South-East Burn Up – London to Brighton in extended company

With thanks to the event organisers – Ace Cafe, London

A friend suggested we join the Ace Cafe’s London to Brighton Burn-Up this year. So, being a mug and never having done it before, I duly turned up at the café doorstep on London’s North Circular at 9 am on Sunday 9th September 2019.

It was a fine morning, if a bit cool on the ride down the M40 from Oxford, so I was glad I’d worn the full gear, fleece an all. The Ace was already busy at 08.45, with queues for tea, bacon sandwiches and the full fried breakfast. Within the hour (we didn’t start until 10.30 am), I had met riders from all over the UK (one man from Derby had camped overnight on the grass verge!), as well as from France, Germany and Austria.

I spoke briefly to one of the old hands – a man at the front of the start-line who looked like he’d around the Ace for years. For those who don’t know, the Ace Cafe is a legend in British biker culture. It has been around since the 1950s and was something of a biker headquarters during the 1960s heyday of the British bike industry. Many are the stories associated with this site.

This chap was on a 1960s Norton cafe racer with the registration ‘no 1 ace’, and wore a classic Lewis Leathers jacket covered with badges. He told me the club expected about 10,000 riders on the run, with something like 30,000 bikers in total converging on Brighton from different directions.

Certainly it was the largest number of riders on one run I’ve seen. There was no convoy system as such; riders were sent off from the start line in batches, in order to minimise disruption to other traffic.

I was lucky enough to be in the lead group, but with busy roads and traffic lights quickly became separated from my friends. But no problem – the route to Brighton was very simple; almost all motorway using the M40, M25 and M23.

The sheer density of traffic on all three lanes of the motorways meant a fair amount of filtering was necessary – and some of the behaviour was good, some of it pretty awful. I felt obliged to be extra courteous to other road users in order to compensate for the more lunatic behaviour of some riders.

But as we escaped further from London and approached the coast, the roads cleared and there were some spectacular views over the rolling hills of the South Downs. I stopped a couple of times to watch the bikes going by, and would then tag on to another group and carry on into Brighton.

Which was of course truly jammed up, with the normal Sunday-holidaymaker traffic blown out of all proportion by bikers coming in from all directions. Like everyone else, I headed for the town centre and sea front, until finally we encountered the event marshals shepherding us to parking areas. By midday there were already thousands of motorcycles parked both sides of the ‘Sea Lanes’ on the front, plus additional rows in the middle of the road. My group must have ridden at least a mile like this before we found a space.

Finally arrived, it was off with the helmet, off with the jacket and out with the sun hat, because it was pretty warm. We strolled along the rows of machines together with several thousand other bikers doing the usual thing – admiring owners’ machines and chatting about the various mods. The atmosphere reminded me of TT week in Douglas on the Isle of Man. There were bars and cafes, bandstands, club stands and bike-gear stalls to view aplenty.

But my mate had his mind fixed on a bag of chips on the beach, so we set off for the more sedate facilities of traditional Brighton. After finding a cafe terrace on the pebbles (the beach here has very little sand!), with tables and bench seats under awnings, I bagged a couple of empty places.

However, mate had decided he wanted to eat his chips on the beach itself. Duly loaded up with two neat plastic trays of Brighton’s finest deep-fried starch, he walked out onto the pebbled beach proper.

Huge mistake! Within 30 seconds he was enveloped in a whirling cloud of feathers, as what seemed like every seagull on the beach homed in on him! He came running back waving his arms to keep them off, but those birds were sneaky, a couple would make an attempt in front of him, and as he fended them off another would dive over his shoulder from behind and grab a chip.

Now we understood why everyone was eating under the awnings, and not on the beach. Definitely a case of seagulls rule! My friend is not normally given to violence, but even he admitted that if he had a shotgun he’d have used it. I did notice however that the beach was remarkably litter-free, and wondered if the locals deliberately encouraged the gulls so as to prevent mere tourists from littering. If so, the strategy certainly worked.

After a few hours we’d had enough. I hadn’t brought my swim trunks unfortunately, and paddling through the surf wearing motorcycle gear would look mildly ridiculous, so, once refreshed we set off back to London.

Back in the smoke a couple of hours later we were both pretty knackered, but agreed it had been a fine day out. We should definitely do it again. Just …. maybe not next year, but the year after that.

© Philip Hunt 2019.

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