History, Harley, faces and black spaces
Getting around the Los Gypsies Nation clubhouse is like a short lesson in black history.
Its walls are adorned with photos of club members, scenes from motorcycle rides across North America, plus memorabilia and vinyl records. Herron Preston, a handsome 64-year-old man with long redoubts, acts as a guide.
“This is William B. Johnson, and he owned the first African-American Harley Davidson dealership, and he did it in the 1920s,” said Preston, the founder of Los Gypsies. “He wanted to run (on a bike), and they said, ‘No, you have to do a shift.’ Harley Davidson (eventually) gave it a dealership.
He keeps on. There are pictures of Clifford Vaughs and Ben Hardy. They built custom choppers, including the famous motorcycles from the movie “Easy Rider”.
There are also important pieces from the East Bay Dragons, the Oakland, Calif.-Based black motorcycle group that Los Gypsies embodies and honors. There is a photo of Tobie Gene Levingston, the founder of the Dragons, and a letter from the Dragons giving their blessing to Los Gypsies.
History, Harley, faces and black spaces. Founded about ten years ago, Los Gypsies Nation is the largest black all-black motorcycle social group in Canada.
This is a 14-member unit that only rides custom Harleys, bikes that have taken years for each member to build. There is also a group of associated women, the Gypsie Queens.
Preston crosses the driveway, opens the garage door and lifts the covers of his bikes, revealing two intricate works of art. “It’s called an American IronHorse,” he said, gesturing to one of the custom helicopters with a light orange seat. Its leather is smooth and its stitching is worked in a pattern that turns into flames on the seat.
“He’s got a big racing engine on him,” Preston said. He shows his other bike. “He’s got the same thing and they’re quick and difficult to drive. If you don’t know how to ride a motorcycle, you won’t (mess) with it.
Change the story
A combined love of Harleys and their connection to the black motorcycle history of the past is just the beginning of what Los Gypsies are all about. Its members want to challenge stereotypes and show younger generations of black men that anything is possible for them. The group’s website says it is made up of artists, lawyers, musicians, hairdressers, law enforcement officers and, “most importantly, fathers and husbands.”
The identities of Los Gypsies members except Preston, as well as the location of their clubhouse, are kept private to protect them from outlaw motorcycle clubs who dislike their vision.
In this story, we use the nicknames assigned to them when they join the group.
These brothers are nothing like those outlaw clubs – or any other biker club (known as MCs). They are not criminals and they are not looking for trouble. They seek the opposite: connection and growth.
“We’re at a motorcycle show, and all the criminal clubs have been kicked out of it and we’re still there,” said Preston, whose nickname is Krome. “One of the criminal clubs came to us and asked, ‘You don’t have criminals in your club?’ And I said, ‘No. He’s a black MC, most black MCs don’t have criminals in their club. They don’t.
In black motorcycle culture, there are huge events called “roundups”. Virtually every state in the United States has one every year. Black families, some with their RVs, and biker groups come together for these sprawling social events that take place over three to four days. Attendance can run into the hundreds of thousands. Preston said they were nothing like other motorcycle rallies, like the famous annual in Sturgis, South Dakota, where you always hear stories of brawls, heavy drinking and heckling among its people. 500,000 participants. “I wanted to tell everyone that Los Gypsies are nothing like those white dudes,” Preston said. “We kind of changed the whole narrative.”
Create a family
The members of Los Gypsies are very tight-knit. They are like family more than anything, said Preston. “What we do is feed each other and how can we improve our bikes. The only competition we have here is which bikes look the coolest. “
Speaking to some of its members, it’s clear Preston has set the tone. Each of them was brought to Los Gypsies after a long process which included a “hanging out” at the clubhouse. They all share the same philosophy.
“The momentum for this club, I saw it start with Krome building a place for people of color to come,” said Ice, a 55-year-old who has known Preston for about three decades. “This is the first thing. A place for you and him to escape so to speak. Or, to take a break in the house, the wife, the children. You don’t have a man cave in your place? It is the cave of man.
But if you stay too long, Preston will kick you out and tell you to go hang out with your family. “You abuse it, you will lose it. That’s what I like about this club; education, camaraderie, creativity with bikes, travel, ”said Ice. “I’m going to tell you, when you cross a border and see and meet these black clubs, and you go to these events, these get-togethers, these bike shows and these barbecues, you will understand that this is a fraternity.
It’s also about connecting different generations of black men, young and old, to give them a place to relax, share stories and create opportunity – and Harleys.
“I’ve ridden three-quarters of my life and have been riding since I moved to Toronto,” said Fast Eddie, who at 33 is the youngest member of the group and joined several years ago. . “I’ve always hung out with a diverse variety of people on sports bikes or vintage bikes. And it just wasn’t the same mindset as me.
“I still love sport bikes, I still love vintage bikes, but I put it all in (Harley). It’s as if it had never been done.
The fun of building a bike is constant, but Fast Eddie and the rest of the crew understand that it takes balance. “This is part of it. We all do something for the job, with our families. So at the end of the day, family always comes first, ”he said.
Family comes first. And, as Los Gypsies Nation waits until the pandemic is over to reunite again, a filmmaker plans to create a documentary about Preston and Los Gypsies’ presence in Canada. It is a story that has not been told.
“I remember a guy contacting me from Florida and he said, ‘The only thing I know about Canada is rapper Drake and you. I don’t know anything about Canada, ”said Preston, thinking Los Gypsies Nation is on the right track. If Americans understand the social group and what it is trying to do, there is also a doubt. “Black Americans see you and think maybe it’s a one-of-a-kind wonder. They don’t see longevity or legacy because nothing like it has ever been done, ”Preston said.
Los Gypsies Nation could prove them wrong.
Los Gypsies Nation has a list of the “Ten Commandments”, posted on their website, for members to follow. Among them you must be employed, ride your own American-made motorcycle – which must be 800 CC or above – be at least 25 years of age or older, have no criminal record, and cannot belong to any other club or organization of bikers. More information about Los Gypsies can be found at losgypsiesnation.com.