THE YEAR was 1979 and life was good for me and my younger brother. I had dropped out of school mid-way through grade 10 as I felt that the Queensland education system had little to offer me (and since I had told the Headmaster and the senior science teacher to go and get fucked before locking the Phs-Ed teacher in the sports equipment storage room on a Friday arvo).
I decided it was time to move on and see what the big bad world had on offer for an angry young man like myself. I got a couple of shitty little jobs before the old man pulled a few strings and got me a real job at the furniture factory where he used to work. This was my first full time job, and when I got my first pay packet ($53.70), I was so proud. Look out world, here I come!
It wasn’t long before my brother left school and joined me at the factory. We have always been very close. He’s my best mate and like a pair of bum cheeks; shit has come between us but we’ve always stuck together.
Our dad was a really cool old dude, when I say old, he was 60 years old when I was born and my bro came along 14 months later. Hope I still got ‘it’ when I get to that age. He had served in the Army during WW2, roamed all over Victoria looking for work during the Great Depression, been an SP bookie, owned his own general store, and had been a traveling salesman. He loved a beer and got himself into a hell of a lot of strife back in those wild days.
But most importantly, when he was a youngster, working for Myers in Melbourne, he got involved in speedway racing. My brother and I would sit for hours listening to dad’s stories of how he and his mate would venture out to the Aspendale speedway to race the Levis flat-trackers. Myres sponsored him in the late ’20s when he represented Australia several times in New Zealand. If he wasn’t flat out sideways on one of those ‘no brake’ sliders, he would be hanging off the side of his mate’s outfit. A huge off, over in the land of the long white cloud, ended dad’s career and left him in hospital for many moons with a lasting reminder in the form of a steel knee-cap.
It was the sense of excitement in the words of this wise old man’s stories as he happily reminisced, as me or my brother would eagerly fetch him another cold largie, that prompted us to want to be part of the motorcycling adventure. From then on this was to be our goal in life.
Back to 1979 and the motorbike bug had bitten hard. Every morning on the way to the factory I used to stop at the Graceville newsagents to grab what bike magazines were on offer. The selection was not very large. There was a few locally produced mags but most were from either the US of A or England. Then, one fateful winter’s morning, I saw it—Ozbike magazine No. 7! How cool was this? To me it was a shining light at the end of very long, very dark tunnel. For once it actually made the fact that owning a Harley in Australia was not just a pipe dream, but a reality.
In the other mags and buyers guides I had collected, it always seemed that Harleys were the domain of the rich and the famous. I’d seen the bikes that Arlen Ness was building. I didn’t like their stretched out, anorexic, low slung looks. I didn’t like the tiller handlebars, and I especially didn’t like the fact that some engraver (seemingly) on wizz had taken to every alloy surface on the bike and made it look like my grandma’s best silver tea pot.
I could barely understand the foreign lingo that the Yank mags were using at the time. “My ol’ lady was bringin’ me down so I had to do some wrenchin’ on my sled so I could go jammin’ with my bros and leave my momma at home.” What the fuck? As you can imagine, as a 15-year-old pup whose balls had just dropped, this was all starting to get very confusing?
Me and my brother cherished that Ozbike mag and read it several times from cover to cover until the next issue hit the stands months later. But the sight of that young babe sitting side-saddle on that Roadster on Issue No 7 was etched into our minds forever and thus fuelled our love for the XL models to this very day. It seemed to us that the Sportsters were a much easier target to achieve as far as owning a Harley back then, as it is now. So here we were, both earning cash and aiming high for our first dream bikes in the very near future.
A few years later and have all changed dramatically. We have both discovered girls, cars, booze, parties, and owned a various array of motorcycles. After the usual apprenticeship of 2nd hand dirt bikes and a short and very unsuccessful career in classic motocross, it was time to make the leap into road-going machines. I traded my nice shiny Valiant Charger on a Yamaha SX750 and never looked back. Like they say, “A car moves the body; a motorbike moves the soul!” Well, until then, the biggest bike I’d ridden was a Suzuki 250 dirt squirter and my first ride on the XS saw my soul getting moved at a very great rate of knots from the second I left the family home’s driveway to where I crashed into a parked Celica across the road.
My first (unlicensed) 5-metre trek was an interesting one to say the least. I still remember hiding out under the old house we had at Toowong. With my heart beating furiously, I waited to see if any witnesses came out of the surrounding houses to let the Celica owner know that a crazed bikie had performed the mother of all burn-outs for the length of the gravel drive-way before executing a monstrous wheel-stand across the busy street and into the driver’s side door of his car. Luckily for me, no-one said a word and I survived with my bike, limbs and pride intact.
