Wheelstanding the Unbreakable Postie Bike

"Do you aspire to a job which involves riding motorcycles," asked Kelly Ashton.

THINK ABOUT a job where you get paid to ride motorcycles. Yeah, not many options, are there? Hmmm, factory rider in MotoGP? Dream on, pal. Courier rider? Are you insane? Motorcycle copper? Pull up there, buddy! That pretty well leaves riding a Honda Postie Bike for Australia Post. I’ll tell you here and now that I’m not too proud to admit I spent some time doing just that. It was fun, more fun than working for the man should be. But the way I fell into the job was a rip-snorter of a story.

I was into my senior year at high school when a combination of shit results and bad raps from the teaching staff suggested I should give up school and seek gainful employment in the real world. There were no motorcycling jobs on offer for me so the real world took the form of an apprenticeship in the graphic arts Industry as a phototypesetter.

The whole idea of typesetting was to convert hand-written or typed copy into the printed word that could then be neatly placed on the pages of a book or newspaper. It was the future of the printing game, and in 1972, and even though phototypesetting was as modern as tomorrow compared to the old-style hot-metal typesetting, it was still a labour-intensive caper that required real skill to do, and definitely didn’t involve riding motorcycles.

Nearing the end of a four-year apprenticeship, I was involved in an horrendous head-on prang on The Mighty AJS. I actually completed my indenture lying in a hospital bed in South Wing 4 of Manly Hospital. Three months in traction, three months in plaster and three months in a leg brace made me not want to work as much as before.

A few short years later, I received the technological version of a claw hammer to the face. There I was, in a meeting in the office of Skol, Biker In Charge at Ozbike magazine, watching him instantly typeset a few pages of the next Ozbike on a Mac Classic computer. Zap! Just like that — hello redundancy.

Anyway, I was still living a home and the Old Man gave me the ultimatum: Get a job or get out!

I grabbed the employment section of the Manly Daily then sat down at the phone table about to ring prospective employers when the bloody phone rang.

“Yello!” I said. It was my mate Skraps, who was well aware of my recent paternal eviction notice.

“If you’re looking for a job, ring up Chatswood Post Office NOW!” he gasped. “They’ll have a position vacant for a telegram boy from today, for at least a couple of months.”

It seems a sheila telegram delivery officer had ploughed her Postie Bike under the back of a small truck and broken her leg. Skraps had dragged her out from under the truck then went straight to the public phone and called me.

Of course, this was PMP (pre mobile phones) so when I rang the Postmaster at Chatswood, he was unaware of the recently opened position and told me, “No, there’s no job vacancy here at the moment,” he said sternly but took my number anyway.

About half an hour later, he rang me back, wondering how I knew. I gave him the short version and he was very impressed.

“This is the Public Service,” he bellowed. “You show great initiative and one does not see initiative in the Public Service… when can you start?”

Later that afternoon, after a brief meeting at Chatswood Post Office, I was in, starting first thing the next morning! Postmaster had moved Heaven and earth, and with executive force, sidestepped the couple of month’s worth of bureaucratic bullshit involved with starting to work for the government. I was riding two wheels at work, not just to and from work. Yee hah — I was a telegram boy!

Now for those young’ns who don’t know anything about the technology of old, it wasn’t just typesetting that was being phased out by computers; telegrams were soon to be thwacked around the head by technology. If you couldn’t contact someone on a land-line, the only other way to get an urgent message to someone was by walking to the nearest Post Office, then spending many dollars to send a few, short and well-chosen words which would travel magically along the telegraph lines to the Post Office nearest the person you wanted to message. That short, sharp message would be printed out at the Post Office, stuck in an envelope, handed to a Telegram Delivery Officer and physically delivered to your mate’s address.

Unbelievable, you say, but that’s how it happened! Younger people who instantly text or email hundreds of people all over the world while sitting on the crapper would not believe the amount of physical effort involved in sending a telegram.

But there I was, physically delivering telegrams all over the Chatswood/Artarmon/Lane Cove areas on a little, red Honda CT110 Postie Bike and I loved it! Huge fun, it was.

As a man who loved British Bikes and hated Jap bikes, it should’ve been a dilemma, but I soon came to grudgingly respect those poxy little Postie Bikes — they were amazing.

You couldn’t kill them and decades later, they are still soldiering on with a huge cult following.

