Whatever happened to the BMF Rally?

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It was the biggest biking event in the UK so why did it suddenly finish?

t was more than a show; it was an institution – a pilgrimage from all points on the UK compass to Peterborough, for a weekend of fun and games. Then it disappeared.

Fact file

The BMF Rally
First held October 1961
Last took place May 2014
Claim to fame For years the biggest motorcycling event in the UK

BMF Rally? That rings a bell…

And so it should. The BMF, as it became known, only ceased two years ago (by then called The BMF Show), after running for over five decades and, during its heyday, was consistently the biggest motorcycling event in the UK.

So it was a biker rally – camping, welly-wanging and pin badges?

Yes and no. That’s how it started but by the 90s it had grown into something enormous and one of the motorcycling calendar’s key fixtures. 

So it was big?

Huge. At its peak attracting over 85,000.

Where did this happen – Wembley?

No, Peterborough. Since 1977 it had been held at the East of England Showground, a stone’s throw from MCN’s office. Previously it had been at Donington Park, Woburn and even Beaulieu in Hampshire.  

Let’s start at the beginning – what’s the BMF?

It stands for the British Motorcyclists Federation, the UK’s largest riders’ rights organisation. It was originally founded in 1960 as the Federation of National One Make Motorcycle Clubs (FNOMMC) to counter accusations of ‘leather-jacketed hooligans’, renaming itself the BMF in 1965.

And the Rally?

The first, under the FNOMMC banner, was held at the Beaulieu Motorcycle Museum on October 1, 1961. In 1965 it moved to Woburn where, by 1973, it was attracting 6000. Then it moved to Donington in 1975. For its first year in Peterborough 15,000 turned up, then by the late 90s became nearly 90,000.

Wow! So it grew a fair bit then?

Not half. Between 1983 and 1993 attendance more than doubled to 50,000. In 2000 it was extended from just Sunday to a two-day event (and also renamed The BMF Show) and the attendance record was set in 2002 when 88,528 went through the turnstiles. 

So what was the appeal?

Simply, it had something for pretty much anyone and became a curtain-raiser to the whole motorcycling season. So, apart from club stalls and bargain-laden trade stands there was also stunt shows, a Moped Mayhem endurance race, celebrities and even a Miss BMF competition.

Nice. Any other claims to fame?

In 1978 the Membas Rally for BMF card-holders was added, ensuring camping, live music and a disco. And national celebrities became involved – in 1983 the Radio 1 Road Show joined in, complete with DJs Kid Jensen and Mike Smith.

Any other successes?

A number of spin-off events: Firstly GEMS, the Garden of England Motorcycle Show held in Kent in June from 1997, then, in 1998, the BMF Tail End’ also at the Peterborough Showground to mark the end of the season, in September and finally the Kelso Bikefest from 1999.

So what went wrong?

Hard to be sure exactly but the Show began to go into decline in 2003 when the organising team was restructured and, according to some, lost focus. In addition, ticket prices rose and bargains (thanks to the growth of online retail) were fewer. In 2007 the show’s organisation was outsourced to Live Productions then, in 2009, The Mulberry Group was engaged to, according to the BMF themselves, ‘revitalise its events’. In 2010 the Tail End moved to a new venue and by 2011 attendance at the BMF Show was down to 40,106.

Then what happened?

In July 2014 The Mulberry Group went into voluntary liquidation leading to the cancellation of that year’s Tail End event. Due to the uncertainty, by December of that year there was still no agreement for the 2015 Show at the Peterborough Showground to take place. 

So what’s happening now?

MCN has created the Festival of Motorcycling at the Peterborough showground. The BMF meanwhile, after countless controversies and restructures, says it’s now refocused on riders’ rights and its political activities. Along with the BMF Show, Kelso, GEMs and the Tail End are no more, although there is a BMF Scotland Rally in September.

Words: Phil West