It’s a fact of modern life that you can learn how to do just about anything by watching YouTube videos; whether it’s surviving a shark attack, making fire with a lemon, or how to quickly get a six pack (I haven’t watched that one yet…) your life skills can instantly be improved, just by looking at a short film.
Through watching these online tutorials I’ve learned how to change the alarm module on my Saab, adjust the hinges on a double glazed UPVC door, set the clock on a Mazda MX5 and even get chewing gum off my jeans (it wasn’t my chewing gum, by the way).
And when I flew in the face of common sense and bought a Harley-Davidson last autumn, I quickly realised that everything I knew about repairing and maintaining motorcycles was wrong.
Well, my tools were anyway.
So I decided to take to the ‘Tube and start finding out about how to correctly perform perfunctory tasks on my oversized lump of American iron.
But a note of caution here; just because someone has made a YouTube video telling you how to do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good advice.
And as if to prove a point, I was soon faced with a bewildering array of clips made by depressed sounding guys sighing and slogging their way through the basics, such as removing wheels: ‘I’ll just bang through this axle and let this bad boy wheel drop on to this here ammo’ box.’ (As the exhausts collected a series of dents and the wheel spacers went rolling across the floor…)
There always seemed to be a degree of gung-ho uncertainty and ham-fistedness as even simple tasks were carried out, eschewing what even I know to be good engineering practices with a sort of ‘happy-go-lucky’ approach, as they buggered up their pride and joy with an adjustable wrench and a cold chisel.
And the really tricky bits were usually missing.
Despite this, as winter approached I searched for tips on how to change the grips on my Dyna without using a lump hammer and a crow bar, and was delighted when I found a video made by a British guy who seemed to be working methodically through the process, planning the job, explaining what it involved, and correctly using the correct tools as well as giving the viewer useful tips, torque settings and other helpful advice – before he even started the job. Amazing!
I’d just like to say at this point that I don’t want to start a civil war here; a lot of my friends are American and highly intelligent, likewise I can think of more than my fair share of British F-wits.
I was just happy to find a decent video tutorial made by someone, somewhere in the world who clearly knows what he’s talking about, adopts good engineering practices, and points out what will happen if you do it wrong. Refreshing.
So I looked further, and found that this particular guy – Derek ‘Delboy’ de Reuck – has made dozens and dozens of similar videos. I quickly became hooked, and like seventy-one thousand (and growing) other viewers I now subscribe to the ‘Delboy’s Garage’ channel on YouTube.
I soon found myself eagerly devouring a series of well-made and clearly presented ‘how to’ films on a variety of subjects, including ‘ratting’ a Suzuki Bandit, building a Kawasaki ZX7R based street-fighter (with bodywork made from Harley petrol tanks!) and changing the chain and sprockets on a Triumph Scrambler (often while sitting in front of my monitor with a pint of Doombar and a bag of crisps and my hands immaculately clean).
Well that’s all well and good, but I’ve never owned either a rat bike, a street fighter or a Triumph, and I believe chains and sprockets are the work of the devil.
The thing is, Del’s confident approach and clear instructions have enlightened me, and highlighted what I’d been doing wrong on several tasks that I’d carried out myself over the past 40 or so years, reminding me of my blundering incompetence and a complete lack of savvy – not dissimilar to Ogri’s cousin Malcolm.
And of course, that well-known brand of pictorial ‘workshop manuals’ didn’t help. I usually found that they covered a range of bikes (except mine) and the very bits I’d needed help with were often blithely covered by a brief sentence such as ‘remove the petrol tank’ – with the reassembly instructions simply telling you to do the reverse.
There was no mention of preparing for the half gallon of four star (that’s ‘petrol’ for our younger readers) that was by then soaking into the legs of your flares (that’s hideously unfashionable trousers for our younger readers).
Yep, I knew what I needed to do, and I knew roughly how to do it, but I didn’t have the know-how, the right tools or the confidence to achieve it.
Where was Delboy’s Garage in 1976? Kids today – you really don’t know how lucky you are!
So after carefully setting up a shrine with a photograph of Delboy, shrouded by tea lights and joss sticks, I decided that I needed to make a pilgrimage to this modern-day Valhalla; this Axis Mundi for the mechanically semi-competent, and visit Delboy in his garage.
After many days’ journey, I came to a glade… Look, okay, enough of the hero worship, it’s in Dorset.
But I did ride there and back in torrential rain, does that count as a pilgrimage?
I was met by the man himself, shaken warmly by the hand and immediately offered a cup of tea.
After some initial chat about the fact that Del had just bought the same model of bike as me (how very convenient!) we repaired (see what I did there?) to ‘the’ garage and sat on the very stools that Del and wife Penny ‘Pitstop’ use when they are doing their prize draws.
