The Ace Café reunion weekend was originally organised to celebrate the re-opening of the Ace Café in London, and it has now become a yearly event.
Bolted on to this was the “Brighton Burn-up”, which takes place on Sunday, with bikers setting off from the Ace for the run down to Brighton and with many others joining on the way.
The Ace Café website reckoned on “tens of thousands of bikes”, whilst a local newspaper reports on “200,000 visitors in Brighton” for this year’s event.
It would appear, and I am only going on conversations I had with some of the local bikers, that the “Brighton Burn-up” used to set off from London Bridge some years ago but I haven’t been able to find out much more about this.
This year, as in 2004, a KillSpills rally was held with many bikers leaving the Ace to ride to the Houses of parliament where the rally organisers handed in a petition.
I talked to two of the KillSpills guys who told me that the primary goal of the KillSpills organisation is to raise public awareness of diesel spills caused mainly by “necking” i.e.: filling the tank to the extent that the tank neck is full of diesel thereby increasing the possibility of a diesel spill onto the road and causing a biker to crash.
The provenance and accuracy of available statistics cannot be considered very reliable as people don’t necessarily report it if they have an “off” caused by a diesel spill on the road.
The whole Ace Reunion weekend kicks off on Friday evening when many people start to arrive at the café: quite a number come over from the continent – there were French, a large German contingent, Italians, Dutch, Polish, Swedes, Danes, a couple of Norwegians and others from what were originally the old “Eastern Bloc” countries.
One interesting and famous connection worth mention is that the 59 Club was essentially born at the Ace; conceived by Father Bill Shergold, a biking vicar, the 59 club went on to grow into the largest motorbike club in the world.
Although nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, about 43 or so years ago, a bunch of us rode down to London from Newcastle-on-Tyne, a run that took, if memory serves, about 8 or 9 hours on the crappy roads of those days. We had heard all about the London biking scene including the Ace, the Busy Bee, the 59 Club & etc. and wanted to see how it compared with what was going on in the North East.
We had a fair old mix of bikes but without exception, they were all British singles or twins. At the time I had a BSA DBD32 Goldie complete with ally tank, clip-ons, etc., and almost needed lifting off the thing when we eventually got there I was so stiff. My first return visit to the Ace a few years ago, dumped 40+ years in a flash.
A misspent youth recaptured? Of course.
To add a little context to this article, I have read the occasional letter that is sometimes posted in the classic bike magazines, written by older bikers who were somewhat critical of what they saw as the present “romanticised’ view of the Ace, and who remembered the café scene of the time as populated with many tatty, leaking old bangers.
They weren’t too complimentary about the bikes either. Whilst this may well have been true, what is imprinted on my memory of those years is the freedom a bike brought me, how I loved my machine and thought it the best thing since sliced bread, how much the shiny bits gleamed and how it growled, howled, vibrated and smelt of Castrol “R”.
So good we used to put a few drops in the petrol tank (how I wish they would bring out an aftershave that smells like it). Anyway, selective memory it may be, but I never did enjoy wearing a hair shirt and care not a jot that I have dumped the crappy bits in the intervening years.
Saturday at the Ace
People wander round looking at the many bikes that arrive, stay for a while then maybe move on – others sit and talk to other bikers, “people watch”, listen to the soundtrack of bike sounds, rock music and conversation and just soak it all in. The whole place buzzes with activity; the range of bikers of all persuasions, languages and accents is quite something. The atmosphere is great and, as is usual with bikers, people talk to each other.
Usually, there are a couple of rock’ n roll bands performing in the afternoon and so it was this year. It always feels very nostalgic listening to the engines of British singles and twins as they come and go accompanied by the occasional whiff of Castrol “R’ with a backing soundtrack of rock ‘n roll; talk about being whizzed back in time.
All that’s missing are the the steamed-up café windows, the shiny “Gaggia” machine, coffee served covered in froth, and in glass cups, the big “Rockola” jukebox in the corner (playing many of the same tunes that are still popular now, by the way) and the birds with stiletto heels and beehive hairdo’s. I often wonder if 20, 30, 40 & 50 year old rockers get the same kind of charge from it all as my generation did (but maybe set at a slightly different voltage)?
