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2 Years on - Life and Biking

May 30, 2016

I was born in Budapest in 1955 into a turbulent world. Two years later Hungary erupted into revolution against its then Soviet masters and my immediate family and I landed in an Austrian refugee camp. My dad, a just graduated mining engineer, was hired by the National Coal Board and we moved to the north east of England. In 1963 he was recruited by the Chamber of Mines in South Africa and we moved to Johannesburg. I completed schooling and my mining degree there and along the way started a life time in the mining industry in my late teens.


My dad had some bike crashes as a youngster and so banned my brother and I from this pursuit. However, most of my best mates at school – Dave, Mac, Bill and Honda – all rode and I was desperate to. So at 18, with my miner’s pay cheque I bought my first bike, a 1961 500cc AJS thumper. I restored it using army surplus parts and it went with me to the diamond mines in Kimberley. I eventually sold it when I went to do an MBA in London in 1979.


In 1981 I married Sally back in South Africa and almost immediately used some money I had earned on the side consulting to buy a new Honda CX500. We rode a lot of South Africa on this including to the last Buffalo Rally at Humewood in Port Elizabeth. Along came kids and a single income and so economies had to be made and the CX was sold in 1985.


My career started to take off and in tandem my passion for biking just grew. I loved the idea of a full dresser Harley but in apartheid South Africa there were no dealerships and Harleys were all second hand grey imports and very expensive. So in 1995 I decided on a compromise. I bought the then largest engine capacity bike (a theme that does recur!) – a Kawasaki VN1500 Vulcan – for half the price of a Harley. Twelve months later I was hooked and bought that Harley – a 1996 FLSTN Heritage Softail Nostalgia. By then South Africa was changing and shortly thereafter the first dealership opened in Johannesburg and I became a founder member of the Johannesburg Hog Chapter in 1997.


Typically Sally was my pillion, but by then the kids (Bruce, Danielle and Dylan) also wanted to come. So Sally decided to learn to ride so that we could at least take two kids at a time. She did so and in 1997 got a new 883cc Sportster. A great decision – got our boys ultimately into biking and meant that she and I have toured together far and wide in South Africa and Europe on our bikes.


As post-apartheid South Africa became a reality its power house mining companies (including my own) could begin to travel the world and spread their wings. Four of us listed Billiton on the London Stock Exchange in 1997 and then merged it with Australia’s largest company, BHP, in 2001 to form the world’s biggest mining company, BHP Billiton. This, during the 2000s, was amongst the ten most valuable of all global companies as China’s growth had its enormous impact on the world of metals and minerals.
This was both positive and negative for my biking passion. I could now afford most things biking, however, I no longer had the time to enjoy them! The family moved to the UK in 1999 and I also part moved to Australia in 2001.
With these moves came some new bikes. Still in South Africa my first classic – a 1970 T120R Bonneville (the bike I most lusted after at school) and a 1998 Honda F6C Valkyrie. In the UK A 1999 FXDX  Superglide Sport with which I also joined the HOG Surrey Chapter and at the same time the move of the Bonnie (which is still in the collection) to the UK. Then in Melbourne a 2001 Honda 1800cc VTX (the then largest capacity engine).


In 2006 I eventually retired from BHP Billiton and started a second career in private equity and smaller mining companies. This was more UK focussed and allowed a bit more time for new bikes. A Triumph Rocket III in 2004 (again largest capacity…), a Yamaha R6 for track days, a swop of the FXDX for an FLSTSB Cross-Bones Springer and in 2010 a modern Vmax.
Then at the end of 2010 I became very ill. This started me down the road of working out what is really important to me. My conclusions were my family and my bikes and given the rewards of the past 15 or so years, the ability to step back from the “formal work” world in favour of these.


By mid-2012 I had recovered my health and decided to really focus on the bikes. Initially this was all about finding, restoring and riding the bikes of my era (late 60s to early 80s) – most of which I had just drooled over, but never ridden. Like many, I started with my first bike – an AJS 500 – and then continued with what I had thought had been the most impressive, the six cylinder Honda CBX and Kawaski KZ1300.


