“Go West Young Man”*            

Southern California Mystique- ‘SoCal’ became internationally famous in the early 1950s as the avant-garde connecting motor-culture with personal identity. Sports cars, hot rods, cruisers and choppers became the embodiment of a uniquely West Coast sense of self.  The lure of this legendary moto-culture is still strong.  This is the story of two men who moved to LA, following the SoCal star.

Lions dragstrip: an OG strip built to stop hot rodders from street racing, and run as a non-profit. [OFF TRACK]
It took some doing, but Sy and Dustin Wise-Tylek followed their gut, uprooted their East Coast life, and relocated to the promised land of Los Angeles. Originally from the New York City area, Sy and Dustin first met around 2016 at Sy’s motorcycle gear shop in Montclair, New Jersey.  As their friendship progressed, they noticed many of their East Coast riding friends were in the process of throwing in the towel and moving to LA. Around 2018 Sy learned Dustin was heading out too, with his 1978 Shovelhead. So Sy, too, closed his shop and rode his 1979 Harley Davidson FXDLS across the country to take a look. It was a no brainer: warmer 365-day riding, smooth roads, a diverse riding culture with more than 800,000 registered bikes, including more than 30,000 custom choppers. To top it off, lane splitting had been explicitly legal in California since 2016. Sy and his family made the move, then he and Dustin re-opened a gear shop in April 2020, at 1322 Coronado Ave in the Zafaria neighborhood of Long Beach.

Sy and Dustin outside their OFF TRACK motorcycle shop. [Mike McCabe]
Moto Subculture- After the move to Long Beach, Sy and Dustin soon learned they were part of a bigger story and their area had a deep motor culture legacy that included historic motorcycle race track venues, Grand Prix street racing, and drag strips. It’s hard to picture today, but in the late 19th and early 20th Century the area around Long Beach was entirely cattle and sheep ranches. As the ranching economy shifted to other locations, their unused land became an opportunity for entrepreneurs to open car and motorcycle racing venues.  The public was fascinated with vehicles and velocity (women were first allowed to get a four wheel vehicle driver’s license in 1900 and a motorcycle license in 1937), and the Los Angeles Motordrome opened in 1910; this encouraged others to try their hand at creating racetracks.

Moto History– After WW2, a new set of racing ovals, and ¼ and ½ mile dragstrips emerged. The Los Angeles Speedway transitioned in 1957 to the Ascot Park dirt track speedway opened by J.C. ”Aggie” Agajanian (1913-1984) that featured NASCAR, Indy car and dirt track motorcycle racing until its closure in November 1990. Fifteen miles northeast of LA, the San Gabriel Valley Speedway (known informally as the Irwindale Speedway) was a dirt track that operated from 1965-73. A new Irwindale track and drag strip opened near the original track in 1999.

Dustin Wise-Tylek on his Harley-Davidson custom. [OFF TRACK]
The legendary Lions Dragstrip opened in 1957 as a community strategy to stop the sharp rise of illegal ‘Grudge Match’ street racing. The local government reached out to the Long Beach area Lions Club that raised the initial $45K needed to build the strip. Racing celebrity Mickey Thompson became the director of the not-for-profit dragstrip (all profits went to local charities) and initiated changes that forever modernized the sport: the first ‘Christmas Tree’ starting light system (amber-amber-green/red), night lights for evening racing and the profitable ‘Date Night’ ticket that introduced the thrill of drag racing to women.

The Lions strip developed a reputation and mystique among drivers and fans; known by drivers as the ‘Beach’ the track was a few blocks from the ocean and drivers believed the ‘thickness’ of the sea-level ocean ‘rare air’ had a mysterious effect on the effectiveness of a drag car’s high performance engine. The grip of the ‘secret mix’ asphalt used to pave the Lion’s strip was believed to produce faster speeds than other strips.