Did I mention the prize draws? Del and Penny regularly give away decent stuff, including some very desirable tools – often made by the German company Wiha – absolutely free of charge. All it takes is an email with the correct answer to a Delboy’s Garage related question, and a little luck.
Each video seems to rack up several thousand hits within hours of being published, along with dozens of mostly positive and congratulatory comments, many of which are responded to the same day.
So I asked Del how it all began; I mentioned the first couple of videos, which were just taken on a camcorder in the car, followed by the one-handed (left-handed!) service of a Harley XR1200x, while kneeling on the floor of a garage and holding the camcorder in his right hand.
Del: ‘I followed a guy on the net – Dan Bethell – he’s in California, a really nice guy, and he and his brother Joe – The Brothers Bethell – had a channel called ‘Bethell Brothers Hot Rod’, they used to do home hack style hot rod building. It was what I did to cars and trucks; I’ve done probably as much with cars and trucks as I have with bikes, it’s just that bikes are my passion.’
‘initially he would just hold the camera and point to things, and I emailed him and said “Dan, I’ve watched your channel for a long time mate, can I copy your format?”
‘If you watch his videos, he’ll say “Welcome back to The Bethell Brothers Hot Rod/take it easy, drive safe, and I’ll see you next time” and I said “can I nick that?”
He said “hell yeah – make sure you ‘Google Plus’ your account, make sure you go to ‘Adsense’ so you get paid, and make sure you give as much effort as you can to helping people when they ask you questions. Don’t ignore people, be available and be accessible and you will have a good channel and you’ll be quite big one day”
‘So I started with one, just one. And the first one (in five parts) was how to do a basic 5,000-mile service’ (on the aforementioned Harley).
‘At the dealer it was £350 fixed price, and I didn’t have the money. But I did look at the book (HD official workshop manual) and think ‘how hard can it be? There is so little to it, I can do all this – I’ll do it at home. I wonder how many other people could do it at home?’
‘It’s just an oil change, and just an air filter check, bang two plugs in; and the great thing is that Harleys lend themselves incredibly well to being worked on.’
Del told me that the feedback he’d received – the thanks from people who’d saved money from using the videos as a servicing guide were his motivation.
‘That’s what makes me think “right – I did well there, my viewer(s) – both of them – liked it, so I’m actually gonna do that again.”
‘And then the next time, I thought ‘I’ve got to adjust the clutch’. And one of the biggest and most motivating videos was the Harley Sportster clutch adjustment, it’s kind of the third or fourth biggest video now.’
‘A friend of ours – a woman called Holly – had a Sportster and she wanted to do the clutch adjustment because it’s the only part of the Harley service she couldn’t do.’
‘It’s ever so simple, it’s just a locknut thing, but it must be done right, otherwise your clutch doesn’t work properly. Then I showed her the video, and she said “you should put that on line”
‘So we did, we put it on line, and the hits just went up and up, it just kept going, and before you knew it, it was a hundred thousand, and then you’ve got Harley-Davidson contacting you!’
‘I had a call from a Harley dealer, who said “if we get any customers who like to do their own servicing, do you mind if we guide them to your video!”
‘And now, where I was once upon a time worried that I’d get bitter hatred from dealers – pigs heads in the post with Harley-Davidson stamped on them – it’s actually quite the opposite, I’ve got dealers who send people to the videos and tell them it’s a video they can trust.’
‘There is a great responsibility to make sure that the information you’re giving doesn’t lead people down the wrong path, the more trusted you become, and the more respect you receive – there is a saying “with great power comes great responsibility”, but I prefer “with great popularity…”
‘I don’t do spoof stuff, I don’t mess around – you’ve got to do one or the other, you can’t do both.’
At this point Del refers to the ‘Ichiban Moto’ YouTube channel, where the deliberately (and hilariously) spoof videos are not always recognised as such, judging by some of the comments…
‘I do make errors. I try to look everything up, but I’m not always right, the perfect example was when I said to always check the oil on the side stand (on a Harley big twin) but on the ‘07 onwards bikes you check them upright.’
‘It’s not a big issue, it’s that much on the dip stick (indicating a quarter of an inch) but that’s the point, you have that responsibility – which has increased, and then you get more respect.’
‘The biggest motivator so far has been when you go to a bike show and somebody walks over who says “I love your channel, you’ve saved me absolutely hundreds (of pounds). In fact, I only own my Harley today because I can maintain it; I haven’t got £500 for a service, I would have sold it – so thank you for my Harley.”
Del’s garage, as well as being equipped with some very posh tools and equipment, has walls lined with licence plates from many different countries:
‘People send you stuff; these plates come from all around the world – probably 70% of them are from America, but then you’ve got Germany, Belgium, Slovenia, that Czechoslovakian one up the top there, as you go along, Australia – we’ve got shedloads of people in Australia – plus Isle of Man there, GBG – that’s from Guernsey, that one is from Saudi; the little tiny yellow one, that’s from Poland.’
