Discussing biker culture with The Great Frog's Reino Lehtonen-Riley and Oli Benge, END. celebrate the upcoming Dr. Martens x Neighborhood collaboration - an ode to the Japanese brand's passion for motorcycling and heritage style.
A counterpoint to the swinging sixties' colourful imagery of hippy attitudes and flower power, London’s The Great Frog reflected the surging popularity of rock’n’roll, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the raucous attitude of punk and the rebellious spirit of biker culture. An amalgam of counter-culture’s very own counter-cultures, the brand has built a heritage of jewellery style that champions dark aesthetics and quality craftsmanship.
Established in 1972 on Carnaby Street – the heart of Soho – by Paterson Riley and Carol Lehtonen-Riley, the brand quickly found favour as the go-to jewellers for a variety of high-profile clients seeking exceptionally well-made pieces and a visual style that didn’t shy away from embracing esoteric and heavy style. With customers ranging from Metallica, Depeche Mode and Iggy Pop to Dennis Rodman, Kate Moss and Gigi Hadid, The Great Frog has remained an ever-present symbol of rock’n’roll and biker culture’s continued influence on jewellery, fashion, and timeless style.
Celebrating the upcoming launch of seminal British footwear brand Dr. Martens' latest collaboration with Ura-Hara icons and fellow motorcycling fanatics, Neigborhood, END. sit down with The Great Frog’s Creative Director, Reino Lehtonen-Riley, and their Head of Collaborations, Oli Benge, to discuss biker culture, the best routes out of London and tips for first time motorbike buyers.
For those who don’t know, please introduce The Great Frog.
Reino Lehtonen-Riley: The Great Frog is a second generation family run jewellery company started in Soho in 1972. We are known for our rock and roll symbolism and quality hand made British jewellery.
How did you initially become interested in the East London biker community? Was biker culture something you were always drawn to?
Reino: I grew up around biker culture - my parents, who started the business, sold jewellery at the custom bike shows run by the Hell's Angels. I was completely in awe, I was drawn to the imagery, the sound, the rebellion and non conformity.
Oli Benge: I guess for me it was an organic situation with the friendship group I had and the places I used to hang out/work. My dad had a Sportster when I was a kid and he always had an interest in bikes. I got my first motorbike when I was 7 (two stroke KX-75) so that was the beginning of it all for me way back then.
How does East London biker culture differ from communities in other parts of the world?
Reino: We differ from lots of other places around the world as as you have to really love it and work at it, as London is getting increasingly hard to own and work on old bikes, space is at a premium legislation and the thousands of cameras try their best to put a stop to the enjoyment of motorcycles. It’s something you really have to be committed to, and the weather is shit! SoCal it ain’t!
Oli: Bike culture is of course different all over the world, with different scenes and different styles. It's kinda cool in East London to have such a small community of people who are into riding choppers and to be friends with most of them. I think the UK in general has a great scene at the moment, lots of amazing builders doing really interesting stuff.
Biker culture is often misrepresented as being insular and closed off – why do you think it has been represented in this way in the past?
Oli: I guess there has always been a stigma with the bike scene since the 1950s, it's always been on the side of rebellion and hell raising from its grass root days. I’d say these days for me its actually a really welcoming community and I think people try to be as inclusive as they can, especially around East London - if you ride a chopper the chances are you’ll probably end up becoming friends with everyone!
Reino: You see so many people come and go. You have to really love bikes. I think you just get tired of all the chat, but if someone has a genuine interest and wants to learn about bikes and the culture, even the most intimidating looking guys will open up about their passion.
What does modern biker culture represent to you?
Reino: Modern biker culture represents creativity and a little bit of escapism - it’s one of the last dangerous things you can legally do in a time where everything is so sanitised and safe. It's a common ground for others who share the same obsession.
Oli: I personally don’t really pay too much attention to modern day bike culture, for me its just about meeting up with friends and putting some miles down. I think for the smaller sub cultures of the biking community you try and steer clear of the 'modern day biker’.
Why is biker culture so heavily ingrained in the history of The Great Frog?
Reino: Biker culture is so heavily ingrained with The Great Frog as there has always been a symbiosis - its kind of a chicken or egg situation. Bikers were into heavy, somewhat shocking symbolism, probably to ward off others. At the time, in the early 70s in England, if you wanted skulls and heavy metal imagery it didn’t exist unless you went to The Great Frog.
What are your favourite ride routes out of London? What are your favourite spots to stop off at along the way?
Reino: The best routes out are towards Essex and the obligatory stop at the tea hut at High Beech in Epping forest, then you don’t have to go far some great riding through the Essex countryside.
Oli: I guess the tea hut is somewhere I've stopped off at a lot in the past, but there’s a lot of decent country pubs just outside of London that are worth riding to. Battlesbridge in Essex, that was a good ride - lots of weird places to go round there.
What do you look for when buying a new bike?
Oli: Well, in the past I've bought bikes that look good but run like rubbish (laughs), so now moving forward I'm looking for something that runs and rides perfectly (which for Harleys is near impossible), but one can dream, right?
Reino: Ill advisedly I look for faded glory - something that has a story, history and a look.
Any tips for someone who is interested in biker culture who is looking to purchase their first bike?
Reino: Get something reliable to start with, you will undoubtedly make it less reliable, but anything you can afford, learn it, make it your own and enjoy the ride.
Oli: Don’t buy a Harley if you want reliability.
Dr. Martens x Neighborhood 2976 Chelsea Boot
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