Fifty years ago Britain was shocked when hordes of mods and rockers
descended on the south coast town of Brighton and ended up having
a bit of a go at each other on the beach.
These days it’s hard to believe that those involved in those
youthful high jinks were referred to at the time in the national
press as, among other things, ‘Sawdust Caesars’, vermin
and louts. Fast-forward to the present day and mods and rockers,
along with scooter boys, classic bike buffs, power rangers, HOG
members and every type of rider in between is positively welcomed.
How times change.
I’d suggest that it’s fair to say that one man is mainly
responsible for this change in attitude – Mark Wilsmore. Never
heard of him? Well, I’m sure you’ll have heard of the
little café he runs, a place on London’s North Circular
Road that goes by the name of the Ace Café.
Wilsmore organised the first Ace Cafe Reunion Run, or the Brighton
Burn-Up as it’s now known, 21 years ago to relive those halcyon
days of the ‘60s when no Bank Holiday weekend would be complete
without a ride to a seaside resort for a skirmish on the beach with
the mods. Back then, when he gathered a bunch of like-minded riders
together for a run to Brighton, one key difference was that the
café as many know and love it didn’t exist. The original
café closed its doors in 1969 and the site was then occupied
by a tyre fitter. The reborn café didn’t fully return
until 2001, after first starting life as little more than a caravan
in the car park of the tyre fitter’s yard in 1997.
Now, I’m not sure how Mark Wilsmore does it but for the past
15 years, when I’ve ridden down to Brighton to park my bike
up on Madeira Drive for the Brighton Burn Up, there’s never
been any rain. In fact, I’ve been known to come home sun burnt
on occasions, and this year was no different. And I’m sure
that’s one of the reasons why it’s not uncommon to hear
attendance figures varying between 40,000 and 50,000 frequently
quoted. What’s more surprising is the number of riders that
make the trip over from Europe; a walk among the ranks of bikes
will leave you wondering where some of the reg plates originated
from. You’ll probably be equally mystified by the origin of
some of the bikes on display too.
Then again if you’re none too sure about some of the bikes
there’s a fair chance there’ll be an owners club gathered
or stall lined-up along the seafront where someone can put you straight.
Even the major players have cottoned on to the importance of the
Burn Up these days, and this year saw Triumph not only launch a
limited edition Thruxton on Madeira Drive but also bring along the
Barbour custom Scrambler, built by Spirit of the Seventies, and
the Bonneville T100 ridden through Brazil by David Beckham, who,
I’m told, used to be a bit good at football.
Of much more interest to me were the bikes that had been ridden
there. Fifties café racers, including Tritons too numerous
to worry about, and elusive Norvins sitting alongside new old school
café racers mixing classic Featherbed frames with anything
from a Sportster motor to a water-cooled Jap four. From the '70s
there were choppers that taste forgot. Representing the '80s were
street fighters and rat bikes which carried over into OTT big money
chop builds, and through to the current trend for board trackers.
Oh and let’s not forget the weird and wonderful collection
of trikes from turnkey Booms to home-brewed specials that owe a
lot to agricultural engineering with a large dose of Mad Max mixed
in. It was an array that pretty much covered the history of custom
biking in the UK.
Back to written word