Located in Brooklyn NY, Union Garage is a motorcycle gear shop dedicated to outfitting riders with the absolute best equipment available. They specialize in quality helmets, jackets, boots, gloves and accessories from the industry’s most respected brands. Whether riding around town or riding across country, they have put together an evolving catalog of apparel and extras to get the job done.
RSD - Looks like you guys have a thing for vintage bikes. Is that a staple of what Union does daily?
Union Garage -
RSD - Do you do any custom work?
We get this question a lot, and with a name like Union Garage it’s understandable. (We tend to get frazzled phone calls right before snowstorms too, from people looking to park their SUV inside somewhere.)
But we aren’t a service shop, we only sell gear – helmets, jackets, pants, boots, gloves, accessories. There are a few places on the block and in surrounding neighborhoods that do restoration and repair work, and there are a couple dealerships around, but we specialize strictly in gear. That’s our jam.
We’ve made a couple of our own products so in that sense yeah we do custom work. We have a tool roll that we produce locally and sell fully loaded with tools—50-plus pieces. It’s a pretty comprehensive metric kit, based off the factory BMW tool rolls.
RSD - I like how you show support for the travelers, tell us about those connections. Are these all people who end up at Union on their journeys?
Everyone who’s come through and given a presentation has either ridden a long way to get here, or has completed some fantastic trip and happens to live in New York. We’re looking to expand on this series this year it’s been a lot of fun.
Traveling by bike is a big part of our DNA. The reason I got into motorcycles myself was to take a cross-country trip. I’d driven across country a few times by car and was looking for something new so I bought an old BMW when I was 21 and took it to California and back the next year. Part of the thinking behind Union Garage has always been to make it into the shop I wish I could have found when I was looking for gear and advice before that first big trip.
We’ve hosted a few different folks for these in-store “Ride Report” presentations. We clear the floor, set up a bar, a spread of food and rows of folding chairs and pack the house with 100-plus people. And then these riders put a slideshow on the projector and tell stories. A local brewery sponsors us (shoutout Sixpoint!) and it makes for fun evening entertainment.
We’ve had people deliver presentations on months spent riding through Mongolia; one-ways from Argentina to NYC; we had a couple that had been on the road for 3 years two-up on a single-cylinder Yamaha Tenere (check out @aroundGaia_travel , they’re now in Egypt almost back home to Spain), and we just hosted these five Germans artists on Urals who rode Urals around the world. Their stories about crossing all of Russia were intense—they even turned the Urals into pontoon boats at one point and floated about a 1,000 miles of remote Russian river. NYC was the end of their trip and they gave an incredible (very condensed) presentation and then we partied with them. They literally rolled right into New York in January, in a snowstorm. You can look them up at http://leavinghomefunktion.com/en/
A lot of our customers use motorcycles to commute around the city, and they’re great tools for that. But it’s nice to be able to showcase what’s possible on two wheels. Creates a little bit of a fantasy factory. Even if it just inspires to some long-weekend escapes the Ride Report series has been a great way to expose people to what bikes are capable of. And hey if you want to go around the world we’ll happily help you get outfitted for it!
RSD - Does the shop favor a brand of motorcycle or specific type of riding?
I’ve personally always had an affinity for old air-cooled BMW’s that was my gateway drug. But I appreciate all kinds of bikes we get the whole gamut parked out front, from Tomos mopeds to Indian baggers, with a lot of Bonneville’s, BMW’s and Ducati’s in between.
Since we’re not a dealership of any sort we have the luxury of being brand agnostic, and all bikes are welcome.
RSD - I’ve heard NY can be rough on the two wheeled brethren, would you consider NY a bike friendly city or?
New York City is definitely not a hospitable place for motorcycles. Bikes get knocked over, ticketed, towed, rained on, snowed on, pissed on, and stolen. And it can be hard to find a place to buy gas in parts of Manhattan, let alone a good mechanic.
That said, the fact people go through the lengths to keep bikes in the city is a testament to how cool motorcycles are. And people adapt. There are a bunch of great community storage garages in Brooklyn and Manhattan that help support peoples’ habits. And while we don’t work on bikes officially, we’re always referring people to mechanics, storage spaces and collectives, giving parking tips and tricks and helping people get the right lock, bag, covers, gadgets, gizmos, etc.
So yeah having a motorcycle in NYC can be hard. We’re here to make it easier.
