a garbage truck. 

 

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We’re riding through Lower Manhattan’s Flatiron District, home to the iconic building bearing the same moniker, when the hulking refuse collector rolls up on Blue’s rear wheel and blasts a warning honk that resonates off the steel and concrete towers flanking the street. 

We round a corner to escape the foul-smelling mass bearing down on us, only to roll up on another garbage truck. This one is parked, however, and its driver is cleaning the windshield. 

“You guys finally have a nice day for a ride,” says the man in a jumpsuit wielding a hose, a reference to the long, brutal winter New York had endured. 

Not bad, I surmise, if you’ve got your head on a quick swivel at 7 a.m. and the throttle-brake reflexes required to navigate the city’s traffic, construction, jaywalkers and a cornucopia of other potential distractions and dangers. 

So far, I’m loving it.

I’ve ridden all over the world and in cities far more chaotic and less mannered than New York. I first learned to ride in Rio de Janeiro, where moto-boy messengers are regularly hit and killed by drivers who favor the “offensive” motoring philosophy of constantly weaving and never relenting to the will of other drivers. 

More recently, I was riding motorcycles in northern Iraq while reporting on the fighting between the Islamic State and Iraqi forces, trying to show folks back home the picturesque and peaceful side of an oft-misunderstood country. 

 

I’ve lived and ridden all over the world and find riding to be the best way to get to know a foreign land and its people. 

And though I’ve visited New York countless times for work, and been one of those bleary-eyed fun seekers scurrying home before the first thin wisp of dawn, I can’t say I know the city all that well. 

 

That’s why I asked Blue to give me the 50-cent, two-wheel tour of New York you wouldn’t see from the top of a double-decker bus that rolls past the Empire State Building and other spots made famous by the cast of “Sex in the City.”

 

Not one to half-ass such an important assignment, Blue gave his task some serious thought, then devised a day ride for us that would highlight some historical New York sights, as well as some hidden gems.  

 

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From Flatiron we ride through Midtown and into the Upper East Side, cruising through the iconic Park Avenue tunnel near Grand Central Terminal. As my knowledge of New York is often relegated to my recognition of the cityscape in popular movies, I immediately recognized this area as the scene of the climactic final battle of the first Avengers movie. 

I see no sign of Hulk rampage damage on any of the skyscrapers as we head east to leave Manhattan by crossing the Queensboro Bridge into Queens. 

There I recognize not the landscape but a familiar style of home popular among previous generations of Italian-Americans like myself. The two-tone brickwork of houses in the Flushing neighborhood are ornamented with white lion statues and gilded cherubs on the front porch, reminiscent of those from my working-class, Italian hometown. 

While cruising along a Queens boulevard, I can’t help but note its being a centerpiece of my favorite Eddie Murphy movie, Coming to America. Beyond the boulevard, we arrive at our first stop, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, home to the giant World’s Fair globe and twin pillars adorned by what closely resemble UFOs that many may recall from the final scene of Men in Black.

 

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The “Unisphere,” as the globe is known, stands 14 stories tall and was erected in 1964 as an attraction for that year’s World’s Fair. The seemingly alien aircrafts on poles are actually old observation towers constructed around the same time to provide 360-degree views of the entire city. The UFOs of MIB fame are long dormant and rusty, unlike the globe that maintains its stainless steel sheen.

We park our bikes and walk up right to the southern pole of the globe. A young father is performing a series of headstands and other convoluted poses while his daughter attempts to climb up the base of the world. 

“You want to do yoga with Daddy?” he asks her, a request she ignores while trying to touch Antarctica. 

We circle to the other side of the globe, where Blue points to the tip of South America and suggests offhandedly: “Patagonia trip?” 

“Why not?” I tell him. “We’ll find some stories along the way and make an assignment out of it.”

 

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The seed of a future ride planted in our minds, we mount up and head farther east for our next destination: Breezy Point, a blue-collar beach community that’s also home to many a New York police officer and fireman. 

Spring is still struggling to make an appearance as we ride along the Grand Central Parkway heading south toward the shore, whipping us with salty, biting winds as the trees still struggle to bloom. 

 

I’m overjoyed to slow our roll to a casual cruising speed when we reach Breezy Point. It’s both picturesque in its natural beauty and a bit hardscrabble and rough around the edges, like many a New York neighborhood. The area was also hard hit by Superstorm Sandy back in 2012. Some homes and business still bear the scars. 

Out here, less than an hour ride, the towering buildings of Manhattan are no longer visible in our rearview mirrors. On our right shoulders are sand dunes and surf I vow one day to revisit in order to catch some swell. I’ve heard stories about New York watermen and women being particularly territorial about their waves, though they can’t be any rougher than the gang members I encountered while surfing in Brazil. 