“Each drag strip had its own specific character,” said Tom Madigan, a drag racer and drag strip historian. “That was important to the guys who ran them. Like Long Beach – you didn’t have any nerve if you didn’t run Long Beach. It had a mystique about it.”

Sy in OFF TRACK motorcycles. [Mike McCabe]
Motorcycles Everywhere: Sy and Dustin and the history of Long Beach.

Sy and Dustin opened their new shop in good company: notable custom motorcycle builders Go ‘BRAT STYLE’ Takamine and Roland Sands have impressive shops nearby, and contribute their reputation to the area. Dutch van Someren and his bike culture mecca The Bike Shed is twenty minutes away in the downtown LA Arts District. “Dustin’s wife found the space in the Zafaria area of Long Beach,” Sy Said. “It has a pull-down garage type door that makes it easy to walk bikes into the space for display. We built out the space ourselves and kept things simple. We got creative and used trucker’s ratchet straps to hold up the shelves for the gear we sell.”

Sy and Dustin learned riding culture in California is different than New York: there are many more riders in Cali and this can cause brand subcultures; Harley guys ride with Harley guys, Brit with Brit, Asian with Asian. Sy’s first shop in Jersey didn’t have this luxury of rider critical mass and it was open to all riders as a communal resource center. Sy and Dustin want to continue this sense of inclusiveness at their new shop. “At OFF TRACK it doesn’t matter what kind of motorcycle you’re riding,” Sy said. “As long as you’re riding.”

Dustin Wise-Tylek with his customized pickup. [Mike McCabe]
Sy discusses his process:  “I’m from New Jersey originally. Coming out here to LA, it was the lifestyle. I remember looking at my wife and we said, ‘Ya, we’re good here.’ Of course the riding… there is a sea of motorcycles here. More than back in Jersey and New York.  In no particular order, I looked at it in several different ways: first and foremost, you have the weather to your advantage, and having that weather plays into so many different parts. You can ride more because it doesn’t rain as much; it makes it easier to ride all year ‘round; the roads are  a lot nicer because they aren’t beat up from the salt; you can lane split over here – East Coast that isn’t legal, and drivers there actually try to bump you off the road for doing it. East Coast drivers don’t like to be cut off.”

“The freeway scene in LA is so different than the East Coast. Yeah, everything’s open but there’s a sea of traffic –  LA and Southern California is known for its traffic.  What I love about being here is the culture of the motorcycles. Because of those conditions – weather and smooth roads – you have a lot more bikers here. Population… Because of ease of weather and all the nice amenities… and in this area (Long Beach), everything is in driving distance. You want to get some snow, it’s an hour away. You want to get some hot weather, it’s an hour away. You want some mountains with some twisties and curves, Boom. You got race tracks right there. Everything is nearby.”

California dreamin’. The essence of Long Beach. A 1977 Harley-Davidson FXS chopper [Anthony Ocampo Jr]
“There’s a sea of cars if you’re driving, but if you’re on a motorcycle, lane splitting is allowed and you get there a lot faster. I use that to my advantage. If I have to go to downtown LA, I use my bike. So when you have a lot more bikes and a lot more people who ride, there’s more community, there’s a sea of different styles of bikes, you get to see a culture of different bikes that are out there versus what is on the East Coast. There’s a certain look and feel about how they customize in LA, how they dress and how they act. To me, it’s just a wider array of different riding styles.”

“Because we’re down here and there are so many more motorcycles, you have more groups that are into the different subcultures: there’s a Sportster group, a Dyna group, a chopper group… FXRs, that’s a separate group. Baggers are a separate group. And that’s all within the Harley market. And all these groups are big,  they are all around you. Then you get into the things that are happening with Japanese and Italian bikes. Back on the East Coast, we didn’t have that large number of groups, so we rode together. The limited riding time with the seasons that mess everything up; we didn’t care what you rode, we didn’t have big groups. But in LA you may have a bunch of guys who don’t wave to each other because there’s so many riders. East Coast you have that ‘rider wave’ to acknowledge, but in LA there’s so many riders, that wave thing is different.”

