Bikers at Motorcycle Show Fight Back Against Negative Public Image


According to Mark Reesbeck, biker of 40 years, patches are used to define club membership, roles within the clubs, motorcycle preference, and more.
According to Mark Reesbeck, a biker for 40 years, patches are used to define club membership, roles within the clubs, motorcycle preference and more. (The Ink/Angel Au-Yeung)

Engine sounds roared through the vast Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Friday night as hundreds of spectators milled around motorcycles in all sizes and colors. A freestyle motocross rider appeared in the air, right by a flag hanging from the ceiling that said, “Stunt Show.” As the rider dipped below eyesight, cheers and applause reverberated throughout the building.

The Progressive International Motorcycle Show ran Dec. 9 to 11. It was a chance for leading manufacturers to interact with their customers and show their newest products to potential buyers. It was also an opportunity for bikers to meet like-minded individuals and support each other in a community that has not always had the best reputation.

“Everybody thinks bikers are out to raise trouble,” said Mark Reesbeck, 61, the owner of a  handyman service business. “Everyone assumes you’re a Hells Angel but those are a handful of bikers out of millions.”

The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is a worldwide motorcycle club that has been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice as an organized crime network. The group had a booth at the show, but declined to be interviewed.

Other motorcycle clubs were more forthcoming.

Bob Keesler, 61, was selling raffle tickets to raise money for disabled veterans. He is also a member of the Punishers Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, which consists of current and former law enforcement officials, firefighters, veterans and emergency medical services personnel. “We do this raffle every year,” Keesler said. “We want to raise money for the people who do not know us and are still risking their lives to ensure we have a good life.”

Bikers Against Child Abuse International, another motorcycle organization with charitable goals, was also trying to get their message at the event. “We want to give a sense of community and empower [abused children] so that they aren’t afraid,” said a man who gave his name as Popeye, 45, president of the Staten Island chapter. He wore a leather jacket emblazoned with the group’s emblem – a fist against a red background with “BACA”  tattooed on each finger. Popeye said  the organization’s members only identify themselves be their road names.

Other bikers at the show also tried to put a positive face on biking.

Anthony Rivers, 26, a Bronx resident and military veteran who began riding a year and a half ago, recalled getting help from a police officer the night before after his bike had stalled on his way home in the Bronx. “The cop was off-duty and he pulled over to ask if I was okay,” he said. “He told me, ‘There’s more car drivers than there are bike riders so we have to look out for each other.’”

Aside from that sense of community, bikers said they loved the sense of freedom they felt while riding.

“It’s just a type of freedom you don’t experience with anything else,” said Reesbeck. “Just being out in the open air and enjoying everything around you, you know? I can feel the wind in my hair, with what little hair I have left.”

Greg Kutyla, 51, a design and architect business owner from Easton, Pa., agreed. “Every rider is gonna say the same thing,” Kutyla said. “The best way to say it in my opinion is that on a motorcycle, you’re not watching the movie. You are in the movie.”

Kutyla was at the show with his 16 year-old son, Kasper. “I would rather him start sooner so that he can start training now,” said Kutyla. “If you enjoy the sport and you have kids, having them start as early as possible is the safest option.”

The annual is a mecca for biker enthusiasts. Leading brands including Harley-Davidson, Ducati, BMW, Suzuki, Yamaha and more dominated the trade floors with new models.

Other booths catered to bikers’ specific needs with items like clothing patches, flattened wallets and beef jerky. “It’s particularly popular among motocross bikers,” said Gretchen, 55, one of the sellers at the booth for Handy Jerky. “It’s small and compact, and you can fit it inside your saddle bags.”

“The Hulk” is one of the first bikes spectators see upon entering the IMS.
“The Hulk” is one of the first bikes spectators see upon entering the show. (The Ink/Angel Au-Yeung)