‘These are people who follow the channel and absolutely love it. We started it as a ‘wall of friends’ – I thought we’d get a dozen, but it’s never run out. Eventually they are going to go on here (gesturing to the pegboard on the cabinets) so I’ve got loads of room left.’
‘I’ve also got an American Sheriff’s shoulder badge, which was sent to us by a guy in Wake, Texas. He said it was his first badge given to him by his commander when he first qualified thirty-five years ago. He said that he watches the videos with his son, and that he wanted us to have the badge as a keepsake.’
‘I said that it must be priceless to him, he said that it was, but that he wanted us to have it. I cannot even process that. We’ve had it mounted in a vacuum frame so it’s air sealed, and it lives in a shady area in the house. It’s too nice to put in the garage.’
‘That to me is what it’s all about; I’ve grown a fanbase that I owe everything to. You’ve given them something, and they’ve given something back.’
Aware of the increasing popularity of the channel and the increasing demands on their precious free time, (as well as Del’s job as a touring coach driver, Penny has a high street shop in the nearby town) Del and Penny hesitantly launched an optional crowdfunding site with Patreon early in 2016, to raise funds to support the channel, allowing them to invest in amongst other things better video equipment, editing facilities and an unusual (but expensive) broadband setup that allows them upload faster than download.
The lighting setup alone cost in excess of £1,000, and acoustic devices to deaden the echoes you’d normally get in a garage hang from the ceiling – all clever stuff which has clearly paid off. More recent videos are much better lit, and the sound and lighting has improved immeasurably from the early days of kneeling on the wooden floor in a poorly lit garage trying to undo an oil drain bolt with one hand while holding the camera in the other.
‘It was a Sterling Board floor in a Marley pre-fab garage, but we just rented that place, so that’s what was there. It was the same with the second and third places we had; this is the fourth Delboy’s Garage and the first that we’ve owned.’
‘The first thing we did was paint the garage, then we got the benches – it’s the first time we’ve been able to do all this.’
Getting back to how it all began, I noted that Del had learned a lot from his father:
‘Mostly, my dad and my grandfather, yeah’
‘And you trained to be a bus fitter?’
‘Yeah, I lived in Tottenham, Penny lived in Enfield. I was working for London Transport when I was 21, as a driver to start with, so I got my PSV (Public Service Vehicle licence to drive buses and coaches) and I used to drive a number 73 Routemaster up Oxford Street, round Marble Arch; the proper West End Route.’
‘And then I just wanted to get away from the shifts. The fitters used to work Monday to Friday, 7:30 to 3:30, and I kind of fancied a bit of that, after shifts and (finishing work on) Sunday night at 10:00.’
‘I took a bit of a pay cut, and I went to Potters Bar Garage for ten weeks, and did the study and the training, followed by on the job training for a further two years, and then you’re a bus fitter.’
‘So that put me in a position where I knew how to use tools – you couldn’t go into that training without mechanical ability already, there was a test to get in.’
‘I did that for about five or six years, and then we decided to move to Dorset. We’d done with London. It was 1991, we’d been married for six years, and my wife Penny worked in an office in Walthamstow with five smokers. There were no windows, no ventilation, and she ended up in hospital with glandular fever and pleurisy.’
‘So I said that’s it. I went down to the office while she was still in hospital and I resigned for her, told them she ain’t coming back. No issues, I just walked away.’
‘Penny came down here to convalesce with her aunt in Corfe Castle, in a lovely stone cottage – it was like Swallows and Amazons.’
‘While she was away I contacted an estate agent and I sold our house in London. Then I phoned Penny and asked if she liked it there, and she said she loved it and could live there forever, so I told her we were moving.’
‘Three months later we moved down and I started working for Hants and Dorset Buses, just as a driver, I was alright with the shifts.’
‘After two or three years a bike shop job turned up, and I was ten or twelve years in that. For a short time when I was working for London Transport, in between being a driver and a mechanic, I worked for Bikerama, which was a bike shop in Hornsey, bottom of Muswell Hill, and I worked there for a while, so I knew I’d like bike shops, and I really enjoyed it.’
Del eventually became a dealer principal, but returned to the bus and coach industry when the owners of the dealership shifted their business focus and closed the shop to move into property.
I mentioned Del’s wife Penny, who (for the ‘Delboy’s Garage channel) is the Director, ‘camera pixie’, fashion advisor, the ‘voice of reason’ and apparently keeps Del on the straight and narrow when it comes to taste and decency… (a comment made during a recent video featuring Del using a decent sized pair of jugs to change the oil on a Harley Fatboy was the subject of editorial control from Penny and ended up on the cutting room floor!)
I asked how the videos had progressed from the one-handed servicing videos to the professional looking presentations we see on the channel today. Was it a simple request to hold the camera one day?
