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Motorcycles on Westgate Road - The Hill

Content from Motorcycle magazine - date unknown, appox 1984

Newcastle Hill- On any Saturday

...the action in Newcastle shifts to one street where all the city’s bike shops are concentrated, known to everyone as the Hill

THE BEST show in Newcastle is absolutely free. Rain or shine, every Saturday finds Westgate Road - also known as Westgate Hill or simply the Hill - awash with bikes, biker! and spectators. Along the steeply rising straight, a stone's throw from the centre of the city the noise is deafening, the action fast and furious.

Old Westgate Road

While rows of kids wearing Doc Martens and donkey jackets sit in impassive rows on decaying stone walls, someone on a 350LC pulls a wheelie downhill on the wet tarmac. In the window of Harry Wood's showroom, they stand sipping automat coffee waiting for something to happen. It frequently does.

Last autumn they went too far even the apparent relaxed Northumbria police blocking off a whole section of the Hill to other traffic, the lads let through only those competing in an impromptu Westgate Hill drag race that must have made Santa Pod look as exciting as Scalextric. We missed that bit of fun, but not the inevitable reaction. For weeks afterwards the police saturated the Hill with men and mobiles every Saturday.

Police BMW, purred past rows of vacant faces. A few people were busted and a lot more were moved along, cautioned, cajoled and generally leant upon. Now that the heat's off, Westgate Hill is returning to normal : bad craziness every Saturday.

Watching on Westgate Hill, Newcastle

Part of the audience dreams about wheelies down the Hill on his own 350LC

What draws motorcyclists to Newcastle and the Hill is a unique concentration of motorcycle shops. Apart from the odd cafe, hairdresser porno cinema and dirty book shop the Hill is dominated by - at the last count - 11 firms providing bikes, spares and clothing. They come from a huge catchment area to buy and gawp among the shops which make up a microcosm of the British motorcycle trade. You'll meet people from Glasgow and Edinburgh, Cumbria Cleveland and Yorkshire. For so many things they need, it's simply where it's at.

Westgate Road Motorcycles

The audience are not impressed. This man is not going to pull a wheelie

Ron Aitcheson of Kawasaki Newcastle on the Hill explained how it all happened. Years ago, the Scotswood Road used to be the place to be, although Harry Woods - oldest and most respected of the Hill's motorcycle emporia - was up the Westgate road.

Premises of vast proportions could be picked up at low rents and the city planners made it very difficult for you to open up elsewhere. Once the Hill gained a few big dealers, the smaller ones simply moved in to catch the crowds.

The latest one do so is Hunter's Motorcycle Breakers, whole had a shop in a tough area of city called Byker for over two years. Since the bulk of legal parking for the Hill is situated in Blandfold street, just off the Hill, that's where they set up.

Motorcycle crowd on westgate road

Three north-eastern MCPs torn between lust and disgust at the sight of a woman on a 55GLTD. Looks a canny lass. Hey, Pet ower 'ere

While the breaking goes on in Byker, l7 year-old Alan Hunter attempts to undercut everyone on the Hill on tyres, oil, plugs, helmets, exhausts, big-bore kits and Geordie backchat. 'it's sound up here’ he maintains. AII the bikes park here. You gotta park here We’re in just the right place. What we do is if people come in here and they've been quoted anywhere up the Hill, we'll do 'em cheaper.

Actually, that's what everyone says on the Hill. What they’re selling you is always the Cheapest on the Hill. If your boots can take the quarter-mile of pavement between the traffic Iights you can arrive at the best deal pretty quickly. In the process you get a rapid language course.

Forget all those beer-swilling pitmen in cloth caps out exercising their whippets and calling each other 'geordie' and 'bonnie lad'. But look out for howay mon' (get away with you old chap) and 'aw divert noa' (haven't the faintest my dear fellow) The local patois can sometimes prove impenetrable as exploited by Newcastle Breweries in their 'gannifeiabrune?' poster ads, but it emphasizes regional pride in a canny toon. Car drivers with 'divent dunshus' stickers in the rear window are merely requesting you to avoid an impact situation. lf Alan Hunter probably boasts few admirers among the other traders on the Hill, the firm that drew most fire in the past was Burnspeed, whose discount prices on new models drew custom from as far south as Essex. Ron Aitcheson and Kawasaki Newcastle who occupy large premises well down the Hill, simply observed that Burrnspeed's price-cutting had ruined trade on the Hill for two years. The firm's three shops have contracted to one now, whose Window bears the sign 'The Karthouse Darlingtpn Ltd trading as Burnspeed'.

The animosity expressed towards discounter is reflected in the tales of £48 helmets on which the profit margin was a princely £3.20 and the glee which apparently greeted the sudden move of a reputed £80,000's worth of motorcycles from one side of the Hill to the other. The selling is slow on the Hill these days and Kawasaki Newcastle like many more motorcycle firms - has diversified into BMX bicycles.

With a purpose-built track across the Tyne at Windy Nook in Gateshead, it looks like a smart move. So many kids got BMX irons last Christmas that if you don't run a BMxer down on the road, chances are they'll have you on a pavement.

