By Jeremy Miles
There’s a gentle throaty growl as a massive Harley Davidson Road King Classic pulls onto Poole Quay. Heads turn as the rider, wearing stereotypical biker leathers and some intriguing tattoos, climbs casually from the armchair-sized seat.
He gives a satisfied nod as he clocks the crowds admiring his machine. I hear an earnest looking youth telling his girlfriend “It’s got a 1585 cc air-cooled twin cam engine.”
Despite his air of authority this information clearly fails to impress. “Can we get some chips?” she asks.
Elsewhere bikers, male and female, are packing the Quay for the latest Poole Bike Night. Nearly a thousand motorcycles, ranging from custom-built monster dream machines to vintage classics, are glinting in the evening sunshine.
The Bike Nights, which have been growing for years, are held every Tuesday evening until the end of September. They have been a huge success. Each week the entire Quay becomes a motorcycle-only zone as hundreds of bikers from all over the country descend on the ancient waterfront.
On a warm evening more than 2,000 bikers can arrive in town. A few years ago an influx on this scale would have been seen as public order issue. The Poole Quay ‘Dream Machine’ evenings however could not be more respectable. Not only are they organised by Poole Tourism and supported by Dorset police but for the past three years they have been sponsored by local solicitors Coles Miller. Stuart Forster, who has ridden along the coast from Fareham with his partner Chantelle Morey and her mum Sue, is under no illusions as to why the image has changed. “Things have moved on a long way from the days of mods and rockers in the 1960s. It’s like tattooing. Riding a bike has gone mainstream. It’s not about gangs anymore. It’s a big, expensive business.”
However 30-year-old Stuart, who arrived in Poole on a £4,000 Honda SP2/RC51, says that bikes can still divide opinion. “You do occasionally get drivers trying to cut you up. People either love ‘em or hate em.” Chantelle meanwhile was riding a Suzuki Gladius while her mother, Sue Morey, brought her Triumph 650.
Sue is perhaps typical of a slightly older generation of bikers who, after riding pillion for years, finally get their own bike when they hit middle age.“It was something I always wanted to do,” explains 53-year-old Sue. “But you know you get married, you get your house, you have your kids and somehow bikes get put on the back burner.”
Not anymore. Five years ago Sue embraced the two wheel dream. She says she loves the Poole Bike Nights. “I’ve only managed to get here a couple of times this year,” she admits, “but last year and the year before I came down every Tuesday straight from work. “It’s a lovely ride and it has a great atmosphere.”
Sue particularly likes the older bikes. “Some of them are beautiful’” she says, gesturing towards a lovingly restored machine from the seventies. She glances at Stuart and Chantelle “Of course they don’t think so because it’s not their era.” Some great vintage wheels have been displayed on the Quay so far this year. A 1912 Norton “Old Miracle” and a 1928 Rudge Whitworth have been among the classics shown by Beaulieu Motor Museum
Phil and Sarah Boxall, who are handing out flyers for their bike shop in Hayling Island, are also devotees of the weekly Poole gathering. “I know it looks like a bit of a busman’s holiday,” laughs Phil. “but these are great nights and they offer us the chance to do what we love doing and make some money at the same time.”
With his long beard and a skeleton rib-cage on his leather jacket, Phil looks suitably rebellious.
He chuckles when I ask if his appearance sparks any negative reactions.
“You still occasionally find people who think we’re just a bunch of Hells Angels. You’ll go to a cafe and it’s like ‘No, you can’t come in here’ but that’s daft. I’m hardly the sort of person who’s going to go around marauding.”
He looks around the Quay. “The vast majority of these people have absolutely no intention of causing any trouble. They want to enjoy the evening, look at some bikes and have a nice ride home.”
Pete Shave and his partner Ann Heighway are veteran bikers who admit they have had a colourful biking past. Pete, 56, started riding a motorcycle “illegally” he tells me with some pride, when he was just 14-years-old. He used to love loud, unmuffled silencers. He sounds wistful as he recalls the joy of “straight-through coppers”. He looks momentarily crestfallen as he tells me “They’re not allowed anymore.” Sue meanwhile remembers riding pillion wearing a short black skirt and high heels. “Not ideal,” she agrees. “But what else is a girl going to wear?”
They were not great fans of the crash helmet law either. Pete says he tried to ignore it but without success. “I kept getting stopped by the police. I’d tell them I’d forgotten it but every day I got escorted home to pick it up.”
Each week there is a Bike of the Night competition. On this particular evening it has been won by first-time visitor Mick Wright, a 65-year-old biker from Surrey who says he only came because he was invited by a friend.
It paid dividends. His custom-painted rock ‘n’ roll 1980 double belt-drive Harley Davidson, autographed by guitar hero Eric Clapton and Who vocalist Roger Daltrey, walked away with the prize and earned Mick a race kit and tickets to a motorcycle muster at Beaulieu.
Mick bought the bike - originally produced as a limited edition to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the USA - 25 years ago. It will now be entered along with other weekly winners in the annual Bike of the Year Contest during the final 2010 Bike Night on 28th September. Last year’s first prize winner received £500.
*Coles Miller Dream Machine nights on Poole Quay are fully marshalled self-funding events financed by income from a £1 entry charge. Profits are donated to local charities.