Steel Horse Rally

Around June 1969, the famous motorcycling vicar, Rev. Bill Shergold, founder of the 59 Club in London, started, with the help of two local motorcyclists, Dick Pascoe and Mick Raya, a new club in Dover called the 69 Club.

Their first meeting was held in a café next to the Royal Oak pub in Capel le Ferne, near Dover. It was at that café that the members of the 69 Club met Jean Blanckaert, founder of the Steel Horse Rally. That meeting was actually something of a coincidence, since Jean was on his way back to the docks when, by chance, he spotted a bunch of bikes outside the pub and stopped to chat to their owners.

That chance encounter spawned a very special bond and a lasting friendship between Jean and the 69 Club.

Jean Blanckaert with members of the 69 Club by his side, walking in the streets of Bruges.

On Saturday 20th September 1969, the old town of Bruges was invaded by an army of 'knights dressed in leather', wearing boots and helmets, and riding 'steel horses on wheels'.

For the second year running the 'Order of the Steel Horse' reunited hundreds of bikers, many of them from Holland, England, France, Germany and Sweden, who had all come together in the spirit of chivalry; the chivalry of the road.

That weekend, in glorious sunshine, more than 900 rallyists (twice the number of the previous year), took over the campsite on the edge of Lake Loppem.

Once again, Jean Blanckaert and his lovely wife Magda, made every effort to accommodate them and ensure they received every comfort. With the attention to detail second to none, the price of registration modest, and the atmosphere warm and inviting, once again the event proved to be a great success.

Steel Horse 1969: a view of the campsite located on the edge of Lake Loppem

For those with an eye for the mechanical, walking around the campsite was always an exciting prospect. There was a staggering array of solo motorbikes as well as sidecars of all makes and nationalities, from the most modern of their day to famous bikes of the past.

As well as a good many classic British bikes, there was a large contingent of vintage Harley-Davidson machines. Many had travelled from Holland, a relatively short journey, it being the neighbouring country. Mixed in with the Harley-Davidson models at the campsite were a few traditional British sidecar combinations, some big enough to carry the whole family, that had travelled all the way from the UK to be at the rally.

Steel Horse 1969: classic British bikes were always strongly represented at international rallies of that era.

On the Saturday evening of the rally there was a night tour of the city, showcasing the medieval architecture and historic buildings of Bruges and following a route besides its numerous canals and over its many fine bridges.

The evening ended with a grand ball organised at the campsite. The consumption of large quantities of excellent Belgian beer of all colours, styles and strengths greatly added to the party atmosphere, with the dancing and revelry becoming louder and more frantic as the evening progressed. A good time was of course had by all!

British Harley-Davidson owners attending the 1969 gathering of the Order of the Steel Horse.

Sunday morning saw a peaceful army of riders setting out on their steel horses heading for the City Hall of Bruges where in medieval decor, Jean Blanckaert presided over the ceremony to induct new Knights into the Order of the Steel Horse.

That Sunday ceremony, stately and regal, and uniquely only to be found at the Steel Horse Rally, proved once again the greatness and the nobility of the common denominator we all shared: our passion for rallying and touring motorcycles.

Steel Horse 1969: meeting old friends and making new ones has always been one of the most satisfying pleasures that our little world of motorcycle rallies gives us.

Then came the fateful hour of farewells. The campsite was emptying fast. It was time for most to say goodbye to Jean and Magda Blanckaert, promising them they would be back for sure in Bruges in 1970 to attend the next gathering, before heading back for their respective cities of departure.

- Jean-Francois Helias


Here are some additional photos from my archive, taken at the 1969 Steel Horse meeting. I hope those that share a nostalgia for those great rallies at the end of the 60s and the start of the 70s; perhaps one of the best periods in the history of motorcycle touring.

The medieval city was invaded for the second year running by a horde of knights from all over Europe, all meeting within its walls on their shining and often noisy steel steeds

At the time, it was often the 'norm' for some bikers to display rally medals and badges on their clothing, but in France the most 'mocking' of the motorcyclist youth generation nicknamed them, (without any malice or disrespect), the 'Christmas Trees' or the 'Veterans'. This habit of displaying badges, undoubtedly to boast glorious touring accomplishments, disappeared in France by late 70s.

Barbour and leather jackets proved ineffectual in the rain due to the many holes inflicted by pin badges!

What's the cheapest thing on a BMW motorcycle?
The rider

This last photo shows how important the proportion of BMW flat twin machines was in the 1960s among fans of major international rallies.

Jean-Francois Helias

Start of quotation Wotcha Ben, I promise I will come up with some yarns/pics for the site, been to obssessed with my motorcycle timeline...

But reason for this message is I'm currently in Dover and enjoying the 69MCC 50th anniversary party, and thought you'd like to know they're still going strong.

All the best mate :) End of quotation

- Dave Richmond