What is quite amazing is the different types of bikes that show up for the weekend at the Ace. Even a Taurus diesel, the first time I have ever seen one.
From sportsbikes to tourers, from cruisers to café racers, from vintage to trikes, from streetfighters to classics – the riders all turn up and mix in with each other. Is rock ‘n roll still universal? I think so.
Triumph were there in force over the weekend. As mentioned in an article by “Andrew&7’ onLondon Bikers, they are a fine company and without getting sidetracked and singing the praises of the new Daytona (an absolute peach of a bike by the way) I reckon they do Brit bikers proud.
Talking to one of the managers on the Triumph stand, I was surprised when he told me that he still comes across Brit bikers who are not necessarily all that familiar with Triumph as a make and he is sometimes asked “who makes the engines”?
It was noteworthy that all of the Triumph guys I talked to were quite passionate about, and proud of, their products. I talked to another guy at the hotel where we stayed (about 300 yards away from the Ace, thereby not wasting drinking time) who was there with a Triumph Rocket III: he loved it to bits, he worked for Triumph and it was a works bike. Nice job.
I saw a guy from the Triumph stand talking to a 60-ish year old rocker who had turned up on his Triumph café racer and was checking out one of the modern Triumphs. Nearly 50 years of brand loyalty is quite something. The contrast struck me and a photo was in order to capture the moment.
I also spied a mature “Rockette’ wandering down the line of bikes checking out the machinery.
Previous years at the Ace saw some of the stars of the film “The Leather Boys” turn up for the day (Rita Tushingham to name but one); however I did not spot any of them this year.
Orange County Choppers were in attendance this year and had 3 bikes on display outside the Ace. Although the TV programme on the OCC has been immensely popular in the UK, I’m not too sure of the connection between them, the Ace weekend and the Brighton Burn-up but they certainly attracted a lot of interest.
(L) Old meets new. (R) “Rockette”
The rally kicked-off early afternoon and it was estimated that a total of around 2,500 bikes were there. We set off from the Ace and headed up to the houses of parliament. Central London came to a bit of a standstill.
There were bike police outriders who were managing the roadblocks and KillSpills marshals to “shepherd’ the bikers and maintain some semblance of riding order.
As far as publicising the cause, it was an extremely effective exercise; there was a lot of visible support evident from the watching public as we passed them and a lot of waving and clapping from the crowds. There were a few grumpy drivers (I noticed that in the main, the grumpiest were the tour bus & taxi drivers) who, had the police not been in attendance, would possibly have ignored the roadblocks and given us a problem.
The vast majority however, were fine about it all. On the day, the sun did not always shine on the righteous, and in fact the rain bucketed down. At one point after parking up in parliament square, it was a choice between keeping the crash hat on and steaming up or taking it off and having a cold shower and a soggy cigarette.
The crack amongst the bikers was excellent (as usual) and it wasn’t long before the run back to the Ace took place in sunshine (see, the sun does occasionally shine on the righteous). It was late afternoon when we get back and the rock bands were belting out sounds outside on the forecourt. As the day came to a close, the sunshine began to fade, the stars came out and the lights went on inside the Ace.
Picture the scene: Streetlights come on. Sounds of bikers arriving, others leaving, the lights reflecting off their glistening chrome and paintwork. The bands fire up and we’re off again for the evening.
Surrounded by the sound of more rock bands, we drank. You pass money over the bar counter and they pass you glasses full of brown or amber liquid that has an amazing effect on those who taste it. People find they are talking more and more sense until they lose consciousness. I found myself sharing a table with two Germans and a Polish (?) fellow and as the evening wore on, we became completely fluent in each other’s languages. Amazing stuff.
This event kicks-off at about 10:30 am so at least you get the chance to have breakfast and blow away some of the alcohol-fuelled cobwebs from your brain.