In their hatred of discounters and search for profits in other fields, firms on the Hill just reflect what's going on elsewhere in the motorcycle trade. But because 11 companies are packed in, crankcase to crankcase, to such a small area, they watch each other much more closely. Most of the obvious slots in the trade have been filled. There's Custom Competition Motorcycles if you want to go off-road, or Armstrong Racing Developments for budding race aces. Rite Bike are the major secondhand dealer, with Graham and Murray Craggs happily out of the mainstream with Classic Motorcycles Ltd.

Twenty-six-year-old Graham and his father occupy the old MGM cinema building on the Hill. Set in the front window is a stained glass panel which bears the words 'Ars Gratia Artis' and the MGM lion. Upstairs you walk through a doorway ornate enough to admit Douglas Fairbanks swinging from a chandelier.

What greets you is indeed an odd combination. A 1960s 350cc BSA 840 in the process of being rebuilt, a 1937 Royal Enfield KX V-twin of 1146cc and a Matchless Silvery Hawk V4. The Craggs have been in business here for a little over two years. Graham and his brother have been rebuilding and renovating since they we're barely teenagers and the shop offers a mixture of new and used spares for British iron as well as complete machines such as Triumph twins, Commandos and the odd BSA A10. A fair smattering of custom stuff leavens the Iump.

A Classic Motorcycles restoration isn't the sort of super-original job that commands such a high price down south. But then £500 for a clean and complete 650cc BSA twin isn't exactly the earth. Their nearest rivals can be found just over the Tyne Bridge in Gateshead and Murray Craggs, observes that they survive on repainting and renovating'. Stacks of tea chests contain a fair stock of spares, however, and Graham has other diversions to keep him happy.

Pointing at a mud-|encrusted Triumph twin in one corner he said ' I've got a hill climber here I just knocked up out of parts. But this is no ordinary hill-climbing, sanctioned by the ACU and held on the drive of some country house.

‘It’s pit heap hill-climbing,' explained Graham. 'No competition in the thing. We just aim it at the heap and give it a handful. At Weekends we go out and give it a thrash. A few of my mates go too. You get absolutely filthy, but we take a crate of beer along and something to eat and stay there all day.

His father reckons that part of the Hill's attraction is the fact that motorcyclists from hundreds of miles away care make a day of it in Newcastle. There's the Hill for buying spares and sheer spectator value, and then some of the biker pubs drop around the Haymarket. Sure enough, Saturday night in Newcastle can be quite entertaining. Shortly after the pubs close there seems to be a fight on every street corner, with dark blue vans cruising for custom.

Across the road from Classic Motorcycles, another slice of the market has been taken over by Dave Roger if Custom Lids. Once a big wheel within importers Euro Helmets he now offers custom painted crash helmets to match your machine or mood.

The GPz model is especially slick – As well as leather jackets boots and rain gear. He'II even paint your jacket to match the lid. Dave's salesmanship is just as much in evidence today as it was when he was persuading dealers to stock up with Kiwi's latest, but slightly at odds with the approach you find at the smaller shops oh the Hill. I've been treated to the Classic: 'Nah haven't got any of those. Keep being asked for 'em, mind, Must get some in sometime’.

Hunters Motorcycles Westgate Road

Alan Hunter of Hunters Motorcycle breakers: a fast-talking, street-wise 17 year -old. 'Cheapest on the Hill...'

So all sorts and conditions of dealer, some more wide awake than others, make a living on the Hill. And other forms of life have adapted to fulfill a need and make an honest quid or two.

Inside the cafe half way up the Hill, an ancient Seeburg jukebox pumps out sounds to set the old posters of Barry Sheene flapping. You can dine on a stottie hamburger, a stottie being a sort of overgrown bread bun the size of a Ioaf . Or there's a bacon bun with black pudding and onions for the very daring. Ads for the sex shops that have moved round the corner offer £1 discounts and a Honda XL185 offered for sale is described as possesing 'Good tyres and all that crap The MAG heavy rock disco at the Esplanade Rock Club in Whitley Bay sounds promising.

In fact the Hill's visitors and workers manage to support a fish and chip shop as well as a curious hybrid of newsagency and takeway. This is where the sandwiches and hot pasties rub shoulders with windows full of machines for sale, bike magazines and publications apparently aimed at amateur gynecologists.

Malcolm Rendall explained the strange mixture in terms of what the public wants which happens to include food and 50 copies of bike a month. ‘We mainly just cater for the lads’ he said. Anyone who wants to buy a bike knows Westgate Hill and knows the shop. They all use it. The lads can sell their bikes more easily through the window than they can through the Chronicle. At 30p a week for a card itemising the astonishing virtues of your old heap, that must be true. In summer we just can't cope says Malcolm Rendall.

Yet for all his interest and the bulging showroom at Kens Motor Cycles - shops on each side of the Hill - the area looks squalid and run-down. Many of the shops which front tall Georgian buildings are empty and derelict and most seem to have been secondhand swap shops anyway. There's talk of a new road Which may plough through Westgate Road… tbc