Interview: Mark Wilsmore

Mark Wilsmore of the Ace Cafe
The Ace Cafe in northwest London is one of the most iconic biker hangouts in history—and the spiritual home of the original ‘cafe racer’ motorcycle. When the Ace closed its doors in 1969, it looked like this slice of motorcycling history was gone forever—until new owner Mark Wilsmore reopened the venue in 2001. Here’s a little more about Mark himself.

What was the first motorcycle you bought with your own money? I’d just turned 17, the legal age to be able to ride a bike up to 250cc. I bought a RD250 Yamaha on HP (Hire Purchase—credit, for those too young to remember!) A month or so later, the bike was wrecked and I was in hospital. The memory that sticks in my mind is that everybody in my hospital ward, with the exception of one old guy, were all of my age group. They were all in there for pretty much the same reason: a consequence of riding badly!

Yamaha RD250
What do you think is the most beautiful production motorcycle ever built? There are so many fantastic machines for us to choose from today, it’s hard to say. It all depends on the day, the mood and the circumstance. Bikes for me can be summed up with the expression ‘Horses for Courses’; for example I like to think I would enjoy touring at leisure on a Brough (below), and yet be equally as happy to loon around on a tricked out Gixer. But then, in between the two, I love the look and the riding of a Triumph Speed Triple.

Brough Superior
What motorcycle do you despise? Being allergic to tools and having no knowledge, bikes that I can’t get started or to run properly invariably cause me to at least overlook them or to ignore them entirely. The irony being that motors that grenade miles from home always provide material for great stories, after the event!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? At speed, with the sense of risk, which I understand produces adrenalin, for me is not only happiness, it is what it’s all about. Whether on a bicycle, go-kart or motorbike, it is through risk that some of us find joy and get to appreciate life and limb—or toast with melted Red Leicester cheese and Marmite!

Electric motorcycles: Yes or No? How fast, how does it handle and is it a thrill to ride are, for me the deciding factors, and if an electric motorcycle can deliver this, I will at least want to have a go, and if it’s good, it’s a yes.

What is your favorite journey? So many roads to travel and so little time! I have had the good fortune to be able to ride many different bikes and many different roads, in the UK, across Europe, USA and Japan, but the heavy traffic, cold wet weather, speed cameras, blind drivers and a multitude of other hazards which combined together are known as the North Circular Road, an at least twice daily challenge for my nerves and senses, from home to the cafe and back again takes some beating!

Which ‘everyday’ modern bikes do you think will become future classics? The equivalent of the Honda CB750 or Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, if you like? Technology has given rise to performance and reliability from bikes that is extraordinary, such that today’s riders are spoilt for choice. Notwithstanding the availability of a plethora of great machines, I like to think that the Speed Triples (custom example below) and the latest 675s from Triumph will come to be regarded as classics.

Triumph Speed Triple custom
Who are your real-life motorcycling heroes? I have a number of motorcycling heroes, each for differing reasons: T.E. Lawrence, Rollie Free, Mike Hailwood, Father Bill Shergold, Phil Read, Barry Sheene, Guy Martin and, of course John Bloor and Stuart Garner.

Are you optimistic for the future of motorcycling? With great new bikes coming from long established manufacturers, the development of alternative motors and fuels, together with the might of the emerging economy of India, Asia and South America bringing new and cheaper machines within the reach of a younger generation, globally the prospects for motorcycling seem to me to look pretty good, I just wish I was 17 again.

What is your current state of mind? Though readers will draw their own conclusions from the above, I’m sure that I am not the only one to find that with the passage of time, things seem to get confused—or is that confusing? I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m H.A.P.P.Y!