Story and Photos by ITN European Reporter Herve’ Rebollo
Salut à toi American rider,
For my November ride I took my squad with me and made the guys discover something they didn’t know riding amazing roads in direction of the East, around Reims in the Champagne county … our target was the Tank Memorial at Berry-Au-Bac. It would give us the opportunity to have a round trip of about 450km / 280 miles on this sunny Saturday.
We had appointment on this early morning in a beautiful eastern village at 30km from Paris. I like this squad, cause it’s made of such different guyz (Hog member, lone riders, support 81): all gathered by the love of the road and cruising on a Harley.
Direction Reims and, isolated villages after lost villages, we took of course our time to have some breaks just to recover our forces at the terrace of some cool bars …
Sometimes the kind of roads we ride are so bad that it can happen you get some troubles. As, for example, the break of a crutch spring on a huge bump which was absolutely not supposed to be there. In this case, in the middle of nowhere, it’s time to have imagination …
… where we were lucky enough to meet / see some greats classic cars …
And then direction the tank memorial!
The Tank Memorial (Memorial des Chars d’Assaut) pays tribute to all those tank drivers who fell in the course of 1917-1918. It was erected by the efforts of a group of ex-infantrymen, and inaugurated on the 2ndJuly, 1922 in the presence of both Marshals Foch and Petain, Generals Mangin and Weygand, as well as General Estienne, the so-called “father of the tank”. The monument is situated at Cholera Farm from where for the first time French tanks engaged massively on 16 April 1917 in the direction of Juvincourt. A plaque to the rear of the memorial recalls that on the 16th April, 1917, the 151st Infantry Regiment continued to advance with the assistance of Bossut’s tanks right up to Beliers Wood.
This area is for the French Tank Corps the location of the first major assault in their history. Standing with your back to the memorial, the Schneider tanks of Commandant Bossut moved forward from the left to attack the German positions up ahead on the right on 16th April 1917 as part of the disastrous Nivelle Offensive. Unfortunately, these early tanks were unreliable and many broke down shortly after crossing the start line. Those that made it further were met by heavy fire from the German lines. Altogether nearly 100 of the 128 attacking tanks were lost, including that of Commandant Bossut. The memorial itself was opened in 1922 in the presence of General Estienne known as “the father of tanks” and a ceremony is held here each April. A Panhard armoured car and an AMX-13 light tank of 1950’s vintage flank the memorial.
This national memorial pays tribute to all the tank crew members who died during the Great War. But, even if for us, French / European citizens, it’s always a surprise, an emotion, to discover that kind of place, I’m sure it would be such a more important one for an American citizen who cannot imagine how many these kind of places are everywhere in France (and part of Europe). You have no idea. From middle ages to Napoleonian times, WWI and WWII we have old battlefields and memorials almost everywhere in our country-sides.
Europe has known so many battles …
It’s simple: if you are a “tank lover” or a fan of the WWI /WWII and a biker, you can have great rides to try to take some pix of your lovely bike with many old tanks … you have memorials linked to local battles almost in every counties.
You even almost can chose the kind and the nationality of the war machine you want to see …
American, French, German …
And if you are an old bunkers aficionado … you will never have enough of your life to see and visit them all from the south to the west, the north and the east …
You will find old tanks from the WWI period on the eastern front (Somme, Marne counties, …) …
… and old military stuffs from the WWII on the western and southern front (Normandy, Gironde, Côte d’Azur counties, …).
In any case, it will give you great time of riding, will permit you to remember your History and to pay tribute to all these American, Belgians, Britons, French, Polish, to all these Vet’ who fought (and died for so many), for freedom!!!
So, next time you will spend some times in France, I’ll introduce you to my smart guyz …
And all together we’ll rediscover that definitively, yes, happiness is a full tank!!!
Story and Photos by ITN European Reporter Herve’ Rebollo
Salut à toi American rider,
For my monthly ride, my biker friend Philippe suggested me that we should go to visit WOINIC somewhere in the North-East of France, not far from the border with Belgium. I supposed he was a friend of him. Ok man, let’s go to see your guy and surprise me with new great roads … Continue reading OCTOBER RIDE TO THE WILD HOG→
Story and Photos by ITN European Reporter Herve’ Rebollo
Salut à toi American rider,
Let’s go back to England today, London more precisely, to visit a legendary place: WARR’S!
