5 February 2008

Wicked Workshops #1

Jessie’s Bike Bar, Melbourne

With a few days off between races, it was time for a bit of riding and a bit of retail therapy. Time to recharge the batteries, and recharge the mind, and what better way than hanging out in a few workshops for the week. You would think that by now, it would be the furthest thing on my mind, more bikes, but your wrong, it’s the first thing on my mind usually. I always have an interest in other mechanics, and some of the places they work from, makes me feel normal in my addiction. There are always some cool bikes or tools to look at, and always some new projects in the pipeline to discover, hidden away in the corner or on the stand. Even an old beauty, being restored or modified to some modern glory. Melbourne seems to have some of the more eclectic workshops that I have come across. And with a week or so up my sleeve, I will track four of these, not so obvious, and well hidden gems for your viewing.

First up is the very hard to find, well disguised, ‘Bike Bar’. I can’t even remember where it is, even though I have been there three times. I have even been in the small street it sits on, and still could not find it (will get the address for you later). One thing gives it away, a nice old early rusting 50’s Holden pickup hanging in the car park, with ‘The Bike Bar’ painted on the thing. This is enough to get me excited, as I know what awaits me inside. I first visited Jessie, and his magnificent workshop a few years ago. I had just raced the ‘Singlespeed World Champs 04’ out in Castlemaine, north of Melbourne. Not my most successful attempt at racing, with almost half year of preparation, I was out in a count. Crashing badly on the first of four laps, putting a huge rip and hole in my knee (13 stitches, and a nice hematoma down the whole leg). It was, surprisingly enough, a result of a mechanical failure of my front disc brake, seems I get to work on everyone’s bikes, pre race, except my own. So Jessie was the Hope agent, and we ended up there, picking a few parts up, and getting side tracked as usual along the way.

Just one corner of his very full workshop, what more you say?

A lot of things have changed here since my last visit, a couple of years ago, mostly more stuff, filling the place almost to capacity. But there were still plenty of places to stand, to get a good view of the surrounding fruit hanging of the walls and shelves. Jessie is one of those perfectionists, a mechanic with passion, and with vision. He had done his stints in normal bike shops, also a bit of time as race mechanic for a French team, many years ago. Working now with not only with bikes, but has moved into the tool making sides of things as well. Featured around the walls and shelves are many different customers jobs, in various states of repair, and many of Jessie’s own projects. He has moved a bit sideways from when I last left him, with the workshop filling up with many more cool old machines to play with. His new interest is machining bike tools up, sharpening existing ones, and making and designing more mechanic friendly tools for the trade. He is loving the micro-machining side of sharpening and tool making. There was a name for it, but I forgot, there was too much stuff going on to remember the current affliction he has, but he was happy all the same.

Some of the wool jersey's, hanging around waiting.

He is still the Hope agent, so you can still see remnants of normality in his workshop in places. Boxes of disc brakes, bleed kits, hubs and old hub bodies lining the shelves. I spied a rack of vintage wool, climbing a ladder (it’s hanging out of the way of greasy hands) I flicked through his collection, ‘any for sale?’ I asked, kind of expecting to hear no. ‘Well if there is anything YOU want, I am sure you could have it’, but I couldn’t do it, thinking of the bag I was already having trouble closing, I declined. But I did register my interest in a nice classic Panasonic team jersey, maybe I can pick it up next time I visit. I spent a couple of hours, watching him work on a mates wheel, being sidetracked by another friend working on a project in the back of the workshop. The world famous Gonzo, (Gonzo Labs, another crazy local mechanic) was making a gravity bike. Small 20” wheels, long heavy suspended frame, no pedals, and looking very fast. This he was making for the impending gravity games in Sydney, in a month or so, apparently he is one of two Aussies invited to race with the worlds best (it’s a newish sport here, but famous elsewhere, 1.5km race on steep roads, standing start, must find out more). He was borrowing space and machines off Jessie, to finish his fantastic machine.

Only one old lady owner, so still looking pretty good for it's age.

There were plenty of nice old bikes, lining the walls, a nice original Gary Fisher MTB, one of the first to be imported here on display, a few early Malvern Stars (Aussie icon brand). A nice old Western Flyer Cruiser form 1948 above the door, in original condition, Jessie being only the second owner. Jessie is a fantastic wheel builder, so we talked wheels for a while, we are a dieing breed, so some wheel building language was quite nice for a change. I had a good look around all the back rooms and dark corners of the place, a sign of respect really between mechanics. He knows I will see something of interest, and drag out and ask questions on half finished projects he has long forgotten about. I will be going back before I leave, I have a special tool I need made, and this is the only guy I think is capable of making it for me. It’s nice to know there are places like this for me to escape to every now and again, where I feel at home. I could envisage owning such a place like this in the future, but what a great place to do all your inventing and fettling, you would need no more.

Love the display here, could easily work in this corner for a while, three to go.

And a few more shots of the workshop here.

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