The Ace Cafe and The Rider’s Digest have shared a lot of common ground over the years. Obviously motorcycles and motorcyclists are central to both of our interests; but that’s far from where the story ends.
Roger Tuson published the first issue of TRD as a recruitment rag for London couriers in the summer of ’97 and it was December of that year when Mark Wilsmore opened part of the old Ace Cafe on weekends and bank holidays. By the time the Ace celebrated its Grand Reopening in 2001, the Digest was already moving beyond its despatch riding roots so the NW10 Cafe was the perfect location to distribute the free magazine to a wider audience and it quickly became our largest outlet, clearing multiple boxes of every issue – invariably in the first couple of weeks in the summer months (which continued to be the case right up until the last freebie edition over eleven years ago).
Mark has always made it clear that the cafe is happy to host events for The Rider’s Digest; whether it was launching ‘Team Digest to Dakar’, the start of regular contributor Geoff Thomas’s epic ‘Poor Circulation’ ride around world, the inauguration of the online magazine in 2012, the 10th anniversary edition of the editor’s book a few years back, or a Courier Day, the Ace Cafe has always been our go to London venue.
I often find myself passing right by on the North Circular and in the past I tended to pop in every once in a while, as and when the fancy took me and my schedule allowed. However, as with so many things, the pandemic put a stop to that and it must be fully two years since I found myself having a casual catch up with Mark.
It’s been a whole lot longer since I was last there for the Cafe’s biggest annual event, the Reunion Weekend; 14 years to be precise, September 2007. I did visit the Ace Cafe stage at the seaside end of the Brighton Burn Up a couple of years later, but other than that I haven’t been present at a big event for well over a decade.
It was heartening then when I pulled up at around 9:45am last Sunday to see a full car park with the entrance blocked by bollards and every available space in and around the cafe rammed with bikes. I managed to blag my way into the car park, where I snuggled my scooter up against the Mayor’s official car, before setting off in search of Mark.
I found him with Cllr Lia Colacicco – Mayor for the London Borough of Brent – just as she was about to tuck into one of the cafe’s famous sausage sarnies, before heading up onto the roof to provide a short speech before inviting the gentleman – and ladies – to start their machines.
And start their machines they did. I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone reading this what a few thousand bikes, including a whole load of classics, sound like when they roar into life. Mark had assumed his position at the front of the throng, resplendent in an orange Ace Cafe hi vis vest, sitting astride his Street Triple, waiting patiently for duty manager Maria and the Mayor to wave their flags.
They signalled that start at 10:24 precisely and five minutes later – although it seemed a lot longer looking through the viewfinder of my camera – the last of the Brighton bound bikes rolled past and life at the cafe suddenly returned to a more regular Sunday morning with dog walkers, mirror festooned scooters, the odd Japanese classic and the usual cast of interesting characters.
The slideshow below includes a hundred images and each one features any number of bikes, so if you, or anyone you know, was part of the run that left the Ace Cafe en masse at around 10:30 Sunday morning, if you click on the first image, you can then toggle left and right through them all full size to see who you can find.