Sy with his dirt bike: SoCal is not entirely paved over… [Mike McCabe]
“Here there are so many bikes and that’s where I want to be. A lot of the motorcycle manufacturing corporations are here in California. So this is a good spot to be in. I always like to look at the community as being as broad as possible. Accept all riders that are coming in. I don’t want anybody segregated out because you ride a particular motorcycle. If I had a magic wand, we would have our own brand established, our own apparel, from top to bottom, from your helmet to your boots. To have a brick and mortar destination where people can come in and hang out and have all the gear they need. And if I can have my café too? Yeah, why not? This is the one thing that’s missing in the motorcycle community. To have a place to shop and to hang out. I want you to stick around. Bust out your computer and work on whatever you gotta do for your work. More depth, motorcycles as culture.”

“Our shop is not exclusive – we’re inclusive. We want to have community out here. This sounds so corny- everybody wants community but I think it goes past the talking and goes towards what we are actually doing. You see our events you read our reviews, people feel they are being helped and they belong here. That’s what we do. There is a difference between us and some of the other guys. We want people to feel welcome. I think we are doing the right thing here.

“I was a little unsure about Dustin and me being from the East Coast, the issue of territory and outsiders, but nobody seems to care. Everyone is very open. Part of this is the California vibe, and some is where we are coming from. The vibe here is certainly laid back, and I don’t think we are being judged. It’s been nothing but good. We are able to play well with Roland Sands – we have one of his bikes on our stage, and are going to put another up in the front. The Bike Shed guys just came up here. They know who we are and everything is good.

Dustin riding in front of OFF TRACK motorcycles [Mike McCabe]
“I miss some stuff from the East Coast and New York. Riding through the East Village with the old buildings… riding through SoHo on the cobblestone streets… we had to give that up, and the food. That was a big thing… changing diet…. The East Coast is carb heavy, meats and cheeses, pizza… In California is all about healthier options. Fresh stuff and protein.”

“I am working on a new project to design certain accessories for motorcycles with our own flair. Bikes are changing and so are the styles. I want to have a helping hand in that. On top of this shop, on top of being on-line, on top of designing clothes, I want to have hard parts that we design. I want to promote local businesses and artist too… for our clothing, I want to get it from the LA garment district and promote local Long Beach business. If we’re making parts I want to get it from a CNC machinist that’s from here. I want to help other people.”

“Dustin and I chose OFF TRACK as our name for a reason. We are not following the rest of the other guys, we’re off-track. We’re not perfect and we continue to stay ‘not perfect’ because I think that’s more genuine. We like to rip down the street, we like to ride, it’s not a front.  People appreciate us for the way we are, it’s not a reach. It’s just what we do. We went OFF TRACK for a reason. We are different than other people.”

Sy and Dustin are settled into exploring the possibilities of Long Beach and LA motorcycle culture at their OFF TRACK shop. Like so many before them, they followed their gut to move west and its proving to be a good idea.

[*”Go West Young Man” – apocryphal.  The phrase is usually attributed to Horace Greely, but he denied ever saying it, and no period (1800s) publications include the phrase.  Other authors have been proposed, but the true source of the phrase is unknown.  And yet, ‘Go West’ is part of American folklore, and was used to support Westward expansion of the United States in the 19th Century.  The phrase is, like much American folklore, a convenient mythology. – Ed.]


Michael McCabe is a New York City tattoo artist and cultural anthropologist. He is the author of New York City Horsepower, Kustom Japan, New York City Tattoo, Japanese Tattooing Now, Tattoos of Indochina, and Tattooing New York City. For New York City Horsepower, Mr. McCabe spent two years discovering and documenting underground custom motorcycle and car garages in the City, as rapid gentrification put their culture under tremendous pressure. He interviewed and photographed New York City customizers about their personal histories and creative sensibilities.


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