I have just returned from a long weekend in Surrey with my wife. An odd holiday destination you may think, but we were visiting some very good friends who were originally from Gloucester but now work in London, hence the move to Surrey.
Purely by chance, the date that we chose for our visit coincided with the Brighton Burn-Up, when motorcycles from all around the country, and indeed the world, descend upon this quintessential British seaside resort.
Our friends have ‘his and hers’ Harley Davidsons and, since rain was not forecast, they were heading off on one of these, going via the Ace Café. They offered to lend me a bike: not a Harley – they’re good friends, but they’re not insane! – they also have an old GS500. Although just their run-about, this is still in better nick than any bike I have ever owned. I was sorely tempted, but not having ridden a bike for a number of years and given the aged and bulky nature of my motorcycle gear I declined. In hindsight, having seen the chaos on the roads, a wise move methinks!
So we headed into Brighton in the car, arriving about 1100 by which time the seafront was already thronged with bikes and the air rang out with the sound of growling exhausts. After a short wander along the pier and seafront, a wonderful clash of Victorian grandeur and tawdry twentieth century tackiness, we found a vantage point to watch the bikes arrive and to look out for our friends.
Bikes arrived in a constant stream: corralled along a cordoned off route, they kept on coming for hour after hour. There were thousands of them: more bikes than I thought even existed in the country. The bikes ranged from kids on mopeds with L-Plates to the racers on Japanese and European ‘head-down arse-up’ speed machines. There were the Mods on scooters festooned with lights and mirrors and the rockers in leather jackets covered in studs and badges riding old British machines. And there were the big muscle machines, the Harley Davidsons and Japanese facsimiles, ridden by traditional bad-arse bikers and by middle aged accountants, doctors and lawyers. There were factory standard bikes and outrageous custom machines and the people ranged from youngsters, for whom the original Mods vs. Rockers battles are just folklore, to older people who were there to see it and are now intent on growing old disgracefully. There was one old couple who you would not look twice at if you bumped into them in the supermarket, but here they were sat astride a huge custom trike. They even had their Jack Russell terrier with them, complete with his own set of goggles (which I believe may be marketed as ‘doggles’)
Bikes have moved on significantly in recent years, especially in size. There was a time when the largest factory motorcycle was 1300cc, but now they are available with engines big enough to power an aeroplane, like the 2.3 litre Triumph Rocket III. What doesn’t seem to have moved on is some of the weirder custom stuff, which still seem to heavily feature the skull and devil motifs: some of the designs for the wackier trikes seem to come straight from the minds of twelve-year-old goths.
One thing that has definitely changed is that all of these disparate people now seem to get on. Perhaps they have all realised that they have more in common than they have separating them, or perhaps they have all just grown up. Whatever the reason, the old Mods and Rockers battles seem to be well behind them and as far as I know the day passed without incident and a good time was had by all.
Of all the bikes we looked around in what was, basically, the world’s largest motorcycle show, a large percentage appeared not to be day to day work-horses, but toys just used for pleasure. The fact that there are so many suggests that the recession is not biting too deep on the motorcycle industry.
The journey home also highlighted the motorcycle’s superiority: by the time we finally fought our way through the traffic chaos our bike-riding friends had already been home for more than an hour. We were warmer though!