How Shitlegs Got His Name

Biker Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

I’VE GOT a mate named Shitlegs, and as with most nicknames, not a great deal of thought was put into bestowing that moniker on the biker formerly known as Max. Basically, his legs are, well… shit. They weren’t always that way, both legs being quite reasonable when he was a young man. They were the perfect length for him, as in they were exactly long enough to reach the ground and support him in fine style. That all changed on Wednesday, 9 April 1969, when young Maxxie was involved in—you guessed it—a motorcycle accident.

Motoring along King Street, Newtown, Maxxie was marvelling at how good his life was going. The machine he was riding was a beefy 650 cc Matchless G12 Twin, a 1964 model, made in the dying days of that model’s run. It was still a few short years before the helmet laws were instigated so Maxxie was riding free; he’d even picked up a hitchhiker, a common enough occurrence back then, but happens rarely these days. It’s not just the lack of a spare helmet scenario, but more so because few people hitchhike now, thanks mainly to Ivan Milat.

The hitchhiker Maxxie picked up was a surfer, Terry Fitzgerald, and although he went on to found the Hot Buttered Surfboard and Clothing empire back in 1969, he was just another up and coming surfer hitchhiking home after placing well in a Bells Beach surf title event. Unfortunately, his pillion ride on a 1964 Matchless didn’t last long. Around about the intersection of Alice and King Streets, a huge, great semi-trailer pulled out and the next thing, the Matchless, the biker and the surfer were sliding under the trailer just in front of the dual rear wheels.

Biker road tales
Corner of King & Alice Streets Newtown 1969

In the general scheme of things, the surfer didn’t suffer too much; concussion, a bit of bark off here and there and was released from hospital later that day after observation. Must’ve been traumatic, though. 

The Matchless didn’t do too badly either—petrol tank and timing cover damaged, but all very repairable.

Maxxie, however, was not so lucky, copping the brunt of the impact on his bonce and legs—and he handled it a whole lot better at the time than he did later on when he discovered what really went on when he was out to it. Like, I can’t see how anyone could be pleased to discover a priest had administered the Last Rites.

And as he recuperated, he was mortified to discover that his mashed right leg wasn’t given the immediate attention it was calling out for, as the doctors were so busy attending to his serious head injuries. They were fairly certain he wouldn’t make it through the head injuries so the leg job would be academic. In a strange twist of fate, that was a good thing, as all the doctors were in agreement that the leg job was to be a plain and simple amputation! Miraculously, the condition of the really bad leg improved while Maxxie’s head was getting better.

The JRMO at PA (Junior Resident Medical Officer at Prince Alfred Hospital) was on the case and looking after Maxxie well. He thought he’d try an experimental new process known as Frozen Skin Graft. Maxxie reckons it felt like he’d been put in a four-jaw chuck; a few thou of skin was peeled from the top of his better leg and adapted to the gaping hole in his right calf.

With the leg in plaster from the tippy-toes all the way up to his Thinking Department, nurses would flutter around all day tending to the wound through a ‘window’ in the cast. One day, the good doctor visited with a tray of tools and spent about half an hour fiddlin’ and fartin’ about. Then he muttered something like, “Hmmm, good,” slapped Max on the plaster cast and disappeared. 

The nursing sister came back in a few minutes and was gushing about how happy the doc was with the wound’s progress and that the leg was gonna stay on! It might’ve been good news, but it was all news to Maxxie just how bad it was. Maybe it was lucky he wasn’t wearing a helmet; the head injuries delayed what could’ve been fairly radical leg surgery. It seems it healed good enough for the docs to keep him classified as a bi-ped rather than mono-ped.

His left wrist had copped a flogging too, and many months of touch-and-go recuperation saw Maxxie allowed to leave the hospital, after being supplied with a flash pair of the modern-as-tomorrow aluminium appliances known back then as Canadian Crutches. Although those alloy beauties are commonplace now, back in 1969, they were still an unknown quantity and cutting edge technology.

It was a similar situation with his home-bound rehabilitation; in the late 1960s, very few homes had remote control anything and even today, you’d marvel at the ingenious design of Maxxie’s home-made TV remote control (he still has it). Some pub somewhere lost a pool cue, whose rubber tip at the pointy end was just the perfect reach for prodding the off-on switch and twirling the volume knob from the comfy lounge. At the fat end of the cue, a slot was hacksawed into the stubby part, and that slot engaged exactly with the tab on the channel-changer knob. (For the younger readers, in the old days, to change channels, you had to leave the lounge chair and go to the channel-changer knob, which was a device attached the old 17-inch black & white TV… huh? A black and white TV… a television which only… awww, forget it… it doesn’t matter…)

After Maxxie had got better (a little bit better) some mates dragged him down to the pub for a beer.

Naturally, all present were relieved and pleased to see Maxxie back in the land of the living and, of course, fronting up for a bit of show and tell. With the flash aluminium crutches put to one side and both legs of his loose-fitting daks rolled up, the ghastly condition of Maxxie’s pins was revealed. A fella named Carl exclaimed in totally honesty, “Jeez, mate, your legs are shit!”

And from that day on, dear readers, Maxxie was known as Shitlegs.

Like most lifetime bikers, Shitlegs wasted as little time as possible getting back in the saddle. The Matchless was repaired but it soon went as a trade-in on a brand-new 1970 Triumph 650 Trophy and Shitlegs was back on the road.

It’s always annoying to talk about prices of neat stuff ‘back in the old days’, but here we go—Shitlegs got $200 as trade in for the repaired G12 Matchless, which came off the total price of the new Trophy which was—wait for it—$1,050. And new Bonnevilles were $1150. Sheesh!

He kept that Trophy for three years, and by the time he sold it in 1973, he already had his dream bike, a very second-hand 1961 Triumph Bonneville 650.

That Bonnie has been with Shitlegs all through his life up until the present day. It even got stolen once; the low-breed pricks who pinched it thrashed the ring out of it so badly, it holed a piston, then was pushed into laneway next to a garage in Burns Bay Road, Longueville, where it sat for four months and four days before being reported because it ‘was in the way’.

It did have another wee holiday out of Shitlegs’ custody when a mate named Skraps bought it—or rather, horse-traded it—with a Bee Em boxer and a G12 Matchless in the mix but sold the ’61 Bonnie back to Shitlegs after a short time.

Sadly, as the decades passed, Shitleg’s shitty legs didn’t get any better; they rather got worse and worse until he realised he was having a fair bit of trouble just kicking over the old Bonnie and he did something he thought he’d never do—he bought himself a Jap bike with electric starter. It was one of those Bonneville look-a-like Kawasaki twins, which don’t look too bad and don’t sound too bad, so he doesn’t feel too bad about riding it. He reckons it will keep him in the breeze for a few more years yet.

The main thing is that Shitlegs is still having fun on two wheels without the associated pain of kickstarting bikes with legs of shit. And the 1961 Bonneville still gets some use on Classic Rego too.

Life is good, Shitlegs reckons; it just depends on how you look at it. And for a bloke who never learned to drive a car until he was way into his forties, he’s still living on two wheels, and thankfully, two legs.

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