Neighborhood Joint: Custom Motorcycles, Made Indian Larry’s Way

Neighborhood Joint: Custom Motorcycles, Made Indian Larry’s Way

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Indian Larry bikes are made from scratch. From the handlebars to the kicker pedals, they are soldered, sculpted and painted in the Brooklyn shop, including the iconic Indian Larry down tube, for which two muscular humans strain to twist steel heated to 900 degrees. Even the nuts and bolts are made on the premises.

Mr. Docherty discovered Mr. Desmedt, a reformed bank robber and addict turned charismatic philosopher, master welder and mechanic, on the Discovery Channel television show “The Great Biker Build-Off.” In 2004, when Mr. Desmedt was filming the series in North Carolina, he died from a fall while doing a basic trick: standing on his bike, arms outstretched. (He had just sped through a wall of fire.) He was 55 and left behind his wife, Bambi Desmedt, a burlesque performer known as Bambi the Mermaid of Coney Island.

While Mr. Docherty examined the bikes, Ed Newbert, an oncology nurse from Boston, walked in. “I figured I’d make the pilgrimage,” he said. He walked two hours from Union Square to get to the shop so that he could sight-see along the way.

Mr. Newbert, who rides a Triumph, said he wanted to see Mr. Desmedt’s so-called Chain Bike, a gravity-defying motorcycle held together with welded pieces of chain link, but it was not on display. “You wouldn’t think it would be strong enough, not only to hold the engine and the weight of a person, but to ride at 70 or 80 miles per hour,” Mr. Newbert said.

The Indian Larry trademark on a bike.

Credit
Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times

With a starting price of $65,000 for a bike, the shop sells just eight or so a year. About 20 percent of its customers are celebrities, including the actors Ewan McGregor and Brad Pitt, said Bobby Seeger, who owns the business with his wife, Elisa Seeger. She was Mr. Desmedt’s business manager.

George Cano, an information technology specialist from Brooklyn, was eating lunch in the shop, where he stores his bike. He raved about his Indian Larry motorcycle, which was completed in September.

“It’s the look; but, more importantly, it’s the ride, the ergonomics,” Mr. Cano said. “You might see other custom motorcycles, but you can’t ride them in New York City.” With other bikes, he said, “you can split a piece of steel very easily.”

As for Mr. Docherty, he is stuck with his Harley-Davidson. “They don’t have choppers back home,” he said. “It’d be hard to ride one back in Scotland. In America, the streets are huge.

“But, by God, I’d give it a try.”

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