I spent the wilder half of my teenage years hanging out with a local bike club called the Coggeshall Bastards who used to drink and play pool at The Christopher and Royal Oak pubs in Sudbury. Despite the fact that quite a few of them didn’t actually possess their own bikes (!), I have fond memories of summer afternoons spent outside in the pub’s cart-lodge watching various hirsute men strip down motorbikes, pop the caps off long-necks and enjoy the flattery as we vied for a ride on the back of their Kwak 750 limiteds, Nortons, Harleys and other hogs. As we passed seventeen, many of us girls went out and got our own bikes although it didn’t always compete with doing a ton clinging to the back of the leader of the pack, trying not to get smacked in the face by locks more flowing than our own.
I’ve always loved bikers. They tend to be family-orientated people, funny, droll and practical with the intense love of life which comes from burying so many of their friends who have been killed in road traffic accidents over the decades. As a teenager I too went to my fair share of funerals, ceremonies in church which saw the Coggeshall Bastards turn their potentially offensive denim cut off waistcoats inside out to avoid offending the vicar. We bowed our heads to Shine on, You Crazy Diamond, Freebird and Led Zep’s Tangerine at a time when it wasn’t as accepted to play non-religious songs during CoE and Catholic services. The coffins would be draped in the colours of their occupant, a pair of heavy-set boots and a crash helmet placed on top. Poignantly, the helmets were not always pristine either, sometimes bearing the dents of the collision that killed their owner alongside the many scuffs and stickers these gentlemen of the road accumulated. Then afterwards we’d follow the heavy tread of their boots down the gravelled paths of the church yard and join the convey back to the pub for a wake. The tradition then was to ride ‘lidless’ after a funeral, something that simply wouldn’t be allowed to happen now.
It can be tough, looking back on those heady days of youthful irresponsibility and those friends who will remain forever young in our memories. Krazy Horse is a local motorbike-customising business which used to have premises on Looms Lane and has now moved to the (larger) Mildenhall Business Park. Hanging out with the new-gen bikers can sometimes make loss feel worse. My old mates should be there, standing outside with a mug of tea, comparing fairings, complaining about how their new sissy bar spoils the lines of their machine and planning pension-enabled routes around the USA on the bike of their dreams. In my minds-eye, the only squeaks and creaks that can be heard are those which come from unbroken leather pants: in my minds-eye, we are ageless.
My son visits Krazy Horse most weekends for breakfast and the chance to drool over some of the best custom-jobs around whilst benefiting from the experience and knowledge of bikers who have managed to stay alive on two wheels. I finally went with him on my birthday last weekend, ostensibly for the enormous all day breakfasts but also because they sell Levi’s for forty quid and some pretty cool Dickies olive-green wool-rib sweaters which I have been coveting. Downstairs the bikes are lined up, front wheels turned out like show ponies. There’s Green Jessies, Eckerslike Flyers and a Kiwi Indian in a rust-red, cream and leather-seated livery. There’s a Norton Commando and a rangy Swede Dream in asparagus-green and cream, all five-speed transmission and stainless-steel exhaust, the Greg Allman of bikes, perfect for a blond leggy rider. There’s the speedy and sleek Italian Patons that are road-going versions of the one that raced last years TT…. the list goes on and the dreams of a never to be lottery win taunt us as we wander around.
The Rockers Cafe is upstairs on a balcony overlooking the main showroom full of custom bikes with swing tags upwards of 20K. Established in collaboration with the world famous Ace Café , the original cafe has existed in the same spot on London’s North Circular since 1938 and is an icon of British transport-caff history, even appearing in the 1963 Sidney Furie film The Leather Boys, which starred Rita Tushingham, Colin Campbell and Dudley Sutton.
The rise of the teenager, an increasing post-war disposable income, the growing popularity of driving as a leisure activity and the start of the ‘Ton-Up-Boys’ meant that the appeal of the Ace Cafe dovetailed with the growing British motorcycle industry. This is the vibe that Rockers Cafe is seeking to not only emulate, but develop in its own way.
At Rockers Cafe, you’ll find a Wurlitzer and an industrial cum Americana vibe with a diner counter, silver pull-up stools and about eight or so tables arranged in semi circle. Behind the tables are shelves full of clothing, (including some gorgeous nubuck leather biker boots suitable for downtime as well as bike time), a spares bar and order books. Windows look out onto the business forecourt and the coming and goings of the bikes. A particularly throaty roar will either draw a nod of recognition, “That’s Mike, get a brew on,” or craned necks as the regulars strain to identify what this unfamiliar blat might be. It’s bloody popular on a Sunday morning and the floor is littered with crash helmets like rows of miniature drumlins. You swiftly learn to look behind you before moving your chair out- these lids are expensive and regarded in a similar way to the baby Jesus and many of them actually get their own chair at the table. DON’T ask them to put their lid on the floor- it’s contrary to protocol, let them offer.
The staff are young and well-intentioned, dressed in Krazy Horse tees, weaving their way expertly around the tiny kitchen space as they pass plates piled high with syrup lashed pancakes and bacon and huge breakfasts with circles of red-purple black pudding, hash browns, sausages and eggs any way you want them. Bottles of Salubrious Breakfast Sauce are a great alternative to the ubiquitous Heinz. You can have your burger patty stacked high with jalopeno’s, guac and sour cream. You can have it Bangkok veggie style with sweet chilli mayo, baby gem, beef tomato and melted cheese or Italian with mozzarella, sundried tomato, rocket leaves & pesto. Lunch menus list jackets, salads, panini’s and various mains such as lasagne, chile, soups, toffee apple pies and crumbles. The counter has plastic cake stands covering lemon, chocolate and coconut layer cakes and piles of cookies, brownies and flapjacks.
Got a dry throat, parched from a long ride and road-dust? You can order Crabbies ginger beer, root-beer and vanilla coke, all imported from the USA, and the ice-cream, syrup and milk thick shakes taste pretty authentic. Coffees are flavoured with syrups and Belvoir mandarin and orange pressés are available alongside beer and ciders for non drivers.
If you have bike mad kids who are old enough and well behaved enough to not touch, prod or try to clamber on, Krazy Horse makes a great and inexpensive place to bring them for a good look, something to eat and might trigger the early stirrings of a hobby that could, ultimately, prove rather more costly in the long run.