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We ride until we run out of road, passing the gated side streets of Breezy Point until we arrive at the Breezy Point Surf Club, a popular family destination.

It’s still too early in the season for most beachgoers. The pavilions are desolate, although the sun glinting off the sand makes it seem almost like a summer’s day to the naked eye. A deserted beach anxiously awaiting the arrival of summer is not what I had imagined to find on a two-wheeled tour of New York. 

With food on our minds, we double back and head for fish and chorizo tacos. Along one wall of the outdoor seating area are large lockers for storing boards. However, on this brisk day, it appears that none of the clientele would be bold enough to paddle into the frigid surf. 

 

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Before completing our loop back to Manhattan, Blue’s got one more stop in mind, a place not known for its natural or architectural beauty, but rather as an oddity even most New Yorkers have never seen for themselves. 

 

At the mouth of a footpath, we park our bikes and stroll along a trail lined with sea reeds twice our height, creating an near-natural tunnel that I remark would be a good place to ditch a body. 

Turns out my macabre observation is somewhat apropos, considering that Blue is taking me to Brooklyn’s Dead Horse Bay, named more than a century ago for being the home of a glue factory whose main ingredient was the bones of aged and lame horses. 

In those foul-smelling days of industrialized old New York, discarded horse carcasses were known to clog the bay and emit an indescribably foul odor. 

Today there are no more horse corpses along this stretch, but there are many a remains from a bygone era littering the sand. 

 

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It seems Dead Horse Bay was also where much of the city’s garbage was dumped in the old days before caring about the environment was en vogue. Today, erosion of the old landfill has uncovered untold numbers of old bottles and other discarded items from those less-than-Earth-friendly days. 

Blue and I pick through some of the bottles and see brands we recognize, such as Clorox, although in brown, loop-handled jugs more commonly associated with moonshine rather than sparkling whites. 

They’re just the kind of relics hipsters love to place on mantels and bookshelves to let people know how eclectic they are, as evidenced by the handful of people walking up and down the stretch trying to find the perfect collectible. One generation’s garbage becomes another’s quirky conversation piece. 

Brooklynite Jessica Gaussion is scouring the sand with her mother for smaller pieces for some yet-to-be-envisioned craft project I can only assume will be a mosaic of sorts. 

“There’s very little red glass out here,” she tells me. “That’s a really coveted piece.” I suppress the urge to offer my opinion of her search when recollecting how a week earlier, I was in Mosul watching young children sift through the rubble that was their neighborhood for anything of value to sell to the scrap dealers, just so they could eat. 

 

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We bid our farewell to the odd stretch and saddle up for a ride back to Manhattan. The sun is getting low as we pull onto the Belt Parkway, casting the Verrazano Bridge in a golden glow. 

Just before sunset, we return to Lower Manhattan, past hoards of tourists milling around the memorial at the base of the Freedom Tower, before arriving at the legendary Ear Inn. This historical watering hole was a favorite haunt for sailors as far back as the early 1800s and now attracts bikers and civilians alike. Its history is intimately intertwined with the city we spent the day exploring.

Our bartender relates an old tale about how the sail-power vessels of yore would float right up to the dock, which in the earliest days of the Ear Inn was just outside the front door. In those days some sailors apparently weren’t allowed to leave ship, so the proprietor would pass crates of beer and stronger spirits right into the hands of eager seamen. Those that could leave, and landlubbers alike, were known to visit the working ladies in the upstairs bordello upstairs to slake a more carnal thirst. 

 

Our bartender relates an old tale about how the sail-power vessels of yore would float right up to the dock, which in the earliest days of the Ear Inn was just outside the front door. In those days some sailors apparently weren’t allowed to leave ship, so the proprietor would pass crates of beer and stronger spirits right into the hands of eager seamen. Those that could leave, and landlubbers alike, were known to visit the working ladies in the upstairs bordello upstairs to slake a more carnal thirst. 

Old maps we examine in a book that the bartender lends us attest to the bar’s previous close proximity to the water. However, two centuries later, the Hudson River is several blocks to the west, thanks to Lower Manhattan’s ever-expanding waistline. When the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were built, the dirt excavated for their foundations formed what is known today as Battery Park. 

The Ear Inn also did its duty to provide shelter for those New Yorkers fleeing the collapsing World Trade Center in 2001 amid the uncertainty and mayhem of that fateful day in September. 

All these years later, the Ear Inn is still a refuge of sorts for bikers and non-riders alike, though the sailors and working girls are long gone. 

We ponder the inn’s bawdy past and wish we could have been there during those debauched days long ago. 

 

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Our bikes plinking and cooling by the curb, Blue and I recount the day’s ride and marvel at how much ground we were able to cover in a single day. Blue’s been living in New York for more than 14 years and been riding here nearly as long. His street-by-street, encyclopedic knowledge of the city certainly served us well on our exploration. 

