Eye witness: To Hell on a Harley, via the cake stall queue

Hairy, mean, ugly? British bikers are born to be mild.
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The Independent Online

The Headhunter is a terrifying sight. The skulls are the first thing you notice about this huge black machine: half a dozen of them stare out blindly, blood oozing from where eyes used to be.

The Headhunter is a terrifying sight. The skulls are the first thing you notice about this huge black machine: half a dozen of them stare out blindly, blood oozing from where eyes used to be.

The trike, a motorcycle welded to the back end of a car, is like an apocalyptic image painted in therapy and given life in metal.

This hellish vehicle has been brought to a field at the side of the M20 in Kent for the Pissed Indian, one of the dozens of motorcycle rallies run in Britain during the summer. Here are the wild ones, the bearded bikers who will gather on seafronts next weekend to rev their engines and scare the bathers, though their old bank holiday rivals, the Mods, have long since dispersed.

The Hells Angels held their Bulldog Bash, the biggest gathering of them all, near Stratford-upon-Avon last week. But most bikers are not Angels, as they will quickly tell anyone who plucks up the courage to ask. The wider community of easy riders is easy going, and nobody is a better example of that than Sonny Wynne, owner of The Headhunter.

A hefty road warrior with a shaven head and outgrown goatee steps out of his tent, naked beer gut glistening in the sun as it spills over combat trousers. This turns out not to be Sonny. The next face to emerge from canvas looks like that of an aged Jesus with beard and mane. He offers a cool look from under the sort of flat Western hat favoured by Indian braves. But this is not Sonny either.

The man I am waiting for is wearing an absurd Australian bush hat with corks on it. The 63-year-old with a grey-ginger handlebar moustache manages an engineering company. Sonny hands a mug of black tea to his wife Wyn, who stirs it with a spanner.

''I suppose you've got to be slightly attention seeking to have a thing like this,'' says Sonny, who bought The Headhunter four years ago. Trikers do not have to wear a helmet so he can feel the wind in what little hair he has left.

"I got to 59 and thought, 'I'm getting a bit long in the tooth for two wheels', he says. "People treat The Headhunter with respect.'' That may be something to do with the fake shotgun strapped to its side. Sonny took it off for a recent rally in Denmark, where rivalry between Hells Angels chapters has led to the killing of 26 people in the past decade. "That's a different world. They're all gangsters over there.''

The Danes might not take The Headhunter for the wildly over-the-top joke it is supposed to be. And that's the secret of most British bikers: the wilder they look, the more cuddly they are likely to be. There are Hells Angels chapters in this country but most of the men and women you see riding customised bikes and dressed in patched leather are members of far milder motorcycling clubs.

"Clouseau" is chairman of an Essex club called Kautari, "a Saxon word for a friendship kin''. He also runs a pathology unit. "I couldn't walk around a private hospital looking like some of these guys do,'' says the 39-year-old who is topless in the sunshine apart from a canvas waistcoat covered in rally badges. His son William, four, is playing with a box of plastic bricks outside their tent. "Here you've got no idea what people do for a living. It doesn't matter. I would not trust anyone with my kids more than I do the people in this field.''

The event is organised by the Renegades motorcycle club, which has 34 members in Kent and 15 in Hertfordshire. There are about a million people with motorcycles in Britain – more than ever before – but it takes a special sort of dedication to join a club like this.

You've got to have the right bike, the right look, and the right attitude. "You can't just turn up and pay,'' says Mad Dog, their chairman. "It take six months of getting to know us at least. We're like brothers and sisters. You have to be accepted by the membership to get in.''

Mad Dog is a portly and mild gentleman of a certain age, with a long salt and pepper beard. His work is in computer management. Most of the bikers at the Pissed Indian are middle-aged. "A number of people who were riding in the Seventies are coming back,'' he says. "Their mortgages may be paid up, their children have left home, and they have a bit more spare money for themselves.''

Those who once wished to live fast and die young are now more likely to worry about their pensions.

The proceeds from the Pissed Indian go to the Museum of Kent Rural Life – where the event is held – the local Red Cross branch and the county's paramedic service.

"We work in collaboration with the local authority, police and the fire brigade,'' says Mad Dog. "Nobody of the site crew is allowed to drink during the event. We try to position the music so no residents are affected. There is no harm in what we do.''

Bikers love to think they are rebels but most of those at the Pissed Indian will be back at work tomorrow. The cake stall is almost as popular as the bar. The most obvious act of collective rebellion is the group of greasy rockers dancing to a Madness tribute band when they know outsiders think they should be listening to Steppenwolf.

"If you want a request, either shout very loud, send us a text message or get your tits out and I'll come and chat to you,'' says the defiantly un-PC DJ. Nobody does, of course. They know he's just having a laugh.