Recap: Beginning in late October 2022 and meeting every Tuesday evening thereafter… the challenge was to rebuild a 1992 Yamaha Virago 250 cc to ride to the February 2023 Shelia’s Shakedown, a women’s bike festival held annually in Ballan, Victoria.
Those many-a-late-night session spent at Kustom Kommune, leading up to the festival is a bit of a blur if I’m honest, but with vivid memories of everyone coming together and pulling out the most wonderfully, unexpected skills and extra oomph to complete the mission, just in time for Shelia’s.
Rowan, who lays claim to the bike, took to calling it She Wolf due to the blue wolf that was painted on the chipped tank. Sadly, even though the painting was a little tacky, she painted over it… most of us girls had become quite fond of the symbol and name.
Sesh, who rides a Honda CB250 is one of those mysterious women who seem to have dabbled in just about everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been part of the secret service at one point… some years back she was a panel beater so took on the task of building a heart-shaped sissy bar.
Each week you’d find her up the back of the cavernous workshop, angle grinder or TIG welder in hand, head bent over, with a pair of Al Pacino-style glasses on for protection as sparks flew every which way.
Despite being in a mad rush to get the bike finished and time rapidly speeding by, the social aspect of the women’s bike build stayed intact.
I looked forward to my Tuesday evening social call with the moto gals. I was there, every week, rain, hail or shine.
One night on the way in, I was caught in rain that morphed into a torrential storm whilst we tinkered in the workshop.
Amelia turned to me, wrench in hand and said, “Well it looks like we’re all staying here for the night,” as the water pounded the workshop’s tin roof. Chuckling I recall Sesh stating that she didn’t think that would be too bad…
The final session, was on an overcast Tuesday evening, filled with high expectations and barely contained delight. We’d invited other women heading to Sheila’s Shakedown so a couple of new gals joined to do that last check-over.
The additions created an all-encompassing joyous hum that filled the workshop, working late into the night, or was it the wee hours of the morning? I’d left around midnight, too tired to continue.
Us girls, against the odds, completed She Wolf… the Virago was ready to roll.
I woke up on the day of Sheila’s Shakedown to the soft pitter-patter of rain on my window. A sigh escaped me. I’d known the weather hadn’t looked promising for the weekend but forever the optimist, I had hoped.
As I prepared to meet Lydia and Rowan, I tried not to let the constant chatter in the deluge shift my mood.
Preparing to leave Lydia’s house, Rowan rocked up with a nervous grin of anticipation spread across her face. Having been freshly painted, She Wolf was gleaming in the bright afternoon sun. Rowan laughed softly as she recalled the previous night’s antics at the workshop.
They’d run into trouble when rewiring, as the indicator timings were not lining up. After messing around for hours, Rowan believed they were working… hopefully.
Lydia and Rowan had combined efforts for the electrics, rewiring the whole bike… finishing it just on the brink of time… the night before we left for Sheila’s; it was a close call.
Whilst riding up Rowan, Lydia and I got caught in the heaviest part of a storm front whilst on the Western Freeway, which sits in the highlands, west of Melbourne and on a normal day, gets extremely windy, with motorcycle crashes being a common event… so not the best place to be engulfed in torrential rains and perilous winds. The ride was eventful, to say the least.
Because of the storm and all three of us impatient to get amidst the hubbub of the wonderful festival energy of Shelia’s, my desired slower and relaxed pace on the back roads to Ballan was not to be.
On reflection, I don’t think we had thought it fully through, taking a newly rebuilt bike out on its debut ride, during a storm.
We faced a couple of obstacles, however, while they set us back, they didn’t stop us from getting to the festival. At one stop, whilst desperately attempting to warm our frozen fingers, Rowan’s heart-shaped sissy bar fell off… then She Wolf wouldn’t start.
We tried everything… push-starting, fiddling with the ignition, checking the spark plugs and coil… but She Wolf wouldn’t budge. Sitting on our bikes in thought, hiding from the gushing rivulets of water pouring down around us, we strategised.
Another woman, Paula, who was also en route to Sheila’s, found us that way and asked a simple question, “Have you checked the fuel?”
“Well, of course, I have,” Rowan answered as if this was a little silly to ask. Paula went on to say that it’s always one of three things when your bike doesn’t start:
Fuel, spark or compression.
I nodded my agreement and Rowan sighed, “I mean, I shook the tank between my thighs, and it sounded like there was fuel in there.”
Paula laughed in answer. “That’s not checking properly, check again.” She pointed at the fuel cap.
Rowan pulled off the cap and peered into the tank. “There’s no fuel,” she huffed out a breathy laugh.
Lydia and I started cackling at our simple oversight and we all fell into fits of hysteria at the complete silliness of the situation.
Rowan fuelled up, still looking sheepish and we hit the wet roads more than happy to get back out into the downpour and onwards to Sheila’s.
So, after everything, we arrived later than anticipated in the darkening hours of a rain-soaked evening. But, we had arrived and all I could feel was excited anticipation bubbling through me as we entered along the infamous dirt track of Sheila’s Shakedown towards the spicy chaos of a frivolously fun weekend.