I’ve always been pretty crap with names (but spectacularly good with faces) so if anyone had asked me a few years ago if I knew Steve Hallam, I wouldn’t have had a clue. If they were in the know in certain circles, they might have given me a nudge by telling me that he did the wiring on the beautiful red bobber Charley used to kick off his “By Any Means” beano back in ’08.
Ah, that’ll be “Steve the Bike Sparks” then – or Steve Sparks as he’s appeared in my address book for the last twenty years (I only know his real name now because we’ve become ‘friends’ on Facebook!) – of course I know him, it isn’t just Ewan’s mate’s machine that he put the loom together for!
In fact I’d be fascinated to know just how many choppers, custom bikes, trikes and god knows what else, carry Steve’s trademark, simple, efficient, 110% reliable, tailor-made looms. All I know is that I’ve got used to getting into a conversation with someone who’s riding something special – whether it’s an outrageous chop, a three-wheeler, or an Italian classic with a history of questionable electrics – and they’ll tell me that Steve sorted out the electrics on the very machine they were sitting astride. It doesn’t matter whether the rider is an ex WW2 Hurricane pilot on an immaculate Norvin, an otherwise respectable suburban housewife on an RC30, or a member of a back patch MCC on a Harley or a lump of Brit iron (and a lot of the people who know Steve best and respect him most, seem to fall into the latter group), if they live in the southeast of England and they have been directly involved in the building or restoring of something with two or three wheels, the chances are they’ll know Steve.
Will Starritt is a director at Urban Rider in London’s New Kings Road and was a key player in presenting the BikeShed Event at the Shoreditch Studios over the weekend of the 17th ~ 19th May 2013. I was introduced to Wills a couple of days before the show by – yup you guessed it – Steve Sparks, who was busy putting the finishing touches to the electrics on the neat and oh so practical, Honda CL400 based Urban Rider special; consequently on Friday evening me and my brand new missus turned up at the trendy studios, located appropriately enough alongside the London College of Fashion and just a few hundred yards up the road from the ‘Silicon Roundabout’.
There was a lovely chap with a guest list guarding the car park and although he couldn’t find my name on it, when I told him I was from The Rider’s Digest his face lit up and he told us how much he loved the magazine and waved us in. We weren’t on the list the fella on the door was holding either but I waved my large camera at him and informed him Wills had assured me that my name would be on the list (in the very best blagger tradition) and he nodded to the two large men in black suits to let us pass.
Inside, the tastefully arranged bikes, pictures and bits of kit, along with the predominance of ever so trendy, bright young things, brought to mind an exhibition I’d attended at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) many years earlier. Back then I had twin chips on my young shoulders and I wore them like a pair of working class epaulettes, which unfortunately tended to get in the way of me getting the most from occasions like this; but as Wendy and I walked around the converted railway arches and I labelled the BSMC “The Posh Boys’ Bike Club”, there wasn’t even the teeniest trace acrimony because as we both agreed, it had all been done ever so well.
And who were we to begrudge beautiful young people that right to be… well… young and beautiful? OK so there were quite a few people who had clearly put a whole lot of thought into their appearance, but since when has that been a felony – or restricted to any particular social class? You only have to consider Teddy Boys, Mods Revivalists, Skinheads, Goths, Rockers, or any other group you can think of and while they all have certain implied restrictions within their ‘dress codes’, there’s always plenty of room for an individual with a particular flair for dressing to impress, to mark themselves’ out as an ‘Ace Face’ (even if they are only bellboys in real life).
Classy classic brands like Belstaff, and Davida helmets were very much to the fore, suggesting that the ‘dress code’ for BikeShed MC is designed to reflect the urban – not to mention urbane – nature of their exquisitely put together motosickles. There was even a dramatically tattooed barber with a delightfully twirled moustache who stylishly coiffed hair all the time that we were there (I can only assume he’d been trimming beards too because quite a few of the BSMC boys seemed to be rocking substantial, but generally incredibly tidy, facial hair). Apparently there was a resident tattooist inking visitors throughout the weekend too but we failed to spot him/her.
Bikes and fashion apart it was brilliant to catch up with Steve Sparks (and introduce him to Wendy – they’d already heard quite a bit about each other) and to finally meet ace snapper Gary Margerum, who has produced some stunning pictorials for the Digest and has now provided this month’s cover photograph (which showcases the ever so elegant Honda powered 400 that Urban Rider had on display). Blez had managed to blag his way in too and he introduced us to illustrator and design wiz John Mockett and reintroduced me to Davida supremo Fiddy, so what with free beers included, all in all we had a top night out on the town.
As I suggested above, the years have done wonders to soften the prejudices that would have prevented me from enjoying an event like this in my youth, but aside from appreciating all the thought and effort that had gone into it and all the interesting bikes and fascinating pictures, it was reassuring to hear that people like Steve and Lee from Viking Motorcycle Seats, craftsmen whose work I’ve admired for years, finally look like they might be able to make something resembling a steady living, if the vogue for individually restored and restyled utilitarian bikes continues to thrive – and given the sort of dreary, soulless, computer-chipped, fuel-injected, plastic dross the big manufacturers are churning out these days, I can see no good reason why it shouldn’t.