Ducati 350 Sport Desmo
DIY Projects

Zen and The Art of Wood Chipper Maintenance

Rolling my sleeve back up, I pulled my eyes off the offending injector pump and glanced at the sky. Looked entirely possible that it might rain and I half-wished I’d thought to work on the wood chipper inside the shed. Trouble with that though is that the machine is large and my shed overly full with parts and old machines and other mechanical flotsam and jetsam. It gets cramped in there, so when the weather is lovely – which it was this morning – I prefer to work outside.

The chipper I was working on was an excellent piece of kit that I’d purchased from a local company called Chipstar. It had been faultless for many a long year and, even now, it was going strong. Any sensible bloke would have taken it in for a routine service a long time ago, leaving such shenanigans to the professionals, but truth be told, I enjoy getting my hands dirty when I can.

wood chipper zen
Working outside, a man can think…

You see, most days now, I’m chained to a desk. Which is funny, because when I started the company I didn’t even have a desk, just a kitchen table where I would irregularly attempt to sort out my paperwork, something I’ve never been interested in. Not even slightly.

I was always more one for getting out and getting amongst it. I ride motorbikes, so I would hop on my old Norton and go around to see any new potential customer. They would usually look surprised that their potential new garden maintenance man would arrive on two wheels. ‘Well, I’m not starting today!’ I would joke and proceed to sell them what they called me for plus as many extras as they kept saying yes to.

That was a winning strategy and pretty soon I had to employ some help. At first that was even better, because I could get the other blokes to drive the truck about and I would follow on my bike, sometimes “accidentally” taking the long way, hopefully via some windy open roads. But eventually, I found myself with one hell of a business on my hands and my working life became less about mulchers and edge-trimmers and more about recruiting new franchisees and balancing quarterly budgets.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining: my kids went to the best schools, me and my wife get to enjoy the finest life has to offer and I have a motorcycle collection that makes the average bike nut turn green. I’m talking everything from classic Triumphs, to 1970’s Ducatis to the latest greatest road bikes that money can buy.

Ducati 350 Sport Desmo
Ducati 350 Sport Desmo … what’s not to love?

And yet…

And yet…

A man needs to think… and I’ve always found the office, with all its interruptions and distractions, a terrible place to do that. For me the best ideas arise spontaneously when I am outside.

That’s actually how I built the business up so successfully; a man really to gets to thinking when he’s got nothing to do for the next 45 minutes but push an old mower around and around a field until you get to the centre. (Didn’t have a ride-on in the beginning!) With the headphones reducing the engine noise to a muffled purr and the simplicity of the task, my mind would wander far and wide until – pop! The best ideas would bubble up. It was at just one such time that it occurred to me that I had a hugely scalable business on the my hands, all I had to do was clone myself over and over again, taking my slice of an ever-expanding pie.

So that’s what I did. And that’s why I’m so well-off now. I took the idea and I ran with it.

Anyway, like I said, I wound up rolling in the green stuff – money not just lawn! – which is wonderful, but I don’t get the time to get outside and think as much as I used to. In fact, I haven’t even turned the key on any of my bikes in a couple of months now. Which doesn’t strike me as such a great result.

Not complaining mind you. Just thinking.

And that’s why I’m out here, wrestling with this damn wood chipper engine myself instead of paying someone else to do it. You see, it’s not really about the mulcher; the real reason I’m outside is because I want to sniff the wind.


Because I’ve always succeeded by staying one step ahead of the weather, and like I mentioned earlier: it looks like, sooner or later, it might just rain…

fridge repair folly
DIY Projects

Fridge Repair Folly: DIY (Mis)Adventures in Suburbia

With unbounded enthusiasm I got on my bike and took off for Bunnings.

My purpose? To find – somewhere in the endless, massive aisles – the part I needed to complete a repair job on my  fridge.

It was running hot. Had been for some time, but the decidedly un-frosty beer I’d cracked at the stroke of midday was the final straw. I had, of course, Googled some fridge mechanics, and nearly decided to call a promising looking outfit, Fridge0, that clearly specialised in my brand and area (Melbourne’s South Eastern Suburbs).

However my penchant – which my wife might redefine as ‘chronic obsession’ – for penny pinching kicked in and I began to talk myself into an alternate plan.

fridge repair folly
“Come on, I got this! How hard can it be?”

“If can service my own motorcycle,” I lectured myself, “Then surely I can figure this out too”. Besides, the sun was shining, and I was up for any excuse to ride. So, self-assured and full of bravado, I swung out of the driveway intent on saving myself a few bob.

I was to return an hour later somewhat deflated.

