THE FIRST THING you see as you walk into the Iron Horsemen MC’s Melbourne clubhouse, poised above your head in all its glory, is a 1950s Royal Enfield. All restored and fully functional, it was a desirable bike in its heyday, comparable in performance to the original Triumph Speed Twin, and featuring a neutral selecting device unique to Royal Enfields — you could pull the clutch in with your hand, use your heel to kick a little lever and it would automatically go into neutral. Like the club that houses it, this bike has pedigree.
There’s a corrugated iron ceiling, a wood stove, sofas and armchairs, concrete and chunky wood flooring. Everything’s functional, nothing’s fragile. There’s pictures on the walls, and memorabilia stretching back to the club’s early days, even original colours sewn by a member’s mother back in 1969. There’s a cage of leering animal skulls, an 8-ball table complete with club colours, and the giant TV to the side of the bar showing a motorbike show. There’s rock ‘n’ roll playing and you find yourself smiling.
This part of Melbourne’s always been home to motorcycle types, with the Iron Horsemen starting their days at a pub in nearby Kew before moving on to Fairfield and eventually settling here in West Heidelberg. There’s a few other well established clubs within 15 minutes hard riding, and relations are cordial.
A number of neighbouring businesses made their carparks freely available for entrants to display their machines, although one not too far away apparently needed a $1000 cash deposit before it could be used just as a carpark! No telling what damage might be done to an unsupervised carpark, I suppose, so it’s probably best to play it safe.
Out in front of the clubhouse were a few stalls, including Feral Frog who generously sponsored the show and who proudly claim to sell 90 percent of their goodies — clothing, pipes and so on — below the recommended price. Nearby was a neatly constructed and very solid portable burnout pad, and all along the street were bikes, bikes and bikes. Choppers, bobbers, all manner of customs, a good sprinkling of new Triumphs, a 2003 Indian, and more classic British bikes than I’ve seen in a long time. There was an early ’60s Triumph racer right at the entrance, a very tidy burgundy BSA Rocket Three, and a utilitarian looking Commando with high-rise bars and NOS.
Bendigo Custom Cycles and Pega Custom Cycles were both responsible for some marvellous machinery, and there were any number of entrants who could have easily and deservedly taken prizes — the judges’ task was far from easy.
A couple of one-off Jap street bikes drew attention, for a while at least, from the Harleys, but one Japper in particular stood out. It was one of those bikes that have a Mad Max, post Apocalypse sort of look to it. Handcrafted, spray-can black, with a four-cylinder V Max motor, four fishtail pipes weaving through the frame and behind the Suzuki shockers, sporting a fire-poker suicide shift and a truck headlight. Dunno where Mick and John get their ideas from but this was one distinctive custom that fully deserved its (Best Japanese) trophy.
The burnout pad got a workout once Razz took his yellow Fat Boy up. It seems that it’s his habit to start off the competition with an intimidating display of smoke and noise, then take the bike home, only to return to party on without the responsibility of having to ride it home later when he might be a bit, err, tired. A number of enthusiastic rivals then had their turns on the burnout pad, including Micro from God’s Squad who did remarkably well with his suicide shift.
Einstein’s Toyboys kept the music going with a verve that demonstrates why they’ve become so popular on the bike circuit, and their stamina in playing for hours on end was something to admire.
The Immortals and Satan’s Soldiers took the opportunity to invite people to their upcoming events, and the atmosphere just got better and better as the wet T-shirt competition developed while we ate the barbecue and crowded round the busy topless (and later bottomless) barmaids.
Of course, an atmosphere’s only as good as the hosts allow it to be, and this is an area where the Iron Horsemen excel. They’re a traditional MC with a strong bond between the members that shows how they’ve stayed together for so long. A few members aren’t as fit as they once were — one’s using a gofer and another’s using occasional oxygen — but they’re still there and still part of it all.
Among the more robust, Fang has been a member for 36 years, and there was talk of an original member — from 1969 — who’d returned after some time away. There are three father/son combinations, and a couple of nephews. Spitz can count off nine members he knew at school or in the Army, and there’s bound to be other examples, but you get the idea.
All this means that as a visitor you’re privileged to be entering a big, close family whose members genuinely enjoy each other’s company. Everyone has a role on the day beyond their normal club role: Meeter and Greeter (lots of them!), Chef, MC, Burnout Organiser, Bar Supervisor, all conducted with patience and good humour. You’ll meet a lot of blokes who you don’t know, initially at least, but who look familiar with their goatees, tattoos and club insignia, and who are soon familiar enough to share a rowdy bout of drinking with you. And you’ll have a ball.
I went to the Iron Horsemen clubhouse, 800 km from home, for the first time the night before this show. My flash wouldn’t work, and although this wasn’t as bad as it could have been, with one camera having a pop-up flash, AJ wasn’t content to just give me the directions to the nearest decent camera shop — he took the time to drive me there himself, as a courtesy to a guest.
People often say that MC members put on their best behaviour for these occasions and it’s not necessarily representative of their true nature, but I’ve never really believed that. I think they’re behaving exactly the way they want to behave, without ulterior motives: they’re man enough to not feel the need to indulge in any bad ass posturing or — just as bad — any game-show host type of overdone fake friendliness. They know who they are and they’re comfortable with that knowledge.
When a club’s working well, like this, it’s a great way to live: for those who want to step outside the constraints of mainstream society there couldn’t be a much better way to go.
Words & pics by Chris Randells