Soul Factory

Somewhere around the year 1996AD I was having a bit of trouble with direction. I was pretty sure the reason I felt I was not finding the best line had a good deal to do with some steering head bearings that had surpassed their ‘use by date’.

At the time my relationship with my r80g/s could best be described as utilitarian. It was nothing more than a packhorse, a cost effective way of moving my bag of bones up and down the east cost of Australia.

Actually, upon reflection, it was much more. I’d had previous relationships with fast Japanese 2 stroke road bikes and dual sport singles and a European exotic. Yet my affections for this old hag had grown stronger then any of those before. It was faithful, not temperamental or flighty and never flinched at the trail ahead.

And I was pretty happy with that relationship. The old hag did everything I thought I needed. But that was about to change. Because those tired steering head bearings somehow managed to steer me in direction of the Rooney Workshop. There I quickly found that what I needed was quite a bit less then the quite a bit more I saw on those stainless benches.

My idea of a motorcycle workshop up until that day was more of what you might see at back of any 90’s honda dealer; a couple of bored staff happy to charge for a basic service on a ct90 but when confronted with a “complicated” task like tackling the steering head bearings on 10 year old “exotic machines”. You’re already working out the door as they call out “wait on, we’ve got a cool new diagnostic machine, do you have a European plug adaptor?” No.

No indeed. Fortunately my surly steed had steered me to something super special. The Rooney Tune workshop is the stuff of dreams. On the outside it looked like an rustic old barn neatly tucked back into the rich green hues of mid north coast rainforest. From the outside it was only the couple of Rooney Specials that indicated more was going on here than storing silage. Inside, was much, much more.

The Man is no myth. Paul Rooney has been working magic from his humble workshops for decades.

There is a beautiful satisfaction in keeping an classic machine on the road. Working through those little quirks one at a time and finding with each resolution not alone the satisfaction of renewed function but also, in the process, the intimate understanding of ones machine. It’s a knowledge that in itself builds confidence in our own capability. And here I stepped into a place were so much of this wonder was born and then set free. Here, was ‘Point A’ on the motorcycling adventure map, the hall was filled with the emotion of it and I happily drowned within the atmosphere.

That was 25 years ago. But the memory is one I’m pleased has never dissipated. Not that I give it much chance, I’ve never stopped going back for more of that vibe. Watching the machines come together and roll out and on to all kinds of adventures is addictive.

Neil Grimes and partner collecting two RTW machines from the Paul Rooney workshop

Along the way I’ve witnessed the birth of some of Paul Rooneys more well known innovations, such as the compact Rooney Exhaust System and the development of the Rooney Box Frame – for both race and recreational applications. And that’s the beauty of Pauls mind, it’s in a constant state of drive for improvement and with that comes innovation. The next in line just must be better, faster, more durable, simpler, practical. Looks came in second, and yet this very fact gives his creations a raw beauty that leaves the enthusiasts jaw gaping.

Of course this kind of talent isn’t born from looking looking at cafe’d images of R series boxers on instagram and going at at it with an angle grinder. Any guy in a pair of slim fit jeans can make a boxer look good. Lets face it, it’s a nice set of bones to begin with (mind you, we do witness the occasional ‘Oh my go what have you done’ moment). And don’t get me wrong, I like the whole cafe racer/ /bobber/etc movement and the rejuvenation it has given motorcycling. But the thing about a Rooney Tune machine is functionality. Looking good is one thing, building you a timeless practical classic that will cross continents, or mix it in the Australasian Safari among modern enduro bikes, well, that is quite another.

Should you manage to drag your self away from the workshop and visit Paul in his home there is a memory wall just between the dining room and kitchen that’s worth a moment to examine. It’s not the kind of wall to flatter ones ego. No glittering frames accentuated with carefully focused down lights. Rather, in in the same modest way of Paul it humbly reflects those memories special to him. Here the observant passer by will bear witness to a man that appreciates the value of the experience over the need for validation.

In fact when I first raised the idea of this website as a tribute to his work Paul was unsure of what the fuss was about. It would be a while yet before I came to appreciate something more: While what rolled out of his workshop was glorious to me in its own right, for Paul the true value could not so easily be captured in a photograph. Because what’s ‘within’ each and every Rooney machine is not at all visible in those images. That is, the experience that lead to the realisation of a concept in action. In each and every Rooney machine ‘is’ the spirit of the man. And that good people makes it art. Living, rolling, racing, art. Pretty cool.