“I bought a bike when I came to New York to get out of the city more often,” he tells me over drinks, reminiscing about his earliest days of riding in a city not known for its patient or courteous drivers. 

 

“But I soon found out that I could discover so much more about the city, particularly the out-of-the-way places, just by riding around and seeing where my bike would take me.”

 

Amen to that, I tell him, now familiar with a few more sights in the city that many a longtime New Yorker would have difficulty identifying, thanks to our ride.


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Featured in Volume 012

Equilibrium

Precisely Enough

A film by VOCA Films | Words by Ben Giese | Photos by Aaron Brimhall


 

"Only great minds can afford a simple style."

–Stendhal

 

This has been one of my favorite quotes for many years now, and it not only inspires my work as a designer, but it’s also a concept I try to apply to my daily life. I am a fan of minimalism and believe that good design is a form of intelligence. My personal interpretation of minimalism is not necessarily an effort to have as little as possible, but more an effort to strip away the unnecessary. To silence the noise and let quality do the talking. Simplicity can be a beautiful thing if done correctly, and minimalism can be a powerful source of freedom. And I think these are two very mportant characteristics of a well-designed motorcycle. Even the great Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” 

Motorcycles should be simple. They should be exposed and unobstructed, much like the experience of riding them. I believe that good design appears in the lines, stripping away all the unnecessary gimmicks to present the machine in its purest form. But great design … Great design appears in all the things you don’t notice. It’s not in the things you can see or touch; the magic of a great motorcycle should be something you can feel. 

 

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“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

–Leonardo da Vinci

 

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In the fall of 2015, Swedish motorcycle manufacturer Husqvarna invited us to the annual EICMA Show in Milan, Italy, to witness the unveiling of their new Vitpilen 701 concept bike. Swedish design has always been synonymous with quality and minimalism, and true to its DNA, the Vitpilen revealed absolute excellence in its simplicity. I could feel that magic “something” immediately as I gazed upon the masterful work in design. 

With today’s popular trend of retro-inspired motorcycles and motorcycle culture, the Vitpilen 701 is a breath of fresh air. The progressive and forward-thinking design breaks boundaries with a nice reminder to stop looking to the past and start dreaming about the future. I’m a sucker for nostalgia just like the next guy, but from a design standpoint, the seamless aesthetic and unique lines of the Vitpilen stand alone and offer a new perspective on motorcycle design. Reduced down to the bare essentials of what a bike should be, the Vitpilen is a jaw-dropping statement for Husqvarna’s bold return to street.

 

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Two and a half years have passed since I first laid eyes on the Vitpilen 701 concept, and the anticipation to ride it was finally coming to an end. The first production models recently landed in the States, and I would be lucky enough to journey out to beautiful Palm Springs, California, to be one of the first to swing a leg over it on American soil.

Palm Springs is a cultural desert oasis, hosting the world’s largest concentration of mid-century modern architecture. Since the 1920s, visionary modernist architects have designed sleek homes to embrace the desert environment. The dramatic geographic surroundings of the Coachella Valley inspired a design aesthetic that became known as Desert Modernism, where the simplicity of the desert landscape is reflected in the minimal design of the architecture.

 

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"Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean and make it simple.”

–Steve Jobs

 

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Notable for its use of glass, clean lines and sophisticated design, Desert Modernism evoked a lifestyle of simplicity and elegance. Palm Springs became the place – as journalist Joan Didion once wrote – for dreaming the golden dream. Influenced by the intensities of living in a desert climate, this style of architecture aimed to be the perfect combination between form and function that challenged the current idea of what a home should look like. Thoughtful design became part of daily life, with ideals to not only look stunning, but also improve the experience. These principles very much remind me of the design philosophy behind Husqvarna’s Vitpilen 701, and the more thought I put into this connection, the more I realized that there could not be a more appropriate location to ride this motorcycle.

The Vitpilen 701 and Palm Springs’ Desert Modernist architecture have a lot in common. Both dance between the balance of form and function and the relationships of materials in an effort to create a seamless transition through space. They both feature a minimal design aesthetic that has been purposefully built to complement the experience. And when combining the elements of this modernist architecture, the minimal desert landscape and the progressive design of this motorcycle, it begs the question: Does innovation really need to be complex?

 

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"If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

–Albert Einstein

 

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Husqvarna has answered this question clearly with a motorcycle culminating in 115 years of progression, innovation and a never-ending quest to pioneer new territory.  I found that magic “something” in the honest and thrilling riding experience enabled by its simple and progressive design. As the sun sets over Palm Springs and I reflect on the day’s ride, this motorcycle has made an obvious statement: Perfection is not about more or less, but the balance of precisely enough. It’s about finding equilibrium. There is a fine line between too much and too little, and with the new Vitpilen 701, you can finally ride that line.


Read the story in Volume 012