Malle Goes Grassroots
In collaboration with Stitches + Steel
It’s a gloomy, rain threatening Saturday morning in July. Hidden away in the grounds of a private country house in Kent the team at Malle are kicking of their fifth annual ‘Malle Mile’. Self described as the ‘inappropriate motorcycle race’ it’s kicked up a load of fuss (and dust) in it’s five years of fuel-filled fun. What started as a group of friends hooning around in a field has grown by the thousands, into a celebration of everything motorcycle. Think Coachella, actually no, think the complete opposite of Coachella and add two spoons of British ridiculousness. I pitched up with the crew from Stitches + Steel to have a snoop around and get amongst it at Mile No.5.
Founded in 2012 by cousins Robert Nightingale & Jonny Cazzola, Malle London wants to equip motorbikers and adventurers with better quality outdoor apparel. In 2014 they created ‘The Malle Mile’, a festival celebrating motorcycle culture. Following its success they launched ‘The Great Malle Rally’ in 2017, a one thousand mile road trip across the UK.
Driving past Kevington Hall you’d be forgiven for thinking nothing was out of the ordinary, yet in the fifty meters between the main road and the event, all hell breaks loose. Health and safety is out the window as the sounds and smells of moto-culture fill the air. As the rain clouds loomed we collected our passes and headed towards the ironically small ‘Metropolis’ exhibition area. It houses new technologies from the likes of English Electric alongside tents from some of the big names in retrofit biking such as Royal Enfield and Mutt. Visitors can rip around on new models, explore an exhibition, a film screening tent and a number of food and drink options. But we’ll gloss over those offerings, as interesting as they might be, because it’s really all about the racing.
Malle’s ethos for the Mile has been clear from the off, “everyone is invited to race anything on 2+ wheels and no one is expected to win”. It’s not the GP and it’s not the TT, it’s for those after a laugh who want to tear up some british countryside on the bike they’ve probably been hiding from their other half. If you were the kid that got on a bicycle and pretended to rev the handlebars, it’s probably for you. With two main fields in front of Kevington Hall, Malle has managed to cram in a tonne of inappropriate races with everything from the classic straight line sprint to their take on five-a-side football. They’re called races and technically it is a competition, but the charm The Mile brings is in its unpredictability. From garage tinkerers on modified scooters taking on full blown scramblers, to kids racing their parents, it all results in a mix of beautifully mismatched chaos. But as each race develops the pack is slowly whittled down, the riders better matched and the racing more enthralling.
It was the first year the course faced rain and as the dust was replaced by mud, the racing got that bit better still. Deep ruts lined the start line as wheels struggled to engage the ground and the course became more total wipeout than grass field. Umbrellas were out in force as the twangs of two-strokes echoed off the trees and things became even more British than they already were. No amount of rain could have distilled the energy around the grounds and as the light began to fade over the mile, Malle unveiled their ace of spades. The inaugural ‘Midnight Mile’, again ironically named, was held at 9pm and saw English Electric’s fleet of motorcycles charge up the hill climb stage. Suited in LED strewn race suits the riders climbed through illuminated smoke bombs in a scene that would have felt more at home in Blade Runner than the countryside. It was an exciting insight into the future of moto as the roar of engines was replaced by the electric hum of batteries and undeniable speed. Whether a die hard petrolhead or an electric convert you couldn’t deny the speed, nor spectacle of watching the lights streak up the hill through smoke.
As we drove away on sunday afternoon we wondered how a high-end London apparel company, who’s employees and volunteers don racing white boiler suits, had pulled off an event that embraced biking’s grassroot dirtbag scene so effectively. Maybe it was the proximity to the racing or the jovial commentary or the endless assault on the senses. Whatever it is, it has a raw authenticity events often lack. Malle has managed to capture the lawless thrill of racing with a touch of British nostalgia and as we left, so the dust settled on another year at the Mile.