Blasting around in packs, a blur of black leather and shiny chrome, London’s Ton Up Boys’ dark and dangerous brand of glamour was inspired by British motorcycle racing heroes, WWII Spitfire pilots and Hollywood bikers. Dubbed by the sensationalist media for their nocturnal obsession with “cracking the ton” (100mph), they were also known as Café Racers, Coffee Bar Cowboys and later – most famously – Rockers.
Ton Up! is the story of the most influential teen cult most people have never heard of. Ton Up Boys kicked the door open for the swinging sixties, inspired the British Invasion and were the template for Punk. They were the first generation of British working-class youth to reject the roles society had planned for them. And they never really went away.
The first Ton Up Boys – and Girls – roared out of post-war deprivation into the Modern age on the world’s fastest motorcycles (British!), before speed limits and helmet laws, even before ordinary people had cars. Brand new roads made perfect racetracks and the ultra-modern transport cafes which dotted them great all-night hangouts – or at least pit stops for dancing to the incendiary new sounds of rock ‘n’ roll on the jukebox.
Fifty-plus years on, the original Ton Uppers are reaching the end of their ride, on a crumbling, gridlocked road network rife with speed cameras. The bikes they thrashed between now-closed cafes are increasingly the preserve of wealthy collectors or museum pieces. Creeping European Union regulations threaten the very existence of motorcycling in England.
Yet the spirit survives. Waves of Rockers Reunions have united originals with younger enthusiasts. The iconic, reopened Ace Café is a hub, where friends of fifty-plus years welcome Rocker pilgrims from around the world into the fold. Runs (rides) around the country draw healthy numbers through social networking. Rockers vs. Mods events thrive throughout Europe, North America, Australia and Japan.
Combining observational documentary with 60s films, newsreels, home movies, stills and animation Ton Up! is their story – a story of rebellion and resilience, individualism and camaraderie, of lives ended and others saved through this unique culture of motorcycling.