You may remember I spent some days in London / England on this early September. I was a real blast! We went to the famous ACE CAFÉ with my Irish partner in crime Nicholas and were lucky enough to visit London towncenter riding our Harley. It was so cool under a nice Londonian sun on this Saturday afternoon.
We went to the LONDON TOWER …
We crossed the fabulous TOWER BRIDGES
Got lost in the City …
… and have had fun with foreign tourist in front of BUCKINGHAM PALACE …
Of course, we took memorable pix. Note that we were not supposed to make a stop here (it’s more or less forbidden), but as I’m French (means, undisciplined and arrogant as everyone knows), I now own this exceptional pic: biker me, in front of the Palace (with the queen Elizabeth looking at me trough her window (of course it’ true!!!!).
But, beyond this (very) pleasant ride in town-center London we were very excited by the idea to visit the famous local Harley Davidson dealership. A must see when you’re an European Harleyist: once in your bikerlife time, pay a visit to the oldest Harley Davidson shop of Europe: WARR’S, since 1924.
WARR’S Harley-Davidson first opened its doors on London’s famous Kings Road in 1924, and today the business is still family owned and continues to operate from the same address as the day it first opened. The Warr’s story began with a cycle shop at 661 Kings Road when Captain Frederick Warr started working for himself in 1924 after having seen active service in World War I and then returning to employment in the army after the war due to the lack of work elsewhere. Within a year of opening the shop he had expanded his operation to include motorcycles. During that time the Motor Company had its European operation based in an office on Newman Street in London, and so Frederick, having seen how reliable the early Harley-Davidsons were during his time in the Royal Artillery, visited the Company’s agent and became an authorized dealer.
It was 1924. Captain Frederick James Warr had just been demobbed from the Army for the second time. In 1914 the 16 year old volunteer had fooled the recruiting Sergeant about his age and risen through the ranks in the Royal Artillery serving King and Country on the Western front and later on in the Middle East. Now he needed to earn a living and opened a bicycle shop at 611 Kings Road. That same year he moved on to motorbikes, first Triumph and then Harley-Davidson.
Fred had some experience of the V-Twins on the Western Front during the First World War after the Americans arrived in 1917 and he embraced them with a passion. American motorbikes had had a following in the UK since Edwardian days and HD had a shop in Newman Street, W1. The Twenties was a great decade for motorcycles. The number on British roads trebled in that time as demand for cheap personal transportation grew rapidly. Ex-servicemen were keen to spread their wings. “How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm when they’ve seen Paree?”.
Fred ran the business almost single handedly with his wife Margaret until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. As Hitler set his sights on Britain, Fred closed the shop and volunteered for his third spell in the Army, rising to the rank of Major by war’s end. Duty done 611 was open for business again in 1946 and a year later Fred’s son Frederick Howard got involved in the business after leaving the Royal Air Force. Young Fred was every bit the swashbuckling RAF man zooming round the country on an H-D 750cc side-valve WLA. Both wars had made a significant impact on the Harley-Davidson name in the UK. The Rugged WL 750cc motorcycles were supplied to British services through the Lend-Lease scheme. Their well-sprung seats made them extremely comfortable and they were very easy to manoeuvre even on difficult terrain. They were particularly popular in the African theatre because of their oil bath air cleaners and good build quality. The bikes arrived in their thousands in convoys across the Atlantic, although there must be many more thousands under the chilly Atlantic rollers thanks to the constant harassment of the U-boat packs.
So, around 1949 F.J’s son Fred Warr left the Royal Air Force and went to work for his father. Post war trade was tough though and much of the business concentrated on selling and servicing ex miltary surplus WL750s, also known as ‘Liberators’. At that time trade restrictions meant new Harleys were not allowed to be imported into the UK. Fred Jnr campaigned long and hard against both the US Senate and British Goverment to have the restrictions lifted and he was eventually successful. By 1956 the first new civilian Harleys to be imported direct from Milwaukee into the UK since 1939 arrived at the Kings Rd dealership. From the 1940’s to the early Seventies, Warr’s was the only official representation for Harley-Davidson in the UK.