RSD - What’s up with a Flat Track race in the city somewhere, could it happen?
There are 6,000 miles of roadway within the 5 boroughs, but not much dirt. You’d have to truck your own in, but anything’s possible. The closest dirt track is in Cuddebackville, NY, about 100 miles away – we’re planning a ride out and day at the races this season.
RSD - What’s your typical customer looking for at the shop?
“Typical” is hard to pin down. We get a lot of new riders coming in for their first helmet, and we spend a lot of time with these guys (and girls, more and more) just going over all that goes into getting the right gear.
We also get a lot of “milk and eggs” customers—people looking for staples like covers, locks, gloves, rain gear, plate-pullers, an extra helmet.
We get plenty of year-round riders too. If it’s hot they’re looking for perforated jackets. If it’s cold they’re looking for lined jackets and waterproof or heated gloves.
And people are always looking for coffee. We’re not a coffee shop but we have a commercial espresso rig in the back and it’s always free. We have shop-copies of all the magazines we sell and two giant leather couches in the middle of the store. When it gets hopping during the season you get people recommending gear to other people, hanging out, watching the different bikes roll through.
And because so many people come to NYC for work or holiday we see a lot of international traffic too—pilgrims who schlep all the way down to Redhook from their hotel in Manhattan. We see customers come in from Europe or South America all the time to shop brands they can’t get where they’re from. It can be a fun place to work.
It’s segmented and it’s not. What I love about this city is the huge melting pot aspect of having so many damn humans in one place. The close mix of millionaires, working class guys, brilliant artists and bums in one-place makes for a very honest, no-bullshit atmosphere.
For some people motorcycles are a defining feature of their lives. For some it’s a phase. For others motorcycles are just one interesting aspect of many. We seem to get all walks of life, but especially a lot of creative types—photographers, artists, engineers, free spirits. Not too many subscribe just to one sort of segment.
The metro area population is something like 25 million people, and whatever tribes you’re in, or not in, we don’t discriminate. If you ride, come on down. If you don’t, you’ll probably be bored. Or get inspired.
We carry a curated selection of gear and accessories to improve the motorcycle experience. We’re always listening too. Like when we saw enough people walk through the door wearing RSD jackets, we got on board and became a stocking dealer.
RSD - What’s your favorite pieces from RSD and why do you like them?
The Ronin for guys and the women’s Maven are the faves for sure. They’re a great mix of modern and classic. Whenever you’re not asking someone to make a huge sacrifice in style to ride safe it becomes a really easy decision. And the leather quality is nice and broken in but still decently thick. I like products that don’t disappear from the line after two seasons. I think these two jackets in particular are several years along now and still going strong—that says something. And the new Ramone jacket is a great piece too.
RSD - We have worked with the talented Ryan Quickfall a ton, and obviously Union has worked with Ryan on art shows, how did that event come to happen?
Ryan was the star of our one-and-only art show so far. I reached out to him after seeing his work in Sideburn magazine and elsewhere and we traded ideas and emails and he eventually came up with a series of nine individual illustrations for an exclusive show. He came out last summer and we had a little gallery opening party, and his artwork took up a whole wall of the shop for a few months. It’s still up around the store. We had the illustrations silk-screened by a local master printer in editions of 50. He’s such a rad artist and humble guy it’s been a pleasure to work with him.
We tend to take the motorcycle gear thing pretty literally—ie: we don’t also sell surfboards, much casual lifestyle apparel, or men’s grooming products—so the art show was a fun departure from just ATGATT.
I know Quickfall is keen to get back to New York too – maybe for the Roland Sands flat track race?
We’re just coming out of hibernation here and still plotting out a ride and event schedule.
We planning a shop ride this July — a 3-day trip through Vermont. It’ll be 300 miles over two days, half on-road, half off-road, camping along the way. July in NYC can be brutal. This will be a great way to beat the heat and escape the stinking city for some dirt and fresh air and swimming holes.
Our next Ride Report is going to be for a trip that’s just wrapping up now – one of my business partners is most of the way through a trip from Brooklyn to. He and another friend left in October and they’re supposed to fly back next month. He just high-sided and flipped his 1985 BMW R80 G/S – check out his gopro freeze frame!
My guilty vices are lane splitting to get through the city and pulling the plate when parking. Running errands in midtown on a motorcycle can be a wild enough time with both wheels on the ground.
We don’t discriminate.