In the Good Book it says…“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” There’s a fair bit of social comment available in that alone in this day and age, but I want to paraphrase it just a little if I may, to…”Who can find a good mechanic? For his price is priceless”
I guess all of us have experienced the never-ending frustration of trying to find a good mechanic. Sometimes it’s easy but most of the time it’s a real trial and error procedure. Word of mouth advertising seems to be the way that most of us arrive at the destination and then, like when you find a good doctor, you stick with him like glue.
Let me tell you my story. When I first moved down here, nearly 9 years ago, I had a long-standing relationship that was a friendship as well as a business connection with the excellent Rick Miller of RAM Motorcycle Engineering in Canberra. Rick had been a club member with me at CRRC almost since the club started in 1977 and was one of the club members who was actively involved in the original construction of the Shadowfax Kawasaki. Rick had serviced my bikes right through into the early 1980’s when I left Canberra for Queensland and then again when I returned to live in the ACT again in 1987. His workshop was antiseptically clean, his methods methodical and meticulous and I trusted him implicitly.
So, for the first year or so after I moved to Wollongong, I would take my bike back to Canberra to have the servicing done. Crazy, yes, I know, but that’s what you do.
It didn’t take too long for me to decide that it was just too difficult to keep doing that so I asked for advice on my local motorcycle forum and was recommended to Maxpower Performance at Bellambi. Here was a mechanic who I knew straight away that I could trust. His methods, care and cleanliness of operation mirrored what I had been used to at RAM. So, Steve and his wife, Natalie became my next best friends as far as the bike was concerned.
But, and there is always a “but” isn’t there? Maxpower is way over the other side of Wollongong from where I live. To get my bike serviced involved riding the bike over there, then catching the train back home. This took nearly 3 hours given the vagaries of State Rail. Retrieving the bike in the afternoon involved the reverse process and it didn’t take too long before I got wearied of taking nearly a whole day just to get my bike serviced. So, I started looking again. Let me state that I have no criticisms of Steve and his work, it is brilliant, it’s just that north was just too far north.
For a while I took the bike to a small shop that opened up just down the road from me. It was convenient, the service was excellent and I felt like I’d found a more than adequate replacement for Maxpower. Unfortunately, like many small businesses that went to the wall when the GFC hit, my little shop closed down, unable to stay afloat in the face of rising costs. I was so disappointed.
The closure of K&D coincided with my accident in late 2010 so the need for a good motorcycle mechanic became an academic one. Until I started riding again a few months ago. It wasn’t hard for me to find a replacement this time, however.
For many years Karl and Willie Praml had operated a small bike shop in the back streets of the industrial area of Oak Flats. It was this couple who had spent a great deal of their own money plus innumerable hours fostering the career of the young Wayne Gardner back in the late 70’s and, when they sold the business, it was bought by Gary Rooke whose interests in things mechanical spread far wider than just motorcycles. I had had contact with Gary at various times, buying tyres and other consumables off him at the shop but not using his shop for servicing as I didn’t know his mechanics that well and the shop always seemed to be a bit “run down”.
So, fast forward to 2012 and I was on two wheels again and looking for a good mechanic. Oak Flats Motorcycles, in Mineral Road, Oak Flats had moved to new, bigger premises and became the focus and for a quite unusual reason as I had already hinted at above. You see, in the last 5 years or so I had gotten to know Gary very well away from motorcycling. Gary is a very capable and experienced driver of speedway cars and he makes regular appearances at Nowra Speedway where I commentate during the summer seasons of racing. Not only that, but while we are enduring the southern winter, Gary travels to the USA where he races wingless sprintcars in the northern summer. (see picture above)
So it has been to OFM that I have been taking the bike when work needs doing. Gary’s shop looks after all the “postie” bikes for the local Australia Post depot so the shop is always busy but Gary is never too busy to help me out and he has been of huge assistance with both parts and advice while I was doing the Shadowfax project as well.
In the last week or so I became aware that the chain on the VFR was had it. So, I contacted Gary and he told me to bring the bike over and he’d fit a new one. No, “We might be able to fit you in on Friday.” No, that’s not the sort of relationship that we have developed. So I trundled over and Gary set to work straight away. It didn’t take long for him to find that there was a far more serious issue with the bike than just a chain with an enormous tight spot. The bottom mount of the rear shock absorber had about an inch and a half’s movement in it! Evidently, when the rear shock was refurbished before I bought the bike, the mechanic had neglected to re-insert the spacer through which the bottom pin is placed. Bummer.
I was about to ask Gary to order a new part and ask him how long it would mean I’d be off the road for when he said, “Oh, hang on, I have a old VFR in the shed, I’ll just rob the spacer from that one and that will get you on the road.”
The bike was fixed and finished yesterday afternoon and, when I rode it home this morning I could feel the difference. The rear end sits a bit higher now and the bike feels like it is steering more precisely, and I’m sure it’s not just in my head.
So, if I had tried to fit a new chain myself, which I could have done, I would almost certainly have missed this vital, safety-related fault. It was only Gary’s trained and methodical mind that caused him to look more closely and detect what could have been a very dangerous condition.
To say that I am grateful is an understatement. To say that I will continue to recommend Gary and Oak Flats Motorcycles to my local friends who ride bikes is a given. Who can find a good mechanic? Not everybody, but I have.