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Al is Gate 2 personified

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2001-07-28

It's not every day that you meet someone who remembers what Okinawa was like back when Highway 58 was beachside property. Al, owner of Al's Place, Ryukyu Custom Cycles, and Ryukyu Riders Apparel, is one of those people. I came to Okinawa as a GI in '81, loved it, and decided to stay, Al notes.

This seems to be the case with many foreigners who decide to take permanent residency on Okinawa. Currently, Al is in the process of opening his new store, Ryukyu Riders Apparel, on Gate 2 Street. He seems very proud of his new establishment, but I could tell it was keeping him busy. As of now, the store has not officially opened yet, but business has already started to flourish. We haven't even opened yet and it's already hard to keep stuff in here, says Al. People often come in and buy t-shirts and motorcycle seats, and we've already had to restock.

Al also owns Ryukyu Custom Cycles, where you can purchase a used motorcycle, motorcycle parts, or have maintenance done on your bike. His other business, Al's Place, is a live music and pool establishment one of the most well known on the strip.

We talked a little while about the motorcycle scene on Okinawa, a very interesting topic if you look at how much it has grown here in the past 20 years. In 1981, there was only one biker club on Okinawa. Now there are ten, four of which are American. Also, there is finally an exclusive Harley Davidson dealership on Highway 58, a big step for the riding scene.

Last year, Al and some 400 other bikers made a run to Okuma. Only 300 or 350 registered, but more than 400 were accounted for if you count non-registered riders, says Al. Each year, the Ryukyu Riders and other clubs host Bike Runs where enthusiastic riders can get their chance to explore the island from the seat of their Harley. We do a lot of poker runs, says Al. In a poker run, riders start at any one place and pick up a card, ride to another specified spot on the given map and pick up another card and continue until each rider has five cards. The riders then compare cards and the best hand wins a prize of some sort.

Al's hope for the future is that the Gate 2 Fest will become the Daytona of Japan. I want to see a lot of people out here, he says. Bikers bring a lot of money to the streets. They do a lot of good. Wherever we are, people are going to come and buy our stuff. If everyone pitches in and works together to build Gate 2 up again, everyone will make money. I want to see the biker scene explode, Gate 2 explode, and the clubs reopen. During Vietnam War, Gate 2 Street was a paradise. Al has been on Okinawa many years and has as many years worth of memories behind him. He explains that during the Vietnam War and a number of years afterwards as well, Gate 2 Street was teeming with people, clubs, and businesses.

These days, though still a great strip to visit for excellent entertainment, Gate 2 Street has become much smaller in scale than in the past. Much of this is due to its bad reputation of drunkenness and rowdiness. Also, rather than working together, many clubs on the strip want to be known as the only game in town. If we all worked together, Gate 2 could be big again. Gate 2 street has a reputation it doesn't deserve, says Al. I want to see people not worry about being off base, he says. We can't let the mistakes of a few people ruin everything for us.

Al talks about the strip as if it were a person, a buddy, a friend who has been there through many good and bad times in his life. He is loyal to the strip, and in many ways, Al seems to be Gate 2 Street personified. He's known in some circles as the godfather of Gate 2, having been active in the area for so many years. Al and Gate 2 have a long history together. So do Al and big bikes. This coming year will be his fiftieth year riding. I was 13 when I got my first bike, and I'm 62 years old now, he explains. I've been riding longer than I care to remember! Al mentioned that he rides with all of the 10 Motorcycle clubs on island. I'll ride with anyone who will have me, he says, smiling.

Al has had a long history with the Okinawa motorcycle scene. In 1982 he started American Steel in his backyard. He was the International President until leaving due to a conflict of business interests. Now, the chapter has riders all over the world! The next club to come into being was the Far East Knights, an offshoot of American Steel, which was founded in 1987. Then came Been There Done That in 1991, and the Ryukyu Riders more recently.

The scene has really blown up on Okinawa, he says. None of anything would have been possible without Yasuko. She is my right hand, my left hand, my everything. She has had a lot of patience with me. Yasuko is Al's girlfriend of four years and has helped him tremendously. According to Al, Yasuko is also an avid rider and an owner of two Sportsters. In fact, Yasuko went to school to earn a license and she is now certified to ride anything on two wheels.

I asked Al if he wanted to add anything else about the Riding scene on Okinawa. He took a moment to think and said, Riding isn't as bad as people think. If you expect the other person to do the unexpected, then it becomes expected and you're ready for it. Also, read the Japan Update as we have a lot of events coming up for people of all ages to enjoy.

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