By 1969, however, that innocence had disappeared; drug addicts had taken over, an era was at an end, and the cafe was closed. To mark the closure's 25th anniversary, bikers from around the country (and some from overseas) yesterday put on their leathers again and returned to the scene.
Much has changed. The cafe, an ordinary enough looking building then to the uninitiated but magical to those under its thrall, is now a warehouse piled high with tyres. A bathetic end to one of the most talked about centres of London life at that time.
But the memories remain. As thousands of bikers paid their respects, the talk was of the good old days - the victory over the truckers (who never again dared show their faces at the cafe after dawn); the challenge of racing your bike along the North Circular to the Hanger Lane roundabout and back to the cafe before the record on the jukebox came to an end; the endless games of pinball, the helmets lovingly perched on the shelf, the pies and chips and mugs of tea.
And then there were the sad moments, the numerous deaths of bikers for whom the Hanger Lane challenge proved too much. But then that was part of the lure of the place: it was fraught with danger and irresponsibility, but there was a sense of purpose, and a code of honour too. They remembered how they used to carry blood for the hospitals, how they acted as outriders for lorry drivers who got themselves lost, and how they made sure that the only people they harmed were themselves. If the cafe was open today, the bikers' behaviour would no doubt have been deplored. But it isn't, so there was nothing but applause.
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