A special guest blog post by Noam Bar-Zemer. Photography by GodSpeedCo. & Jeremy Malman.
Please consider making a donation to the Worth Motorcycles Fundraiser here: https://www.razoo.com/Building-Worth-1
In many ways Jeremy Malman, the Executive Director and founder of Worth Motorcycles could be the template from which all other bike builders are cut. A no-bullshit, beard-sporting, mouth-off-a-sailor, do-it-your-goddamn-selfer with a talent for sniffing out the tourists and separating them from the die-hards.
But spend 5 minutes wandering around and you will begin to get the sense that Worth Motorcycles is anything but a regular shop and that Jeremy Malman is anything but a regular builder. For starters, there's the wholesome fruits and snacks on the work bench in the space traditionally reserved for Bud and Pizza. Then there's the child-size gear conspicuously hanging from the clothes rack. And oh yeah, the kids. 8th and 9th graders from Bedford-Stuyvesent and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, confidently loosening rusted bolts with blow torches and stripping vintage 1970's airheads like most of us peal apples. Kids who on any other day might be spending the afternoon in detention or in a police station for threatening to stab a teacher (true story) but who today, are taking and delivering instruction (often to adults and experienced riders like myself) like mature young men. Kids who are working collaboratively and productively on projects that are infinitely more complex than anything that would be expected of them in their normal day-to-day lives.
Worth Motorcycles is built on a simple idea. Work with kids through motorcycle building. But its the way they do it that is remarkable. At Worth there are no classes or formalized instruction. No one teaches anyone how to separate a triple clamp from a headstock or how to spoon on a tire. You want to know how to do that? Pick a buddy, figure it out together. If things get dangerous or just too far off the rails someone will step in but no one is going to stop you from fucking it up - as long as you learned something in the process.
So what exactly are the students and mentors at Worth learning? Well, lets start with where they are learning. Bedford Stuyvesant can be a rough place to grow up. I can tell you from my three years living there that while it is home to some of the most vibrant blocks in Brooklyn, it is also plagued by weekly or even daily shootings and robberies. For kids growing up in that environment (or frankly any environment), learning to resolve conflicts with others peacefully, dealing with frustration effectively, problem solving, and building confidence in their ability to handle complex projects is of paramount importance. And as anyone who as ever done it can tell you, there isn't a better way to learn these skills then trying to figure out how to separate the wiring from the headlight of a rusted R60 when you've never done it before while working with three other people with three different opinions about how to approach it. - Noam Bar-Zemer
NBZ: What is Worth Motorcycle Company?
JM: Worth Motorcycle Company is a nonprofit organization that teaches NYC's at-risk youth the art of vintage motorcycle restoration.
NBZ: How did you come up with the concept?
JM: Anger. Longing. Desperation. No. That's stupid. As an undergrad, I spent some time in LA working in a bike shop. I didn't know fuck all about motorcycles, but the owner of the shop must have appreciated something that I once perhaps emoted as a younger person (i.e., enthusiasm, joy...?) and gave me a job anyway. It was different from any other job mostly because it was a job. I never had one before. Sorry. Seriously, I found something super grounding about the work. I did something then something happened. The immediate impact on my environment was no longer some other-worldly, esoteric...thing. I can't recall having experienced that sort of cause and effect before then. I was directly involved and connected to something in a way that I hadn't been before.
JM: I returned to NY about a year later-finished undergrad, enrolled in grad school. I was working on a PhD in clinical psych, but really struggled...not with the coursework, what we we're studying was rad, but to get along. I wanted to do everything and had no time for those who didn't. You know- Thomas Jefferson wrote to Edward Rutledge, "There is a debt of service due from every man to his country, proportioned to the bounties which nature and fortune have measured to him." I know he owned slaves, and having slaves is not cool, but he was also a very gifted writer. In this letter he may have been trying to convince Rutledge to return to public office... it doesnt really matter. From consulting on Senate legislation to developing intercultural forums, I wanted to do everything because I was obligated to use all that I had to do all that I could. I wanted to create the type of opportunity I was afforded for those without it.
Needless to say, this "get the fuck out of my way you useless cunt, why are you here, I can't believe we're peers" stance I had employed didn't always make things awesome for me. It was fucking exhausting is what it was. I was exhausted and I needed some time away. After taking a year off, I decided not to return. I created Worth instead. Worth's embodies a real commitment to leveling the playing field along with an aching loathing of status qou.
NBZ: When we spoke you mentioned that the kids are learning with the mentors. How does that relationship work?
JM: There are no mechanics at Worth. The mentors who wrench with the kids learn as they do. This is intended to eliminate hierarchical barriers. There's no 'knower' or 'not-knower', just a bunch of dudes building bikes together.
NBZ: Would you say Worth is more focused on therapy or education. Do you even distinguish between those?
JM: I know this is going to sound douchey but therapy is education brother. It's all just learning.
NBZ: What makes a Worth motorcycle?
JM: We are committed to making aesthetically perfect, high performance motorcycles. There are only a few other shops in the world building BMWs of this caliber, Ritmo Sereno, Max Boxer...I also really like what CRD (out of Spain) does. We're also very fortunate to have an amazingly supportive network of sponsors including Works Performance Shocks, Bore Tech Engineering, Racetech, Cone Engineering, Oshmo, Flatracer, Shorai, Spiegler, Motogadget, BMW 2-Valve, Wunderlich, Woody's Wheel Works, Cycle Works, Euro Motoelectrics, G2 Ergonomics, Kustom Tech, Airtech and Treatland. We reached out to these guys because they're all the very best, by far, in what they do. We're nothing without them.
NBZ: What would you say kids get out of building bikes? What are they learning?
JM: The bikes are often just a means to an end. Some of these kids will continue to work on bikes post-Worth, but many won't. Hopefully, the better majority are learning how to successfully navigate a world that exists independent of 'the block.'
It doesn't matter if we have a kid who proves to be the most sophisicated tech the world has ever known, If he's a dickhead that no one wants to be around, or worse, a dick head who's not around because he's getting arrested for being a dick-head, no one cares. Being good at something is not enough. We want them to engage in creative, effective problem-solving, functional, non-violent, conflict-resolution, and thoughtful, empathetic decision-making. These are the guts of a good life because nothing good lasts without them.
NBZ: Where do you see worth going in the future?
JM: We expect to open 3-5 more Worth shops in the US within the next 5-7 years.
NBZ: What are you guys building right now?
JM: We're working on an R90/S tribute bike (I'll attach build sheet which you can link to), 2 (pale blue) R100 Monolever conversion hooligan bikes (build sheet also attached), a replica of the '76 R60/6, an early 70's Toaster cafe, a 1940 BMW R35, and a burly Toaster scrambler. We're also hoping to campaign a Worth BMW this season in the AHRMA series because I'm an idiot.