After a three-year “detox” from sportbikes, Chicago-based Brad Allen Johnson, a.k.a. BJay, went on an all-new luxurious sort of bender. The same week he filed for divorce, he bought a caddy then drove to the Harley dealership a couple miles away.
“I like to associate myself with quality,” says the freelance television camera operator, editor and production assistant, who has worked for Jenny Jones, Jerry Springer, BET, NBC, and ABC. “That’s why I chose to get an iconic brand.” Back in the day, when BJay was better known for selling narcotics rather than his work as a documentary producer or for his leadership among Chicago’s African-American riding community, BJay thought Harleys were iconic for something else. “You could have never gotten us to ride a Harley,” he remembers of his wilder sportbike days. “We thought of them as the old-man’s retirement bike.”
His Candy Cobalt Blue customized Road King is a far tire-scream from the geezer image, however. BJay’s color choice is reminiscent of his dad’s old Cobalt Blue Ford Thunderbird with suicide doors. The man who sat behind that classic wheel was also responsible for getting BJay into the saddle. His dad bought a BMW 650 when BJay was five—a bike that BJay still owns today. After his parents divorced and his mom relocated BJay from Chicago city proper to suburban Hinsdale, he took up trail riding on dirt bikes. He was relieved to be out of the authority’s sightlines, as cops had often wagged their fingers at BJay’s aggressive riding style in Chi-town. “I rode a mini bike up and down the streets and eluded police by zipping through the alleyways and cutting across the park,” BJay says. “The exposure to open trails really taught me the mechanics of riding,” he adds. “Everything from jumping Motocross-style tracks to throttle and clutch control in the air to wheelies.”
Always an athletic guy, BJay grew up boxing and joined the U.S. Navy boxing team. He spent 13 years in the Navy (with several years in the Reserves) and five years in the U.S. Army. Unfortunately, his tough-guy attitude and extra free time took him for a not-so-great ride. “The Reserves is a part-time commitment,” BJay explains. “You have plenty of time to be idle and get into other things on both sides of the law.” BJay hooked up with the Vice Lords and began selling narcotics. He maintains that his gang affiliation was strictly about business and outlines the appeal. “Where else can you set up your own enterprise and get back three times more than what you invested in it in a short time?”
Intervention came with an 11-month stint at the Cook County Jail. The time served was the warning he needed. “All of that toughness and the façade, that was for the damn birds,” he says. Reality set in for BJay, who immediately decided to make a huge lifestyle U-turn while incarcerated. “God put me here to see that I didn’t belong here,” he says. “It was his way of showing me what could easily be taken away.” Oddly, before he went to jail, BJay had just taken and passed the police academy test, and after his discharge he began taking the classes. “There I was, still fighting charges, was the only black guy in the program, and taking a class alongside one of the guards I’d met when I was in.” BJay knew all along there’d be a hiccup with becoming an officer since he was still battling the charges, but he used the experience as clear inspiration.