The part was not something simple to find. Neither was an Bunnings employee to help me find it. When I did manage to nail someone down, pleasant as they were (just like the ads!), it was not easy to describe what I needed to fix my fridge. I had received my Internet DIY Degree only just that morning, (that is to say, I had watched the only YouTube video I’d been able to find that seemed remotely relevant and useful) but the actual model of refrigerator that the star of the show was fixing was different by some years. Mine is a Samsung 26 cu. ft. Side by Side Refrigerator; the Texan handyman’s was a newer model. Also, it turns out, the US terminology used to describe the specifics, seemed arcane and unfamiliar to my Bunnings employee.

When, thanks to the wonders of mobile Internet connection, we eventually figured out what I was after, the young lady shook her head regretfully and apologetically excused herself, turning to face the next needy customer. The impatient one who’d been hovering in the background for some minutes, making everyone involved uncomfortable.

motorbike riding to Bunnings
“Just off to Bunnings on the Yamaha, love.”

I pulled a sour face, grunted at the door greeter on the way out and, with the smell of cheap supermarket snags reminding me that I’d forgotten to eat lunch, I fired up my Yamaha Bolt C-Spec. I had to take some deep breaths on the ride home, staying mindful not to take my frustration out on the accelerator.

When I got home, the missus was her usual forthright self in voicing her lack of enthusiasm for a kitchen full of warming groceries and refrigerator parts. I briefly considered digging my heels in just to show her, but a wise little voice in the back of my mind managed to get my attention over the roar of my pride, and I made the sensible decision to suck it up and call in an expert.

After all, there were the gutters to clean, and I’d be buggered if I was going to pay someone else good coin just to jump up on the roof and do something as simple as that!


old motorbike repair man
motorbike repairs

The Motorcycle Whisperer

He picks up what looks to me a cylindrical piece of metal junk from the workbench, the strip lights on the ceiling catch the shiny metal surface with a glint of reflected light. I have no idea what the object is but, by the way he handles it with his work-worn hands, it is clear that he does.

Jefferson’s attention shifts and he strides over grease-smeared concrete floors, passing piles of scrap metal and old motorbike parts to his wall of tools. An old faded sign slung on the brick wall above reads ‘Jefferson Morgan Motorbike Repairs’. He selects a well-worn screwdriver with a bright red handle and pokes it around in the end of the cylinder, perhaps bending metal back into shape, perhaps clearing out dirt and grit. He pushes his wild mop of grey hair back from his eyes so he can keep focus. He is intent on his task

I look forward to Sundays. The mechanics shop is usually bustling with Jefferson’s staff and customers, but on Sundays there is silence, all but the distant buzzing of traffic and the bird song outside.  Jefferson too is a different man. His usual daily autopilot mode shifted into manual and he is alive and energised.

old motorbike repair man

The large wooden double-front doors are swung open today and sun is streaming in, illuminating corners and recesses of the workshop that are usually dark or lit only by fluorescent light. A warm breeze swirls through the warehouse catching a torn cardboard pack he eagerly ripped open earlier like a child at Christmas to reveal his latest purchase: the next piece in his motorbike reassembly puzzle.

His eyes shift to the motorbike frame propped up on its stand in the middle of the workshop. His latest project. The bike has been disassembled and the removed components lay around on the floor with pliers and screwdrivers and whatnot. ‘That’s the problem with this day and age. Everything is so disposable. How could someone send such a beauty like this to the trash-pile. It’s a collector’s item. Someone obviously found it in a shed and just cleared it out. No thought to pass it onto someone who may find its value. I rescued it from the tip. Needs a bit of a clean up but a little bit of elbow grease, some spare parts and some vision this little gem will be back on the road in no time.’

Some people paint, some people dance, some people write. But for Jefferson his creative craft is motorbike repairs. He had been tinkering since he was a young boy, helping his father repair farm equipment and beat up cars that his older brother, and eventually he, would paddock bash around the property. Now some fifty years on and he was still tinkering – and Sundays were always his. I loved watching him work but most of all I loved his stories – detailed, deep, thoughtful, considered, and at times trailing off as he loses himself into the task at hand, often, it seemed, for a moment completely forgetting I was there.

This time he trails off mid story while working the cylinder into place. His kind face changing through determination, frustration to finally pleased satisfaction. ‘Done’. It’s still a work in progress but he picks up a rag from the workshop floor and polishes the shine back into the bike’s onyx-black and chrome.

~ Elisa McTaggart

motorcycle rally
motorcycle adventures

The Mongol Rally

When she heard about her friends plan to do an intercontinental road trip from Prague to Mongolia she jumped at the chance to join them. Their plan was to loosely follow the route of the Mongol Rally. The rest of the group planned to buy a couple of beat up cars in Europe to make the journey. But she had other ideas.

