The Keeper

Like a lot of people I’ve had a few bikes over the years.  Like a lot of those people I’ve had similar experiences drive this.  Bikes sold when children came along, bikes sold when marriages started or failed, homes were bought or bodies protested.  So, my story is not at all unusual.

Or so I thought. Then, as I rode this wild rooney box frame 1150 on a lazy loop of the D’Aguilar Range a week ago I realised that even though it was physically  different from the two Rooney Specials  I’d owned before – it was, conceptually, the same. Which is when it dawned on me;  I’d actually owned the same bike each time, I’ve bought and sold the same bike over and over again. It’s the “keeper” I never kept.

Yet lined up side by side you’d note this current and my past Rooneys are clearly not at all the same. And you’d be right in one sense. This one has a 4 valve “oil cooled” engine, those ones had the two valve “air cooled”. This one has a Rooney box frame, those ones had a Rooney improved loop frame. But if you step back a moment it is more like comparing year models of the same make and model than it is to comparing different concepts.

Which is just the thing, because the concept is just the same. And that’s because my ideal has not changed in all this time. The product has been altered only by what innovation Paul has applied to improve the functionality of that ideal. 

This is kind of a little embarrassing.  Like realising that for decades you have been ordering the same meal at your favourite restaurant, the chef making subtle changes each time that have enticed you so much you didn’t think to look at what else was on a menu elsewhere.

Have I missed out then? No, I don’t think so, because I’ve never craved those other menu items in the same way. Perhaps if I had I wouldn’t be here. But because I didn’t it doesn’t matter. I’ve not wanted. Deep huh? Not really, I just haven’t exhausted my appetite for item 1 on the Rooney Menu. This ideal has been a constant for me. Some of us will live our life always chasing the next best thing, some of us will find something that just fits and feels so right it subdues that ‘need’.

I was talking to Paul after this ride and generally anoying him with this philosophical bullshit. But in practical terms I was saying how comfortable I feel on this machine. Even though I’d only done 500km I told Paul it felt to me like I’d been riding it for years. I couldn’t, and still can’t, explain that, because it’s not alone handling, ergonomics, performance or appeal. It’s the feeling I have when riding it. It’s familiar and obliging. That’s the best I can do.

Mind you, there are some touches that help explain some of the familiarity. Many years ago I did a brilliant architecture tour of Chicago. That was my first real mind blowing experience of being shown something so obvious I had never seen it. It was where architects had paid subtle tributes to each other or their forbearers. ‘Touches’ so subtle one would never pick them up unless pointed out.  These days we are seeing a resurgence of ‘retro’  bikes and the connection to the original is more obvious. But I’m not sure a ‘remake’ is a fitting tribute, because if the original machine created such a following  then it doesn’t need a remake, it clearly got it right the first time. Was it perfect? No. Is the remake perfect? No.

I think the Chicagoan architects got it right. They didn’t seek to do it better or brighter. They just gave a quiet nod, acknowledging  that place in history, not usurping or profiting off it. And if a good deal of folk didn’t notice so be it,  that just made it so much more valuable to those that did.

Of course on a bespoke machine the subtle nods are equally bespoke. They speak to us personally. And that’s what makes it all so familiar. Simple things that might seem inconsequential are not at all. The horizontal lines of the headlight rock guard are in honour of the R100gspd that I saw outside The BM shop in Brisbane back in the mid-1990s – and then a month or two later covered in red dust at a petrol station in Tenterfield after an outback adventure. That bike launched a thousand ideas in my head and my headlight guard pays it homage.

The 80’s style, white ‘baja’ style fenders of course hark back to the 80’s and 90’s Paris Dakar bikes that most often borrowed the plastics of Husqvarna, Maico, KTM or other European MX or enduro bikes. There is no doubt that more lithe and unobtrusive options exist today but I like that subtle connection to those wilder dakar days and my own misspent youth.

Many of us that started “adventure touring’ on the old air cooled BMW did so because they were simple and reliable drive lines, but also because there were plenty around and not then being highly ‘desirable’, parts were cheap and easy to find. An entire used long engine could be picked up for a few hundred bucks. And that is captured here in this machine too, while the air cooled bikes are now fashionable the 1100 and 1150s have been overlooked, but they really are just a bigger air cooled engine, with an oil cooler (and associated pathways) and of course without pushrods – but also with four value heads. This one has been bought back to the ‘airhead’ simplicity by removing the fuel injection and installing carburettors with the assitance of NZ made Pazon ‘Smart Fire’ ignition system. It puts out about more power than a 1070 kitted 2 valve engine and I can pick up another used engine for next to nothing (shhh!). Brilliant!

When I first met Paul there was no internet searching. The first blue I saw on a BMW frame was “Rooney Blue”. And I saw it on a machine that was called “The Captains Bike”. Though I might be mistaken. A lot of these memories and machines get mixed up in my mind over 25 years. Regardless, the Captains Bike was the first Rooney Special I laid eyes on,  and it left a hell of an impression. I had ridden in on a bone stock r80g/s and had until that moment considered it somehow inferior to that r100gspd I’d seen a year or two earlier. All that changed right then.

That was the moment this bike began getting built. And built again, and again. It changed a little each time. And so did I. But the Rooney blue frame tells me it’s still the same dream. The same ideal, same concept, same life, same ride. As a build it pays homage to Paul, and also to the machines that went before it.

Each time I started a build with Paul I’d say, this one is a keeper. And although a couple of those I had to let go, each one of them was and is, in this one, ‘The Keeper’.

Stopping at the lookout at Mt Mee one of a group of riders asked me how long I’d had ‘The Keeper’ . “about 20 years” I said, “I’ve sold it and bought it back a few times though, and every time I get it back it’s changed a little for the better, but there is no mistaking it’s my bike”

See you all at Copmanhurst.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Good story, great bike. I know the process too

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