Westgate Hill
Harley Davidson - worm's eye view

Biker Hill
Sat. 27th July, 2002

This hill runs up west from the site of the old Westgate at the site of the now demolished Essoldo cinema, and has been the home of motorcycling for the region since the end of the First World War.

Every Saturday bikers from miles around congregate to swap stories, show off their machines and purchase some new gizmo or piece of clothing.

The traders on the hill lay out their wares, ranging from a multi-thousand pound superbike to a stick on go faster stripe. A discreet police presence ensures the safety of this weekly bikefest. Any disorder, I think, is in the mind of the outside observer; there is seldom any trouble.

Whoosh - look at me!

This view shows the sheer number of bike visitors. A nearby car park is partially reserved for bikes at weekends.

Have some lunch at the cafe, catch up with the latest piercing or tattoo, or just browse the bikes and the people.

By far the majority of bikers are above the age of thirty. Younger lads may be keen, but the economics of bike purchase and the prohibitive insurance costs keep them off the road. This generation grew up during a time when costs were not so high and now they have achieved a sensible age and some no-claims bonus and biking is a way of life - at least at the weekend!

The hill is alive with the sound of ...
Hill cafe

The demographic shift amongst the biker community, albeit the same people getting older, means that there are more women involved than ten or fifteen years ago. The occasional girlfriend, complaining about the helmet busting that expensive beehive hairdo, have been replaced by sensible wives and leatherclad pair bonding.

Travelling together on a bike means much close contact and trust. There is little room for arguments and distractions. The couples here are likely to survive the test of time more than their car encased contemporaries.

Below are a few views of the Classic Collection that is more a museum and hobby than a shop. Those forty-something bikers can wallow in moments of nostalgia before returning to modernity, with its economy and safety.

More a museum than a shop

Inside older machines line the walls. That grey boxy bike near the camera is a Velocette with a small engine that ran like a sewing machine. They were used by police patrols with chunky radio telephones mounted in the hatch between the fuel cap and the handlebars.

During the 1960s the first wave of Japanese bikes came to Britain and some examples survive here. These reliable and cheap imports spelt the end of the fine engineering of British bikes. Soon to go were marques including AJS, Ariel, Matchless, Triumph, BSA, Norton, James, Velocette, Royal Enfield, and Frances Barnet.

Below is a 1950s Velocette, quite the luxury with its variable swinging arm and flexible engine. Speed was the object of the 1970s Triumph Bonneville still giving Stirling service today.

Inside the Classic Collection
1950s Velocette - luxury in its day.
Triumph Bonneville, like the one I used to have

Modern disc brakes, electronic engine management systems, and high performance springs and damping make today's bikes safe platforms for the modern responsive and powerful engines.

Bikes are now brightly coloured rather than the black and dark plum that was the only choice in the 1960s. The Ariel Arrow with its dustbin faring (sounded like one too!) was an early attempt at chic.

Nice white Honda advertising hoarding
Chips and chatter

Here is the bike reserved parking area. Visitors take some lunchtime refreshment and catch up with the gossip

From a different angle the Newcastle United football stadium towers over Gallowgate beyond the brewery offices.

The new dual carriageway St. James' Boulevard offers a quick route to this spot from the south.

Not far from the football stadium
Stragely colsed on the busiest day
Grungefest in action
Zooming down the hill

This weekly festival of two wheelers is an established part of the Newcastle scene. Other towns have similar gatherings, I can remember being shooed away in Carisle some years back by zealous town officials trying to rid the place of pesky bikers, posing such a threat to the middle aged middle class townsfolk. Today's bikers are now the middle aged middle class growing old disgracefully.

These are not naughty boys trying to rebel against parental control, but the Peter Pan power of perpetual youth squeezing into impossible leathers and being safely stimulating. OK so there may be just a bit of naughtiness, but it's only pretend; it's back to the sensible job on Monday.

Click here to see high quality album copies of these and other photographs from the same shoot

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