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Brighton Burn Up

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.

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