Time went by. My dad still didn’t like the fact that I had bought a Jappa for my first street bike, but that was about to change. I’d had my usual amount of fun on the Yammy, impressing the chicks, scooting around town at 400 mph, and running the cops at any given time, just because I could. But this was not exactly what I wanted. Something was missing? This was what I called my ‘Stone’ phase. I had the leather jacket with the denim cut-off, I had the Eldorado full-face helmet, and I even had the jeans tucked into the flying boots (Fuck me! What a sight). But it just wasn’t me.
Enter Tony, a good mate of ours for many years, who now worked at Morgan & Wacker. We had been friends with Tony and his brother Tom since primary school. We have grown up together and still try to hook up whenever possible for a few drinks and some laughs. Tony was the one who first put me onto the scent of what was to become my very first Harley. Amen.
It was New Year’s Day 1983 when I first saw the bike Tony had been eagerly telling me about. With child-like anticipation, we piled into my brother’s Torana and headed to the Bardon address. I still remember it was pissing down rain when we got to the house. We were all a little hung-over from the night before, but once the owner proudly pulled back the old blanket which covered his bike, the pain seemed to disappear and was replaced by broad smiles and nods of approval at the sight of this awesome machine. She was a maroon 1942 WLA with custom everything. Faaaark! I thought to myself. What a work of art.
The bike fired up on the first ignition stroke (after a couple of primer kicks) and that was it for me. I was sold! This was my dream bike! This was the bike I had always wanted but never knew existed!
The sound of the up-swept pipes, the vibration through the high bars, the mural on the tank of the naked half woman/half serpent, the jockey shift down next to the hex oil tank. How could I pass this up? Within two weeks, I had parted with my hard earned cash and Angie (so called after the Rolling Stones song of the same name) was mine.
So began my initiation into the long and sometimes lonely world of the ‘first-time, very old Harley owner’s club’. I was 19-years-old and my last bike was the Kamikaze XS, so motorcycling, for me, took on a whole new dimension. For a start, there was no ‘Turn the key, press the button and VVRROOOOM, away we went.’ No! It was unlock the ignition, flick down the choke lever, turn on the fuel, 3—4 prime kicks at half throttle, ignition on, spark advanced, get kicker on compression stroke, 2 Hail Marys, and drop down on the kicker for all it was worth.
Hopefully, she started? If not, repeat the last five steps and swear loudly. Any dreams of me cruising the highways of life, like Captain America and Billy did in Easy Rider, were quickly dispelled within the first month or so of owning this, now, seemingly endless source of loose bolts, oil leaks and electrical gremlins.
The months rolled by and slowly but surely I found myself becoming a WLA expert. The battery shit itself several times; I replaced the Mikuni carb with the standard Linkert item; re-wired the entire bike; replaced the Ness styled fibreglass rear guard with a tin Bobbed set-up after the fibreglass unit vibrated into oblivion; I replaced at least half the nuts, bolts and washers due to either being lost on the run or were fucking Metric.
On one memorable occasion I had just finished chatting up an old girlfriend from high school in the parking lot of the local shopping centre. She had agreed to go out with me the following Sunday for a ride to “Fuck knows where.” I was feeling quite pleased with myself and had noticed the way she was checking out my bike. I thought to myself, “Fuckin’ hell, this is in the bag!”
As I mounted the bike, I saw her look back over her shoulder with a sly grin and she cheekily raised her eyebrows as I jumped down hard on the kicker. What followed was nothing short of a scene out of a Marx Brothers movie. The bike backfired loudly and blew the Ram-Flo air filter clear across the parking lot and the carby burst into flames. I panicked as the flames seemed to lick-up from under the seat and petrol tank within close proximity of my crotch. I sprang from the bike with the finesse of a drunken chimpanzee, ripped off my T-shirt and proceeded to try and belt the fire to death before my bike became a charred piece of WW2 memorabilia.
After a few tense seconds, the flames had gone out. I thought to myself, “Shit! That was close!” I turned to retrieve my air filter from the other side of the parking lot when I noticed my old flame drive past in her car. She had obviously witnessed the entire ‘Chuck and his amazing exploding motorcycle act’ and the look of terror on her face said it all—no date for me next Sunday.
As I tried to muster any sort of self respect I saw her eyes flash down to my T-shirt which I now held in my right hand. As I looked down I discovered to my horror that it too was now ablaze and the fire dance continued for another few seconds.
