Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Born to be wild

Anyone of a nervous disposition had better steer clear of Earl's Court this week-end, as Friday sees the beginning of the Custom Bike Show.

What we are talking about here are motorbikes: huge great bruisers of motorbikes, souped up with loads of chrome, fat tyres, stand-out-from-the-crowd paint jobs, and bucketloads of attitude. These are not bikes for shy, retiring types (if indeed there are any shy, retiring bikers out there), nor indeed would many of them be suitable for everyday use around Earl's Court: with stretched out front forks (think - big turning circle), loads of chrome and thunderous engines, these are not machines for messing about with clogged up rush-hour traffic on a drizzly wet day. These are machines for the open road, cruising to a heavy-metal soundtrack. Freedom, the right to party, going your own way.

The genre started - perhaps inevitably - in the USA, originally with Hell's Angels modifying their machines to make them distinctive and adding to their threatening appearance. It helps that is was also the home of the Harley-Davidson 'cruiser' style bike (neat Japanese sports bikes just don't wear the custom look) and the no-holds-barred freedom attitude. But it's taken off in a huge way here, and there's now a sizeable industry dedicated to producing and showing off machines.

There are two parts to making a custom bike: first, is designing and building the basic bike; second, is doing the paint job. Some designs are not much different from your average cruiser bike, whereas for others long stretched-out forks and gargantuan engine size can make the bikes look really extreme (and not that easy to ride, either). The paint jobs can easily be a match for the designs, with the art of the airbrush taken to its limits. Some of the paint jobs are simply beautiful, others scary. Some are miracles of chrome plating, but for others, less chrome is more, with matt black painted frames and exhausts for a really mean look.

The show both makes and breaks stereotypes. Expect lots of skull and cross-bone logos, leather jackets, bandannas, and hairy bikers into their tattoos, beer, heavy rock music and biker chicks (known by some as 'frails'). PC it is not. Equally, a large number of women are into custom bikes in their own right these days, and it is gradually recruiting (as is biking more generally) the wannabe rebel who just happens to work from Monday to Friday in a Building Society.

The event itself focuses of course on the bikes, with competitions for the best designs and paint jobs. There are trade stands where you can buy everything from the smallest accessory (and believe me, the range of accessories you can buy for bike seems limitless) to a whole bike made to your own specifications. There are also stunt demonstrations (biking over a high wire has to be seen to be believed), a Brits vs Yanks airbrushing competition and - an essential - live rock bands.

So, cruise on down to Earl's Court this week-end and grab yourself a slice of the action. Even if you work in a Building Society. Just don't own up to it...

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