Babes Ride Out is a ladies only event but that doesn't mean we have don't have heaps of support and help from the guys. We looked to partner with the best east coast people & places and in the process have met so many incredible people including Chris Get to know East Coast 2 raffle contributor Chris Lesser of Union Garage located in Brooklyn NY.
Name: Chris Lesser, Union Garage
I run a store called Union Garage that sells motorcycle gear—helmets, jackets, boots, gloves and accessories. We’re a specialty shop in that we don’t sell or repair bikes. A lot of gear comes from dealerships that treat the category as an afterthought. With us, it’s all we do, and we take it seriously. As of this fall we’ll have been at it for 5 years. I’ve been riding motorcycles for about 15, and started the store because it’s the shop I wish I could have been able to walk into when I first started riding. Everything we sell has a strong safety story, from urban gear for getting around town to leather jackets or three-season textile gear for getting across country.
What do you love most about what you do?
I’m never bored! We’ve grown from a 300 square foot glorified broom closet into a proper 3,000 square foot showroom. We’re currently in the middle of re-launching our website which I’m really excited about because it will better project the in-store experience to our online customers. All the info and insights that someone gets from being in store—that’s been hard to replicate. And it’s impossible to really replicate, but I think we can do a better job of explaining what we carry and why. We also have a great staff. Everyone who works here “gets it” and is on board with providing good honest service. And I think it’s working, we’ve got almost a full 5 star ratings on Yelp, Google, Facebook, etc. We have a really low-pressure sales schtick. All the work goes into getting the gear together, and when people come in we just spend a lot of time talking and going through the physics of crashing a motorcycle, or riding one through inclement weather, then we let the inventory do the talking. And while I’ve made some great connections with our online customers and we’ve shipped orders to some far-flung corners of the globe through the website, I love meeting all the people who walk through the door.
Being in New York City we’ve got a pool of 25 million people in easy striking distance to the shop, plus a lot more who come through the city for work or pleasure from all over the world. Because we are such a specialty shop (we don’t also do haircuts, sell surfboards or even casual clothing—everything is literally and directly related to motorcycle riding) pretty much everyone who comes in is a rider. We’re definitely a destination shop and it’s gratifying to see people make the trip out and walk away glad they did.
And finally, I also love the feeling that we’re actually providing a genuine service. At the end of the day, we sell safety gear. And our market is very crowded with poorly designed options. It’s been rewarding to have an opportunity to present this curated collection of quality gear, and to see people come in and appreciate it, and leave better equipped than when they came in.
Tell us about motorcycles in your life:
I first got into motorcycles at 21, in 2001 while still in college in Vermont. Having ridden mountain bikes and worked in bicycle shops I found myself wanting to take a cross country trip, but not in a car. My research landed me on an old BMW —a 1976 R75/6. The first time I ever rode a motorcycle was the day I bought it and I never looked back.
I knew nothing when I got the bike and learned as I went. I always kept a bike in my life and five years ago saw the opportunity to start the shop and here we are. I’ve since had a series of other old BMW’s. It’s become a bit of a habit. I’ve had a couple older Moto Guzzis too (fundamentally very similar) and I’ve always been a fan of older bikes. The technology behind them is so much more accessible and elemental, and still capable of carrying a rider across country at speeds plenty fast enough to keep things exciting.
I need to branch out and am probably buying a friend’s KTM 690 Enduro this summer. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time on our shop bike—a Kawasaki KZ1000P. It’s an old police bike I bought from a customer. We use it for the Gentleman’s Ride and we’ve moto-paced local bicycle races with it. It was always sort of a joke but the thing just doesn’t die. Plus the lights and sirens still work which makes it extra fun riding around town.
And I got really into Euro Baggers a couple summers ago. As my “babymoon” to myself before my daughter was born (Alexandra’s now 1.5 years old, Zach is 4) I took a trip with a good friend up to Nova Scotia on old 80’s bikes loaded up with gear. The novelty has since worn off and I just sold the Moto Guzzi California II on eBay. The new owner in Australia promises to let me ride it whenever I make it out. Gotta love the connections motorcycling can make for you.