‘There was a line in the sand where that began. It was the Sportster Clutch adjustment video. I didn’t have a tripod, and I didn’t film myself because I didn’t want to be on it, I was too shy.’
‘With that video, I needed two hands, but we still kept it that you filmed my hands, not my face. Penny then said that the videos were getting so popular that I should show my face.’
‘The first one I ever showed myself on was fabricating a sheet metal air filter cover for my old Sportster, when I was painting it I just jammed the camera between two sockets and filmed it. Then afterwards I looked at the footage and thought that it looked OK; I was happy with it so I just did it, and then got messages from people saying that I looked different, “I thought you were fat and ginger!” (laughing)
‘So Penny started filming because I wanted to have two hands free to show more technical things, and as soon as that happened, immediately the footage improved; the framing of the shot improved, the camera wasn’t moving around, and Penny could focus on framing and light; she would direct me to move my head out of the way, because there was no light.’
‘The other day, when we were filming the gearbox oil change on the Fatboy, there are two shocks underneath, with the plug between them. So we took this (the rear wheel access plate on the workbench) out, and Penny was literally here (indicating standing behind the bike) with the flip out screen on the camera, right up under the bike’s petticoats.’
The camera (a recent acquisition is a Canon, which is 1080 60, whatever that means…) was chosen by Penny as she finds it very comfortable to use and the controls are right at her finger tips, important when you can spend several hours filming.
With this in mind, six years and at the time of writing almost 900 videos into the Delboy’s Garage channel – which is taking ever increasing amounts of time to produce – I ask Del if he ever dreads having to make a video…
‘I never ever dread making a video, sometimes if I’ve got five hours of footage from a full day in the garage I do dread sitting down knowing I’ve got seven or eight hours of editing to do, but once you get into the first ten minutes, you load the footage into iMovie, then you start bringing in the transitions, then you start bringing the music in underneath, and then an hour later you’ve done the intro, and that’s 28 seconds!’
‘But we never, ever dread making a video, and the patrons – the money that comes in from the patrons has allowed us to pay the bills from the garage entirely. We don’t spend any of the money on ourselves, so when we get a bill come in, something for a bike, something for the toolbox. I can pay it from patron money. We’re not trying to make a living from YouTube, we’re trying to make the channel self-supporting.’
‘At the moment, I’m doing a sixty-hour week, it’s split between this and the coach driving work.
I do like that, I like going out in my coach, picking up a load of schoolkids, taking them to the zoo, having three or four hours to wait while they go round the zoo, and read a book.’
‘I’ve just read a fantastic book called Sapiens (Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind) by Yuval Noah Harari, he is a very insightful guy; he talks about human beings, and the way we all are, what our impact is on the history of the world, and why the world is the way it is. Very insightful reading.’
‘I like to read, it gets me away from all this, away from media, away from bikes, away from mechanical stuff. I sit and read a book, then the kids come back from the zoo, I get them in the coach, I drive them home, and then I come back about five o’clock, so I’m not even working antisocial hours.’
On the downside, Del also drives rail replacement buses, which can mean long hours with passengers who don’t usually want to be on a bus…
‘I don’t mind it, there has to be a little bit of balance, the rough with the smooth – you can’t live your life all on the smooth, because that’s boring and becomes its own rough; you need a little bit of rough and tumble in life.’
I ask how fast the number of subscribers has grown.
‘It’s been a steady trickle for five years, what’s the old saying? Births over deaths, emigration over immigration, ins and outs. It ends up with a net increase each day of between fifty and a hundred subscribers.’
‘Not once, at all, in the entire history of the channel have our subscribers dropped on any given day, and we do a daily check.’
We discuss the sidebar suggested videos on YouTube, and while acknowledging that it brings a lot of viewers to the channel, Del isn’t a fan…
‘I hate it. I’m watching stuff and then I see ‘fail’ videos, and if there’s one thing from today that I want to get into The Rider’s Digest, it’s that there now needs to be a ranking system in YouTube.’
‘Viewers – if they so wish – could delete all the chaff and the ‘fail’ videos; the three minutes of a kid falling off a skateboard and just have meaningful content. They could sign into that side of YouTube, maybe a payment side, because it’s the people who sit watching 20 second videos of people falling off skateboards all night who would not pay.’
‘I would be more than willing to pay YouTube to put me into a ‘pay only’ format, so that customers who licence it have the option to watch several videos, and either stay or go, and if they go, they get their money back.’
‘It’s a shame, you are given the same credence as people who know absolutely nothing about bikes. They’ll go and get their bike serviced at the dealer, and they’ll get given a demo to go home on. And they’ll stop in a layby and do a review on it.’
‘The important thing that I’d want is to have people who can go to YouTube and be part of a sensible, meaningful format, so they don’t watch all the rubbish. There might be a way where you have to qualify, where you have a panel of judges who look at your videos, and they say the content is good, and we like, what you’re doing.’
