I have been writing a column for the French magazine Café Racer for over a decade. When I remember, I post some of them on this blog. I changed the format a while ago, to Love & Hate. I cover something I love and something I hate in motorcycling. In truth, I don't hate much, but 'Love & Mildly Irritated By' isn't a snappy title. Anyway, here's one from the beginning of the 2022. GI (Photo: Bike Shed)
LOVE - Longevity
This week I have been contacted by the organisers of two new motorcycle events that want Sideburn to help, in a small way, to make their plans become a reality. Neither event is particularly original. One sounds like a version of the Bike Shed Show, but in a different region of England, and with added BBQ. The other is heavily inspired by current era Wheels and Waves, but for England, and with more emphasis on surfing and ‘van’ culture. And with added BBQ. I have no idea why there is an obsession with BBQ, but both organisers made a point of telling me about their meat-burning plans several times. What this signals to me is, that as our lives emerge from the Covid hibernation, there seems to be no hint that our corner of the motorcycle world is running out of fuel. If anything, there seems to be more people jumping on the bandwagon. Something I didn’t expect.
Even before the pandemic I saw the first rash of shops and bike-themed cafés begin to close, not all of them, by any means, but enough for me to sense a trend forming, but the opposite is true, at least in Britain. New bike-themed cafés and shops are opening, and being supported by companies like Triumph and Royal Enfield, because, I suspect, those manufacturers realise that this sector helped them through the post-2008 financial meltdown. Without the retro explosion things would look a lot different for many manufacturers now. The retro custom scene isn’t the only game in town, the adventure bike market continues to look strong, but there’s no denying the new blood and diverse reach the world that is inspired by, and reflected in, the pages of Café Racer magazine is helping to keep the motorcycle industry ticking over.
I suspect a lot of you were on two wheels before 2008, but just in case you weren’t, France had a vibrant motorcycle culture that I viewed with jealousy from Britain. You were lucky, because you already had the prototype, or at least some big, important pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, of what would follow. You already had this magazine, for a start.
Other countries had a few outliers, interesting people doing interesting things, not waiting for something to happen, or even expecting it to, but happy to be isolated, following their own path. Like The Ramones playing CBGBs in 1975, with Talking Heads and Blondie in the crowd.
In cultural terms, the early years of this century of motorcycling was wondering what to do off the back of the West Coast Choppers trend. I was so desperate for any kind of ‘content’ at the time I would watch Orange County Choppers when it showed up on UK TV, just to see someone welding and talking about bikes. Now there is such a blizzard of motorcycle footage, every niche served and exploited, it makes my eyes meet in the middle. I’m so over-saturated that I’ve tuned out of most of it. And that’s not to say it’s bad. The films are well-made, well-filmed, kind of inspiring, but they’re not saying anything new.
But, back in 2007, 2008, the early tremors began to be felt. The first flowering of Deus Ex Machina was happening, and a Brit ex-pat in California, named Carpy, began to make waves building Honda CB750 café racers. A while later, another Brit in New Zealand, called Chris had the idea for a custom bike website. Still, much of my home country was focussed on MotoGP and World Superbike racing, boring classic bike shows and a chopper scene that was as ugly as a rugby match on a minefield. There were the indentikit Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman BMW Gelände-Strasse clones, too. And now in a blink, it feels like we’re 13 or 14 years into this thing, much more if you were a Café Racer reader from day one.
And as those new events point out, there are people, perhaps the profiteers, who think there is more life, more capacity, more desire for this scene. Or at least they hope so.
So, the longevity and desire to keep riding, keep modifying, is stronger than ever. That’s good. I think.
HATE - Predictability
The downside of the ‘new’ events I was briefed about is they don’t have one single new idea to bring to the table. All they’re doing is chasing the meagre sponsorship bucks. With added BBQ. They’re trying to make money, where the innovators were trying to make something fun. I really believe that. And if an organisation is trying to make money, they don’t take many risks. Where are the new concepts? Where is the creativity that sparked this global movement? Wheels and Waves was exciting and fresh and chic and fun. It added new elements every year, not allowing anyone else to catch up.
The Bike Shed Show tore into the flabby, tired, repetitive trade shows and offered an alternative. The One Motorcycle Show in Portland, USA felt punk rock, and rock ‘n’ roll, and scuzzy and sexy, but still inclusive, in a way I hadn’t encountered before. If you’ll allow me a toot on my own trumpet, Sideburn’s events, Rollerburn and Dirt Quake showed a different kind of possible, the first mixing roller derby girls, French yeh-yeh bands, art and custom bikes, the latter turning people onto racing like few events before had tried to.
But where are the innovators now? It seems money entered the equation and the risk of trying something new left. The Bike Shed Show got into something of a comfortable rut, Wheels and Waves still packs them in, but haven’t added anything new since incorporating Deus Ex Machina’s Swank Rally (not that they had to really, the event still offers a lot).
One of the originators of Wheels and Waves, Vincent, has continued to innovate and co-created Elektra Future, an electric motorcycle event in St Tropez, but where are the rest? Is there a new generation creating great events, and I’m too old and uncool to be tuned into what’s happening, or is this scene just going to keep feeding off itself until it becomes even more of a Xerox copy of the best times?
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