Sunday, May 22, 2011

Royal Enfield night at the famed Ace Cafe in London

Ace Cafe London, a landmark for motorcyclists on London's North Circular Road.
"Brit Bike Night with Triumph and Royal Enfield Owners Clubs" is the second Wednesday of the month at the famous Ace Cafe, London.

My wife, Bonnie, made plans for us to be there Wednesday, May 11, the first day of our week-long holiday in London.

Ours was a pilgrimage of two Americans to a center of the cafe racing of the 1960s. The Ace was the place that set the still popular style for British motorcycles and motorcycling.

It was a "roadside pull-in," opened in 1938 to serve the motoring public. The Ace took a bomb hit during the Blitz but was rebuilt, becoming a favorite stop for the leather-clad Rockers who made cafe racing a legend. Its history is on view at the Ace, and on its website.

Second floor "museum" tells the story of the Ace and its times.
Rock'n'roll wasn't played on the radio at the time, so the only way to hear it was on the jukebox. Rockers would set a record playing and then dash off to race to an appointed spot and back before the record finished.

But that was then. The building became a tire shop in the 1980s. A cafe racing "reunion" there in 1994 fostered the hope of bringing back the Ace, and it reopened in September, 2001, thanks to the dedication of reunion founder Mark Wilsmore. I might be wrong, but I thought I caught a glimpse of him hard at work with the staff the night we visited. There's a picture and interview with him on the Bike EXIF site.

The Ace is not just a museum with a gift shop selling patches and t-shirts. It is a working restaurant, decorated throughout with the black-and-white checkerboard of racing flags.

Motorcycles share the stage with ketchup bottles at the Ace.
The crowd is not just old-timers like me. Most arrived on modern road rockets and Harley-esque Japanese cruisers.

"The Ace Cafe," Bonnie commented, "home of Star Wars motorcycles and Yamaha and Suzuki look-a-likes." Ouch.

The first vintage motorcycle to arrive was a Triumph. "Which one is it?" Bonnie asked, scanning the parking area.

"The one people are actually looking at," I replied. As I spoke, a woman took a picture of it.

It's a Royal Enfield Bullet with unit engine, from 1963!
Then a Royal Enfield rolled up, and I felt rewarded because it was a model I'd never seen except in photos: the 1963 Royal Enfield Bullet with its unit construction engine. That's right: long before there were  made-in-India UCE Royal Enfields, Britain built one, using the 350cc Crusader-style engine and four-speed transmission.

I bounded from the table hoping to talk to the owner. Turns out, he was just there for a meal and gave me only brisk approval to "Carry on!" with photos as he headed inside, helmet in hand.

1963 Bullet casquette, much different looking.
I happily shot pictures, hardly believing this compact little motorcycle with its clean engine-transmission combination was a Royal Enfield Bullet much older than my 1999 back home.

Shortly after, the second (and last!) Royal Enfield to appear showed up. This one was made-in-India and looked decidedly military, with real ammunition boxes for panniers. This owner was far more willing to talk.

Made-in-India Bullet looked more familiar to me, except for right-side shift.
He was especially enthusiastic about the ammo cans, which I agree were "beautifully made" and very sturdy. Although they weren't parked together, the two Royal Enfields were a study in differences: an old bike with a delicate modern look and a newer bike that looked like it had just rolled off a battlefield of World War II.

On the way out I mentioned to one of the staff that I'd come to the Ace for Royal Enfield night.

"You should have come Friday!" he said. "EVERYBODY was here!"

Should there be any doubt about Earth.
So, if you visit London, plan to see the Ace on a Friday night. It's easily reached on the Underground Bakerloo line to Stonebridge Park. Follow the cafe-racer cut-outs posted on fences 200 yards to the Ace.

Check out my complete album of pictures on Facebook and please "Like" it.


  1. Anonymous5/22/2011

    Old model cast-iron engine is till-date liked by many because of the thump - the sound of the silencer.

  2. I very much impress after saw this post. This model is very strong and useful. I like this model so much. Thanks for sharing

  3. Matt Law / Bullethead635/24/2011

    Lovely 1963 lucky dog!


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