9 May 2011

Bristol kick-starts 2011 classic bike season

Despite its name, the season-opening 31st Bristol Classic Motorcycle Show isn’t held there any more. It outgrew the old quayside buildings where it started 30 years ago and has moved about 20 miles to the Bath and West Showground at Shepton Mallet. A record 19,000 visitors shows how much the classic bike scene has grown, filling six halls and spilling into the auto-jumble space outside.

The end-of-February Bristol show kick-starts the motorcycle season, leading up to the Pioneer Run at the end of March.

The Bristol show’s record crowd suffered through hour-long traffic jams from town, which shows how determined people were to see the hundreds of bikes on the club stands and the massive auto-jumble. Despite appalling late February weather, some brave souls came on two wheels, but others brought cars in case some bulky bargain presented itself.

Bargains are getting harder to find, though, as new old stock supplies dry up and riding season nears. At least this show no longer has an auction, so you don’t have to worry about somebody having the same dream as you. The bikes are in the auto-jumble and all you have to do is get there first.

Most of the stands featured one marquee – from Ariel to Yamaha – along with general bike clubs, all trying to win best club stand award. This leads to some ingenious displays, like the Elvis display on the Harley-Davidson stand.

Previous winners of the trophy, the Malmesbury Classic Motorcycle Club came up with an Isle of Man TT theme, since 2011 is the centenary of the Mountain Course. The Royal Enfield club commemorated WW2 with a military display, while the Enfield Interceptor club mounted a large field gun replica above their stand, to evoke the marque’s tank badge.

The Vintage Scooter club celebrated Mods at the seaside, complete with a Punch-and-Judy show, but the New Imperial Owners Association scooped up the £750 first prize for their diorama, which included a replica of the company’s factory gates.

The single entry contest is always hard-fought and the Best of Show trophy was snagged by Shirl and Eric Coombs, with their restored Triumph Bonneville. Not just any old ‘Bonny’ either; it was a factory prototype used to iron out teething troubles before the bike went into production.

Many clubs brought bikes from all eras, to cast the widest net for future members. By not discriminating against any type or age of bike, the club can attract more spectators to their stands. It is not all about big bikes either; some stands had bike models displayed and the large replica three-wheeled van on the Raleigh stand always attracts a lot of attention, especially from younger visitors.

With hundreds of bikes on display, you could trace the history of motorcycling up to the present. The standard of restorations continues to improve and some bikes have finishes that would do Rolls-Royce proud. The downside of this is that many good original bikes disappear beneath layers of new paint. They lose that patina of age and use and become merely works of art or just an investment.

Despite the recession and eBay, a large number of trade stands ensured a visitor could go home with a new crash helmet or set of clothing, not to mention the usual tool suppliers and insurance companies. Now all we need is warm weather and sunshine so bikes (and riders) can be exercised once again on the roads of the UK.

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