Tuesday, October 5, 2010


L-R: Rob North, Ace Cafe proprietor Mark Wilsmore, Gary Nixon and myself at the Ace Cafe last July.
This past summer legendary racer Gary Nixon, frame builder Rob North and myself traveled to England and Wales for a vintage motorcycle event relating to our days racing BSAs and Triumphs. After landing at Heathrow Airport we had a chance to stop in for lunch at the historic Ace Café in nearby Stonebridge.

If you haven’t ever heard of the Ace Café, it just sounds like maybe a good place for a burger and fries (which it is). But to the motorcycle sport, it really is much more. It is the birthplace of Café Racers that are currently coming back in style around the world.

The original Ace Café opened in 1938 on North Circular Road in London. Planned as a transport cafe for truck and lorry drivers, it quickly became a place where motorcycle riders gathered. It was badly damaged in the air raids of World War II, but it was rebuilt and in the early fifties it became the destination for a new breed of bikers. The post-war generation, bored by old values and conventions and confronted with social changes, were searching for their identity. There were two significant influences: Rock n' Roll and motorcycles.

Leather jackets and jeans were worn, creating the black leather rebel cult. They lived on the fringes of society and were generally ostracized even by conventional motorcycle enthusiasts. The young bikers, known as “Rockers,” developed their own identity and with it a tremendous group feeling. They met in cafes and Rock n’ Roll clubs, arranging races on London’s North Circular Road. They burned up the road doing “The Ton” (100 mph) through the city streets of London. They were daring and dangerous. From this powerful fusion of motorbikes and Rock n’ Roll came “Record-Racing,” where they would “drop the coin right into the slot” of a juke-box and then race to a given point and back before the record finished.

As with any form of racing—legal or otherwise—riders seeking success would search out ways to improve their performance resulting in a dramatic increase in new motorcycle accessories developed specifically for “Café Racers.” The motorcycle world soon took notice and it became a hot trend worldwide in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Economic conditions forced the Ace Cafe to close in 1969 and it sat dormant until 1994 when new proprietors Mark and Linda Wilsmore reopened at the same historic location. Based on the rich heritage and traditions of the 50’s and 60’s, the “new” Ace Café still embodies the same values as when the original Rockers called it home. It really is much more than a place for a burger and fries. To many, it defines their entire motorcycle involvement.

Ride safe.

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