‘We look at the stuff that’s out there, and most people want to see something that’s meaningful, that actually fulfils them. You get clickbait: ‘my boobs fell out of my bikini’ – six million hits, and you open it up and there’s sixty thousand ‘dislikes’ because there’s people hoping to see bosoms.’
‘If I’d put that video up, you know – the one with the jugs (the Fatboy oil change) and I’d called it ‘Nice Jugs Missus’ with a picture of two jugs, loads of people would have opened it. That’s clickbait, and I will not do it.’ (Although there was a DBG video entitled ‘GUSSETS!’ a few months ago…)
Where do you see Delboy’s Garage going next? Would you have dreamed six years ago that it would be like this? (gesturing to the wall to wall storage lockers, expansive array of tools and substantial bike lift)
Del: ‘How different is it? Take the equipment away. How different is the content?’
I note that Del’s voice is lower and he speaks more slowly these days.
‘Well that’s confidence. But take the cinematography away, take the equipment and the garage away, how different is the content? Take the video about the clutch adjustment on the Sportster – that’s six years old. Take the video on the clutch adjustment on the Softtail, which was six days ago, and look at the two. The information given in them is identical, and all that’s changed is the way it looks.’
‘So where do I see it going? I don’t know, can it go any further? If we get a big commercial premises, there’s several restrictions. We would be restricted about when we can trade, as industrial units are Monday to Friday, 9-5.’
‘Imagine this as a utopia – a 2,000 square foot unit, with a 1,000 square foot mezzanine. Upstairs, bike clothing, café, race videos playing, cool. Downstairs, bike building going on – cool, and a hangout, like a clubhouse.’
‘Bar, rock music, bikes turning up, and between it all, let’s stick a bike on a bench, and let’s do a tutorial; how to do an oil change, something like that. But there are so many things that mean that will never happen.’
‘You need a barn, in the middle of nowhere. And then no-one is going to come. Because it’s in the middle of nowhere. You’d need a PRS licence – you might get one for staff to listen to the radio, but you’re not going to get one for live bands, so that ain’t gonna work.’
‘Roll back – let’s go back to where we came from, let’s not get excited. Where would we like to be? I think the one thing that we can achieve would be to be picked up by a TV company, and with their backing, we’d have a sound guy, and a video guy.’
‘It’s an honour to have you here today, I feel so privileged’ (me: ‘Really?’) ‘Oh I mean it mate, there’s no two ways about it. I’ve got two privileged interviews behind me, three now, and this is an honour to have. This is the pinnacle to me, to be interviewed by someone who’s interested in listening to my shit…’ (me laughing…)
‘The message we’re trying to make clear is that people will trust YouTube. For today’s generation it’s their portal of choice, that’s what they use. I’ve got ‘old men’s knowledge’ – grandpa knowledge, stuff my dad taught me. I can give that to them, their dads can’t, their dad’s dads didn’t.’
‘So when you look at it, I think we’re mixing generations here. My grandfather’s generation was born in 1918, he was in World War II, and he taught me things. I’ve got tools in the box there that were his, vintage tools, and that’s fantastic.’
‘I can link by two points of contact with him and a 16 year old kid in Australia – Stu Bryan – I think he’s probably about 19 now. We picked him up at 16, he was making and fabricating a tail tidy on his 125 using his dad’s tools in the garage.’
‘You rock star you! I am so proud of you my friend, I want to come along and buy you a beer sunshine!’
‘I’ve got no kids, but I feel if I had a son like that I’d want to be teaching him that stuff, and I’m using my grandpa’s stuff to teach to him. So there’s five generations of information, passing down the motorcycle world, and isn’t that the wonderful thing about the bike world?’
‘We’re deeply indebted to YouTube for that, that free platform, if you use it responsibly, to me seventy thousand subscribers who want to be here is more important than five hundred thousand who subscribed and then forgot about you. Look at their videos, they’re only getting 500 hits per video because they’ve all gone.’
‘So I don’t think subscribers are a measure of your success, I don’t think any of the statistics on YouTube are a measure of your success.’
‘I think the measure of your success is journalists wanting to come and talk to you. It’s people wanting to come and talk to you at bike shows and saying thanks. It’s people in America sending you the Sherriff’s badge and saying ‘thanks – you’ve changed my life to this extent.’
‘We had a gentleman who’d fallen out with his son, a classic story. They hadn’t spoken for years. They decided to buy bikes. They both – unbeknown to each other – started to watch the channel. And through a third party they found out and got together, and up on the bench goes this old bike, they spent a year building it together and they’re mates now. I win. I claim that one!’
So on that note, after several cups of tea and a Kit Kat (other chocolate wafer bars are available) we move on to the Rider’s Lives questions…
- What was your first motorcycling experience?