The end of the war saw hoards of bikes staying in Britain. Bikes along with tons of spare parts were auctioned off as Government surplus. Fred bought as much as he could against stiff opposition from other dealers like Claude Rye of Fulham. It was not uncommon to bid for lots without knowing exactly what was in the boxes. Fred once bought a ton of spares, only to discover that half of the container was full of speedometers! Warr’s were in a great position to civilianise the bikes and carved out a reputation as specialists in that area. At the time there was big competition. Claude Rye claimed to have the biggest supply of Harley-Davidson parts in the world. Manchester’s Fred Fearnley claimed the biggest spares dump in Europe. It was a time when you could by an H-D 750 finished in cream for £89! Young Fred was a very accomplished rider. He rode in most kinds of competition, taking part regularly in sprints and road trials. He took an Electraglide to victory in the National Rally of 1974 and his 1957 success in the 1000k Silverstone won him a special commendation from the Milwaukee factory. In the mid-seventies he competed in two Circuits des Pyrenees riding an Electraglide and a café-racer sportster. It was 1957 and Fred jnr had taken the helm and was driving the business forward. It was time to source new Harley-Davidsons. So off he set on the Queen Mary and headed for Milwaukee. After a very rough crossing he checked into a cheap hotel and then met with founders son William Davidson (Willie G’s father) and his export manager. Fred was wined and dined aboard William’s boat on Lake Michigan. Fred was impressed and so was Davidson. Fred was even more impressed when Davidson told him “his hotel bill had been taken care of”!
William H. Davidson (left) visits with Fred Warr jnr in 1959
One of the problems facing Warr’s at the time was the protectionism of the British government. There was a complete ban on the importation of US motorcycles to the UK. After much lobbying the illogical situation was resolved (US car imports were allowed but not bikes) with a token allowance of 80 units into Britain. It was not easy to sell such a number. Most of the bikes coming in at that time were K Models and the new Sportsters. At the time Warr’s was pretty much the only official HD dealer in Europe. Warr’s continued to sell, service and maintain Harleys for the next ten years until 1969 when AMF bought Harley-Davidson. AMF opened up an office in London’s Burlington Street in the early seventies and started to appoint new dealers – as many as 20 in the London area at one time. But the dealers found the low quality, highly specialised machines difficult to sell. Warr’s survived this period by doing the job properly, doing repairs and selling spares. They bought the bikes other retailers found unsaleable but made some margins there too. And so it continued through the bad old AMF days until the management buyout of 1981 and the proper rebirth of the V Twin manufacturer.
1981 was also the year when the next Warr generation became involved in running the show. Fred’s eldest son John Warr joined as the company moved from the King’s Road premises to Waterford Road round the corner. Two years later in 1983 he went to Wisconsin to take part in a dealer meeting. There he caught his first sight of the new Evo engine designed by Englishman John Favill. Favill had been with Norton Villiers prior to joining H-D. The introduction of the Evo engine with its aluminium modern gaskets and the best of engineering practice, backed by a management who put quality on top of their agenda, led to a surge forward in sales. With reliable bikes they could now go out and expand the market.
Like his dad before him John Warr has Harley oil in his veins and soon got involved in racing bikes. His passion started when he saw American racer Cal Rayborn, the H-D factory rider, come over for an Anglo-American Match Race series in 1972 and use the Warr workshops. Legend records that Rayborn won three of the six races in the series. To young John, Cal was a Harley hero and he could hardly wait to get out there and try to emulate him.
Harley racing legend Cal Rayborn takes tea with Fred Warr. He started production racing at the age of 17. When legendary H-D racing manager Dick O’Brien came up with the XR1000 based on the 750 flat tracker John took to the big brute with a relish and kitted it out for the track.
He rode Harley XR’s and the first Buells with great success throughout the 80s. In 1987 at Croix en Ternois in France Warr’s also recorded the first ever race win with a Buell outside the States. To this day Road Racing is important to the company and as recently as 2006 Grand Prix star Jeremy McWilliams succesfully rode a Warr’s XBRR Buell in the Daytona 200. In 1990 at a ceremony in Washington DC Warr’s were honoured by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company for outstanding loyalty and dedication to the brand since 1924.
By the early nineties John had taken over as Managing Director of the company …
… and his father’s interest concentrated on the vintage machinery.
John is also the founder and director of both Chelsea & Fulham and Meridian Harley Owners Groups and is a regular participant in the annual London to Brighton Pioneer Run riding his 1914 ‘Silent Gray Fellow’ Harley-Davidson.
In 1999 the company moved into a new purpose built 20,000 sq ft dealership designed by architects Kilburn & Nightingale and built on the site of the original 1920’s store. In 2003 a further Harley dealership was opened in Mottingham, South London – just 10 minutes townbound from jct 3 of the M25.
In 2014 at a ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee, Warr’s were honoured by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company for outstanding loyalty and dedication to the brand since 1924. Exactly 90 years of Harley-Davidson sales and service.
When in the shop, you can admire a set of vintage old HD in a perfect state.
In summer 2002 Warr’s unveiled a brand new Harley dealership in Mottingham SE9 serving South London and the home counties. As well as sales, service and repairs Warr’s operate a large rental fleet, custom build service, demonstrator programme, storage facilities and are proud sponsors of Chelsea & Fulham Harley Owners Group which was started by John in the mid-eighties.
Warr’s has an historical tradition of racing. In UK or abroad.
So, next time you will be in Paris my American friend, we’ll have a ride to the French city of Clais (3 hours) to take the ferry boat to UK. Then, after 2 hours of highway we’ll reach our goal: having a nice cup of tea in a legendary place: WAR’S, the Europe’s oldest Harley dealership!!
Story and Photos by ITN European Reporter Herve’ Rebollo
Salut à toi American rider,
Today, I take you with me for a nice ride in the streets of Paris. Follow me in a surprising and instructive quest: the search of the hidden Parisian/French Statues of Liberty. Did you know there are five Statue of Liberty replicas in Paris?
France gave the U.S. the Statue of Liberty in 1886; Americans gave Paris a smaller version of the same statue in 1889.
When you are in Paris, there are many magnificent sites one can expect to see from the top of the Eiffel Tower: the Arc de Triomphe; Notre-Dame Cathedral; the Louvre. Something one might not expect to see is a replica of the Statue of Liberty. And yet, just to the south, smack dab in the middle of the river Seine, by golly there it is.
The quarter-scale replica sits on the southern end of Île aux Cygnes, an artificial island built in the Seine in 1827 to separate river traffic from the busy port of Grenelle. Over time, a tree-lined walkway was built that runs the full 850-meter length of the island, and three bridges were built across the island to connect the 15th and 16th arrondissements. Île aux Cygnes is the third-largest island in Paris. The statue itself was given to the city of Paris in 1889 by the American community in Paris to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. In characteristic American fashion, the statue was officially inaugurated on the Fourth of July (a date not at all associated with the French Revolution) rather than Bastille Day (a mere ten days later, and often described to the uninitiated as the “French Fourth of July”). To be fair, the inauguration was presided over by French President Marie François Sadi Carnot, who probably had other things to do on Bastille Day (also, the statue’s tablet bears the date July 14, 1789, as well as July 4, 1776). The gift was given to highlight the historically close bond between France and the United States, and reaffirm the dedication of the two nations to the republican ideal on which they were founded.
This Pont de Grenelle Statue of Liberty was installed some three years after the New York Statue of Liberty, and in fact was originally one of the working models made whilst preparing to construct the “real thing.” The statue can be accessed via either the Pont de Grenelle or the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, both of which cross the Île aux Cygnes.
While this is not the only Statue of Liberty replica in Paris—both the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée des Arts et Métiers house their own.
Although the Musée d’Orsay has recently renovated many of its rooms, and is about to continue its ambitious modernisation project in the coming months, there is one exception, an area that will never be altered, and this is the grand central aisle on the ground floor. Its proportions and the light that shines through the glass roof of this former station make it an ideal space for exhibiting sculptures.
But from the end of June, the visitor will have a different view of the nave as they enter the museum: a small-scale model of the Statue of Liberty by the French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) has been placed right at the start of the visitor itinerary. There is no doubt that the presence of this world-famous icon at the entrance to the museum, the most important of all American symbols, will very soon become established as one of the most powerful images of the Musée d’Orsay, both as one of the most important art works of the 19th century and for its universal significance.
This version, a little under three metres high, was commissioned by Bartholdi himself in 1889, and subsequently exhibited in 1900 at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. That same year, the sculptor expressed a hope that the State would buy it, along with several other models including the Lion of Belfort, for the Musée du Luxembourg (the museum of modern art of its time). He declared that “these works are interesting because they have greatly contributed to the esteem in which I am held by my contemporary artists”. As there were no works by Bartholdi in the Luxembourg at that time, he undertook to give them some in return for the cost of the casting alone. His proposal was accepted, although the museum was unable to find a place for them in their already very full rooms. The solution was found in 1905, after the death of Bartholdi. The sculptor’s widow suggested putting Liberty outside the museum in the gardens. It would stay there for 115 years, from 1906 to 2011, until the Senate, which owns the Luxembourg Gardens, generously agreed to return the work to the Musée d’Orsay.
So it is a true museum piece, designed by the artist to be exhibited in a gallery showing the art of his time. This has now been achieved, and we can only rejoice, not only in terms of its conservation, but also because Liberty is an important milestone in the history of 19th century statuary, and consequently considerably enriches the visitor itinerary in the nave. And finally because its universal character can only add to the Musée d’Orsay’s international stature.
This is the original model for the Statue of Liberty, used by Bartholdi to create the larger version for New York City. The sculptor donated it to the Luxembourg museum for the World’s Fair of 1900 and it has been in this spot since
The original plaster sculpture, which Bartholdi used to make his masterpiece, was bequeathed to the museum by his widow in 1907. In 2005, the French art dealer, Guillaume Duhamel, rediscovered the sculpture while accompanying his son’s elementary school class on a visit there. He convinced the museum to let him create 12 casts from the plaster original (the maximum allowed under French law) and the museum would get to keep the first cast, which is now on view there.
But there is another Statue of Liberty hidden in Paris. Only a few people know of the existence of a very small replica which is part of a much larger statue by César in the 6th arrondissement. Statue of Liberty hidden in Paris? Where to find it? Le Centaure is a 5 meters tall statue in bronze created by French sculptor César (1921-1998). Taking centre stage on the Carrefour de la Croix-Rouge (or Place Michel-Debré) in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, it represents a centaur. This mythological creature consists of a upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse. The head of the sculpture is a self-portrait of César.
Only a few people know about the existence of very small replica of the Statue of Liberty hidden in plain sight on the chest of the statue. About the size of an adult’s hand, the tiny Statue of Liberty is visible from the front of the centaur.
The Flame of Liberty (Flamme de la Liberté) in Paris is a full-sized, gold-leaf-covered replica of the flame of the torch from the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World), located at the entrance to the harbor of NYC since 1886. The monument, which measures approximately 3.5 metres in height, is a sculpture of a flame, executed in gilded copper, supported by a pedestal of gray-and-black marble. It is located near the northern end of the Pont de l’Alma, on the Place de l’Alma, in the 8th arrondissement.
It was offered to Paris in 1989 by the International Herald Tribune on behalf of donors who had contributed approximately $400,000 for its fabrication. It represented the culmination of that newspaper’s 1987 celebration of its hundredth anniversary of publishing an English-language daily newspaper in Paris. More importantly, the Flame was a token of thanks for the restoration work on the Statue of Liberty accomplished three years earlier by two French businesses that did artisanal work on the project, namely Métalliers Champenois, which did the bronze work, and the Gohard Studios, which applied the gold leaf. While the gift to France was prompted by the centennial of the newspaper, the Flame of Liberty, more broadly, is a lasting symbol of the friendship uniting the two countries, just as the statue itself was when it was given to the United States by France.
This project was overseen by the director of the French craft unions at that time, Jacques Graindorge. He foresaw an installation of the Flame of Liberty in a public square called Place des Etats-Unis (United States Square), but the mayor of Paris at the time, Jacques Chirac, was opposed to it. After a protracted period of negotiations, it was decided that the Flame would be placed in an open area near the intersection of l’Avenue de New-York (New York Avenue) and the Place de l’Alma. The monument was dedicated on 10 May 1989 by Chirac.
On the base of the monument, a commemorative plaque recounts the following story: “The Flame of Liberty. An exact replica of the Statue of Liberty’s flame offered to the people of France by donors throughout the world as a symbol of the Franco-American friendship. On the occasion of the centennial of the International Herald Tribune. Paris 1887–1987.”
The Flame of Liberty became an unofficial memorial for Diana, Princess of Wales, after her 1997 death in the tunnel beneath the Pont de l’Alma. The flame became an attraction for tourists and followers of Diana, who fly-posted the base with commemorative material. Anthropologist Guy Lesoeurs said, “Most people who come here think this was built for her.”
So, next time you will spend some days in Paris, we’ll rent two scooters (it’s better than our big V-twin motorcycles in the heavy Parisian traffic) and I’ll show you all these amazing pieces of art. Don’t forget your camera.
Story and Photos by ITN European Reporter Herve’ Rebollo
Salut à toi American rider,
My last ride, some days ago with one of my (heavy) rider friend Nicholas, took me to UK / England, in London more precisely, to the famous ACE CAFÉ
Let me first introduce Nicholas …by himself: – “When I bought my first Harley, back in 2003, an XL883R Sportster, I had no idea of the world I was entering. I’d had no idea of what MC would stand for; and meeting fellow bikers would always bring to me the same question as when I would meet on a day-off; a colleague from work… Are all these guys genuine? Some choose to ride in large groups, some are more of a lone wolf, I personally enjoy riding in small groups, 4-5 seeming to fit with me. I am from Ireland, a Brit from Belfast, with the major regret of not having joined her Majesty’s military forces. Back in 2003, I was probably in need of some “brotherhood” relationship; the one where you move forward as a team, caring and relying on the bloke standing (riding) next to you. I believe I have found what I was looking for, in sharing today, with those I ride with something special based on concern, respect, something that bounds us together…
My idea of riding? Well weather permitting I’ll bring the bikes out all year round; and maybe shoot-off over the weekends… Living in the Paris region (France) I’ll prefer the 45 minutes on my bike to the 1 hour 30 it would take me to get to work by car. It’s pretty widespread over here to plan a major annual ride, and that’s how back in 2008, I rode my newly purchased Softail around northern Italy; 2009 saw my son and ride north, far beyond the polar circle to the Nordkapp (Norway) on a +5.000 mile run; in 2010, Hervé and I completed the Iron Butt (IBA) first stage (the saddle sore 1000 – 1,000 miles in 21 hours) and then I, 2013 the second stage (the Bun Burner 1500[tm] – 1,500 miles in 32 hours), etc, etc …”.
Already told you Europe is a small place when compared to Northern America, and France is a place worth discovering. But UK is not too bad too …
So, what about this ride? In fact, Nicholas and I wanted to join the ACE CAFÉ to attend its 26th annual reunion, the BRIGHTON BURN UP.
But, do you really know what this legendary iconic place, ACE CAFÉ is?
You’ve probably heard of the Ace Cafe. If you haven’t, you’ve seen pictures of it. Even DAVID UHL issued an artwork in 2013 about the ACE CAFÉ (named A NEW FACE AT THE ACE) …
Arguably, it’s the place that put “cafe” in “cafe racer,” and when manufacturers want to tap into that market, the first thing they do is run to the Ace. Like in 2014, Triumph honoured the cafe through its special-edition Thruxton Ace.
These days, the ACE CAFÉ is a worldwide brand, expanding to Germany, Switzerland, Finland, China, Japan, and soon, the United States.
It’s a legacy the cafe’s original owners probably couldn’t have envisioned when it first opened in 1938 on the then brand new North Circular Road surrounding London. It was a simple roadside cafe catering to travellers, particularly truckers. With its proximity to Britain’s fast arterial road network, and being open 24 hours, the Ace Cafe soon attracted motorcyclists too.
Once the cafe was established, the owner’s thoughts turned to the motor trade. In 1939 he opened a service station with a battery of 8 pumps on adjoining land with a spacious washing bay, showroom and repair shop. In World War Two, the building was badly damaged during an air raid on the adjacent railway marshalling yards.
After the war the Ace Cafe was reopened in temporary accommodation and subsequently rebuilt in 1949.Long before its ‘greasy spoon’ tag, the cafe/restaurant was actually state-of-the-art, with home-made food being prepared and cooked on the premises.
The Ace Cafe celebrated the Coronation of H. M. the Queen, Elizabeth II in 1953. The post-war increase in road traffic and advent of the ‘teenage’ phenomenon saw the Ace booming, and with it, the arrival of the ‘Ton-Up-Boys’. Ton-Up Boys were named as such because they were driven by the common goal of doing “the ton” — going over 100 miles per hour, which was quite a feat back then. To do so required extensive, methodical modification of one’s motorcycle. To do the ton, motorcycles were modified to maximize speed and handling, not for looks or comfort — although cafe racers ended up being so uniquely stylized that they birthed a whole new and iconic genre of motorcycle that would last for generations to come. Ton-Up Boys would strip their motorcycles down to the absolute bare minimum, removing any and all unnecessary parts that would weigh them down, increase air drag, or detract from the bike’s overall performance. This is how the bikes with a single seat, low bars, no mirrors, underswept pipes, and barely anything else on them were born. They came to be known as “cafe racers” because the transport cafes along the arterial highways were their gathering places.
The British motorcycle industry was at its peak, and along came Rock ’n’ Roll. Not played on radio stations, initially the only place it could be heard was at fairgrounds or on jukeboxes at transport cafes. The Ace Cafe became the place to meet, have a meal or cup of tea, arrange runs (often to other cafes or the coast) or simply to mend your bike. People came to listen to the jukebox, many subsequently starting bands or clubs, some gaining success and considerable reputation.
From this powerful fusion of motorbikes and Rock ’n’ Roll came the legends of record-racing, “drop the coin right into the slot”, and race to a given point and back before the record finished. The Ace Cafe, as the birthplace of a new breed of motor bikes – the Cafe Racer – and with its combination of motorbikes, speed and Rock ’n’ Roll was the launchpad for many famous racers and for many bands.
The famous 59 CLUB was essentially born there, when Father Bill Shergold, a motorcyclist, visited the Ace Cafe and then invited the youths to his church and club. This club then grew into the largest motorbike club in the world.
The tabloid press carried many articles portraying cafes as the places where decent people didn’t go. The building has been used as a cafe, filling station, bookmakers office and latterly a tyre depot. It remains however, largely unaltered.
The legend of the Ace Cafe lives on in the minds of those who went there, those who wish they went there and those too young to have been there. Changes in the social order, the growth of the car market at the expense of the motorbike industry and the expansion of the motorway network saw the Ace Cafe serving its last egg and chips in 1969.
The Ace Cafe Reunion is the brainchild of Mark Wilsmore. In 1993 he shared his ideas for an annual event to mark the closure of the original Ace Cafe and a book and film documenting the history of the Ace Cafe, and endeavoured to ensure that the original Ace Cafe re-opened, with relevant products being available.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the cafe’s closure, Mark, with friends, formed the organising team for the Reunion and arranged for motorcycle runs to converge at the former Ace Cafe site on Sunday 4 September 1994. The idea was well received by motorcycling organisations and clubs. Media support was sought and the event turned into a major free motorcycle and Rock ’n’ Roll event. It was estimated that over 12,000 people gathered at the old cafe site.
Annual Reunions, known as ‘Ace Days’, have taken place on historic ground: Brighton’s famous Madeira Drive.
With the Grand Opening of the original London premises, the Ace Cafe Reunion Weekend has developed into the critically acclaimed ‘world‘s coolest motorbike event‘, attracting every September tens of thousands of Riders partaking in the Brighton Burn Up Run from the Ace Cafe to gather for a free to attend motorbike and rock ’n’ roll party on Madeira Drive.
Planning permission was obtained and ACE CAFE LONDON bought the original Ace Cafe site. As from 7 December 1997, a part of the original and legendary Ace Cafe site was re-opened on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays and on the first Wednesday of every month. The riders enjoy themselves whilst having a a cup of tea or coffee and exchanging the latest news and gossip from the biking world. The Sunday openings have been enthusiastically received and the plans to re-open the complete site are being pursued.
Every type and style of bikes have turned out, representing an impressive kaleidoscope from the fifties to the nineties. The refreshments are served up by Bob and his crew.
On 6 March 1999 a main London water supply pipe burst approximately 10 feet below the Ace Cafe forecourt. Bikes were flung into the air, disappearing in the torrent as they landed. The foaming white jet of water pitched tarmac, earth and rocks in all directions breaking windows and showering the building with assorted debris. Mark dashed back to check that everyone had got out safely, but some had run outside to rescue their bikes. By this time the water was coming through the door. The emergency services were called. Meanwhile, the water found a natural course onto the new North Circular Road underpass at the A406 Park Royal Estate junction, which became flooded to a height of over 25 feet.
At the end, Nicholas and I spent four days in UK. It was a really good funny sunny time … exept on Monday morning, backing from Brighton to Dover to join our ferry, two and a half hours of a real rainy English weather … totally drenched … rainsuits at the end absolutely unuseful … one more great motorcycle wet experience …). The Saturday afternoon we spent riding in London town center was absolutely fantastic.
Next time you will come to Europe let’s make a stop at the ACE CAFÉ my American friend, just to be able to tell your biker friends you visited a legendary motorcycle place.