Ashley Watson: Motorcycles

12/12/2017

If you’re into custom bikes, you’ll know about The Bike Shed. It’s a place in Shoreditch, tucked away under the arches with a constant stream of loud, modified bikes coming in off the road and gunning their engines right into the forecourt. Café racers, scramblers, brat bikes, trackers, boxers, bobbers – they all hang out here. I was there back in July for the launch of the Ashley Watson Eversholt Jacket. I caught up with him over a beer to speak about bikes, his solo motorcycle trip across Europe in the summer of 2016, and how he launched one of the most exciting new motorcycle brands in London.

Ashley Watson: Motorcycles

“Bikes weren’t really on my radar when I was growing up. It was all about sports bikes and riders dressed in multi-coloured leathers, like sweet wrappers. It wasn’t until I went travelling in my early twenties to South East Asia and India that I discovered you could hire a bike and find all these amazing places,” Ashley explained. It was only later on that he found out his Great Grandfather rode one of the first Triumph models ever made and won several prestigious medals for long-distance racing.

“It’s never been about speed. I did a lot of sailing when I was younger. There was this idea that if you have the equipment and the wind, then you can point your boat in any direction. On land, the motorcycle is the equivalent of this.” We spoke about famous riders who have done overland expeditions. “I think it was Ted Simon who said that, on a motorbike, you don’t have any barriers and you feel everything. You can sense changes in temperature and moisture that you can’t feel in a car. Sometimes this is incredible, and other times it’s not what you what.”

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“There aren’t many bikes that look like mine around, especially when you visit more remote places. I was experiencing much more, meeting people all the time because of that. I haven’t found another way of travelling that’s quite like a motorcycle.”

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His own bike was propped up next to us, taking centre stage in the shop area towards the back of The Bike Shed. “It’s a Kawasaki W650 with a twin cylinder air-cooled engine, so it’s mechanically simple,” Ashley said, as we circled the bike. “We modified it using found parts that we liked. The headlight is made by King of the Road. The speedo is from a 1930’s Morgan, and the tank is from a ‘60s Bonneville. It’s designed to have a single seat, but then there are these panniers that can bolt to either side. They used to hold old military jerry cans. So it’s a lightweight bike for around town, but also a bike that I just rode 4,000 miles on.”

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Photographs from Ashley’s trip hang on the walls around us. He set off to Europe last summer. He didn’t have a Sat Nav – just three maps of France, Spain and Portugal that he bought from the map shop in Covent Garden. “Have you ever heard of Motorcycle Diaries?” he asked me. “It’s an amazing resource and community. People from all over Europe upload the best bike roads. It’s an amazing way to find new places. I used this to plan a rough route with a pen, so I knew certain areas would be good. I also marked down areas for wild swimming. These are generally big lakes and lovely rivers, which are ideal places to camp out for the night.”

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“It was so hot in the middle of Spain. Every time I stopped, I would find shade and soak my neck scarf in cold water, then wrap it around my neck. Within 15 minutes it would be bone dry again. It was like riding with a hairdryer in my face. I took a chair with me on the back of the bike. At the end of a day of riding, it’s just the best feeling in the world to relax and enjoy the view. I also carried a penknife from a company in Sheffield called Arthur Wright and Sons. There’s so much bread and cheese and salamis, that it was useful to carry this in my pocket.”

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The purpose of his trip was to pick up an early design of the Eversholt Jacket from a workshop in Portugal. The jacket received a lot of attention since its launch as a technical and very functional motorcycle jacket that you can also wear around town. “This is probably one of the only real industries where the way something works is given more importance to how it looks. Before the Eversholt, you could buy a jacket that was functional, but it was either synthetic or a shadow of what’s been before. I wanted to create something that didn’t look like a motorcycle jacket. It’s like skiing – ski gear looks alright on the mountain, but it’s weird everywhere else.”

“I’m interested in using technical fabrics in a way that you would want to wear,” Ashley continued. He was previously a designer at Ted Baker, and I was keen to learn about his influences. “There are loads of nameless designers at the beginning of the 20th century who designed flying suits for pilots and that sort of thing. As motorcycles came on the scene and people started going faster, they used creativity to approach problems that had never been faced before. I like how the challenges in designing motorcycle clothing are black and white. There’s a kind of purity, and a lot of menswear has come from that.”

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“My mum used to tell me that if you don’t succeed, then try, try, try again. That’s definitely something I needed to do over the last two years. It’s been hard and there have been many obstacles. Sometimes I look at what everyone else is doing, and I question whether this is right. But I try not to look sideways too much and I just focus on my own thing. Everything else falls into place. The other piece of advice someone once gave me was not to squeeze the front brake when going off-road. But he told me too late.”

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Since we first met, I’ve watched Ashley create a motorcycle brand that people have really warmed to. I advised him to continue writing his own copy for as long as possible ­– there’s something about his style that I like, especially his travel journals. I asked him whether writing is something that comes easily to him. I was surprised when he told me that he is dyslexic. “I’ve always found writing difficult. The change came when I was asked to write a Q&A interview for a magazine. The questions they asked made me reflect on what I was doing, so what I wrote was honest and had purpose. The article actually changed the direction of the Ashley Watson brand.”

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His travel journals and writings are now a big part of his website, along with influences and people involved in the motorcycle scene. We had spoken about travel books in the past and we have read some of the same authors, but there’s one book I hadn’t come across. “It’s called Running with the Moon,” Ashley said. “It’s about a guy who lost his partner. She died in India. He is later riding his motorbike to Cape Town and, after a few days, he decides to take a more unusual route. The book is about him making his way through places where you shouldn’t be able to travel. It’s a motorcycle adventure, but it also links back to his past, so it doesn’t feel like a linear narrative.”

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The cold weather is keeping him close to home right now, but Ashley is planning another ambitious motorcycle trip for early next year. We’re also busy working on a collaboration that brings together two things we both love: motorcycles and words. I can’t wait. He has incredible talent as a designer and is an amazing person to know. I believe he is building something special – and it comes from the heart.

www.ashleywatson.co.uk

 

Written by independent copywriter, Seth Rowden. Find out more here.

Posted by: Seth Rowden

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