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1st November 2005

Opinion: 2005 Autumn South of England RealClassic Bike Show

Who would have thought that so many people cared so much about the hows and whys of a classic bike show? Rowena Hoseason explains some of the behind-the-scenes stuff...

This weekend's show at Ardingly in Sussex has provoked a storm of debate on the Message Board. That's wonderful - I'm delighted to see that so many people care so much about the subject. It's also fascinating to be reminded of how an event looks from the other side of the fence (or in my case, the other side of the stripey tablecloth). We've worked at thirty-something events this year, and I'm inevitably astonished by how perceptions of those events differ from person to person. Maybe that's not so surprising, though: the 'classic bike' milieu is a wide one, which incorporates a staggeringly broad range of machinery which in turn appeals to a massively disparate audience. 'If everybody looked the same…'

Ride to the show, show the bike, ride round the show ring, ride home. Perfect.

For me, with my Joe Punter hat on, there are four good reasons to attend a bike event.

  • 1. It's a good excuse for a ride
  • 2. There should be some interesting bikes to look at
  • 3. There's a chance of buying odd bits and pieces from jumble and trade stalls
  • 4. My mates might be going, and I'll get to see people who otherwise I'd never meet

    I got to wear my Joe Punter hat exactly twice this year, and had a spiffy time at both events. Perhaps I'm easily pleased… or perhaps I enjoy the outings more, because I also know just how fraught organising these events can be.

    We - that is, and RealClassic the magazine - are well acquainted with the perils of event organisation, and we support in various ways several of the UK's independent shows, jumbles, ride-ins and rallies. We officially 'sponsor' half a dozen or so. We do not organise any events ourselves, nor do we have any wish to (tried that when I was in my teens. Grew out of it at 21. After the ghastly events involving Indiana Skidmore and the Toilets of Doom I have no desire to return to that particular business), although many people seem to think that we do - or that we should.

    'Why don't you book a field next to XYZ' say the traders, 'and put on an event to challenge ABC.' We get this comment maybe twice a week. It's normally accompanied by a 20 minute preamble about how our shared hobby / industry shouldn't be dominated by one or two big players and how someone should give them some competition, and how we should be that someone, and why aren't we organising events every weekend, eh?

    So, we say to those folks, sorry. We have our hands full with RC. But there are plenty of independent jumbles and shows and events. All you have to do is to support them. Look, next weekend we are at Malvern, and then it's Kempton, and then Newbury. We've been to 30 independent events this year. You can too. All you have to do is pay around 20 notes for your stall, and you can directly contribute towards keeping these events independent.

    I'm glad both of there bikes were on show at the Stinkwheel show; it would have been less enjoyable without their presence.

    And some traders listen, and understand, and attend. And some don't. When you next go to an event which is full of people but light on jumble or automotive trade stands, don't automatically blame the organiser. He or she doesn't keep them at home in a cupboard. They come (or not) of their own volition, and sometimes, while they talk the talk, they don't walk the walk.

    Next: that thorny subject of awards. Some event organisers don't bother with awards at all. Some let the show-goers sort them out between themselves (which is what happens at the National Clubs' Show). At others, the organisers are trying to reward those people who bring their bikes at 9am and stay until 3pm by giving them a little bit of extra. At least - that's what I interpret awards as.

    How to choose the winners? Much depends upon the category and the flavour of the event. Each judge chooses bikes by his or her own criteria, and it is never easy. I prefer events like Ardingly, where at least there is time to see and consider the vast majority of the entered bikes - unlike the arena-led events where one has to make a snap decision from a roving line-up. Our judge last weekend was Frank Westworth of this parish, and he took over three hours to assemble his short-list.

    Tony Curzon's Norton Unified Twin. You don't see one of these every day.

    We could bicker forever about mudguards, authenticity, hours of application, ridden, trailered, and so on - but you should know two things. The never-ridden 1975 Commando won the Bike of the Show (not Best Restored, not even Best In Show, but Bike of the Show) award. Of course it wasn't really the Bike of the Show - the machine which attracted the most attention was Tony Curzon's Norton Unified Twin. But we couldn't choose that 'cos it was on our stand, and we'd invited Tony to bring it. Yet the UT definitely received the most attention…

    The second thing you should know is that the award for the Ridden RealClassic went to a marvellously mucky Tiger 100. Frank chose it because 'it looked completely lived in; well maintained, no smell of leaking petrol… it looked like a comfortable friend for long journeys.'

    When Mrs Venner (we think it was she!) came to collect the prize she looked utterly flabbergasted. I doubt that she and Allan Venner had any idea their bike might actually be considered for an award. And most folk who have commented on the show and the prizes seem to have overlooked this very important award altogether. (If Allan is reading, please get in touch: you only got half your prize! See. Told you organisation was hard).

    Random Triumph (new and old) Tigers

    And finally. To ride, or not to ride? It is very fashionable to deride those who bring their bikes to a show in a van or on a trailer. Next time you feel like your lip curling into a sneer - have a little care for your fellow enthusiast. We are not all young, fit and healthy. Some of us can't ride bikes at all any more, and we get our motorcycling pleasure from sharing our enthusiasm in any way we can. For some folk, rebuilding and fettling is all the motorcycling they have.

    As night fell, the wisdom of riding the 200 miles home on a black bike with six volt electrics and direct lighting seemed less certain...

    The light at this time of year is so poor that I, for one, would have been very unhappy riding my Dragonfly home at 3pm. My eyesight isn't good enough for me to feel safe in those conditions. If I'd been Josephine Punter, I'd probably have chosen to come to Ardingly by car. I would have been leaving it up to everyone else to bring their bikes, and put them on display, and so entertain me for a day.

    The last word goes to Karl B, who pretty much summed up what would be my ideal outing. 'A good bimble to a bike show, a natter and a pint, that's what Sundays should be like.'

    2005 Autumn South of England RealClassic Bike Show


  • Pre-1950s: 1948 Norton ES2 of Les Rogers
  • 1950s: 1957 Royal Enfield Clipper of Kim Buick
  • 1960s: 1960 BSA Golden Flash of Roger Bird
  • 1970s: 1970 Triumph T120R of Neil Pattiemore
  • 1980s: 1984 Yamaha RD350 of Matt Jupp
  • Best BSA: 1968 Rocket 3 of Don Hiscock
  • Best Triumph: 1955 Tiger 110 of Andy Cook
  • Best Norton: 1967 650SS of Ken Rawlinson
  • Best Euro or American: 1934 Indian Four of Mike de Bidaph
  • Best Japanese: 1976 Kawasaki KH400 of Trev Lanes
  • Best 2-Stroke: 1964 Francis-Barnett C91 of Brain Fowler
  • Competition: 1959 Norton Manx of John Rollison
  • Ridden RealClassic: 1949 Triumph T100 of Allan Venner
  • Bike of the Show: 1975 Norton Commando of S Smith

    Our RC thanks to: Tony Curzon for bringing the UT and supplying expert hybrid advice; everyone else who brought a bike for us all to enjoy; PaulG80 without whose help the RC stand would have been over-run; Les the commentator who works damn hard to entertain people; (A) for the timely bottle of water; Andrew for organising it all; all the jolly people who said hello at the stand; Colin for the honey delivery, and my sister for scaring the bejasus out of me.

    What makes a Good Show?

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