Saturday, 04 April 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

A wild ride on "Flying Number 8"

Racing down a South Island beach on a homebuilt motorbike wasn’t quite where panel beater, Chris Towgood, would have envisaged himself a year ago, but a growing fascination with the mechanics of the 1930s sparked the beginning of quite a journey.

 “That style of motorbike, especially the four cylinder in-line really appealed to me,” says Chris. “It all started from watching the television show, “American Pickers,” where guys go around and buy bike parts and rebuild motorcycles. The bikes themselves are rare now, they are pretty much antiques, mostly owned by collectors. I decided to look into it but even a box of parts was coming in at around $50,000 so that wasn’t an option, so I started to look at how I could do something myself in the same style, but using what I could find here.”

With a picture of a classic American Indian motorcycle for inspiration and just enough research to get underway, Chris started building his own motorbike from the ground up. “I’ve always built things, I think if you can’t get hold of something, or you can’t afford something, you just make it,” he says. The beautiful family home Chris has created in the hills between Wharekaho and Kuaotunu is testament to his skill as well as his passion for a project. “I take on too many, that’s the problem, finding time for them all,” he admits.

A good old Volkswagen engine provided the kick start for Chris’s latest creation which, over the space of a year, became a real labour of love. “I found the VW engine and it just looked like the right size and shape and it went from there,” he says.

Chris made the decision to avoid looking at too many illustrations or online advice. “I wanted it to be unique, I suppose, and to see if I could do it with just my own ideas,” he says.

Most of the parts for the motorcycle were salvaged or manufactured by Chris from various bits and pieces in his workshop. His ability to repurpose old materials meant he spent only around $800, his largest investment coming in the form of his time. He has long since lost count of the number of hours involved.

As the bike took shape, the project took a new turn with the idea to travel to the South Island to race in the renowned Burt Munro Challenge - the largest motorcycle rally in the southern hemisphere. Travelling with a couple of mates in an old campervan, last month Chris entered into one of the rally’s many events, the NZ Beach Racing Champs, held at Oreti Beach in Invercargill, where he took on 11 other competitors in his class.

“I’d ridden a bit of motocross around the farm, but nothing like this before,” says Chris. “The wind was absolutely horrendous and the waves were crashing on to the beach, we were riding through the salt water in some parts. All around my chest and ribs were sore the next day because of the corrugation on the beach, it was super rough.”

To Chris’s pride and satisfaction, his project, “Flying No 8,” performed well, helping him to a third-place finish. “It went really well,” he says. “But the best thing about being down there was the people. Everyone was really interested, people kept coming up and asking about the bike and where it came from. It was a really cool experience.”

The name Flying No 8 is a tribute to how the motorcycle came about. “It relates to number eight wire and that great kiwi attitude of finding solutions to anything and that’s how the bike was built, using whatever I could find and figuring out how to put it together, so I think the name definitely fits,” says Chris.

Chris says his family weren’t overly concerned about his exploits. “Apart from my idea of having the bike in the lounge as a piece of art which I’m not sure everyone is keen on,” he laughs. “I’m sure they are glad it’s finished though, the last few weeks before the race were pretty crazy. The bike wasn’t running properly so I had to pull it all apart and put it back together, we just about had it ready in time.”

Looking ahead, Chris says a return to the Burt Munro could be a possibility and another build is on the horizon. While building motorcycles full-time might well be the dream, he says for now it will have to fit in between work. “There was a real sense of accomplishment which I loved,” he says. “I think it gets to the stage where you have to get on and do things, otherwise you never will and you never know what the future might hold.”

Pictured: Mercury Bay resident, Chris Towgood, with his homebuilt motorcycle which he raced at last month’s NZ Beach Racing Champs held as part of the Burt Munro Challenge in Invercargill.

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