‘From memory, riding on the back of my dad’s Tiger 110 round the block where we lived on a council estate in Essex, in Hutton. My old man had a Tiger 110; he’d done some work to it and I begged him and begged him. We’d got no lids, I was six years old, so 1971 and no lid law, and we went round the block, eyes streaming, hanging on to him like Ogri’s dog!
I remember that to this day, I remember the ride, I remember getting on the bike, and riding past the green, probably at 30mph but it felt like 100! I was trying to wave to my mates, and he’s digging me to hold on. I can remember getting off the bike, but I can’t remember five minutes after that experience. I probably went out on that bike loads of times, but I don’t remember any of them. It was the one that nailed into my head.’
- What is your current bike? (I thought I knew the answer to this before my visit…)
‘Stop Press! – It was the Fatboy, but as of Thursday this week, I own a 2012 Harley-Davidson FLD Switchback, and it’s given me the opportunity to bring a Dyna platform into the garage to do Dyna videos. I already had people watching the Soft tail series, saying ‘are you going to do these on a Dyna?’ And I might have normally said ‘blimey do you just expect me to go and buy one mate?’ But actually, I have done!’
I commented that I couldn’t believe the number of people (on the Soft tail oil change video) who asked about draining the oil tank on their Dyna, when they don’t have one, it’s all in the engine!
‘I think what it is, is that they have clearly got a passion for their bike, they are demonstrating the love and consideration for their bike, based on the fact that they’ve found a way to do a more thorough oil change. They don’t know one thing or another, but they know that this guy on this video has just found a way to get a whole litre of oil out. Well OK, it only works on the Soft tail, but I should have probably explained it more clearly on the video – ‘this will not work on your wet sump bike’.
- What bike would you most like to ride/own?
‘Years ago, when I worked in a bike shop, we rode to Diana’s funeral. We rode to London to see the flowers after the funeral. And what was in stock was a Kawasaki Voyager 1300, basically a Gold Wing, but built around a Z1300, and that was at the time the biggest bike in the world. I couldn’t believe I was riding this lorry, it was like a yacht!’
‘But what I’d like to ride, would be the new Roadmaster, from Indian, because it is currently No. 1, physically the largest bike in the world. If you look at the dimensions on Bikez.com it’s bigger in every way, it’s like two inches longer in the chassis, it’s 880 kilos or something, it’s an absolute yacht, a monster. I want to ride one; what we’re thinking of doing is maybe going to The States for a holiday, and we’ll rent one, me and Penny, and we’ll do some distance with some friends.’
- What was your hairiest moment on a bike?
‘Not ‘hairiest’, but the most fun in that way – me and a buddy, Jerry, years ago. He phoned me one day when I had a day off and said, he’d just seen tickets in the local paper – France for £1 – do you want to come?’
‘He said you can take a bike for an extra fiver. We found out you could go from Poole, so we got on the ‘Fast Cat’ ferry at 7am, 9am we’re in Cherbourg. We hadn’t worked out where to go, and then we met some guy, who told us to go to Avranches, a typical French town with a great big market square, with loads of tables in the middle, and there’s cafes all around the square, with rotating menus and phone numbers for which café you fancy from the menu.’
‘It was about 200 miles, and by the time we’d eaten it was about 3pm, and I said we’d better head back to the ferry, as the offer was only for a day, otherwise it would have been £250 to get back.’
‘I then asked Jerry if he’d put his watch forward, and after a discussion about time zones, we worked out that we had an hour to do the 200 miles back to Cherbourg.’
‘I was on an XJR1300; we stayed off the péage, so we didn’t get caught speeding, and we ended up doing 130mph on the D650 coast road, and when we got back to the ferry we were 40 minutes late after stopping for fuel, and we thought “£250 to get home – we’re screwed!”
‘But luckily the ferry was late due to the harbour being busy, and the ramp wasn’t quite going up as we approached, but as we got on and strapped the bikes down, it was up and out. My ears were ringing, I virtually had a nose bleed – you do those sorts of speeds for about an hour, two full tanks of fuel, from brim to empty and we got on the ferry on reserve. I’ve never gone so fast for so long and got away with it!’
- What was your most memorable ride? (At this point Penny joins us in the garage bringing bacon sandwiches and more tea!)
Penny: ‘Oh come on, it’s got to be when we came back from Duxford’
Del: ‘Oh my god, yes, that is it! (both laughing) You think you got wet today!’
(To Penny): ‘When you had your Bonneville, and I still had that (pointing to Penny’s modified Triumph Scrambler) and we had some friends who worked at Duxford, showing people around. We went up there and it was a dry day, it was beautiful. Penny’s mum and dad, and loads of relatives all went up there at the same time to meet for lunch, the whole family together.’
‘Come the time to go home, right in the distance there’s those clouds that look dark blue, we couldn’t work out if it was the tinted visor, but we thought we’d be alright as we rode away.’
