My time with a cannon-packing outlaw biker gang

Dailies, Import -


So I was just reading a story in the NY Daily News entitled “Granddads of anarchy! Geriatric biker gang in Brooklyn packed heat and cannon.” Figured it was going to be a piece about some long-forgotten bit of local history. Nope, turns out my old downstairs neighbors kept a cannon pointed at their roll up door at night, in case someone tried to break in. A break in would have been bad because someone might have stolen the guns they were allegedly selling. Now, they’re charged with firearms trafficking. These guys were my buddies.

I moved to New York back in February, 2006 from London. I’d never been there before (hadn’t been to America in years in fact) and only knew two people in the whole city. The magazine I was working for at the time, Intersection, was launching in the states and I flew over to set up and run the NY office.

I was pretty naïve about what a rough place New York still was, at least outside the glitz and glamor of Manhattan. On a budget, I Googled some hostels, figuring I could stay in one for a few nights until I found a short-term sublet, then an apartment. Well, it turns out that a hostel in Brooklyn, under the BQE, is not the same thing as a hostel in Europe. In place of drunken Australians, there were instead junky homeless people. Yikes. Spent two nights there before I met a girl who said I could move in with her, but that’s more a story for a barroom than it is a motorcycle magazine.

Eventually, a couple months and some serious girl drama later, I found a loft on Thames Street, by the Morgan stop on the L train out in Bushwick. At $750 a month, it was the right price and the guy with the lease was just on the cool side of nerdy. It helped that his hot sister flirted with me the first time I went to see it and the fact that there was some sort of chopper-related business downstairs was nice too. Sold.

It took a while to get to know Pote and the gang. I say gang casually, but I guess that’s more of a formal title these days. There were pretty standoff-ish with the hipsters that were slowly gentrifying the neighborhood. Scummy old warehouses were becoming scummy lofts (Google “McKibben bedbugs” if you need to be grossed out, we had them too), which was pointing an unwelcome spotlight on the local businesses, most of which seemed to be on the grey side of shady.

Pote’s Custom Cycles. My place was one to the left and up a floor.

Eventually, we started to say “hi” to each other and at some point we became friendly. I don’t remember exactly how that happened, but it ended up being a strong enough friendship that I’d regularly share their barbecue and beers, they’d store my press bikes in their shop and I could borrow a tool or a part or a little expertise anytime I needed to fix something. In return, I’d give them my press passes to the NY bike show or the occasional helmet or pair of gloves or whatever I didn’t want. “Wes Siler” has never been as intimidating as he was when he was a Puerto Rican biker gang attending press days at the Javitt’s Center.

They didn’t believe the gawky white kid could actually ride and used to rib me, then I emailed them a picture of me getting my knee down in the rain and they started to take me a lot more seriously.

Pote, who I always took to be the leader because his English was best and his name was on the awning, had a couple tears under his left eye and his name in gothic script across his prodigious beer gut. I don’t think I ever saw him wear a shirt. He’d been away on a 10-year vacation until the early 2000s after stealing a couple cars too many.

One day, he and I were shooting the shit outside and he told me he was trying to impress a new girl he was dating. She lived in the projects all of four blocks away and was planning to take her to dinner at a joint around the corner. He seemed pretty nervous so I said, “You know what, take my car,” and threw him the keys to the Audi R8 I had on loan that week. Best move I ever made. The ex-con was so touched that someone would trust him with such a nice car (it was a hit with the lady too) that he made it his mission to be sort of my guardian angel. I never got a parking ticket on that block again and the pretty little girl I was dating at the time always had an escort to and from the subway station as she tottered along in a short skirt and high heels. That was especially nice, Bushwick was still a little sketch at night back then.

One time, in need of a location for a fashion shoot with The Misshapes, we used Pote’s shop. I told the gang they needed to be on their best behavior around the girls and not be creepy, something they took to heart. You’ve never seen eyes bulge so far out of the heads of complete gentleman before, nor the clubhouse so well attended with members.

Now, the Daily News is calling my old friends “geriatrics,” saying they had a myriad of drug problems and ran guns. Does that gel with my experience? Sort of. I vaguely remember the cannon, but it was more a novelty some dudes kept around a shop more than anything designed to intimidate and protect. Am I surprised it was loaded? Have you ever hung out with a bunch of ex-cons who work on bikes all day and night?

While it was always there, just underneath the surface that these guys were dangerous and more than a little sketchy, that didn’t color any of my experiences with them. To me, they were just a loose assortment of nice local guys who liked bikes and beer and boobs and didn’t so much care for all the kids that kept moving in around them. Criminal masterminds worthy of a two-year undercover operation? You probably could have just stopped and searched any of them any day of the week, I certainly wouldn’t have been surprised to learn any or all of them were packing.

Maybe my experience was different than other people. I’ve always been comfortable in any social circle and in any culture, but I think it was mostly an indicator of how bikes really bring people together. To them, I wasn’t just some idiot kid, I was a de facto member of their community because I rode. To me, they weren’t sketchy dudes, they were my big scary brothers that made fun of me and looked out for me and fed me hamburgers. Stuff outside of that didn’t matter. I’d rather have lived above them than next to any of my idiot hipster neighbors. Bikers, even bikers gangs, tend to be good people.

