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Flanders Chopper Bash: when in Holland

Our destination was Axel, a town in Holland just over the Belgian border...

IMG_1850 IMG_1843 IMG_1836 IMG_1835 IMG_1833 IMG_1832 IMG_1828 IMG_1824 IMG_1821 IMG_1807 IMG_1804 IMG_1800 IMG_1799 IMG_1798 IMG_1796 IMG_1794 IMG_1795 IMG_1792 IMG_1786 IMG_1785 IMG_1784 IMG_1783 IMG_1782 IMG_1781 IMG_1778 IMG_1776Our destination was Axel, a town in Holland just over the Belgian border, forming the top corner of a flat horizontal diamond between Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. On Thursday afternoon, Pete and I met at the Seaways Cafe and rode over the north Yorkshire wolds to catch the ferry in Hull.

The country roads to Hull were fast and enjoyable, with lots of sweeping bends, car-free rural sections and picturesque woods and villages. As soon as we hit Hull and heavy traffic, Pete's Triumph 'Ol' Blu' began to falter... then it conked out. Just a mile from the ferry, but with plenty of time in hand, Pete stripped the carb trying to find the problem. The long manifold to the carb was coated in ice, believe it or not, ('Why have you got such a long manifold?' 'Because I can') and Pete removed the spacer that isolates heat from the manifold hoping this might solve the problem. Eventually he got the bike started again and we headed for the port.

I like getting onto ferries (and planes). You leave your mental tribulations behind as you physically climb aboard, and after a nice steak dinner and a few pints we retired to our two bunk cabin, evidently modelled after some of Hull prison's more bijou accommodation. After an overnight cruise down the east side of the UK, we landed in Zeebrugge on Friday morning. For the first time, the sun started to show itself and I looked forward to the short journey across the Dutch border and east to Axel.

Pete's Triumph started, but evidently wasn't happy, so we stopped at the first services we came to and he conducted another investigation. Fuelled up, we set off. We'd done about 30 miles when I had to pull into a layby to consult the map (remember those, Sat-Navvers?). Pete's bike died as soon as we stopped and I sat in the sunshine whilst he took the magneto apart (having decided the carb was fine). Now thinking the problem could be weak spark and a failing mag, the bike finally started after cooling down and we carried on. Once we got to Axel, we had no directions to the Bash and though it's a small town, we couldn't find any other bikes to follow or signposts. So we stopped at a garage to ask for directions to the Rattlesnakes MVC clubhouse, where the event was being held.

This time, Pete's bike absolutely refused to start, so I set off to find the site while Pete waited. I found it ... eventually, and rode back again to give Pete directions. He started pushing his bike, while I headed the couple of miles back to the music, beer and bikes.

I enjoyed a warm greeting from host Angelo and some of my Belgian friends and was just just roping Angelo and Bram into driving a van out to retrieve Pete when up he roared: after another cool-down, Ol' Blue had revived once more.

The site was perfect: as it was hosted by a bike club the bar and organisation were faultless. There was a big marquee for bands and DJs (I span a few CDs on both nights) and more tents for vendors. The bikes sat in the central area, and as you can see from my phone photos there was a fine array of machines. Angelo is one of the most well-liked guys on the old chopper scene and he and wife Peggy and his friends had created a truly great event. The vibe was laid back and sunshine all weekend just cemented the good-time feeling. I DJ'd for a couple of hours with Bianca (Miss Twist) who was playing some great music... we really enjoyed ourselves (even if we were the only ones dancing). I actually slept better on the Friday night than I think I ever have in a tent, despite a painful right arm caused by some ill-advised drunken arm wresting on the dildo-equipped table (you had to be there).

After a heavy night and a busy day manning the GKM table on Saturday (thanks to all who stopped by to say hello or buy something), I was feeling a bit frazzled by the time evening rolled around again. I had a rising sense of anxiety (lots of stuff going on back in England) and trying to quash this with glasses of Jupiler, Tom Collins and red wine (thanks Steve) put me in a fractious mood. My apologies now to anyone I was harsh or out of line with! At least I didn't assault anyone, I suppose.

Despite my transformation into The Grinch, I had a great weekend (loved the local stew, poured over chips with mayo) and the quality of the bikes was superb. I want to thank 'Knukkel' Marc for the mushroom cover, and all my friends (especially from the Black Widows, who I don't see often enough) for the laughs. I also got to meet people for real who I have 'known' virtually for years, like Anneli and Sebastian from Sweden. It was a real pleasure to make new friends.

There's nothing worse on a humid morning after two nights' heavy partying to have to break down a tent and pack your bike. I was sweating like a donkey by the time all my gear was stowed. Not ideal for those biker goodbye hugs. The journey back was much less stop-start; having sussed out that his magneto was failing (cutting out when the revs dropped and the engine was hot) Pete suggested we just race (as much as you can race on roadwork-infested 50km/h roads) back to Zeebrugge, which we did without stopping. My Panhead ran really well... even the oil over the back wheel which had puzzled me on the outward journey eventually disappeared. It's not often the tool bag fails to get a look in.

We hooked up with Kenny, a Shovelhead rider who'd ridden to the Bash from Blackpool, on the ferry home and I decided to just stick to tea and scones after a heavy weekend... until I changed my mind and started drinking Stella.

Back in England, we endured torrential rain on muck-covered country roads (ever had a mouthful of watery dung? it's gritty) on the way home and stopped for breakfast at the Seaways Cafe. Partially revived (and mouth washed out with proper English tea), Pete and I parted ways there.

Got home soaked and tired on Monday mid-morning but my resolution was to definitely make it to the FCB again next year. It should be yours too.

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  • Great to have your company for 4 days Guy. It seems inconceivable that before we met in 2008 I knew none of the people we now class as good friends and we meet new ones (who's names i can never remember) each trip. Just a shame that I am still riding the same old shitter that you came to photograph 6 years ago and it is still no more reliable....
    I would also like to thank Angelo and his crew for their effort in putting on such a perfect event.
    Next year for definite and no breakdowns !

  • I was good seeing you again Guy (and Pete). Glad you made it back home in one piece. See you next time!

  • Sounds like a perfect event to me! fingers crossed the demands of fatherhood may be slightly less next year and I can share the good times!

  • Love the photos, some quality bikes in there. What a great weekend! it takes me a few days to come down from the high. We also had a hassle free trip back and managed to get out 4pm ferry with time to spare (15 minutes).

    Big thanks to Angelo and his team.