‘On the handlebars we had our waterproofs rolled up in a tube, and bungee’d on. We got to about a mile away and it started to rain. We pulled into a layby that was full of puddles, which turned out to be about knee deep, and it started to rain properly, so we thought there was no point in putting our waterproofs on, as we were staying at a Premier Inn in Ware, 20 miles away, so we had to ride through Royston.’
‘By the time we got there it was raining so hard it was foot deep, running down the road like a flood. We were doing about 10mph and we had a bow wave, and there were Range Rovers coming the other way, not bothering to slow down, so we were getting tidal waves of water over us; we were soaked through to our underwear!’
Penny: ‘I’ve never been so wet! I was screaming at people to slow down.’
Del: ‘I just couldn’t stop laughing. We were riding through a foot of water, I kept thinking “air filter – in a minute it’s going to go in the air filter”. It was like a ford, the full length of a town. Every time a car went past it was like we were being hit with a bath full of water.’
Penny: ‘When we got to that hotel, we thought they’d have the radiators on, or we’ll use the hair dryer. But it was one of those five-watt clockwork hair dryers, we were trying to dry everything with this pathetic whirr.’
Del: ‘It blew about as hard as hot breath on a misty morning. So in the morning our gear was just as wet, and we had a 250 mile ride home. It was like a tropical monsoon, just mad.’
- What would be the ideal soundtrack to the above?
Del:(Laughing) ‘Riders On The Storm’. It’s gotta be.
Penny: ‘Highway to Hell!’
I ask if they listen to music while riding…
‘Only the music from that Vance & Hines pipe. No, never do you?’
I explained about the custom in-ear monitors I had supplied by Mercury Hearing, which I used with my phone sat-nav to find Delboy’s Garage, and added that I have sometimes listened to my iPod, or the radio. But strangely enough not any more since I’ve had the Harley.
- What do you think is the best thing about motorcycling?
‘Family. The family of motorcyclists; the family; the brotherhood/sisterhood; the camaraderie; the sense of common belief in each other and the sense of instantaneous friendship and recognition. You can pull up in a petrol station in the Outer Hebrides, and if another biker is there, you’ll have a conversation.’
‘And that conversation might last for half an hour. Pull up in your car and there’s another car there. Nothing. That‘s the thing – the sense of family, and we’ve learned more about that from all of this (gesturing to the garage) from all of these people around the world, that deeply want to be involved, they want to be part of it.’
‘We’ve heard from people who’ve got no biking friends: “I live in Poland, in Krakow, and nobody where I live has got a bike, I ride on my own” – that would hurt me. It wouldn’t bother me too much, I just ride my bike, but then you know you’re missing out on what you have had. This guy never knows that, so he sees what we do, and thinks “god, I wish I had your life”
‘So yeah, the sense of family is the greatest thing about biking, we all know each other because of our common interest. Your bike is your passport.’
- What do you think is the worst thing about motorcycling?
‘Rain down the back of your neck in the winter (laughing) that’s ‘cos I’m old! I don’t know, what is the worst thing about biking, what do you reckon babe, from a rider of 17 years’ experience yourself? Car drivers’ attitude?’
Penny: ‘Yeah, but then you’ve got to take an attitude yourself when you’re riding.’
Del: ‘I never have an issue with cars – they exist and I’ve had people make aggressive acts towards you, and we’ve all had it.’
Penny: ‘I think it’s the small minority that are aggressive riders actually can cause a problem for everyone, can’t they?’
Del: ‘I never judge any other rider, from the guys who get their Dynas and go and do twelve o’clock wheelies to the kids who whizz around on scooters with their lid up on top of their head and the phone stuck up on the side, I don’t care, I was probably like that.’
Penny: I think probably in England it’s the unpredictable weather. We had a beautiful day yesterday… (laughing)’ (while outside it was still lashing down…)
Del: ‘Yep, it’s something as trivial and simple as the unpredictability of the British weather. Not just the fact that it will rain or it will not rain, it’s deeper than that. It’s that one day it’s 24 degrees and you’re in a T shirt (under your jacket), and the next day you’re in two hoodies, a fleece and a thermal.’
‘And that means you can never just put an armoured hoodie on and go for a ride, because you never know whether three hours later it’s going to be like this, chucking it down. What is it today? In here yesterday it was 28 degrees, and there it is today at 18 if you’re lucky. Ten degrees difference.’
‘But having said that, I do like rat bikes, because wet you’ve got a rat bike, actually you quite welcome the rain – put some warm gear on and an oversuit and I’m happy. And to be honest, here’s another thing – riding along on a piss wet day, you see a biker coming the other way, and you’re both in it aren’t you?’
