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Home Grown

(by Guy Allen - Travels with Guido series, Motorcycle Trader mag circa 2005)

Poverty is no barrier to building your own motorcycle, says Guido, but farm machinery and foot clutches should be…

home grown

It was one of many times that I had reason to question the career choice. Muggins, circa late 1985, was a staffer on Australian Motorcycle News and had just ridden the recently-purchased Kawasaki GT750 to Horsham, in western Vic, to do a feature on a ‘special’. It was a home-made machine with a Subaru boxer four car engine in it.

Now this thing was not an oil painting. It looked more determined than engineered. For example the frame was clearly welded steel tube, but when I asked where the steel came from, there was nothing reassuring in the answer. I was hoping for “Reynolds tube, number #”, but got a long and weird list of failed farm machinery that was far from reassuring. Terms like “harvester” and “Massey Ferguson” were in the mix. “Shed door” might have been in there too. The conversation ground to an uncomfortable silence.

“It’s fast,” he offered, as a way to restart our chat. Great. I would have much preferred, “It’s as slow as a wet week and probably won’t start.” Now I was scared witless.

My silence was interpreted as acceptance (which has a fine history of being wrong) and the owner decided to walk me through the controls. There was no gearbox. “No need!” he proudly declared, “this thing’s got plenty of grunt, but you have to ride the foot clutch (yes – a left-hoof clutch) until it gets to about 60.” To this day, I’m unsure whether he meant miles or kays per hour. I think it was miles.

So we got it running (I remember a knotted rope and a pulley being involved), and after a few appalling kangaroo-on-steroids hops down the road while I got the hang of the clutch, we went for a ride. At a time when performance motorcycle powerplants were mostly up to 1000cc, something with the torque and capacity of a car engine was unthinkably and stupidly powerful. Having it strapped into some dodgy frame was just plain insanity.

It went like the clappers and had nothing we now recognise as handling or brakes. Perfect for the mostly straight roads in the district, though I couldn’t imagine tackling the twisties in the nearby mountain range.

Funny thing is, 20 years later, I’ve ended up owning a 200-plus horse Hayabusa which, back then, we both would have considered weird and outrageous science. It’s techno and Tainton-grown, is so much faster and capable than even the wildest kit 20 years ago that it feels like it’s from another planet, and I love it.

Mr Horsham would have liked the speed but have been unimpressed with the chequebook approach to tuning.

I had cause to think about the home-grown factor recently, while cruising through a mag published for flyers of mostly shed-built aircraft. Mr Horsham was in there somewhere, probably among the folk shown posing with their hand-built gyrocopters. Mad and dangerous people (in the nicest possible way), all of them, with a wild look in their eyes.

There was a whole tribe of these folk in motorcycling a while ago – I could also tell you a tale of a VW-powered BMW I rode in Brisbane – and I’m starting to wonder if they’ve disappeared off the landscape.
Maybe not entirely because, at the Ulysses AGM in Canberra, I tripped over a likeable madman with a six-pot Porsche-powered trike that was clearly nut-built. Interesting, but not as edgy as a two-wheeler with the wrong powerplant.

The problem home builders have now is that it’s pretty hard to define outrageous. A 2.3 litre triple? Triumph does it. A Chev-powered cruiser? There are a number of people who will happily sell you one, complete, and ready to roll down the tarmac like a tanker in a hurricane.

Maybe my Horsham contact had it right. He said he built it because he initially couldn’t afford a bought one and, even if he could, the project became much too interesting to give up. At the time, he managed to combine poverty with creativity to come up with something unique.

Is anyone else out there doing this? Let us know and, if you’ll let me, I’ll come for a ride. But, please, spare me the foot clutch…

(circa 2005)


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