I can’t really say I have a “my-body-is-a-temple” philosophy, so I passed up on the “healthy” breakfast provided by the hotel (I don’t perceive juice and a croissant as any sort of a breakfast for bikers or as a cure for the previous evening excesses) and fired right into a full-fat, clogged arteries, high-cholesterol breakfast at the Ace. Yum.
Biking is considered more dangerous than driving a car but to be honest, I think you are in more danger of death by breakfast. After adding a couple of PSI to my tyres to cope with the extra ballast, I was ready to go.
I managed to get in a good position for photos on a footbridge over the carriageway. The Police had cleared the road and the first bikers in the column to come through, which included OCC, had a virtually empty road in front of them, which must be a great experience.
Check out the photo and you can see the headlights of thousands of riders behind them in the distance (the car at the front by the way, was from the “Discovery’ TV channel who were filming the whole thing).
On the bridge, I got talking to the biker next to me who turned the tables by asking if he could interview me! Rob Smith is a journalist from Delta BC, Canada, who was covering the weekend for several Canadian bike magazines.
As it happened, he helped me out enormously (thanks Rob); I had a problem with my camera (the problem was me, pressing the wrong buttons) on one shot and Rob very kindly sent me the photo of the bikers at the front of the column, headed by Police bikers complete with blue flashing lights.
As the first riders went past under the bridge, they flashed lights, sounded horns and waved to the crowds of spectators along the way, including those who had chosen footbridges as prime vantage points; the spectacle was amazing and the mood so infectious that all waved back. As a good natured, and very effective exercise in biking PR, it took a lot of beating.
The experience of riding in such a large group of bikers, all heading for the same place, never ceases to be an awesome experience. Although we have done the run for a few years now, we never tire of it. There is not a lot to compare with it. The run down was great with good weather and I saw not a single “off” or “occurrence” although some parts of the motorway were absolutely clogged (a bit like my arteries after that breakfast) with traffic.
Brighton was great once you eventually got in there – only problem was that the place was full of motorbikes.
We got split up due to the sheer numbers of bikers. I parked up and phoned our lass and arranged to meet her at the Triumph stand. I was hot & thirsty and on the way to the stand, seeing a few biker couples sat at tables outside, I wandered (unwittingly) into what turned out to be a gay bar looking for something to drink.
I ended up talking to the very hospitable bar owner and his partner and had a good conversation with both guys about both theirs, and the locals, take on bikes / bikers / the Brighton burn-up. To cut a long story short, they love it and they told me that the locals look forward to the spectacle every year.
Spotted parked outside of a café on my way down to the stand, I drooled over a pair of awesome Vincent/HRD café racers. Although they may have been modified, something which is not always appreciated by the rivet counters, they were there, on the road, being ridden. They looked stunning machines and you don’t see them at your average bike meet. Check out the number of levers on the LH side handlebars.
The bikes park on Madiera Drive and the range of machinery was fantastic; a rich and eclectic mix – you name it, it was there.
To accompany this lot came the “original” old rockers, the 50 year old and downwards “younger” rockers, the many Harley riders “living the lifestyle” and many streetfighter / sportsbike riders. All united by one thing – bikes.
As usual, some “Mods” were present; I saw one youngish group, a couple of whom were sat revving their scooters beside a café, mightily pissing-off a couple of the older rockers who were gritting their teeth.
Personally, I consider that the noise of a revving Lambretta or Vespa engine is the two-wheeled equivalent of dragging your nails down a blackboard, however, life’s rich diversity means that some people actually enjoy the sound.
The other group of Mods I saw were slightly more mature, good-natured, pretty laid-back and somewhat amused that a biker was taking their photo.
I have to confess that once, a long, long time ago, in a fit of whimsical stupidity, I bought a scooter. I used it that night, and sold it the very next day.
We saw one old couple about 70 yrs old, dressed in sensible, stretch beige “coach trip” gear, who looked as though they had come to Brighton for a quiet weekend, walks along the prom taking the sea air and enjoying some seaside peace and solitude etc. At time of booking the weekend, they were probably blissfully unaware of the Brighton run.
