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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Tag: Royal Enfield

Ace is the Place

Classic Velocity

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Few places currently in operation are as central to Motorcycling history as the Ace Cafe in London. Regardless of the type of machine you ride, you have probably heard of it, but if you like British bikes, then it is one of those places to which you have made (or plan to make) a pilgrimage. This is because it is a place that was both influenced by, and in turn probably influenced postwar motorcycling in England. The Ace cafe first opened in 1938 in North London as one of many Transport Cafes, which were conveniently located off major motorways. It was destroyed in a WWII bombing raid, and reopened in 1949. The Ace was one of few places open 24 hours, so it naturally attracted truckers and became a hangout for young men and women out late motorcycling and listening to emerging Rock and Roll. This in turn lead to several legendary facets of the Ace. Races to a fixed point that started when a song began and the challenge was to be back before the song ended. Essentially a 3 minute time trial. The cafe was a natural gathering spot for the Ton Up Boys, so named because they had an affinity for speeds 100 MPH and above, which was an accomplishment on a motorcycle in the mid 1950s.

As you might expect, the Ace also attracted its fair share of fights and bad behavior which have made their way into the folklore of the place. This in turn gave rise to the efforts of father Bill Shergold, who helped to provide a more positive outlet for wayward youth via his 59 Club. After a long run, the Cafe closed in 1969 and part of it became a tire shop. Fast forward a few decades, and Mark Wilsmore decided to host an Ace reunion on the original site in 1994.  It was a success, and continued for a few more years. Things went so well, that he decided to purchase the place and return it to its original function in 1997. Mark is a great approachable guy that really comes across as a bloke who loves to ride bikes. He told us that taking on the Ace was a pretty risky move at the time, and that there is a big difference between organizing an annual event, and running a venue like the Ace on a daily basis. Remember, this is well before the current resurgence of Cafe Racers. We are glad he took the plunge, and it now stands as an must-visit place for gear heads from across the world.  During our visit, we talked to patrons from the USA, Australia, Belgium, and India.

Mark Wilsmore, Owner

Mark Wilsmore, Owner

As an indication of the stature that the Ace now holds, it was the site of the UK launch of a new model from Royal Enfield called the Continental GT. Enfield brass from India were milling about along with press and some of the Royal Enfield faithful. Nice examples of Cafe'd and original Enfields were in the parking lot on a wet and rainy evening. There was a healthy flow of people having a pint and a bite, and grabbing something from the gift shop. They now have club nights for Minis, tuner cars, and Yanks (US classics), in addition to multiple bike nights. The Ace is much more than a transport cafe next to a motorway and around the corner from a busy hub for the postal service (Royal Mail). It has transcended location and function to become a living piece of history. Branches are opening across the Atlantic and others are under consideration. Merchandise gets shipped worldwide. However, something about being on the original site, in London, in the rain, as dark descended, connects you with history in a way that no museum probably can. You just want to twist the throttle on your Manx as the needle drops on the jukebox....

Season Opener

Classic Velocity

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In this neck of the woods, winter cannot leave soon enough. It has a habit in many years of throwing some kind of last gasp in April, making it a very unpredictable month. While many of us have been able to sneak out a few times inbetween snow storms, the riding has been scarce. Riding a vintage bike was even scarcer. However, no matter what the winter has been like, everyone looks forward to the “season opener”. The event that causes everyone to brave roads still strewn with gravel and dotted with the craters that we call potholes. To brave the fickle weather patterns of April for a chance to fire up old faithful or trot out the completed winter project. That event around here is the Gathering of Nortons which takes place in Washington Crossing, PA (yes GW slept here) on the banks of the Delaware river.

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Although we have to thank the Delaware Valley Norton Riders for the event (as I do every year), and they turn out in impressive numbers with their machines, it has grown into an all-marque gathering of vintage iron. I discovered this event years ago when I was a paid up member and Norton owner. That is no longer the case, but at least once a year, I look at the beautiful examples and almost long for the days of shifting with the wrong foot. Delightful Dominators and elegant ES2s and commanding Commandos were all clustered into a feast. I am not sure why all Nortons look like the perfectly proportioned standard to me, but they do. In case the Nortons are not enough for the anglophiliac, you can cast your gaze upon the voluptuous Velocette with its aquatic exhaust, or one of several Vincents in attendance. British, but less exotic you say ? Well how about Triumphs of all stripes. Bonnevilles, T110/120s, Tridents, and a lovely TRW. Or perhaps something from the good folks at Birmingham Small Arms. They offered a few Lightnings, and a Thunderbolt, down in number this year but then again I was not there for the entire day. I have figured out that I do not so much lust for a BSA, as I lust for a chrome tank with that bejeweled red emblem on it. If only they were cheap enough to be garage art... And speaking of english jewels, what could be more British than a Royal Enfield made in India with no British parts ? What what.

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If you were not a great fan of the products of old blighty, all was not lost. Plenty of motociclo Italiano were present as well. They included a nice MV Agusta America, a pair of beautiful Moto Guzzi Eldorados, and a nicely done bugeyed Laverda 750. Not to be outdone, the land of the rising sun featured a Honda VFR400 in Rothmans livery, and a Suzuki RG500 Gamma in Walter Wolf livery. Very nice examples. They were joined by the dirt track styled Yamaha mentioned in the Winter Break post, and many small bore Hondas including a perfectly restored 305. Of course, BMWs were sprinkled throughout with K75s, /5s and just a couple of /2s this year. A cool Ural with sidecar sat off to one side, but drew an admiring crowd, as did a very nice Indian. Beyond the main showfield are an increasingly large number of bikes of all stripes and years. Harleys and modern sportbikes and more BMWs and Ducatis. They were not vintage for the most part, but their owners may have something that they are planning to bring next year, or perhaps they just agree that this is the best reason to get out and start riding again. Spring is sprung.

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