This story starts and ends with the dirt on the ground. This dirt is special. It captures everything that goes on in this soulful place. Get on your knees and smell this dirt, because it smells of a blend of oil, aluminium, steel, iron, welding, fibreglass and maybe a hint of piss in places. If this smell was on the shelves in airport tax free shops, some people who wouldn’t normally buy fragrance, or who normally speed up their walking pace to get out of the smelly aisles quickly, would probably buy this smell if it was bottled. Anyway, we’ll leave that to the marketeers and we’ll get back to this amazing place.
The open, rusty gates to the yard, which are draped in some big chains and locks are like open, steel arms, welcoming you, guardedly, into the yard. This is the yard with the special dirt. This place is the pole opposite to the glitzy moto dealers, or the places where the global marketing is done for next seasons fashion coloured (probably black again) not-shiny, new machines. There are small motorcycle shops like this one all over the world, and each have their own levels of differentiation. This one claims nothing explicitly.
The architecture of the building is classic, industrial shed, and one that doesn’t have a double skinned wall to ensure climate control inside. The temperature in the building matches pretty accurately the temperature outside. This has advantages and disadvantages of course. The entrance to the shed is through a big door, draped by plastic flaps in winter to keep the heat or cold in, and open in summer to let the heat in. There are probably a few places where it leaks as well, but hey, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be amazing does it?
The yard outside is full of work-in-progress bikes and a couple of unroadworthy vans. There are bikes that are waiting for a part. Bikes that are mid-project. Bikes that were bought because they were a good deal at the time, and bikes waiting for collection. The reason these bikes are outside is because when the work day is in full flow, inside space is needed. At night, these daytime outdoor bikes live in the shed and are protected by those big gates. There are a number of shipping containers in the yard, which are all full of really interesting bike parts, and maybe some complete bikes. Who knows? Stock control is in the owner’s alphabetical memory, or not.
There are always bikes on the three hydraulic work stands in the main workshop area. One will be something like a plastic faired 1990s superbike that would be stripped of its plastic to get to some broken part, and which it is waiting to be delivered. Another will be something like an old AJS Brit-bike with no carburettors on it and the last one will be a project. This last one will either be something like a Royal Enfield flat tracker or a chopper. The chopper might have a CBR600 Honda engine in it and an amazing hand-made exhaust system on it. All 3 bikes get worked on in between customers coming in to get a part, get something fixed or to find out when he/she will get their bike back.
Customer service is great, although meeting deadlines isn’t. It’s fatal to take something in and and say ‘it’s not urgent’, because it could be there for weeks, months plus. There are big old pieces of machinery like a massive lathe that once made parts for trucks, and a post drill that has a huge reduction gearbox on it. There’s a blackened place where welding is done. Actually, there’s a blackened place where absolutely amazing welding is done, and in most metal types as well. There are parts of engines everywhere and broken pistons and stuff. All offerings to the gods of Moto speed. There are tools everywhere. A tall chest with spark plugs and light bulbs and brake parts and all sorts of stuff. The ‘main man’ knows where to find stuff as well.
At the far end of the shed, there is a row of about 6 bikes waiting for something. One might be for sale. The rest are ‘just waiting’. There is usually a project that hits the ‘very weird’ button, hard. Something like a 1990s motocross bike that has had a 4 cylinder, turbo-charged, 750cc Yamaha engine fitted into it. When the turbo-charged engine is started in the shed, the exhaust fumes can make your eyes want to close shut, and fresh air is required to regain sight.
It’s a mad place, but also very special. I take my bikes there to be tested, and fixed if I a) can’t do it or b) haven’t got the time or desire to do it.
There is a small room that is also the passageway to a small and not very clean toilet. This small room has a shelf that has ‘the workshop computer’ and it’s printer nestling on it. The shelf is bending under the weight of the old electronics. There is always a calendar or three on the wall. There is a boat on the roof of the small room.
There is a beaten up helmet next to the printer. There are also beaten up helmets scattered around the workshop. It is always the closest helmet to hand that gets worn at road testing times.
The kettle to make tea and coffee was once shiny chrome, but now it has an oily sheen to it, and has a workshop-made handle as the previous one snapped off.
The preferred payment currency is cash, although a card machine is revealed on special occasions. Sometimes bikes or other stuff might be exchanged instead of cash.
The Compressor is a monstrous thing that fires itself up without invitation to ensure that constant air pressure is maintained. You can be mid-conversation with the ‘main man’ and it’ll fire itself up, and all human audio is gone. It’s not wise to stand next to it either. If it starts up when you’re next to it, you’ll probably piss your pants a bit.
The music, when not drowned out by the compressor is either local radio or heavy metal.
This place is heaven to me. It’s where chaos meets creativity and ingenuity. I can understand why it could be hell for some though.
The ‘main man’ that runs this place and his trusty colleague are special people, and I’ll introduce them to you in the next “Heaven and Hell’ episode. Sometime soon-ish.
All photos by the Author