Yes, you could say that owning my first Harley wasn’t everything I had thought it would crack up to be. But with the knowledge I gained, and the stories I could tell about our years on (and off) the road with that beautiful old Walla, I wouldn’t change a fuckin’ thing.
The year is now 1985 and my younger and much smarter brother has decided to take the plunge and by a brand new Sporty. I reckon the main reason he opted for a brand new one was due to the constant pain and heartache he had witnessed me going through with my temperamental 42. At 19-years-of-age he strolled into the Harley dealer (which, at the time, still had bark gardens under their new models so that buyers couldn’t see the fresh oil leaks. How things have changed), pointed to a beautiful new 1000 XLH and said, “I’d like to buy one of those, thanks.”
The salesman eyed him up and down with a sly grin, and in a very skeptical tone, asked, “Any preference for colour?”
“Yeah, mate,” my brother added calmly, “it’s gotta be candy apple red.”
The salesman seemed to be checking out his attire—old black T-shirt, patched blue jeans and scuffed up riding boots. My bro stood there with an excited youthful smile waiting for the salesman to speak again. His eyes drifted from my brother to the Sporty on the floor and back to my brother and he half yawned as he asked how he intended to pay, obviously thinking he was dealing with another time waster.
Seeing that the salesman was not taking him seriously, he reached into his back pocket and plonked a wad of neatly folded bills onto the counter (all of $8000). He smiled back at the salesman and said, “Cash, thanks.”
With this, the whole shop seemed to get busier than a sock full of grass-hoppers. Paperwork was organised, Owners Manuals were presented, a free T-shirt, dotted lines were signed, and my brother walked out of the shop, the proud owner of his new dream bike.
These were the mid– ’80s and the bad taste the Milperra Massacre had left in the cops and the general public mouths was still very prevalent. During those years we got into our fair share of strife and had a shit load of fun on our Harleys.
In 1986 my brother traded in his cast iron Sporty for the new model which was basically an old bottom-end with an Evo top-end grafted onto it. Also in ’86, he married his childhood sweetheart, Selena. Now, after 21 years, he still has Scarlett, the candy apple red ’86 Evo Sporty, and his lovely wife, and is as happy as ever.
In 1990 I made the big move and bought my first brand new bike, a 1200 cc four-speed Sporty. What a proud moment it was for me as I rode that shiny new machine home for the first time. The sales brochure stated the colours of the bike as ‘light and dark candy, brandy wine’. I just called it two-tone red so it wouldn’t sound so gay.
I kept the bike for a year. I rode it every day and did a couple of long runs on it before I traded it in on the ’91 model which sported the five-speed gearbox and belt drive. This bike is still my current ride. She has been chopped and changed many times and is pushing 300,000 km on the clock. She has only ever let me down twice, both times due to broken belts, and of course the odd flat tyre. She has had one major re-build and gets ridden hard nearly every day. People keep asking me why I don’t upgrade to a newer model. The reasons are many: I basically know the bike inside and out, I do all of my own maintenance, and the most popular reason is that I still get the same buzz, when I throw my leg over it and hit that starter button, that I got when I first bought her all those years ago. Now that’s saying something.
Throughout the years my brother, his missus and I have ridden up and down the East Coast of this beautiful brown land. I could go on for ages about the various misadventures we have had during our riding years. Be it, the many trips to various bike rallies such as Aratula and Purga Creek, or even the 2000 km round trips we did just to catch up with a mate for a few beers.
But at the risk of sounding too self indulgent, I only wrote this story to stress the point that, no matter how long you have been riding, or whoever you may be, the main thing to remember is that we all had to start somewhere. Our inspiration was our father’s stories of the pure thrill of riding a motorcycle. A thrill which we still enjoy to this day, and hope to enjoy for many more years to come.
The reason we ride Harleys is simply because of their proud heritage and the fact that they seem to be the epitome of what a motorcycle should be in its purest form. I won’t put shit on someone else’s bike as long as they don’t bag mine. I reckon it’s a pretty shallow view to judge another rider’s personality by his chosen form of transport.
I don’t refer to myself as a bikie or a biker, I am simply a motorcycle enthusiast who loves the thought of a good ride with a few beers at the end of it. Through the years we’ve met a lot of colourful characters, made a few enemies and a lot of good friends (as well as losing a few along the way).
As I write this my brother and I have just finished making plans for our next ride. At the end I know I’ll have a slight hangover, a few more memories to relate over a few drinks, and a smile as I park my bike up and give her a loving pat on the tank.
And the adventure continues…
written by Chuck U Farley