Spending A Summer Evening In A Tiny English Town, With 10,000 Motorcycles
Photography by Will Broadhead
Ah the quintessential British chocolate box village, all quaint country pubs and well-groomed greens, bordered with perfectly painted flagstones. An idyllic view and a wonderful environment to enjoy a nice glass of ale on a summer’s evening, not a cloud in the sky and barely a whisper of breeze in the air. Bliss! Throughout the often far too short summer though, many of these villages become temporarily transformed by the appearance of a number of two-wheeled guests, breaking through the bird song with a rumble and a roar, filling the usually empty lawns and pavements with motorcycles of all variety and shape when for one night only, the bikers come to town.
This isn’t an unusual sideshow though, indeed as the popularity of classic bikes increases (not to mention the value), these meets have become ever more popular, and one of the most prevalent of these summer events happens on my doorstep, just outside Oxford in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village of Cassington. Each year some 10,000 motorcycles descend upon the one road that travels through the “city” center, the usual population of 750 increasing massively with myriad bikers and visitors that are almost as varied as the machines that turn up.
The road in and out of the village is closed to all but “bike night” traffic and the roadside is quickly lined with all manner of man and machine, as riders and non-riders come together to appreciate their common interest or just to take a curious gander. Fields are opened to catch the overflow, the mobile food vans roll into town and the Red Lion pub, the epicenter of the whole shebang, stocks up on lager. The result is a somewhat organized chaos of people, machinery, and entertainment that transforms the normally sleepy community into a bustling mass of bodies and excitement.
Almost everywhere you look there is a bike, with the spaces in between them populated by throngs of people. The very center of the village is reserved for classic and specialized kit, and this is where most of the best eye fodder can be found. British bikes, as you would expect, make up a large proportion of what is on show, with Triumphs and Nortons as far as the eye can see. There are less commonplace marques too, like Rudge and Sunbeam, as well as pre-war machines from manufacturers long lost to the annals of history. Specials can be found in amongst the classics as well, with some wonderfully turned out café racers and trackers, as well as a visit from the much revered and genius machine that is the Flying Millyard; anyone like the idea of an airplane engine in a motorcycle frame?
The bikes are surely outnumbered by the people though, and the atmosphere in the village is akin to a festival, which of course this is, only instead of music the sweet sound of an extended album’s worth of different engine types fills the air. Everyone behaves though, and despite the stereotypical presence of bikers clad in leather waistcoats and tattoos, this is a family affair and a place anybody can come to indulge in a love of motorcycles with thousands of other like-minded souls. But why Cassington? Well, since the original event some thirty years ago, it has simply snowballed in popularity, gained a momentum. Like any other popular attraction there are some events that just seem to get it right. Nowadays the sheer number of people attending each year creates its own attraction, but in days gone by who knows what caused this particular meet to cause such a stir.
For me though it is about much more than the motorcycles on display. There are any number of other bike nights happening across the length and breadth of the land at this time of the year, but the community and festival feeling created at Cassington is unlike any others that I’ve experienced. The crowds of people that line the streets, greeting the motorcycles as they arrive (and continue to arrive, well into he evening), is wonderfully diverse, and, in my eyes at least, appears to have remained largely unaffected by the outside world. The odd trade stand has sprung up, but generally this is still an evening about two things only: motorcycles and sharing. And under the azure skies and beating sun we enjoyed at this year’s edition, I will certainly drink to that.