TALES FROM THE YEARS SPENT POLISHING
Chapter 8: Image
As I rounded the long sweep of the by-pass my Avon ribbed front tyre glued to the outside lane overtaking all other traffic, the Bee came into sight. It was a cloudless summer's evening and the low sun glinted on the polished chrome of other ton up bikes already lined in pride of place round the cafe.
I had now traded my old AJS for a brand new AJS Hurricane and heads turned as it burbled in to take its place in line. I hoisted it onto its roll stand, unzipped my jacket and removed my helmet.
Slicked back hair, no helmet.
Helmets were now firmly part of the biking scene. In the early days as part of the deal to be allowed to have a motor cycle my father had insisted on me having a helmet. The only ones on the market seemed to be a cork variety made by 'Everoak'. They came in black or white vinyl covered and had a cover at the back and sides to keep your neck and ears warm and a strong peak. I hated them! I did anything in my power to delay the day when I would have to spend my hard earned cash to buy one. One day my Dad turned up with an old dispatch rider's 'pudding basin' style lid that a neighbour had given him. Every day I would don this antiquated attire, ride down to the end of my road and dump it into a hedge before rushing off to meet the World! When I returned usually in the evening I leaned into the hedge and fitted it back onto my head to arrive home in.
Then the 'space helmets' arrived and we all thronged to get them. They were like American pilots helmets, warm, stylish with lots of room for your own personal paint job. Mine was flame red with black and white checkers down the middle. It later acquired a union jack and an Isle of Man sticker from my first trip to the TT.
Ex-USAF flying jacket, no helmet.
That evening I was to meet Bill who was working late. His company had landed a contract decorating the new Rank bowling ally in Hemel Hempstead. The overtime money was good but it was seriously affecting Bill's social life. I didn't recognise any of the faces, this bunch who were from London's '59club' looked so hard and intimidating to the general public just accepted me as one of their own without question. We wore the same uniform! A couple wandered across to look at my AJ'. "Nice", said one as he crouched to look at the twin carb'd engine. "Hurricane", said the other boy, then to me "Get a ton ten out of it I bet". We all exaggerated and 110 mph was near enough (I had had 105 on the speedometer). "If there's a good wind up my backside", I grinned.
We went over to look at the star of the evening a new 'Thruxton Velocette. Now Velocettes were considered a connoisseur's ride, admired but not displaying the image that we all wanted to portray. Single cylinder bikes were considered a bit old fashioned and lacked the snap acceleration of a big twin. The only cult single was the BSA Gold star which all of our bikes imitated as far as clip-ons, speedo/rev. counter and headlamp mounting went.
Goldie silencers, military hat.
Velocette had made this effort to glamorise the old Venom model with a racing style seat and a big silver, grey racing tank. It had worked wonders and at a stroke increased the sales many times over. Only the old 'fish tailed' silencer linked it to those black, solid machines that our Dads had grown up with.
Staring at the 'honed' aluminium timing case and wide finned cylinder I tried to imagine that enormous 500cc over square piston.
Then the proud owner emerged from the cafe and put on his helmet. As he approached the Velo an attractive girl that walked at his side drew admiring looks. With her shapely figure, skin tight jeans and black leather jacket studded with race meeting badges, she was the classic 'ton up girl' symbolising what every one of the assembled boys would want on the back of his dual seat, the ultimate accessory. She tucked her long black hair into a white space helmet with a black Manx cat painted on the front.
After the preliminary priming of the carb and retarding of the ignition lever, the Thruxton chuffed into life first kick.
Slowly, as one, our heads turned to watch them sweep round the big car park with an exhaust note and whiff of Castrol 'R' that delighted our senses. Once out of the entrance the engine beat shot into life as the rider gave us a show to remember, tweaking the Velo to maximum revs in each gear. Above the constant hum of the traffic we could hear the big single's staccato beat well after it had vanished from sight.
Like a flock of swallows waiting to migrate, the unspoken word went round that it was time to depart. White silk scarves were tucked round mouths, helmets were donned, jackets zipped, telascopic forks dipped cradling the weight as big engines were fired into life.
Jet style helmets at last!
A few girls came out of the Bee and climbed up behind the rider of their choice. I was in luck, a girl with short, black, curly hair that bounced out from under a hard peaked sailor's cap flipped down the footrests on my bike.
"Sorry", I stammered "I'm waiting for my mate". She blew a big pink bubble then gathered up the gum with an equally pink tongue. "Suit yourself", she replied.
"I'll catch you at the Ace", I shouted as she headed towards an Enfield Constellation. "If your lucky", she grinned back swinging her neat little frame over the 700 behind a bare head with long black sideboards and dark glasses. As I wondered if Bill would have done the same for me, I watched the single file procession wind round the lorries like an uncoiling snake then hammer off with a deafening roar towards London.
- Tony Sheppard