THE ROCKER'S SOCIAL
TON UP DAY AT JACK'S HILL CAFE
For those not familiar with the term 'Ton Up', it refers to the aim of reaching 100mph or more aboard the various large capacity British bikes of the fifties onwards. Mainly Triumph, Norton and BSA, but also Matchless, Velocette and others.
This period was epitomised by Rocker culture. Riders clad in black leather and early rock and roll. The zenith of which were the almost ritualistic battles between them and the emerging Mod culture in seaside towns in the sixties.
There were also moral outcries in the media about the dangers involved in seeking to reach 'the Ton', and the races and challenges that took place on public roads.
There are two famous stretches of the A20 on the outskirts of London that illustrate this. Firstly, the 'Murder Mile', a fast downhill stretch at a place called Mottingham. It culminated in a sweeping right-hand bend and railway bridge where many came to grief. Either because of rider error or bikes with less than accurate handling. Secondly, the stretch of road leading north away from Brands Hatch circuit, which was, and still is, named 'Death Hill'. No need to explain this; it now has a 50mph speed limit and cameras.
Jack's Hill Cafe is on the A5, just outside Towcester in Northants. And since 2009, it's been organising the 'Ton Up Day', now a firm favourite in the annual events calendar. As the bikes and riders turn into the substantial parking area they are segregated by a steward in the regulation hi-vis. British bikes and the occasional Japanese 'classic' are waved into the area immediately in front of the cafe to park up and display. All others round the back.
This is no classic show. All the bikes have been ridden to the event. And many of those in original condition look as if they take to the road regularly. There are some lovely examples of bike building and ingenuity on display too.
Even before I had a chance to take my camera out of the case I noticed a small group clustered around what looked like a BSA Bantam. Well the tank was, but there the similarity ended. The extensively modified frame held a V4 unit, engineered from an RG500 Suzuki bottom end with Peugeot scooter cylinders (4) grafted on top, plus a one-off fuel injection system. Amazing.
Tucked between the big bikes was a motorcycle marque I'd never seen or heard of before, a Tornax. This was a simple single cylinder two stroke in lovely condition. Wikipedia informed me that these bikes were made in Wuppertal Germany between 1926 and 1955. They made a whole range of models. Generally using other manufacturers' engines, including JAP from England.
In the mid-thirties, Tornax struggled. The National Socialist (Nazi) government had banned the import of foreign parts that it relied on. Then during the war, they were reduced to producing just one 125cc model, and the factory was bombed by the Allies. The company never recovered from this.
A couple of Vincent/Norton hybrids stood out. One called a 'Norvin', the other a 'Vinton'. And one old guy spent most of the time standing next to his Royal Enfield racer creation. Talking to people who viewed the bike and showed an interest in his work.
Triumphs, Nortons and BSA were in abundance. The gate marshall was even letting modern Triumphs into the 'privilege' parking area on the supposition that they were British. Probably not realising that the bikes were as likely to be made in Thailand or Brazil rather than Hinckley just up the road apiece.
Apart from looking at the bikes, some of the characters who obviously love and hang onto the culture of the era were just as interesting. Walking museums of Rockerdom. While inside the busy cafe a DJ spinning real vinyl 45s kept the diners entertained while the band set up.
Just a few miles away cars in their thousands were heading for Silverstone circuit for the Formula One GP. I definitely knew where I'd rather be, and no doubt Jack's Hill will promote another Ton Up next July. Keep a watch on the Wemoto events calendar.
- 19/07/16 - great stuff
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