The Cooling of the Classics

Bikes Culture


“The thing is with modern bikes, is they’ve got no soul.” Rob, proprietor of the Ace Cafe in San Francisco’s Mission district, presides over one of the hubs of neo classicism of San Francisco’s biker community. “There’s nothing like a bit of English Iron to get the adrenalin going…” he laughs.

Rob is a twenty five year émigré from Liverpool who cherishes his accent as much as he does his hard won beer and wine license from the city of San Francisco. As he tells me this, he puts another beer down on the bar as another pod of black leather and denim-clad young bucks with sculpted features and a Friday vibe stream into the Ace.

On the walls are a series of homages to classic bike scenarios, Manx vistas, racer portraits, retro oil ads and admonitions to the young and the reckless in the shape of back-to-back loops of On Any Sunday. “ Sure I’ve ridden Jap bikes, owned tons of them. But I keep going back to British machines, as well as the odd Italian. They’ve got something more to them than loads of revs and loads of technology.”

And Rob and the crew at the Ace are just part of a huge movement toward classic European bikes here in San Francisco. But the hipster capital of the world, ubiquitously wired, post ironic and self styled capital of the American left field, is at the vanguard of a global phenomenon that has as much to do with disillusionment as it has to do with a regeneration of fashion sensibility.

Tony is a salesmen at Munroe Motors, on Valencia Street in the Mission, just round the corner from the Ace. “It’s unbelievable how popular Ducatis and Triumphs are becoming these days, “ he tells me as the slanted Californian light glints beautifully off the acreage of European steel lined up deliciously in the Munroe shopfront. “I think that it’s because people realise now that bikes are not only brilliant value and are relatively environmentally friendly, that European they are more craft-oriented and mechanically accessible than super high-tech bikes from Japan.”

But underlying this trend toward getting back to mechanical integrity is an undercurrent of romance, an aesthetic rejection of all things electronic and over-designed. “As soon as I got on a Ducati I knew I’d never go back” Crash tells me. The worryingly monikered twenty eight year old graphic designer (who is also a bike riding instructor part time), and tells me of the beauty of his Ducati Classic Sport S (above).

In a sense the return to the classic in Biking in San Francisco is a nod to the general zeitgeist. While bikers will always be petrolheads at heart, jump on a classically proportioned machine with passionate design and minimalist electronics and you’ll evoke a simpler, less guilt ridden time when getting from A-to B was not only about having as much fun as possible, but was also about hand wrought, hard won expertise. In San Francisco biking parlance, Classic means European, and European means style. In San Francisco, the classics have been well and truly cooled. And what happens in USA happens soon amongst the Eurotrash. Watch this space. And fire up that Triumph.

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