On any given day, rain or shine, an unlikely bunch of bikers and their various marques of motorcycles graze their way around town. Meeting in different restaurants, the Vintage Classic Motorcycle Enthusiasts aren't a club, they say, just an informal group. But they know who is where and when, and ask any of them what's happening in the world of bikes - and they'll tell you.
Robin has 10 of his own motorcycles in his garage and a few others belong to friends. His long-standing passion for British vehicles transformed into motorcycles largely because of a space issue.
"I now have 10 motorcycles, where I could barely put two and a half cars" he says. "As a hobby, it's easier to work on bikes. I don't need a hoist, or a jack; I can just move stuff around by myself. I don't need specialized equipment and I used to pay a $300 storage bill per month. So, I sold my cars, paid down my mortgage and bought more bikes. Now I can just walk out into my garage, roll my chair over to the bike, and sit and do what I want to do - work on vintage bikes. It's like rolling art!"
Robin and some others from this unofficially organized group are responsible for the annual All British Motorcycles and Car Picnic, held at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria every Father's Day. It's a free event with no pre-registration or judging. It's just for enthusiasts to share their stories over a picnic lunch and the hood of an old British car. Over 5,000 people attended last year.
Ken Brown has restored bikes for over 25 years. He specializes in Triumphs, owns eight of his own, and currently works on three restorations for others.
Once, when Ken was 18 years old, he was hit by a car while riding his motorcycle.
"I was taking gymnastics at the time and when I was hit, I just went right over the top of the car, somersaulted, landed right on my feet and continued running down the road. My bike got hammered and so did my passenger - that's the last time I took anyone on the back of my bike."
He's gone down eight more times, mostly due to black ice, oil or rain. He won't bike in the rain anymore, even though he has never suffered more than a few scrapes.
"One of my friends lost control and wiped out " says Ken. "His bike went off the road and jammed itself between two saplings. It didn't even damage the bike and he didn't get hurt either. That was the funniest accident I ever heard about."
Those who pop over to Ken's house, might be taken aback by the motorcycles that greet them when they walk in the front door. They don't have any gas or oil in them but, still, not your usual decor. Perhaps he gets away with bikes in the rec room because one belongs to his wife. He doesn't ride too far these days; he prefers to go down to Jordan River occasionally. He does take some of his bikes to shows and has had one or two on display at the Side Car Cafe on the Pat Bay Highway northbound, between Sayward and Keating Cross Road. Now retired, Ken likes to putt around fixing them up, and even does restoration consultations over the phone with a buddy in Kamloops.
A legend in his own time, Bob Harrison, who is in his mid 80s, was a famous bike racer in Britain before he came to Canada. He's known for his fearless riding, especially when a few of the enthusiasts go on a ride up island. Even with the use of only one eye, he usually leads the pack; lately on his new Japanese motorcycle. But regardless of what they ride, all are passionate about their machines.
Bevan Gore-Langton or "the Pope" as he's known in certain circles, has ridden bikes since 1948. When he was 15, he used to ride an autocycle 90 minutes to school, from Deep Cove to the end of the peninsula. He recently purchased an old one he's now restoring - or putting together like a jigsaw puzzle, as he points out. "I'm not a mechanic" says Bevan. "There are always pieces left over when I'm done."
He's adding that one to the 40-plus bikes he already owns, which are stored in various places, including sometimes in his living room. "I tried once to store one in my wife's bedroom. I was desperate. I've built a shed and there are some in the basement. But even though they're a lot smaller than cars, they still take up room when you have quite a few."
Today, he whips along, not on one of his vintage BMW bikes, but on a scooter.
"Scooters are catching on and are fun to ride" says Bevan. "They used to be thought of as kissy sissy, and they don't have the power to pull the skin off a banana, but they do go about 45 miles an hour. They protect you from the elements and you can sure go far on a gallon of gas."
He and his wife take trips down to the U.S. and occasionally over to Alberta. As Bev points out, however, "There is so much to see on the Island, basically you never have to leave. You can spend the rest of your life exploring right here."
Twenty years have passed since Bevan met up with a fellow biker for lunch one day; someone else stopped in when he saw their bikes outside, then someone else, and so on and so on. And today, if people need to know anything about bikes, from restoration, to what to buy or how to sell - just pop down to the Side Car Cafe. Ask for the Pope and, guaranteed, they'll hook them up.