How did you hear about Babes Ride Out?
I’m sure it was through Instagram. Between Babes Ride Out and a few other women’s rides like it there seems to be a real movement bubbling up of more women riding, supporting each other, planning trips. We have the Missfires group here locally that I always point to as a great example – it’s cool to see more groups and rides coming together. It’s something we want to absolutely support however we can.
What makes you interested in supporting Babes Ride Out?
What’s not to love?! I recently became aware the specific statistic that 13% of motorcycle riders in the U.S. are women. That’s based on motorcycle registration figures, and the ratio goes up to 25% if you count women who ride as passengers too.
The more women riding, the better. Of course we’re selfishly motivated here too as we do sell and support quite a bit of women’s gear. In terms of proportion of jacket and glove options compared to men’s, we definitely stock more than 13% of the store with women’s gear. I know for some big companies the women’s category can be a loss leader. Seems more like a growth opportunity to me.
We have one customer Tracy Keeping who always comes to mind on this subject. She came on one of our early shop rides back in 2013 and we encouraged her to do it even though she was nervous about whether her new-to-her Honda Rebel 300 would make it. She came and had a blast and now she’s got a Yamaha Bolt and an FJ-09, and she’s planning a big Route 66 ride this summer. It’s cool we had a small part in encouraging and enabling her.
What do you love most about riding in your area?
The dirty little secret about riding in NYC is that it’s probably the worst place to have a motorcycle. Bikes get rained on, snowed on, pissed on, knocked over, towed and ticketed at a higher rate than maybe anywhere else in the country. That said, I always say it’s a testament to how great motorcycles are that so many people jump through the hoops to keep a bike in the city.
And motorcycles here definitely have their benefits. Lane-splitting is technically illegal in every state but California but I like to think of it as the British do—they call it “filtering”—which makes it seem so much more civilized, and legal. And parking is a cinch. Of course in the dead of summer nobody likes sweating through their jacket, but in spring and fall a motorcycle is hands down the most pleasant way to get around the city. Sure beats the subway.
I used to live in Southern California and it was great having so many beautiful roads and riding areas. But one thing I’ve come to love about New York is that it’s slow. That sounds weird, but from a gear/risk/liability perspective for everyday living, riding around NYC is a lower-stakes bet than riding around LA, where you might just be going to get lunch or commute to work, but that means you’re on the highway doing 70. In NYC the nominal speed limit is 25MPH, and everyone goes faster than that, but overall it’s a densely populated megalopolis that’s really easy to navigate by bike. And relative to public transportation or driving/parking, motorcycles are still loads faster, and more fun.
Any favorite rides to do upstate?
The usual escape route is to get up to Harriman State Park. It’s the best network of quality roads within easy striking distance and for that reason I’ve ridden it to death. The Delaware Water Gap and the Catskills areas also are usual suspects and worth getting out to. Lately I’ve been poking around New Jersey and Connecticut more just to find fresh roads. These days I ride about every day getting to the shop or running errands. The out-and-backs are fun but I got into this racket for taking longer trips and hopefully there are more coming for me soon – I’m due!
Anything we left out?
We do a bi-annual women’s weekend and open house at the store, at the beginning and end of every riding season. This fall will be our fourth installment. We’ve had speakers come, brands like Worse for Wear and BH&BR come out with expanded product selection, and we’ve started to run women’s rides too. Guys can come but only as a plus-one.
Also we’ve made a couple in-house products, the first one being the Robinson Jacket. We’ve long had in the pipeline a women’s version of that —the Mrs. Robinson—and hope to have it done by fall. I’ve always said men have it hard finding good gear to choose from. “Pink it and Shrink it” seems to be the prevailing product design ethos for women’s moto gear, plus representing just a fraction of the market, women’s gear seems like an underserved category. We’re hoping to make it better. We keep a dedicated women’s section at the store and online at uniongaragenyc.com/shop/womens. Most of the gear in-store is on the website but sometimes it takes a minute for the new stuff to get online. Anyone who hasn’t come to the store I’d encourage them to come check us out. We love hearing from women about what gear works or does not.
101 Union St
Brooklyn, NY 11231