I REALLY enjoyed my time working at Ozbike, the best biker mag in the whole world. In a lot of ways it was a dream job, but like any form of employment, there’s no time to sit back and marvel at what a great lifestyle you lead; it was still just a bloody job after all, and you simply had to get on with it.
Imagine working at Harley-Davidson on the production line. Yeah, lots of street cred telling your mates down the pub on Friday night, “Oh, yeah, I work for Harley…” but I reckon by the time you’ve screwed the 6000th gearbox into the 6000th Harley to pass through your work station, well, you could get over it.
Being motorbike mad for most of my life, the Ozbike gig fitted so well. Hmmm, let’s see: travel to and from work by bike; any errands during working hours also by bike; photographing bikes and bikers; writing about bikes and bikers; doing interesting stuff like Bourbon road tests; interviews with luminaries; flying interstate or overseas to ride the latest H-D, Buell or Triumph; or maybe just to cover a biker event that you know you’d never make it there unless it was compulsory.
So I work a normal job these days, and I’ve gotta tell ya, it’s a rude old shock paying money for entry to the places you’d simply sashay into without even having to flash your press pass because every bastard knew you and were expecting you to turn up.
But now I drive a truck, but if you’re a ‘glass half full’ guy like me even that has its benefits and fun times.
Like just the other day (or was it the other month or year?) I drove the lumbering old bastard of a truck along Parramatta Road, Camperdown, near a reasonably cool bike emporium and two things caught my eye: the first was a glimpse through the window of a Manx Norton race bike perched on the showroom floor; the second was a rare and gigantic parking spot on Parramatta Road, plenty big enough for a ’uge, great 16-tonne truck.
An executive decision was made and I was officially on my lunch break, or smoko, or even the RTA-mandated rest break. Whatever.
I sauntered into the showroom and made a beeline for the Manx, walking past rows of very interesting motorcycles.
From the time I first bought the pile of wreckage that was to become my own Manx Norton, right through the rebuilding stage to racing it, I was also very interested in its history and managed to track its illustrious life from the day it left the Norton Works in Bracebridge Street, Birmingham, in 1955, through a number of owners and riders until about 1962. I tracked it back from the beginnings of my custodianship in September 1983; back two previous owners to 1978. 1962 to 1978 are the ‘lost’ years in life of my Manx, and in trying to decipher the mystery, I learned a lot about all the other short-stroke Manx Nortons that came to and raced in Australia from about 1954 until recently. With only a small number short-stroke Manx Nortons made per year from 1954 to 1962, it was a fairly closed shop and many famous riders made a name for themselves on a Manx that someone else rode before or after them.
So there I was, crouching down, leaning over and just peering at every perceivable part of this beautiful motorcycle. I was fairly certain I knew who’d raced this one most recently, despite the fact that many changes had been made since it last surfaced at a race track.
A salesman sauntered over, and in a classic salesmanic manner, struck up an easy, positive conversation.
“The Manx certainly is a nice-looking bike…” he soothed in a reasonably Aussie accent even though he was quite a tall, Asian-looking man. My guess was that if he wasn’t born in Australia, his birth town would’ve ended in ‘aki’ or ‘oku’ and his parents’ favourite tipple would be sake.
“Be a good thing to own,” he added thoughtfully.
“Yair-no, got one myself,” I replied.
Now that’s the funny thing, Aussies seem to reply on statements of the obvious with something that sounds like “Yeah-no”, and many mainstream journalists have written about this anomaly after being driven crazy by its apparent stupid contradiction. I’ve always believed that it’s not ‘Yeah-no’, but actually a nasally contraction of “Yeah, I know”. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Anyway, salesman dude asks with a raised eyebrow, “You’ve got a Manx?”
“Yair,” I replied casually. “It’s only a 350, though, not a 500,” like that was a bad thing or something.
“Wow, that’s cool,” he replied. “Nortons are such great bikes. I even love the Commando, especially the Fastback,” he added glancing at the very nice, Signal Red 1971 Fastback parked nearby.
“They sure are,” I agreed. “I’ve got a ’72 Fastback that’s oh-so-lovely.”
We were both standing near a neat ’69 Triumph Trophy which was done up as a Bobber and looked quite rowdy.
“I suppose you’ve got a ’69 Trophy as well?” he asked with just a hint of disbelieving tetchiness infecting the tone of his voice.
“Naww,” I apologised, “but the wife owns a ’70 Trophy which is bog stock as an ex-police bike. I’ve got a Bonneville, though; it’s a ’66 TT Special but it’s a long way off being finished.”
He was looking at me with his salesman smile still in place but you could see his eyes narrowing in an attempt to avoid blurting out ‘Bullshit artist!’
I decided to press on further.
“Got one of those too,” I said, pointing to an early ’70s two-valve Jawa 890 Speedway bike. Mine’s a ’67, but…”
“I’d be willing to bet money you haven’t got one of those,” he said gloatingly, as he pointed to a silver/grey Hunwick Harrop V-Twin parked next to the brutal-looking Jawa.
“No, but I’ve ridden a couple of them in me time on earth.”
Smooth salesman could not keep his serene composure any more. He had decided some vague old exaggerator had mistakenly wandered in while on a day trip to the city from Bullshitville, NSW, and was now wasting his valuable time and risking the commissions he could be making from real customers with wallets thick enough to damage the sciatic nerve. While salesmen are a totally different breed and rely on carefully primped semi-bullshit to earn a crust, they are closely related to human beings in that they don’t like having bullshit flung at them. He did the salesman equivalent of English comedian Benny Hill’s oft-performed sketch, where he looks over the boring person’s shoulder at a party, yells out, “Phillip… oh Phillip!” then quickly walks away from the uncomfortable situation.
He was still polite, and even refrained from explaining to me that this Hunwick Harrop was one of just two pre-production prototypes in existence, left over from a very courageous attempt to make an All-Australian, high-end V-twin motorcycle in limited production and that the bike was only there due to the connection the would-be manufacturer had with this particular motorcycle emporium.
The salesman walked back behind the counter and began talking to his salesmen mates. Now, I’m not paranoid (well, I wasn’t back then, not on that day) and I’m not a lip reader, but I was fairly certain he was talking about me and his conversation included words like ‘wanker’, ‘tosser’ and ‘sure, sure, sure’. I know one thing; when I wandered over to the counter, all conversation stopped, like someone had just walked into a Wild West bar and called the top gunslinger a poofter.
I casually rifled through the Ozbike magazines piled high on the counter. I wasn’t looking for possible dream bikes that I could claim I owned when I was a youngster, I wasn’t looking for pictures of Wayne Gardner or Mick Doohan, so I could claim that I “dived under them both on the last corner of a big race at Oran Park when they were both teenagers on privateer bikes.” I wasn’t looking for a picture of Willie G Davidson so I could claim he offered me a free Fat Boy after I helped him change a tyre on a Milwaukee freeway. No. I was actually looking for a specific Ozbike issue, Number 241 with the Hunwick Harrop on the front cover. And pictures of Lil’ Ol’ Me doing the road tests on both the Black One and the Silver/Grey One after picking them up from the Hunwick Harrop factory near O’Briens Road, Westmead. There, inside the hallowed pages of Ozbike magazine, was the photographic proof that I had indeed ‘ridden a couple of them in my time on earth’.
They weren’t bad bikes, either. It’s just a shame you have to be a billionaire rather than a lousy multi-millionaire if you want to start a clean-sheet motorcycle manufacturing company from scratch.
Yep, I certainly enjoyed those rides I had on a couple of very exclusive motorbike, and not many people can claim that.
article written by Kelly Ashton.