Henry Cole: A Discerning Hooligan

British TV presenter and bike-building evangelist

elizabeth hurley and henry cole
British actress Elizabeth Hurley starred in Henry Cole’s 1995 semi-autobiographical feature-length movie “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.” Here they are during a Gladstone Motorcycles presentation in 2014.Courtesy of Henry Cole collection

With a tagline "Handmade British Motorcycles for Discerning Hooligans", it's patently obvious the founder of Gladstone Motorcycles is unique. But then again, Britain's Henry Cole was born that way.

His great-great uncle was The Right Honorable William Ewart Gladstone, four times Great Britain’s prime minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer in the latter part of the 19th century.

"I've tried anything and everything to fulfil the craving instilled in me by my parents for that coveted utopia of individuality," Cole wrote in Spear's four years ago. "I had the dubious honor of being the first Mohican punk at Eton College; I tried heroin addiction; I was a session drummer, a war cameraman, a movie director and TV presenter. I lived a rock 'n' roll lifestyle by filming every heavy rock band in existence — anything that could take me away from the horror of the conformity derived from an everyday existence.

henry cole aboard brough superior at salt flats
Henry Cole has ridden hundreds of bikes in hundreds of places around the world, shown here on a vintage Brough Superior on the salt flats.Phil Hawkins (ishootfromthehip.com)

“There has only been one drug that has never failed to make me feel like an individual: riding a motorcycle,” he added. “I knew that at 15, so why the hell did I have to go through all the above to find out something I already knew?”

In addition to being CEO of Gladstone, Cole is a writer, adventurer, producer and presenter of “World’s Greatest Motorcycle Rides” and “The Motorbike Show” shown in the U.K., the latter’s first season now streaming on Netflix. For several years Cole has traveled the world and ridden hundreds of unique bikes, and his aim is to share his enthusiasm for riding in general, wiping away any cultural clichés about motorcyclists.

VIDEO: Henry Cole at Bike4Life 2016 for ITV4's The Motorbike Show

“I wanted to tell as many people as possible that motorcycling is NOT a subculture, that people who ride aren’t going to come round your house and burn it down, that we’re actually pretty decent guys and girls… hopefully, like me,” he says.

"I've always had this love of British craftsmanship and manufacturing," Cole told reporter Patrick Cruywagen in 2016. "My Uncle Dick "Red Beard" Gladstone lived his eccentric bachelor life in a rambling old house in Liverpool. It was slowly being encroached by modern developments. At the age of eight I spent a night there and my bike-bonkers uncle showed me his massive cobweb-covered shed. In it were a load of BSAs, Triumphs and even a Douglas Dragonfly. There was also some dusty 18th century furniture. About three days later I came to the realization that I too was into motorcycles and rural traditional British industry.

“I just have an amateur passion for it and I learn as I go along. As a result of that, now I have a several sheds full of motorcycles and other rubbish. It must be so awful being over 40 and not having a passion. They say that men think about sex every minute, I think about classic bikes every minute.”

henry cole astride his gladstone bobber
Henry Cole astride his Gladstone No. 1 bobber on sacred ground.Courtesy of Gladstone Motorcycles

Cole's globetrotting and throttle twisting led to the development of Gladstone Motorcycles. He chronicled the restoration of several bikes with Pete the Restorer on "The Motorbike Show", and made connections with several parts suppliers who do a brisk business with old Triumph, Norton, BSA and Brough Superior restorers. It was almost inevitable that Gladstone happened. And given Cole's penchant for unique bikes, it was inevitable that the first model was a bobber.

gladstone no. 1 bobber static rear view
Gladstone No. 1 bobber.Courtesy of Gladstone Motorcycles

According to Cole, the Gladstone No. 1 has been developed with British frame builder Metisse Motorcycles, whose legendary Desert Racer was described by Steve McQueen as ‘the best-handling bike I’ve ever owned.’

The Gladstone No.1 is powered by a blueprinted classic T140 750cc Triumph engine, complete with a five-speed, left-hand-shift gearbox and is wrapped in a custom Metisse-designed nickel plated frame.

gladstone no. 1 bobber rear section details
Gladstone No. 1 bobber, with a Metisse-made frame.Courtesy of Gladstone Motorcycles

“Metisse is one of the most enduring British bike brands, with an impeccable lineage dating back to the Sixties,” Cole added, “so it’s a huge privilege and a serious coup that they have joined us in the creation of the Gladstone No. 1.”

Boulanger is not a world traveler, but he just returned from a 5,845-mile motorcycle trip to Wisconsin and back. Follow his Instagram exploits @garyjboulanger.