I was lucky in that the bike I was allocated was brand new so it was right and tight and shiny. Also in its favour, it wasn’t saddled with those huge, grey, leather saddlebags the regular Postie Bikes had; this one had a little, grey leather pouch strapped to the handlebars which could hold more than enough telegrams.

In the three or four months of carting me and a few telegram envelopes around, that bloody Honda sold me on just how good they were. Didn’t it cop a flogging, though. For a start, it did great wheelstands… seriously, stop laughing! People don’t equate Postie Bikes with wheelies but man, they were good! See, the automatic clutch to the four-speed gearbox could be tricked into thinking it was a manual clutch by holding the gear lever down in first with your toe. You’d then rev the ring out it the little bugger, release the gear pedal, hold on the handlebars and Yessiree! Mono city. If you were brave enough and heading up a slight hill, it was easy to hook it into second and keep the front off the deck, but it soon ran out of puff or the bravery pills wore off.

Another thing which people don’t believe was that the Honda CT110 could do ‘stoppies’. With most modern bikes possessing strong front brakes, stoppies are no big deal these days, but back in the 1970s, they were an amazing thing. And for some reason, the puny looking front brake on a Postie Bike worked amazingly well. One time, I tried slamming on the front stopper and was rewarded by a giant, accidental stoppie. It was the most exciting feeling, especially as I was more accustomed to feeble AJS brakes. Hey-up! It felt brilliant, and it didn’t take very long to get the technique sorted out. Lord knows why no public complaints flowed back to the Post Office about the psycho on the Postie Bike, reverse mono-ing up to selected addresses.

Dogs were often a worry for a Postie Bike rider but you could turn the tables on them by locking up the rear brake, screeching to a halt and laying the bike down. Then you’d quickly step off the bike and charge headlong at the attackers which never failed to confuse them into running away. It was helpful to carry a Diet Stick somewhere on your cycle (a Diet Stick was a short piece of broom-handle that could convince slavering dogs they weren’t that hungry anymore).

The telegram bike had a different life to the Postie Bikes, mainly because the Posties’ delivery run involved much low-speed, stop-start, footpath-bound work, where the telegram gig was mainlining down the roadways as fast as you could go. And I can tell you one more thing you may not believe — those little Hondas actually didn’t handle too bad. Flinging it around the backstreets of Chatswood, Artarmon and especially Lane Cove, it was easy to hang off the side of the bike like a road racer and grind the pegs through the hilly, off-camber back roads of the leafier suburbs.

I still have a souvenir from that bike, somewhere in my stash; it is a footpeg rubber so ground away you wouldn’t believe it was possible. That footpeg rubber, along with the extremely shortened steel peg it sat on, was noticed by the contracted Postie Bike repairman. He’d travel around in a fully-equipped Ford F100 doing service and repairs on all the Honda Postie Bikes. When he spotted the ground-down pegs, he did his usual trick of fitting a knobby tyre on the back in an effort to slow the pace a bit.

I was ribbed mercilessly by the other workers. “Knobby tyre fitted, eh? Been caning the bike around corners, have we?” they’d mock.

I can’t say for sure whether it made it harder to fang or no difference at all, but commonsense would tell you that it couldn’t make it better around corners… or could it? 

Like any job, you got used to the system and learned how to work it. The lay of the land at Chatswood in prehistoric days had the Post Office based on the eastern side of Chatswood Railway Station. Above the station was a well-appointed mall with lots shops of all kinds. With typically strange efficiency, the Post Office lunch break was an exact time, like 47 minutes or something weird. Of course, walking to and from the food shops and ordering took a fair chunk of that precise time period; a smart thing to do was to park the Honda in the No Parking zone on the western side of the Station and leave it idling. You never had to worry about getting booked in those days as Postie vehicles all had Commonwealth of Australia number plates and so were left alone. You’d walk into the food shop, order the munch, then race around back to the Post Office and park the bike. Then it was a simple matter of walking to the food shop and lunch was ready to eat.

One time, I parked the bike on the western side, left it idling and went and ordered lunch. I got distracted and picked up some photos from the Photo Lab (people born less than 20 years ago, just… aww, look it up in Wikipedia next to Telegrams and Typesetting). I got so engrossed checking out my new batch of 36 colour pics from my 35 millimeter Pentax camera (Wikipedia again, kids) that I picked up the lunch and walked back to the Post Office.

