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Collection Inspiration: Ton-Up

Discover the style and culture of the '60s bikers who laid the foundations of contemporary high-speed moto racing, and inspired the latest Autumn '15 menswear collection.

Riders of 'Club 59' in London. Credit: LE TELLIER Philippe/Contributor
Riders of 'Club 59' in London. Credit: LE TELLIER Philippe/Contributor

Many a modern superbike will effortlessly whisk its rider towards 200mph and do so without shaking itself to bits - and if you want to ride one through city traffic at 10mph without feeling it's trying to escape from you, there will be no problem with that, either.

Such performance and reliability would have seemed impossible 50-odd years ago, when achieving ultimate kudos rested on one thing and one thing only: coaxing your motorcycle to 100mph, otherwise known as 'the ton', without it spitting you off or rattling itself to pieces.

Nowadays, even an entry-level car can manage three-figures, but back in the day such outlandish velocity on two wheels was largely attainable only by all-out race bikes - and the home-tuned Triumph, Norton and BSA specials that were lovingly tweaked, fettled and nursed by the leather- and waxed cotton-clad daredevils of the rocker era.

No one is sure of the exact origin of 'doing the ton', but it probably came from the language of the dockyard, where 100 cubic feet of cargo was a 'register ton'. Who knows, but the relatively empty roads of Britain were often good places to hit it, especially on a highly charged ride-out amid a pack of other bikes, their bell mouth carburettors sucking in air and their megaphone exhausts barking out loud.

British bikers on the road. Credit: Terrence Spencer/The LIFE Images Collectino/Getty Images
British bikers on the road. Credit: Terrence Spencer/The LIFE Images Collectino/Getty Images

Maybe you'd be on a run to Box Hill, the Surrey beauty spot with a serpentine ascent that tested the handling of the bikes and the guts of the riders who rode up it as fast as they dared; or perhaps you'd be heading for the coast, hoping for some 'action' with the Mods - or, if you lived in the heart of England during the late '60s, there's a good chance you'd try for the ton on a high-speed trip to the futuristic Leicester Forest East service station on the smooth and tempting Tarmac of the still-novel M1 motorway.

But wherever a rider headed to and wherever he came from, his 'look' was invariably as important as the machine on which he arrived - and that meant wearing the right jacket, the right boots and the right leathers.

And it's that quintessential 'ton-up-style' that inspired the pieces in Belstaff's new autumn/winter collections, which major on hard-wearing leatherware, waxed cottons and natural fabrics with a café-racer twist. The Burnell jacket and Duffield sweater for example, are heightened with chequered-flag patterning that speak of '60s speed demons, while the era's muted monochromes are echoed in the black and grey Cairnwell jacket.

Hardened winter riders will appreciate the luxury of shearling to be found in jackets such as the Fraser and the Reynolds, and a range of accessories from ribbed knit scarves and leather gloves, reminiscent of the military surplus gear worn by the ton-up boys to keep them warm on the road.

Just add petrol, speed and tea and you'll think you've gone back to where it all began. And at 100 mph, too.

Simon de Burton writes for the Financial Times, The Telegraph and The Spectator

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