Embedded with the London club before its annual motorcycle show, we witness something wonderful.
WORDS & IMAGES Chris Nelson
Broken, all of us. Walking heavy on blistered feet, dripping with sweat on an uncomfortably muggy Sunday. Five hours after 239 motorcycles rolled out of London’s Tobacco Docks, we were staring at piles of picnic tables, a dozen couches, a forest of fake palm trees, a sea of empty kegs, and boxes on top of bigger boxes on top of bigger boxes still. Dutch van Someren—one of the Bike Shed’s founders—had stopped smiling, and his unbreakable wife, Vikki—the show’s beloved leader—limped around, doing what she could to stoke morale. By 11 p.m., after three tireless days of work, the Bike Shed team looked defeated by this year’s show, the largest to date.
Stunning as it was expansive, I wandered through the show’s labyrinth of rooms, not knowing what I’d find: motorcycles, fashion, food, music, or a couple of over-served adults gingerly dry-humping.
I arrived at the Bike Shed a day before their annual motorcycle show started; Dutch and Vikki flew me over to do interviews with builders, attendees, and sponsors for a video. When I walked into their handsome headquarters in London’s hip Shoreditch neighborhood, I saw a small army wearing black B.S.M.C. tees preparing for the next day’s move-in. Schedules needed to be finalized, credit card machines needed to be programmed, cash-money needed to be counted, the guest list needed to be sorted, and GoPros and digital cameras needed to be charged. At the center of the swarm were Dutch and Vikki, calm in the chaos. We discussed the weekend ahead and the work to be done, and agreed to meet at the venue, Tobacco Docks—a sprawling, glass-roofed antique building on the edge of a canal—the following morning at 6 a.m.
Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep a single minute that night and arrived early Friday looking and feeling like hell. The Bike Shed staff, their volunteers, and the hired help listened as Vikki divvied out tasks via megaphone. For hours we unloaded boxes, couches, tables, and other odds and ends from packed panel vans. Me and two volunteers, Jack and Tomek, rolled out AstroTurf and built two dozen tables for a picnic area, then set up furniture for a huge bar space, and then laid out heavy, black plinks that motorcycles would be displayed on. An hour before the show began, I wanted to puke; the wet summer heat had been oppressive, and I never fare well without sleep. I went back to my hotel for a cold shower and accidently fell asleep for four hours, returning to the venue an hour before closing to see the fruits of our labors.
Stunning as it was expansive, I wandered through the show’s labyrinth of rooms, not knowing what I’d find: motorcycles, fashion, food, music, or a couple of overserved adults gingerly dry-humping. You could visit on-site tattoo artists and barbers, and painters like Lola Blackheart and Ryan Quickfall created art in public for all to see. A collection of some of the most impressive motorcycles from around the world was on display, like DeBolex Engineering’s tidy Ducati Scrambler, Agostini’s MV Agusta 500 triple, Watkins Design’s weirdly attractive, boxer-powered creature, Workhorse Speedshop’s beautiful, blue drag bike, and AutoFabrica’s trio of high-design Yamahas. I’d spent time with only a handful of bikes before Vikki’s voice came over the loudspeaker, announcing the first night of the show had come to an end.
I arrived back at Tobacco Docks the next morning, better rested, and met the Rolling Rogues, a team of young, hungry videographers. A steady stream of interviews, one after another after another, stopped only when I got a leg tattoo from Elena Mameri. The moment she finished, the Rogues handed me my microphone and we went back to work. Saturday and Sunday were hard days, passing in a blur of conversations with fascinating folk. A bittersweet sense of relief washed over all of us when, at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Vikki’s voice once again came over the loudspeaker to announce the show had come to an end. Attendees were ushered out before an organized exodus of motorcycles began. Only after the bikes left could we fully comprehended the amount of work left to do.
The most ambitious Bike Shed show to date left behind more flotsam than anticipated, and it soon became obvious we didn’t have the necessary manpower to undo what had been done, at least not in a few hours as planned. When 11 p.m. rolled around, we still had piles and piles of shit to sift through and pack away. I sat on a stack on fake grass and looked at more than half of the Bike Shed crew, exhausted and sprawled out across the floor of the show’s main room. Vikki just about threw in the towel and called it a night when we had an unexpected second wind and worked harder than any of us thought we could after the weekend we’d had.
Two hours later, we’d done it ... no one could believe it. Euphoric, we hopped on motorcycles or piled into Ubers and sped back to the Bike Shed in Shoreditch, where the bartender, Alex, stayed way later than he should’ve, ordered us a stack of pizzas, and let the beer taps flow. Sincere speeches came and went before serious partying started. We talked bullshit, clinked mugs, and laughed our asses off. We probably would’ve forgotten about the night we’d had if our feet didn’t hurt so bad; “The Bike Shed limp,” we called it. The night ended when we noticed the sun had come up.
The Bike Shed team executed one of the most impressive productions I’ve seen, and each team member played his or her part perfectly. Like Ross, who made sure each of the invited builders enjoyed themselves. James, who never stopped posting to Bike Shed’s social media channels. Dan, who experienced the entire show through a viewfinder. Mark, who worked on his birthday without complaint. Stewart, who accidentally ripped off his van’s sliding door during load-out. Jimbo, who didn’t let a nasty case of food poisoning keep him from busting ass. Mabel, who fearlessly carried boxes twice her size. Gareth and Gunn, who oversaw a well-oiled retail operation, and Anna, Ben, and Sam, who helped them clear thousands of dollars of apparel. Veneta, who did anything she could to keep people happy, and Rob, who kept security tight. Jane, who couldn’t stop smiling because she’d gotten engaged, and Josh, who walked more steps than anyone else. And Dutch and Vikki, who snuck kisses when they weren’t steering the massive, unruly ship that was this year’s Bike Shed Show.
I observed all of these wonderful people every step along the way, and I still have no idea how they pulled it off. A hardworking group of genuinely great people who put on a sensational motorcycle show ... the best I’ve been to, in fact.