They walked past us hand-in-hand along Madiera Drive taking it all in; the masses of chrome, black leather, tattoos, loud exhausts and the (pretty crap) rock band who had turned their sound levels down to a mere painful intensity, left them looking unfazed.
So much to see, so much to absorb, so much to hear, so many people to talk to along Madiera Drive. It was all there and then some. Late on in the afternoon, after the mandatory bag of fish and chips, a saunter along Brighton pier and some ice cream, it was all over.
The Trip Home
Leaving Brighton and heading North, there were what seemed like a million bikers on the road all heading in the same direction.
During last year’s Burn-up, on the way down into Brighton, I was knocked off my bike at a roundabout just outside of the town, when a car pulled out in front of me even though I had eye contact with the idiot. No serious damage only to my temper.
Heading home this year, approaching the same roundabout on the way OUT of Brighton, I couldn’t believe it when a car pulled out of a line of traffic just as I was passing him.
As luck would have it, although his front bumper whacked my hard pannier and although I had a fair bit of a wobble, I managed to stay on the bike and stopped to check the damage. Trying to keep the lid screwed firmly down on my temper, I walked back to where he had stopped and got the usual “sorryIdidn’tseeyoumate” crap. The twat.
After clearing London and on my way North up the A1, I saw, and only briefly at that, two bikes heading in my direction. The contrast, after being among thousands of bikes was, to say the least, a bit strange and almost surreal.
A warm evening, good tyres, fairly clear roads and knowing where all the speed cameras were meant that a “spirited” ride home, within national speed limits of course, was on the menu and I enjoyed it enormously. A fantastic end to an awesome weekend. All alone and “thundering through the night’; cue theme tune from “The Graduate? I don’t think so. But it was good.
Random Notes, Quotes and Observations
As we were about to leave for the KillSPills rally, I spotted a marshal who was standing in the middle of the road outside the Ace directing traffic with a pint of beer in his hand.
On the KillSpills rally, riding through central London on the two inside lanes of a 3 lane carriageway, the rally marshals keeping everyone to the 50mph speed limit. Police outriders were going past us in the outside lane, at a fair rate of knots, clearing the way ahead. I looked over my shoulder and watched as a Pizza delivery guy, on a tiny, and very, very tatty, 50cc Honda moped, with a huge back box cobbled together out of plywood and bits of gaffer’s tape, who, oblivious of the police and the speed limit, whizzed past and overtook everyone.
“Ivaи Cяazy Bob”, as the name on the back of his jacket spelt out, who always turns up on a Ural combination dressed up in a bear costume (he must have been melting in the heat & high humidity), who lets the kids climb onto his machine for photos. He always has a passenger in the sidecar – a man-sized teddy bear. Note the empty beer glass parked on the cylinder head.
Dennis “Stormin’ Norman with the twin Triumph-engined sprint bike. Sounded simply fantastic when he ran it up.
On the way to Brighton going down the M2, passing two Scots boys riding Harleys, who were wearing kilts.
Regarding the trip home, I have traveled the A1 for many years. When I was about 13 years old, I kept racing pigeons and used to carry them in a box I made, that fitted on the back of my bicycle, to take them out on training flights. The first time I ever went on the A1, I cycled for an hour or so and decided to stop for a break at the very next town. I saw a sign saying ¼ Mile to the next town and looked forward to a break.
After what seemed like ages, I saw another sign saying ½ Mile to the same place. A bit confused, I carried on cycling and after another age, saw yet another sign saying ½ Mile to yet again, the same place. I never did find the town and gave up in the finish. It was only some days afterwards that I discovered what a “Lay By” was (know this: it is not a town). I didn’t live that one down for a couple of years.
Doesn’t matter if you’re not into rock ‘n roll, café racers and stuff. Just to be among so many bikers, for the Ace reunion and the Brighton Burn-up, is a never-to-be-forgotten experience. Whenever I bump into someone, at some other time or place wearing a reunion T-shirt, we invariably end up talking about a shared experience even though we have never met before.