Martha had been a motorbike enthusiast for most of her life. Her parents gave her a motorbike when she was seven and she had ridden many bikes since then. It was an interest she shared with her father. Together they had done up old bikes bound for the scrap heap and would talk for hours and days about models, upgrades and mechanics, the rest of the family leaving them to yarn and tinker their time away. Her father and her had done many road trips over the years but he could no longer ride. She wished he could join her but it gave her comfort knowing he would be travelling with her through her updates, photos and reports along the way.

While her traveling companions tracked down their beat up wheels she found herself a gem of a bike in a local bike yard. The yard was piled high with rusty frames but there was no doubt in her mind when the shiny black body of the 255cc caught her eye. Not a splutter or a miss. Her gut told her it would make the trip and with her years of experience in motorbike repairs she was fairly confident she could handle any issues along the way.

motorcycle rally

Their convoy – two cars and a bike – set off from Prague in early European spring. This felt perfectly timed for a new adventure with the new growth and new quality of warmth and light in the sun. It was a welcome relief after the heavy winter months she had just endured in London working and saving as much as she could before taking a couple of months off.

The first leg of their journey was smooth sailing, with both cars and her bike making it to Istanbul, Turkey without a hitch (via Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria). But it wouldn’t be an adventure without some challenges along the way to test your spirit and resolve. The first mechanical issue she experienced was in Iran. An odd rattling sound had made her pull over but with some inspection she managed to fix it roadside with the twist of a spanner and the tightening of a screw that had worked itself loose.

It was a different story in Turkmenistan. Riding along a highway, luckily not too far out of town, her rear tyre blew out in a dramatic and startling jolt. Luckily she kept the bike in control as the back end slid from side to side and she veered herself safely onto the highway shoulder. Her friends drove her into town where they arranged a pick-up truck to collect her bike. A replacement tyre was finally tracked down and the convoy was back on the road in a couple of days. In Uzbekistan, she hit major mechanic trouble with her piston giving out. It took some patience to navigate language barriers and a clueless motorbike mechanic but she finally tracked down a replacement part and convinced the mechanic to let her use his workshop to make the motorbike repair herself. Five days later she was back on the open road with the wind blowing through her hair.

After so many miles, countries, cultures travelled the feeling crossing the border into Mongolia was epic. The landscape and the people are etched into her memory. 53 days on the road and they finally reached their destination: the capital, Ulaanbaatar. She called her father at the first chance she could get and could hardly contain her bubbling excitement and exhilaration. She had made it!

~ Elisa McTaggart

motorcycle adventures

Motorcycle Wild Child

Back in the sixties I was a bit of a wild child. Always looking for the next adventure. In those days some countries were untouched by the western world and I wanted to immerse myself in as many of these exotic worlds as possible. Perhaps it was to find myself. Perhaps it was to lose myself. Definitely it was to connect with the greater world around me and push myself beyond what I thought was possible.

motorbike babe

In 1966, aged 23, I boarded a ship with my shiny black Honda motorbike and set sail for California, arriving in San Francisco after weeks at sea. I will never forget the looks I got from the ship’s crew as I walked my motorbike off the gangplank. I had told them about my great journey and I could almost see their minds trying to compute what on earth a single woman was going to do all alone on such an epic journey on her motorbike.

Buses and trains get you from A to B but there’s nothing quite like the freedom of touring the countryside on a motorbike, feeling free as the wind blowing through your hair. I was headed on a road trip down through central and South America bound for Chile. Some of the places I would pass through were so remote I needed to be self sufficient with language, gear and motorbike repairs. I learned as much Spanish as I could and did a crash course with a local motorbike repair shop before I left Australia.

The real magic happened when I crossed the border into Mexico. Some days I rode with nothing but open arid, mountainous or agricultural landscapes with not another single soul for miles. Other days there were farmers and workers carrying harvests on their heads or tending their crops and animals in their fields. When my eyes met theirs their faces would light up with joy beaming at me from their labours. Some days I would have the company of locals riding their motorbikes along side me. This was a highlight. At times I could not communicate with my road companions but the joy and knowing we would each share on our faces said it all. Other days I would pass through quaint little towns or lively festive cities. This was wild and would sometimes be overwhelming after days of solitude on the open road with nothing but the sounds of my own thoughts and the motor rumbling along.

I made it all the way to Colombia before my first mechanical issue. I was making my way across a flat open valley when my bike gave out and I had to pull over. It was getting late and the light was fading. I grabbed my trusty toolkit and after a bit of tinkering I had the bike back on the road. Luckily it was an easy fix as the next motorbike repair mechanic I passed was three days ahead and I was grateful I was saved the long walk pushing my bike.

After three months on the road I made it all the way down the east coast to Chile and I am happy to say that all the motorbike repairs I needed to do I managed myself. I carried a few spare parts that would fit in my gear and this kept me on the road. For a young woman traveling alone in a foreign country in the sixties, to have achieved such a great journey independently was thrilling and empowering.

Elisa McTaggart