BMF co-founder Ken Wells on his love of motorcycling
BMF co-founder Ken Wells discusses his lifelong passion for two wheels and how riding culture has changed throughout the years.
Words: Robert Drane. Photos: Simon Finlay.
Ken Wells perches on his armchair with a cheeky grin, amused by the arrival of Motorcycle Rider. “Why would you be interested in me?” he remarks.
Ken is one of the few people who were behind the creation of the BMF. He has also been the organiser of many motorcycle gatherings and charity events, a passionate riders’ rights advocate, ex-Blood Biker and retired engineer. Ken’s home is filled with decades of motorcycle memorabilia – from cast iron models to awards – each well deserved and with its own story. We caught up with Ken to find out what’s been the driving force behind his lifelong love of motorcycling.
“It’s a lifestyle,” explains Ken. “You cannot go anywhere without making friends.”
Having been an influential figure throughout the motorcycle community, Ken has connections all over the world and is proud to call many of them close friends. He was one of the founders of the British Motorcyclists Federation and has spent much of his life representing motorcyclists at public committees, running nationwide clubs and organising charity events. But where did it all begin?
“I had a rather strict father – I didn’t get on with him at all, so I took up cycling,” Ken explains. “I went touring, I did road racing and I belonged to the British League of Racing Cyclists. I was determined to get a motorbike but my father tried to give me an old car. I wasn’t interested.”
When he was called up to the RAF, Ken got his first taste of independence away from his father. He was stationed at Syerston, near Newark, and all the while the thought of getting a motorcycle never left his mind.
“While we were in Newark one night, I met this lady and we started courting. Then, of course, I got demobbed.” Ken suddenly found himself having to travel between Loughborough and Newark to visit her – on his pushbike. “I didn’t mind cycling it,” he admits, “but it took time. It was 30-odd miles from where I lived, so I bought a Royal Enfield Model G. It cost me 30 quid.”
So began a lifelong relationship with motorcycles and his wife-to-be, Margaret. The pair travelled the country on his bike and Ken made many friends through the kindness of the fellow riders and – being a professional engineer – the technical advice he freely gave to others.
When the Royal Enfield eventually packed up he replaced it with a Matchless G3. “That was a heap of junk,” he complains. “So Margaret told me that I should get a better bike.” Ken looked to his friends for a different motorcycle and one of them had just opened a new dealership in Newark.
“Margaret and I put all our money together and bought a Velocette MSS brand new. We went all over the country on that.” Ken speaks with the same glee as if he had only bought it yesterday. “That was the first new bike my friend sold. I think he knew what he was doing as about six of my mates bought one each after me!”
Behind the BMF
Ken was the BMW Club’s Secretary and the Leicester Southfields MCC Chairman when the Mods and Rockers incidents began.
“Oh, the papers were full of it! They were making mincemeat of us,” exclaims Ken. “Hugh Palin [Motorcycle Industry Association President 1978-1979] went down to interview the chief constable who reckoned that out of the people who were arrested, just one had a scooter, which he’d received for his birthday. All the others had gone down by car or train or bus. There wasn’t one true motorcycle or scooter rider involved.”
That was when Ken realised something urgently needed to be done to prevent the media further tarnishing the image of motorcyclists.
“I was talking to two chaps – Harold Booty and Jack Wiley – about doing something and they said the thing to do was to get hold of the national motorcycle clubs.”
As secretary of the BMW Motorcycle Club, Ken held a certain amount of influence over those running other national motorcycle clubs. He, Jack and Harold encouraged many of the UK’s largest clubs to come together and fight the negative effect of the press.
“We ended up sitting on the racetrack in the middle of Mallory Park having a meeting. We decided it would be a good idea to form an organisation to fight the press and Harold said it should be called the Fellowship of National and One-Make Motorcycle Clubs.”
However, Ken felt the group needed to evolve. “I said that, because it was for the national and one-make motorcycle clubs, we’d be keeping out all the individual members and the little clubs.
“It eventually sunk into the national committee that what I said was true. So they had to change the name, and they changed it to the British Motorcyclists Federation.”
Making a difference
Ken has been involved with the BMF in many different capacities throughout the years – including as an instructor and examiner, plus representing motorcyclists’ views in Leicestershire.
“At one stage I was on nearly every crime and road safety committee around the area,” he says, proud of the significant work he has achieved.
One of the many successful results of Ken’s efforts began at a Leicester Council meeting about tourism, where he told them: “You won’t get motorcyclists to come. What facilities have you given them? When a motorcyclist comes to a city they want somewhere to leave their clothing and their bike.” Less than two months later, the council had arranged cabinets to be placed around Leicester where riders could leave their helmets, gloves and jackets. They also had chains, so you could lock your bike to them.
Ken explains his dissatisfaction that some motorcyclists resign themselves to the assumption that councils won’t listen to them. He explains that this opinion often stops motorcyclists opening dialogues that can lead to successful results. Matter-of-factly, Ken states you have to make yourself known before people start to pay attention to you.
“I reached the stage where the Leicestershire County Council and the Leicester City Council wouldn’t do any alterations to roads without consulting me. It was only because they knew to talk to me.”
When Ken eventually retired from his voluntary lobbying efforts, he noticed that considerations were no longer being made for motorcyclists in his area. Much of the important work he had achieved had been quickly forgotten. Ken’s biggest regret was that he should have ensured someone was there to continue the work when he finished.
However, Ken says he could name many people within the BMF today who are working to make things right once again. Things are now beginning to go back to how they were before. “The great work will continue. It might be even better,” Ken smiles.
Once a rider always a rider
After a period of poor health, Ken has sadly had to stop riding motorcycles. He reluctantly sold his last machine in 2014.
However, Ken hasn’t left the motorcycling community. This year, he attended the BMF Dambuster Rally where members old and new were honoured to hear his exciting tales of motorcycling in times gone by. Ken has also found joy in reconnecting with lost motorcycling friends by recently signing up to Facebook. After adding a photo of himself at a BMF meeting, he expressed his surprise at how many old friends got in touch. “Two nights later I had messages from all over the country,” he grins. “Messages from people I hadn’t seen for years!”
After decades in the saddle, Ken has influenced riders throughout the UK to get the most out of motorcycling. So, it’s no surprise to hear what his proudest achievement is. “Just being a motorcyclist,” he says, humbly. “Because I’ve made so many friends. You can’t buy friendship.”