Spread Love, It’s the Brooklyn Way: Check Out NYC’s Largest Annual Motorcycle Block Party

Photo: Imperials MC Bike Blessing. Brooklyn, 2015

You ever been walking down the street in New York when a crew of bikers pulls up. You hear them coming because they roll deep AF, and when you look it’s like you’ve gone to glory and everywhere is love. Out in the boroughs is where you will find them, the Steel Horses Motorcycle Club (740 E 98th St, Brooklyn), and Black Falcons Motorcycle Club (523 Bruckner Boulevard, Bronx).

Also: Representation Matters: Honoring “Women and the Civil Rights Movement”

This Sunday, July 10, 2016, the Steel Horses MC will be hosting their annual bike blessing, drawing thousands of local riders for a classic Brooklyn Block Party. This year, American photographer Cate Dingley (b. 1989) presents Ezy Riders, an outdoor installation featuring large-format black and white prints taken over the past two years, capturing the riders, their lives, and the culture in full swing. The prints will be wheatpasted to exterior walls at both locations, and like all good street art, it will be up until the weather wears it away. Cate Dingley speaks with Crave about her work.

BlackFalconsMCBikeBlessing.Bronx,2015

Black Falcons MC Bike Blessing. Bronx, 2015

What was the inspiration for this body of work?

Cate Dingley: I’ve always been drawn to people who live passionately, and my photographic work usually focuses on American subcultures—in Ezy Ryders these two things collide. Members of motorcycle clubs are obsessed with their bikes, their brotherhood, their community. New York has a short season for riding (compared to the west coast), so when the summer months roll in there are bike blessings every weekend, a complex social schedule of events and club rides. Tell a biker his ride is pretty and it’s like you compliment his wife. People that identify their passion, that thing in life that makes them feel complete, and then (the hard part) actually live that passion, are very inspiring.

How did you connect with the Steel Horses and Black Falcons?

I don’t know why, but I’d been thinking of motorcycle clubs in the summer of 2014, knowing I wanted to shoot them but not sure how to make it happen. Not much later I met a friend’s friend, Chawntel, who told me about her boyfriend’s motorcycle club. Chawntel even had a vest that said “Property of Jason.”

Through this club, I started going to weekend motorcycle club events—barbecues and bike blessings—shooting portraits on the street and talking to people. At the Imperials MC blessing in Brooklyn, I met one member of the Black Falcons, and they were the first club to really take me in. They called me family and made sure I always got home safe when I was leaving the club late at night. They’re the oldest black club in New York state, and have an incredible history in their clubhouse walls. They introduced me to their friends the Steel Horses who have taken me in as well. The Steel Horses are a more recently-founded club, less than 20 years old, but are huge and have chapters all over the country.

Little dirt bikers. Brooklyn, 2015

Little dirt bikers. Brooklyn, 2015

Can you speak about the community that the clubs provide? 

The motorcycle club community is strong and very much based on family; both blood family and the extended family that can grow huge within club partnerships. What I immediately noticed in the culture that came as a surprise was how many women are riders. Women are almost always welcome as club members, holding coveted positions and sometimes part of women-only clubs.

At the weekend events one will also see lots of kids, running around freely or even on their own tiny bikes. The DJ reminds riders to move slowly, keep an eye out for the kids, in between loud music that the whole family will get up and dance to. Sometimes there are even running races with prizes or an entertainer just for the kids.

Finally, during the long winter months when the roads are dangerous to ride on, there are indoor events that bring the clubs together. Trophy parties strengthen ties between clubs, as one club hosts the party and gives out trophies to their friends who are there, with recognition for “Most Repped” (most members from the same club at the party) and for traveling the longest distance to get to the party. Clubhouses are filled with trophies that show their friends’ support.

Isis, Sergeant-At-Arms, Next Level MC. Brooklyn, 2015

Isis, Sergeant-At-Arms, Next Level MC. Brooklyn, 2015

I love that you’re showing the work during the annual block party. Please talk about your concept for the exhibition.

I wanted this show to be primarily for the motorcycle clubs, their families, and the neighborhoods where these events happen. I believe it’s important to respect the people you photograph by giving them prints, but with the number of people I meet for this project it’s hard to keep in contact with everyone. This way, everyone can see at once what I’ve been doing the past two years. And a number of large prints at the show, ones that won’t be wheat pasted, will go home with their subject at the end of the day. 

The Steel Horses annual bike blessing is the biggest motorcycle club event of the year in New York City. Thousands of riders show up from the tri-state area and beyond—members of the Steel Horses L.A. chapter just rode in the other day. The bike blessing is like a big block party, with a DJ, food, and vendors. Sometime during the day, a pastor will take over the mic and say a prayer for the riders present, asking God to keep them safe for the next year on the road, engines revving as an “Amen.”

Choice, President of Black Falcons MC, Black Falcons Trophy Party. Bronx, 2016

Choice, President of Black Falcons MC, Black Falcons Trophy Party. Bronx, 2016

All photos: ©Cate Dingley.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.