When I first came into motorcycling, way back in the dawn of time, when I was young, impressionable and had hair, I was very keen on classic and custom bikes.
I never owned one. I entirely lack whatever gene it is that makes you good at mechanical things, so the idea of actually maintaining a classic or building a custom was way beyond me. I did enjoy looking though.
Since getting back into motorcycling in recent years I haven’t had a lot to do with customs and classics. However, I do have friends who are into custom bikes and I do still like to look at them, so I thought it was about time that I checked out a custom bike show. Last weekend, therefore, I went off to Kickback, The National Custom Bike Show at Donington Park.
There is something about a classic motorcycle or a well built custom that is pleasing to the eye. They transcend the mundane functional nature of modern bikes; they have a soul. And the engineering and ingenuity often boggles the mind.
Back in those far off days when I first had motorcycles, classic meant something from the 1960s or earlier. Sometimes these were shown as the factory originally intended, but often they were modified or customised in some way. This was usually for practical purposes: fast engines were put into superior frames to improve racing ability, giving you Tritons and TriBSAs; parts were removed to make them lighter; clip on handlebars were added to give the classic cafe racer look.
The custom scene, on the other hand, was much more about aesthetics and image. Browsing the pages of Back Street Heroes, the scantily clad young ladies were mostly draping themselves over choppers with radically raked frames and spindly little wheels far off in the distance at the end of long forks.
Over recent years, though, things have changed. Custom and classic are coming together with both being modified largely for aesthetic purposes. Those doing the modifications still include your classic old school bikers dressed in denim and leather, but now the people involved are often younger and better dressed. Their beards are neatly trimmed, sometimes into quirky shapes, and their hair coiffed into modern styles.
And the language has changed. There are still Choppers, but the advert for Kickback also boasts of Bobbers, Trackers and Brats: I confess I had to do some research to understand the terminology! Also, more modern bikes are now customised into cafe racers, and scramblers are no longer things just for racing around fields, but you have cool, urban looking street scramblers.
And I loved it! The variety and ingenuity are incredible and the enthusiasm is contagious. Kickback is only a small show, but it was well worth the two hour trip to get there: the quality of the bikes on show was very high and you actually had time to look around them properly and get up close to them.
It was also great to bump into Henry Cole of TV fame. He was there with his beautiful, record-breaking Gladstone. Having watched it being built over several weeks on The Motorbike Show it was great to see it in the flesh, and it didn’t disappoint. Henry also seemed like a nice genuine chap, happy to chat about our forthcoming trip to the US and to pose for a picture with my wife.
So, all in all it was a brilliant day out. I was even inspired to think about building a custom of some sort myself…
But then I remembered the thing about that mechanical gene, so maybe not… maybe I’ll just enjoy looking at other people’s bikes. Here’s just a small selection of the hundreds of pictures I took during the day.
If you missed this show don’t panic, there’s another on 28-29 March, this time at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire