Hangovers are inevitable, but under the right circumstances not too hard to endure. Living next to a main road to the sea front where one of the biggest motorcycle “burn-ups” of the year are not the right circumstances.
I didn't hear them at first, the low aggressive rumbling being constant enough to not really impede into my shabby consciousness. Although a weird low level vertigo had been distracting me ever whenever i tried to focus in the middle distance. I’d blocked out the noise but the vibrations were still fucking with me.
Standing at the window I was taken back instantly to my youth. My nan and mom worked at an arcade in the Lickey Hills which was a favourite hangout of bikers, who affectionately called it “the Doss”. Every year all the bikers from Birmingham and surrounding areas would meet at The Doss and ride the eight mile up the Bristol Road to the city centre to protest the helmet laws (incidentally something Enoch Powell argued very eloquently against). I remember standing on the side of the road as a seemingly endless procession of smelly loud machines roared past cheered on by seemingly “normal” citizens. Very young I learnt that One weirdo is dangerous, thirty of them is a family, a hundred of them is a parade.
Suitably fortified by Monster Munch and a can of fizzy aspirin as my scouse friend say I follow the noise to the front, I live seven minutes from Brighton Pier (yes, I’ve timed it). Today that distance is marked by noise and a gradual increasing of parked bikes , spotty at first but then covering every available flat surface. Walking down to the pier and looking left there is a sea of bikes, rows and rows of every variation on the theme of “bike”. A group nearby were admiring a fully custom chopper with handmade leather seat with a fringe and custom airbrushed cobra skin paint job, next to that a huge touring bike with luggage space a family holiday wobbled as the group brushed past it to take better pictures of the chopper.
Sports bikes (still called “jap bikes” by some) next to home built trikes, lowrider Harleys next to fully restored antique Triumphs, and even the odd enclave of Mod scooters. Every single one of them polished, clean and slowly being inspected by middle aged men with deep weathered faces, clipped bald hair, wearing leather of various kinds. Amongst them the sports leathers of racing bikes, the occasional old man, weirdo bike witch doctors with feathers in their top hats, thin long grey hair and badges, stamps and dangling accessories.
The crowd is international, as I walk past conversations were happening in Italian, Dutch, French, and Polish. The English ones seem to be mostly about motorways, routes home and back. I see a Sikh biker club fooling about and some a Polish club laughing with a Black group about each others helmets.
In the middle a few stalls dot about, mostly selling leather bike gear and chunky silver jewellery. Amongst the jewellery are collections of silver bells, “guardian bells” are worn on the bike to trap evil spirits that cause accidents and engine trouble, the ringing of the bells drives these gremlins mad and lose their grip and fall off. Apparently they’re more powerful if bought by a friend.
Triumph is one of two corporate brands to set up a stall, the second being a hearing aid company.
In front of me an old woman jumps from the road as a roar behind us reminds her that walking in the road at a speeding death trp festival is a bad idea. I pivot to avoid her bouncing off me into the road and instead I body granite block of a guy next to me. A smallish guy but wide as he was tall wearing full biker gang garb. I quickly take in the patches “VIKINGS” “LIFE MEMBER” “PRESIDENT”. For no reason I can fathom I apologise in as much of an RP Hugh Grant accent and whisk myself away before anymore is said.
My Nan while walking down the street would have bikers wave, honk their horns, and even pull over and offer lifts. And right till the end she would defend them whenever the subject came up
“Some of them have normal jobs and only get dressed up weekends” she’d say like it was a secret. And I suppose way back it kinda was.
Bikers started as a subculture mostly after the Second World War where men felt like they couldn't just step back into normal society. Driven by a mixture of needing the freedom of the open road and adrenaline to clear weary trauma fogged minds. The failure to join normal society resonated to some of the newly invented teenagers disenfranchised by pressure to make the sacrifice of the previous generation worthwhile. The movement grew. But the dance of Capitalism and Subcultures spins on like a clumsy prom and much like that, one of them ends up getting fucked.
Now they all have “normal jobs” and have incorporated their “hobby” into their jobs and family. Just another way of letting off steam, fine, as long as you’re back at work on Monday.
But it survives. Pseudo Intellectual musings by someone who can't even ride a push bike fall away. I suppose everything falls away. When on a bike, the jobs, family, responsibilities, everything falls away. And for a few adrenaline soaked hours at a time. They are as free as anyone can be today.
I stand at the end of the rally, and more than anything I think that my nan would have loved this.