A MATE of mine, Skraps, was a bit of a backyard British bike mechanic. He was never really officially ‘On the Spanners’ in the trade, but was a quite proficient self-taught engineer nonetheless, and was soon building up a loyal client base of Britbike owners who lived on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
Looking back, I suppose it was as rough as it got, as Skraps’ workshop consisted of his bedroom underneath his mum’s place, plus the oil-drenched, dirt-floored backyard which dropped away suddenly at a cliff. Rough as guts, actually, but he did good work and kept those suckers going in the late1970s — a time when British bikes were getting to be a rare commodity on Australian roads.
If you owned a Triumph, BSA, Norton or Matchless Twin, without possessing the mech-smarts to keep it percolating, Skraps was the man to see. He would do all the sensible updates, like fitting electronic ignition, uprated alternators and simplified wiring harnesses to replace the ageing electrical rat’s nests which would often give trouble on elderly Pommie bikes.
Another thing he would do was replace the battery with a solid-state electronic battery eliminator, the latest rage to come out of the USA. The little finned cast alloy unit worked fine (I had one fitted to my AJS 500 single). However, he once got a bad batch from the States. He’d fitted one of these duds to a customer’s 1970 BSA A65 Lightning, a twin cylinder 650, and the bugger failed within 10 minutes of use (did I mention that BSA stands for Bastard Stops Anywhere?)
Back in those days, none of us owned utes or cars; our only transport was the bike we owned, so when Skraps had to deliver a customer’s bike, usually, he’d ride it there and have a mate like me on a chase bike to pick him up and pillion him back home.
This Beeza had to go from Skraps salubrious workshop at Beacon Hill (Sydney’s highest point) to Bilgola Heights (not much lower than Sydney’s highest point) via the Wakehurst Parkway, which, at its lowest, is a few measly feet above sea level. The Parkway (or Parkhurst Wakeway in local parlance) is a ribbon of bitumen that cuts a swathe through bushland between Seaforth and Narrabeen. Apart from a few token houses at the start, a barren intersection in the middle at Frenchs Forest and some more token houses at the top end, the Parkway is a desolate son of a bitch of a roadway. It’s not only a great late-night raceway, but makes for a perfect test track for recently-tuned bikes.
Skraps jumped on the Beeza and I followed on his Triumph Twin. We were hootin’ along the Parkway, almost to the bottom of the long, long descent to the valley floor, when the brand new battery eliminator on the Beeza shit itself. It was like: “Bwwwooooaaaaar—puhhhh… as the fire went out in the Beeza’s engine room. Skraps coasted to a stop and I followed him in to the side of the road.
A quick check proved it to be what we thought—so now how do we get the bike back? We were stuck in no man’s land; at least 5 km from any kind of civilization. It didn’t matter whether there was any mobile phone coverage, because mobile phones hadn’t been invented. Freaky, eh? Not like today, when you can just roll over and pout like a pansy, pull out your mobile phone, dial a number to connect you to any number of motorcycle rescue services.
Desperation or resourcefulness? Who knows—but one thing is for sure, if you’re resourceful and possess more than a hint of optimism, you never succumb to desperation. You simply utilise all available options and hope for the best outcome.
I wandered off into the bush, hoping against hope that I’d find a high-quality towrope, still in its plastic wrapping that some littering bastard had callously dumped in the pristine bushland. No such luck. But I did find something. It wasn’t really worthy of a shouted “Eureka” or even a muttered “Bingo”, but at least it was something. It was a man’s necktie, quite a stylish one, too. A little further on, I found what I thought was a three-core electrical cord, about twice as long as the necktie. I was half right—it was at some stage of its miserable life a three-core cord, but unfortunately, some bright sparky had slit it down and stolen all three wires from it leaving only the plastic insulation.
I emerged from the bush and proffered the find to Skraps.
“Don’t be fuckin’ stupid,” he said, and his derisive sneer was loud enough to hear.
I ignored him and proceeded to tie the two prize finds together, then to the handlebars of the dead Beeza and onto the back of the very live Trumpy.
Skraps was still deriding my over-confidence when I told him to “Shut the hell up and start the friggin’ thing.”
He kicked the Trumpy in the guts and gently eased the clutch home. Miraculously, the Beeza followed the Trump closely like a loyal hound, and for some strange reason, the world’s worst, shortest and friggin’ stupidest towrope got that dead Beeza from Sydney’s lowest point to Sydney’s highest point, and no-one had to borrow anyone’s dad’s car and someone else’s dad’s trailer.
I must say that Skraps was a superbly smooth rider, which helped, and my own considerable skills completed the picture. Now, if it sounds like I’m up meself, only those who have controlled a motorcycle being towed by a towrope—and done it without crashing—will know what I’m talking about.
Getting that Beeza back to Skraps’ place using only a necktie and a bit of electrical insulation was definitely worthy of a seriously cocky head-wobble and a shoulders-back swagger. But that was what we did, back then…