Forty seven minutes after I sat down at work to eat my lunch and mull over the photos, I grabbed the telegrams for the next run, walked out the back yard to find the bike was not there where I didn’t park it. Holy shit! I sprinted to the station, up the steps and past the shops, down the western steps and across the road to the NO PARKING sign. I was totally relieved to see the little Postie Bike, still sitting there on the sidestand, putt-putting away quite unperturbed.

It idled for slightly more than an hour; like I said, couldn’t kill them.

That Postie Bike, plus the irresponsible actions of a white Bull Terrier, almost set me on the path to becoming a brilliant Medical Practitioner. Okay, so I’m drawing a very long bow here, but at the very least, it garnered me respect and admiration from one practicing Medical Professional. See, I was on the Honda, complete with knobby scrambles tyre on the back end, pegs on the deck and absolutely fanging it around an off-camber bend in the fantastic back streets down near Fullers Bridge. A rock-solid, pure white Bull-Terrier (a real football-headed Bullie) made an attempt at chasing me but only managed to run under the front wheel and completely upset my day. I was already fairly close to the ground, so I actually low-sided it, but I do recall at on point, seeing a whole lot of blue sky blocked out by a red Postie Bike whose handgrips I was still holding onto! 

As I was picking myself up out of the gutter, the white Bullie shook his head, farted, grumbled, then strutted back into his front yard. He gave one final scowl at me and I could see he understood he’d just ruined both our days.

For the enormity of the prang, the bike was barely scratched (can’t kill ’em, remember) and I didn’t fare too badly either. A little bit of bark off here and there, plus a fairly sore right elbow which turned out much worse than I first thought. See, a piece of sharp gravel had made a very small but very deep hole in my right elbow. I was contemplating manning up and disregarding the apparently minor damage but, when back the Post Office, a fair bit of claret was running down my arm to the floor. The Postmaster insisted I did it all official-like, and that was good, as it turned out I had torn open the synovial sac in my elbow, and if that sounds bad, it is.

Your synovial sac is a bag full of synovial fluid which acts like a little cushion in-between the knob-ends of many joints in the human body. The trouble with tearing a synovial sac, is the fluid leaks out of the body through a wound that won’t heal.

Many government appointed doctors couldn’t tell me why I’d have a thin veil of new skin growing over the hole in my right elbow, only to burst at the slightest knock or elbow movement. You could aim the elbow at the bathroom mirror, flex up and a giant spurt of synovial fluid would blast at the mirror. Funnily enough, the synovial fluid was completely clear and didn’t smell bad at all; it was just a bit disconcerting in a crowded pub or nightclub if some careless prick bumped the elbow. Yeah, not smelly, but not nice all the same. It was finally fixed by a specialist who knew what combo of drugs worked.

A number of years later, I was attending Mona Vale Hospital seeing Roger, a mate who’d been out riding his pre-unit Triumph Thunderbird bobber along West Head Road, his Best Girl Liz was riding pillion, when they came down in a heap after hitting a bloke getting out of a badly-parked Volvo. Lucky for some, the bloke happened to be a doctor, but that didn’t stop him from being very indignant at the thought of being mowed down by a sliding T’bird and two humans.

Anyway, I was visiting Roger who’d been held in the ward for longer than he thought reasonable because his right knee had a hole in it that just wouldn’t heal. A little, thin layer of skin would form over the glowing, red aperture on the front of his injured knee, then burst spectacularly the minute Rog bent his leg. Roger was railing against the useless doctors when the young intern walked in to check up on him.

“Tell him, Kelly, tell him what you just told me…” Roger pleaded.

The doctor looked very young and inexperienced; he was a Ranga with thick, black spectacles and a bushy ginger beard. At least he had a white coat and a stethoscope.

“In my opinion, Old Cock,” I ventured, addressing the doctor like I was a learned colleague, “this patient has torn his synovial sac, and as you know, the synovial fluid acts as a retardant…”

“OF COURSE!” the young doctor yelled, slapping his forehead hard at the same time. “Thank you, thank you!”

I even rattled off the combination of drugs needed to heal Roger.

I didn’t have a clipboard to casually hand to a nurse before spinning on my heel and striding towards the next perplexing patient problem, but I knew when I walked off the ward, I had the respect of at least one doctor and one Triumph rider.

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

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