MotoRetroWieze, one of Belgium’s leading classic and custom bike shows, takes place over two days at the small town of Wieze, just north of Brussels. And if you live this side of the Channel and are trying to keep a vintage or veteran bike running, then attending this bi-annual event is pretty well de rigeur.
What can you expect from such an event? An enjoyable day out, if you like bikes, retro machinery and finding that vital part for your vintage Triumph. It helps of course if you also like Flemish cuisine such as Carbonade (a sort of beef stew cooked in Belgian beer) and chips, washed down with Stella Artois.
This February the theme was “The Frame Builders”, and focused on the independents who made their names building specialist racing frames in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Names like Egli, Seeley, Rickman, Matisse and Verlicchi (a Ducati specialist) were all represented, with some beautiful bikes on display.
But the show wasn’t just about headliners, it’s also one of Europe’s leading motojumbles. Many visitors were there to find that specialist supplier who can supply or repair an ancient magneto for a 1939 BSA B31 single, or has a way of putting new life into that old and stained chrome-work.
Which of course means that they will be somewhat different from the mainstream motor-show attendee. The Octoberhallen at Wieze were filled with small groups of bikers earnestly discussing the finer points of magnetos over alternators, whether hand gearchanges are better than foot-operated, 6 or 12 volts for the electrics, and if fitting a decent brake will devalue a machine too much.
Yep, men of a certain age, as my colleague Dave McCairley found out. He’d gone looking for a silver-haired old guy in his 50s or 60s, then realised that the description fitted pretty well most of the people there. Bit like the bikes really … except perhaps for the beards.
Picture a spry-looking, bearded elderly gent wearing a jet helmet, RAF Mark 10 goggles and Barbour jacket on a 1952 rigid Royal Enfield 350 Bullet; one that looks like it spends more time being polished in front of the TV than on the road. There was your typical customer.
Many were seeking specialist suppliers for the vital parts they need to keep an old bike on the road. Someone like Gary Parkin, a Londoner now living near Rouen who relines brake shoes for bikes where replacement parts are no longer available.
“I don’t really do it for the money,” he explained. “ If I make enough to cover my fuel, I consider it a plus. For me, the contacts I make in the trade are as important. They get to know me and can recommend my service to their customers, and vice versa. In the long-term I build my business.”
Such events are as important for the trade as for customers, confirmed organiser Yves Demanet. “We rank with other leading motojumbles across Europe such as Rosendaal in the Netherlands – with the biggest being Paris. With 12,000 people over two days, traders can come and expect to sell if they have priced right. We have around 150 exhibitors here, and our fees aren’t expensive at around €65 per ten square metres. Some of the stallholders have been coming here since we started in 1984.”
Egli Vincent a star
The show star was the Egli Vincent, an uprated 1330cc Rapide motor in the specially developed frame that Fritz Egli made famous, and now produced by Patrick Godet (??) in France. Owner Paul Coene had only just had it delivered.
He didn’t ride it back to Belgium himself then? He looked at me in amazement. “Do you know how much salt there is on Belgian roads in the winter? With all that expensive chrome and polished aluminium? No, I had it delivered.”
So why buy an Egli then, I asked. “I don’t like modern bikes,” he replied. “With all the regulations these days you can lose your licence in second gear. And they are boring to ride at low speeds. For me the Egli is a piece of art, yet it is also fun to ride at low speeds as well as high.”
The bike weighs just 180 Kilos, he pointed out, around 100 Kg less than many modern superbikes. With a stiff and light frame, the Egli can corner like the Nortons of old yet has power if needed. Just the same, he said, “I probably wouldn’t go shopping on it.”
Thriving classic and custom bike scene
MotoRetroWieze represents perhaps one of the low countries’ best-kept secrets, the thriving classic and custom bike scene. Coming events in 2015 include the moped OldTimerBeurs at Lommel in March, classic motorcycle ride-out ClassicMotoRacer at Leest in May for pre-1985 machines, Japanese Classic Bikes at Ittre in May, Classic Races across the border at Wemeldinge (NL) in June, and Mods vs. Rockers at Antwerp in August.
The next MotoRetroWieze in September 2015 will star racing legend Jim Redman, in what he says will be his last public appearance. Best start booking the ferries now.
© Philip Hunt, 2015.
Photos credit David McCairley. All photos available in print-quality.