A gloomy Tuesday had morphed into a clear summer afternoon as I wound my way through city traffic enjoying the crisp wind on my face and the warm sun through my leathers. By happenstance, I converged with three Leatherettes on the corner of Nicholson and Johnston Streets, all of us on en route to the women’s bike build.
We roared up Nicholson in convoy with me somehow leading. Humming at a lazy pace, the big engines of the two twin-cylinder Harleys, contently purring behind me.
It’s always such a wonderful feeling of comfort to ride in a convoy and have other bikers around me. Riding with my club, elicits a warm joy, one that blooms in the tummy and works its way up to my lips pushing them into a wide grin.
Women from across Melbourne had come together at Kustom Kommune, communal bike workshop in Richmond, to rebuild an old Yamaha Virago before Shelia’s Shakedown, the notorious women’s motorcycle festival held every February in Ballan, Victoria.
That was the challenge, to rebuild and ride the 1992 Virago 250 cc to Shelia’s.
We began in late October 2022 and met every Tuesday evening thereafter. A diverse group of women from all walks of life. We got our hands greasy and put our heads together in the time-worn workshop, all set on fixing the dusty Virago.
The four of us pulled up at Kustom Kommune, three weeks into the bike build. I smiled as I scanned a large number of shining bikes already lined up in front of the warehouse conversion.
Having missed the previous week’s session, I was not privy to the long-awaited start of the Virago. We’d spent the prior three weeks sweating over its problematic starts… spluttering to life and dying almost immediately.
We tuned the carby, played with the airbox and tested the spark plugs, coil and leads. Everything appeared to work when tested separately, but together the Virago would not bellow its tune for us.
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After much deliberation, the gals consulted Black Beard, Kustom Kommune’s resident mechanic. With his brain in the mix, they figured out it was a simple problem. Nat, a fellow Leatherette member, informed me the hoses were the wrong way around.
Who would have thought?
With the fuel hoses correctly attached, the Virago started with a grave cough, spluttering like an old man on his last legs. As the engine was fed a constant mix of fuel and air, that cough shifted into a long growling thrum. The Virago was finally very much alive.
Rach greeted, Nat, Riz, Sparky and me as we ambled into the front courtyard. Beer in hand, she filled us in on the what else had been accomplished, in the cavernous workshop.
The build nights always go like this. Beers and laughs are shared amongst the ding and grind of the workshop. We work and have dinner together… always.
It was energising to be rebuilding a bike but to team up with other women moto enthusiasts was something else – it felt so empowering. I have met and made lifelong friends with some extraordinary people during this awe-inspiring project, which means a lot to someone like me, as I don’t know many other women yet, who ride.
Sparky, Rowan and Cable had the task of removing the front wheel and cleaning all the parts in a machine, that Rach aptly named the Shimmy Shimmy, Good Good…
As we huddled around the clean front wheel, Rach explained that night’s tasks. Holding up a bag of new bearings, she said, “Tonight’s job is to replace the old wheel bearings with these new ones.”
I pushed forward to inspect the wheel. Others shoved their fingers into the old bearings to feel the catches as it spun, not ideal for any bike.
The task was then to press the old bearings out…
Black Beard, wasn’t around that night, so we looked at one another, unsure of the next step. We just all got to work, debating methods and grabbing tools. Pliers were procured to try and initially wedge the bearings out.
“I think we need a slide hammer,” someone said.
Nat recommended we should heat the tool, so a large blow dryer-looking thing was found and plugged in.
After more hours than I’d like to admit, we managed to replace the worn bearings with new ones. Most of us were covered in oil and grease and all of us were smiling.
I waved goodbye to the gang and hoped on my trusty Percy, already wondering what the next week’s session would bring…