Initially the strategy was to find the bike and then have a marque specialist restore it on my behalf. In terms of my targets this was loosely the bikes of my era but also to represent all engine configurations. The collection grew fairly quickly. I was looking for mechanical and electrical reliability, ridability, good looks and a reasonable adherence to originality without being overly pedantic. One area in which I did sometimes go “off-piste” was colours as I do not like black bikes. The collection was regularly being used with Sally and the boys also riding some of the bikes. Inevitably I ran out of space and also developed the desire to manage the restorations directly myself.


To this end in mid-2013 a unit was leased in Astra House in the nearby village of Cranleigh, a workshop was equipped and Alan Wells – a highly experienced and qualified technician and fabricator joined me on a part time basis (after all I am a miner not a mechanic). Over the next twelve months the collection grew and a second unit was rented for storage. Within the year we realised that we needed to make a few key decisions. To keep going we would need to keep growing and Astra House was inadequate for this. I was running out of targets for the collection and so to keep growing we would also have to work for third parties. Finally some desired engine configurations were in bikes which did not fit the style of the collection (eg BMW flat four and triple K series) and so instead of only restorations we started to also consider customs.


We decided to find new premises and have everything on one site. Unit 6 Stag Hill on the A3 in Guildford was leased and equipped, with the great help of Danielle, an interior designer and her architect boyfriend, Robin, plus Sally. With Bruce we developed the company name and the logo. He is an electronics engineer and has also been responsible for our photos as well as the building and management of our website (www.2wheelsmiklos.com) and FaceBook page – with over 7,000 likes to date. He continues as my “on-line alter ego”. A second technician, Dave Rose, joined us and we opened doors in mid-2014.


In terms of third party work we were starting from nowhere. So to get the ball rolling we built half a dozen spec customs to prove we could and to show the quality of our work. We also did a number of spec classic restorations. These together with open days, a few shows, on-line media, judicial advertising and word of mouth started to attract direct work as well.


Along the way we learnt a few hard lessons such as: Customs are very individual tastes – so best to build the dreams of an owner rather than convince a potential owner of the quality of your ideas; with classics “you don’t know what you don’t know” – but the unexpected, in one way or another, is inevitable; also that as a professional shop you cannot compete against a zero cost shed builder. With the benefit of these insights and after some 18 months track record we stopped doing spec projects and became reliant solely on commissions – split some 50/50 between restorations and customs. Looking at others in this field we also realised that most make livings by being actually predominantly lifestyle and apparel brands underpinned by cool motorcycles. None of Alan, Dave nor I had any real interest in the former – so we have chosen to stick solely to motorcycles.
It has been a fascinating and fast journey. We have built some lovely bikes and met and got to know some great people. We have had our share of disappointments and “learning opportunities” but hopefully have used these well. In the UK, motorcycles start as fairly niche transportation products and this becomes much more so by the time one gets to the classic and custom scene. Given weather, cost, friendship groups and personal histories, the more well heeled and somewhat greyer generations have tended to dominate our customer base. However, probably my proudest moments have been riding with my sons, Bruce and Dylan, on bikes we built for them (respectively Moto Guzzi café racer and Bonneville Scrambler).


Our second anniversary is now past and the workshop is full. The collection of icons is now 31 strong and still continues to grow – with the latest project being a 1972 Honda CB350 Four – a look-alike of the first four I ever rode. It contains some truly rare machines (Munch Mammoth, Chinese Red Vincent Rapide, Indian In-line Four, MV Agusta 750S…) in great condition and all of which get ridden. We have built some twenty odd customs based on many brands (Triumph, BMW, Harley, Moto Guzzi, Honda, Yamaha…) and styles (café racer, streetfighter, bobber, scrambler, tracker…) and done many and varied restorations. We have a great network of suppliers and collaborators and now have the confidence to do most things or to acknowledge when we cannot. Slowly but surely we seem to be building a decent reputation in our region of the UK.


Personally I have reconnected with my family, had time for real experiences – like being trained back to fitness by Dylan and riding some of my own creations – and of course doing what I love.
What more……….?

 


Box Hill, Guildford, Surrey 2016

 


 

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