  • Cockroach

    Shouldn’t the NYPD be spying on Muslims or frisking random black passers by? While by no means excusing the alleged illegal activity of these guys, the article reads like typical calculated hysteria on the part of law enforcement. I mean please, the police commissioner is involved in this?

    • robotribe

      I checked out the NY Daily News article, and it read almost like satire to me. I had to read it a second time just to be sure it wasn’t a script treatment for an episode of The A Team.

      • Gene

        Especially the kindergarten-level comment from the commissioner. That’s the best quote he can come up with for the paper? Really?

        Plus a toy cannon, 5 ratty pistols and a cheapass shotgun for half-a-dozen guys is an “arsenal”? My grandpa in Ocala does better than that.

        • JMcMahon

          I thought the same thing. A 20 gauge and group of random handguns is what I would expect to find during a typical traffic stop involving any pickup truck across the midwest. If you read the source article they site 41 guns sold over a 2 year period. That amounts to 5 1/8 guns sold per “gang” member over two years. That hardly seems like trafficking to me.

  • guy

    Wes are you missing NY? Just remember if you dragged your ass on our streets you would be without one.

    • Wes Siler

      I’m just glad I got out before the gowanus canal could give me gonorrhea.

      • kidchampion

        What kind of lady is named Gowanus Canal?

  • Squid_Squidly

    I’ve always dreamed of being the nerdy white kid everyone accepts at ex-con biker BBQs. ;__;

  • Kentaro rides a NRS and a GSA

    Read about the arrests on drudge report today, and for a second was surprised to see the same picture of the cannon and firearms on hfl. Something about this piece really spoke to me, I’m glad you had this relationship with these guys in NY. I hope your write-up gets seen by more people like me who felt like there was something missing in the mainstream articles. Motorcycles do bring people together, no doubt about it…

  • Denzel

    SO… what are the coils in the lead photo? cannon fuse?

    • David

      Looks right, and black powder.

  • RT Moto

    Mainstream media doing what they do best, spinning straw into gold.

    • Scott-jay

      “Mainstream [motorcycle] media”, maybe.
      This sort of post is facet of best-ness at HFL, IMO.
      Or, it recreates the editor’s column of glossy moto-magazines; and so feels warm & fuzzy to me. : )

      • muckluck

        I think he ment the NY Daily News.

      • RT Moto

        I was referring to the NY rag. HFL is usually pretty good at keeping the outlandish spins out of stories. Usually…

  • pplassm

    You used to work for “Intersection”? That explains so much.

  • noblsht

    I’m looking at the cylinder of the short barreled revolver and wondering if it takes a 7.6mm round? 45.70?

    • Case

      That looks like a Taurus Judge; it shoots 45 long Colt and .410 shotgun shells.

      Those guns will kill you but with the exception of the 1911 they are more show than go. As ‘arsenals’ go it’s a joke.

      New York (city and state) has stiff anti-gun laws, hence the thriving black market. Two years to bust these guys? Way to go NYPD.

      • The Blue Rider

        Number of people shot by this “geriatric gang” during the length of the investigation: (probably) Zero.

        Number of people shot by the NYPD during the same time period… Hmmm…

        • Campisi

          Move along, citizen, nothing to see here…

  • laughrey

    That looks like the arsenal of a stagecoach

    • BMW11GS

      hahah I knew I was getting a cartoony feel to the whole thing. Maybe Wiley Coyote was involved

  • Chris Davis

    What does NY Daily News care that they rode motorcycles? There were no charges related to their mode of transportation. I’m guessing they took the subway on occasion.

  • carbon

    I have crapped bigger logs than that “cannon.”

    • mugget

      I bet you’d feel different if you took a canon ball to the gut…

      • carbon

        A 10 gauge shotgun shoots slugs bigger than those balls. Yeah, I said “balls.”

  • carbon

    Deleted, double post

  • NewOldSchool

    Really enjoyed this one. More of this Wes!

    • Mark D [EX500]

      Agreed, these are the cool, atypical stories that make HFL a daily-check site.

  • mugget

    Now that was an interesting story! Nice one!

  • KB

    What an exaggerated bullshit article from the Daily News. Everytime someone (here or there) writes the word “cannon” in reference to that toy makes me laugh. Look at the size of the “cannon” compared to the guns in the pic. And they say it was .50 cal. “Cannonballs” small than marbles. Any suggestion that it was a weapon or anything more than a novelty is ludicrous. What were they going to do, light the fuse of this pea shooter and hope that their target stood still? I don’t idolize gangs or petty criminals though and the guys that were nice to you were probably pretty shitty to someone else. Big time criminals these guys were not but criminals none the less. They did the crime, they’ll do the time, oh well. No loss.

  • equ

    A very nice piece of writing, Wes. In contrast, the linked article lives up (down?) to the usual standards of the daily news/post class… Ugh.

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