Huge gallery: Hells Angels annual Poppy Day Run

(gallery)--Cape Town - More than 300 riders on an astonishing variety of machines, from mainstream 1970s muscle-bikes to futuristic electric scooters, turned out on Saturday 11 November for the Hells Angels’ annual Poppy Day Run – a memorial to those who have laid down their lives over the past century in global and smaller conflicts, fighting for the freedom we take for granted.

And even more so, for those who came back broken, inside and out. For all too often we lose sight of the fact that the early motorcycle clubs were formed by American servicemen returning from the Second World War who just couldn’t settle down. Today we call it Post Traumatic Shock Disorder; in the late 1940s they were called ‘outlaw bikers’ – a badge they wore with somewhat bitter pride.

Not even heavy morning mist could discourage the riders as they formed up by the hundreds outside the Hells Angels clubhouse in Brooklyn for the mass ride to the Fort Wynyard military museum in Mouille Point – although it lent an extra bit of atmosphere as the bikes rumbled in out of the greyness.

This year’s Poppy Day Run was dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Cuito Canavale campaign in Angola, scene of the largest tank battle on the African continent since Rommel and Montgomery clashed at El Alamein in 1942 - and to the young people on both sides who died fighting a futile surrogate war between East and West, less than five years before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Music, beer and bikes

But this was also a memorial by bikers, for bikers, so after the pipes and drums of the Cape Garrison Artillery had wailed their tribute to the fallen, the wreaths had been laid by serving and former soldiers and the trumpets had sounded the lonely, drawn-out notes of the Last Post, it was time for strong-man games, beer, music, beer – and the Biker Build-Off auction.

Three custom motorcycle shops - Anvl Kraft, Stoos Customs and Wrench Monkey - had been challenged to spend no more than R80 000 (not counting labour!) and 100 days on a custom build in the spirit of Cuito Canavale. The resulting two-wheeled works of art were on display at Fort Wynyard and everybody attending the Poppy Day Run was handed a token at the gate and asked to place it the box in front of the machine they felt best fulfilled the brief.

And as good as the other two were, the 1200cc Harley Sportster-based street-fighter by Alex Stoos, finished in smooth-as-silk battleship grey with upside-down forks in custom yokes, hand-made aluminium engine and air-cleaner covers and entirely handmade monoshock linkage and swingarm, was the standout winner of the Build-Off trophy.

Stoos Customs Harley Sportster-based Street-fighter. Picture: Dave Abrahams

Wrench Monkey’s Honda Shadow build had been sold by private treaty before the judging, and Anvl Kraft’s military-badged bobber, built around a Yamaha XT500 single bored to 650cc, fetched no more than R40 000, but the Stoos Customs Sportster became the subject of a bidding war between two riders and a telephone bidder, egged on by auctioneer Stavro Michel of rock band Tuxedo, that stretched slowly to an eye-opening R155 000.

And of course, everything above the R80 000 that Stoos had spent on it went to the South African Cape Corps Military Veterans Association, to help it carry out its duties in terms of the Military Veterans Act of uniting ex-soldiers of the Cape Corps and ensuring they are registered on the national database, to enjoy the benefits they’ve earned – as well as the more than R12 000 collected on the day, almost half of which came from a single club, the Hoodlums.

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