‘But you go out on a sunny day – you kind of stop nodding after an hour…’ (laughing)
But when you see someone in a petrol station – and this happened to me and my mate Dave up at Squires – part of the roadside experience you pull in, it’s a pee first, 40-minute bladder! Cup of tea to re-fill for the next one, and then two guys pull in on Harleys, they’re going around Europe. This is their exit from England and they’re both annoyed.’
‘And we pulled up, all four of us together, and we were talking for an hour. We didn’t know these guys, and we’ll never see them again. That I love, but at the same time, when you’re on a rat bike, – which I was at the time – it don’t matter, (the weather) I don’t care.’
‘It’s nice seeing that kind of camaraderie. Sometimes the worst side of it brings out the best side of it. That resilience we all have. I will build another rat bike as well. Not out of that though!’ (pointing to the Dyna and laughing)
‘The worst side of biking – the weather – actually bonds us together, bringing out the best side, which is the camaraderie and the brotherhood.’
- Name an improvement you’d like to see for the next generation?
‘Generally, in biking altogether? Or in life? (In biking) For more of them to learn the manual skills at an earlier age, at school. To bring back ‘metalwork’, ’woodwork’; hand skills – to bring what they Americans have, which they just call ‘shop’ – where they have a garage set up and they teach the kids to do that sort of thing.’
‘If kids were learning a few more life skills, a few more hacks, a few more home skills; the ability to use their hands, to be manual, we would light a fire under the imagination of many less academic kids, who may not get that degree, but instead may end up working driving a bus, or digging gardens for the council, they might want to be a botanist, but they won’t go and dig in a garden for the council, they’ll go to uni and get a degree, and they’ll be a botanist elsewhere.’
‘I want to see a little bit of that – watered down. Less expectation. The problem in this life is that we’re very good at aspiring for things. But when we get those things we’re rubbish at turning that aspiration – that successful aspiration – into happiness.’
‘What we end up doing is just aspiring further. When we buy our Sportster we want a Dyna, when we buy a Dyna, we want a Softail, then we want a Street Glide, then we want a Road Glide, then we want a CVO. And that’s human nature, so we’ll never get rid of that, but we need to perhaps become a little happier with where we are.’
Watch Jessie James’ (West Coast Choppers) old videos on metal working; learn how to beat sheet metal around, learn how to fix nuts and bolts, learn how to cut a thread, drill a hole, make something that costs £54 yourself for 50p like I did with that’. (Harley wheel alignment tool).
‘And in that sense, light a fire under a generation of kids who aren’t going to get a degree, and are going to be left behind, so you bring their imagination to life, you show them that actually, you do have worth, you are good at things, there are skills that your teachers at school have just skipped over, because they’re not interested because they’re not in the curriculum.’
‘And they are that I can file, and I can nail and I can weld. If young people could be given the opportunity to learn manual skills, to be carpenters, sculptors, blacksmiths.’
‘Engineers are OK. We need engineers, and we’ll never be short of them because it pays a lot of money, but metalwork is not engineering, and unfortunately they deleted metalwork from the school curriculum, and they’ve given too much priority to engineering.’
‘Those kids who again, won’t get that engineering degree because they haven’t got the maths that goes behind it, and the trigonometry.’
I mention the Bexley Kickstart Motor Project
‘Young people still want to do the things that the system has deleted. Their hunger has not gone away for that, their passion and enthusiasm for that has not gone anywhere, it’s just that the focus has shifted to business and engineering and technology.’
- How would you like to be remembered?
‘I’d like to be remembered as someone who gave bikers fishing rods. You know that old saying? ‘Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Give a man a fishing rod and teach him to fish, and he’ll feed himself for a lifetime.’
Penny: ‘Maybe you’ll be remembered as doing something kind for people…’
Del: ‘Maybe as somebody who could light the fire under peoples’ confidence and gave them greater pride of ownership’
And with that we wrapped up the interview. Del and Penny needed to go and get something for the Dyna, and I had 150 miles of heavy rain to look forward to.
But I felt inspired as I left this ordinary couple; a coach driver and a shopkeeper, with their ordinary one car garage in an ordinary town in the South of England.
But while most peoples’ garages are stuffed to the gunnels with boxes, barbeques and bicycles, Del and Penny’s garage is a place where magic happens; where traditional skills and expertise are shared with the world in an affable, accessible way that spreads goodwill among fellow human beings.
As a footnote, in between putting the finishing touches to this piece, I was out on my Harley and I spotted a Dutch rider at the side of the road, who had taken a wrong turn and was looking pretty lost and alone.
An hour and forty miles later I’d managed to get him to a rendezvous point where his buddies were heading back to meet him. Nothing exceptional, but I felt like I’d helped somebody out, and it felt rewarding, which in some small way gave me an insight into why Del and Penny spend so much of their spare time locked away in their garage – when they could just as easily have their feet up watching Corrie or riding through Dorset’s country lanes to a country pub.
It seems to be the British way…