And I guess that in my mind is what separates a Paul Rooney Special from the now ubiquitous array of resurrected classics. Soul. Those fancy little things on instagram sure do look pretty, but pretty like a barbie doll on a shelf. Real beauty is the girl next door changing out the brake shoes on her jeep; she is experienced, practical, adventurous, and capable. One look at her leaves you in no doubt of any of it. Damn. Never thought I’d manage to work Paul Rooney and sex appeal into the same paragraph, just shows you get finer with age hey Paul.

Soul for miles and miles and miles

There’s something quite special about art you can ride. But there’s something spectacularly amazing about art you can race. Building up a rally racer from a factory machine is not something for the inexperienced. If you have ever watched ‘Race to Dakar’ it’s a case in point. So building up a rally race bike from scratch, based upon shaft driven, pushrod, 2 valve motivation – simple old school technology, and expecting it to mix with modern factory racers might seem over zealous. If you weren’t Paul.

Without corporate sponsors or factory team mechanics Rooney specials have surprised quite a few. There is no doubt reading through the entry list (“2016 KTM, 2017 Honda, 1984 BMWr65”!!) raises a few eyebrows. But not near as many as are raised on the course. Rooney Race bikes have proven themselves in the Australasian Safari and the Condo750. In fact in the 2016 Condo Team Rooney finished 6th in class and 20th overall, while Paul might not ever be happy without a win, that result, against modern enduro machines is well worthy of praise. Rooney Race bikes have earned the respect and interest of many, including some well known and seasoned pilots such as dakar legend Simon Pavey and US/Australian Motorcross / enduro icon Geoff Ballard.

Jason Adams checks the surf during the 2012 Australasian Safari aboard a Rooney Special 84 ‘r65’. Image courtesy Ross Briggs

Among the pilots that have seen action are Graeme Grant, Rod Colling, Joel Spoor, Neil Grimes and Jason Adams. Jason has since raced his own Rooney (box frame) Special in rally events in the US and Europe developing his own loyal following of die hard fans of the “Airhead Rally Team” popularised on the Adventure Rider website. Neil Grimes just couldn’t let go and purchased a Rooney race machine to love forever. A special mention should go to pilots Rod, Neil and Joel who have each sacrificed blood and bone to the ‘god of speed’. A notable mention also to Ken Redwood who has provided ongoing staging ground and technical support.

In 2018 a few keen attendees at the inaugural Rooney Tune Rally held at Copmanurst NSW were treated to a test ride of the most recent evolution of the Rooney Racer. Paul developed this machine as a means to thoroughly exploit the performance he was extracting from the engine and drive line through an innovative chassis and suspension package. The first thing most notice is the long swingarm that brings the pivot point well forward of a traditional BMW loop frame. This allows for rally required suspension travel without extending the wheelbase (as has been required in historic BMW ‘Paris Dakar” race machine). The chassis itself allows for the engine and drive train to be positioned to take best advantage and get that torque into traction and onto the ground. Having also the freedom to define frame geometry allows Paul to put all those years of racing experience into a design that handles as a rally race machine should. It’s old school cutting edge!

As with any race program what lessons are learnt on the track find themselves on the street. Over the years more than 50 Paul Rooney Specials have been produced and found their way to all corners of the globe. Each one a rolling testimonial to the life and soul of racing and adventure born out of the Soul Factory that is the Rooney Workshop.

It’s within that workshop that Pauls race bread heart and soul combines with the dreams of adventure minded folk, of all walks of life, from all over this planet. And because everyone has different dreams and intentions what rolls out of Pauls stable is not only a machine, it’s the culmination of intervening storylines in glorious form and function.

Not a bad portfolio huh? There’s seriously not enough room on my web host to post all the amazing machines that have inspired me and many, many others over the years.

For me, it all began with some dodgy steering head bearings, a rustic old barn, quite a few cheese and vegemite sandwiches and whole bunch of small talking big ideas. In the 25 years since I’ve been lucky to see a lot of those big ideas come to fruition, and even luckier to call such a talented guy a friend. Keep em coming Paul Rooney, the dreams and adventures you’ve inspired will outlast us all, just like a good Rooney Special.

 Ride Safe,

Stu King

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris Cowper says:

    Fantastic article Stu.

    1. KingKreative says:

      Cheers Chris, Hope to catch up this year!

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