PHOTOS | JO-ANN McEWAN
It feels like an age since I abashedly introduced myself to a slightly overwhelmed but beaming Courtney, who had just taken gold in the The Machine Show builders competition in Braidwood, in a field regularly reserved for parading stallions. In reality it’s only been sixteen months of back and forth through a variety of modern social mediums to bring us to this present day ‘unveiling’ of a bike that many have now seen in the flesh, her custom Suzuki Bomber Betty having appeared at Throttle Roll earlier this year and (rightfully so) used in a number of real life riding adventures.
Courtney is an unsurprisingly wonderful soul: the best kind of humble creative, proud of the countless hours of work she’s put into this machine, her first of what we hope will be many, and expectant that people will give more attention to the bike than the builder. Married to a (house) builder, her home is a never ending work in progress, but the garage space is where it’s at - it’s practically a vintage vehicle playground - and where they can often be found, lost in a veritable flurry of activity.
You know you’ve found a kindred spirit when you hear the heater was installed in the workshop before their house was watertight… winter evenings in Canberra aren’t exactly mild. I think she has her priorities just right though; the girl clearly knows how to put a bike together.
Jo McEwan: Who or what initially inspired you to customise your GS550?
Courtney Holgate: I bought my bike with the intention to customise it, however I can be a little slack and unmotivated at times. A mate suggested that I enter it into the Machine Show build comp as a way to light a fire under my ass. Needless to say it worked.
JM: How much did you know about motorcycle design and construction before you started?
CH: Just what I’d read, seen my Dad and husband Matt do, and experience from riding. The real learning didn’t start until I decided to take on the build. I get a vibe occasionally that some people assume I didn’t do much, but one thing I am is stubborn and headstrong. I like to do shit myself and if I make mistakes – it’s the only way I learn.
JM: Was there a main focus of the build? Did you have a comprehensive plan for what you wanted it to look like and how you wanted to use it before you started or did it come together organically?
CH: My main goal was just to build something that I loved. I drew from all things I loved about bikes, history and art. The knobbillies and low rise bars are inspired by my love of riding dirt bikes, the springer front end is what I dig the most of my fav Harley (’42 WLA) and the Suzuki itself it to pay homage to my Dad, his racing career and for sharing his passion with me. Having studied design, the artwork was something that I wanted to nail. Darren McKeag is one of my fav artists, the man is a genius – so he and I came up with the idea of a spin on WWII aircraft nose art. A Japanese motor and frame with an American front end from the ultimate war bike; we played on the irony of that, hence why Betty is riding Big Boy.
JM: It’s been over a year since your win at the Machine Show so you probably have some perspective on your process. What was the most challenging (or frustrating) part of the whole project? Given a second chance, what would you have done differently?
CH: Myself! Lol! I can get frustrated easily and annoyed with myself if I don’t nail something the first time or think I’ve done a good enough job. So the build process taught me a lot about myself, what I need to work on and what I am capable of. Build wise, the neck conversion was the fussiest and most time consuming part. As for what I would do differently, nothing. What I learnt in return from my mistakes and trial and error is too valuable. But there just might be another bike on the table so ask me that question again in a few months.
JM: What features on your garage soundtrack?
CH: I’m a sucker for 60s, 70s and 90s rock, to name a few; Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Creedence..
JM: How did your obsession with Japanese automotive engineering begin? In your opinion what makes it better than the rest? (feel free to exhilarate us with details of the new project!)
CH: I have a great love for all things Japanese. The Japanese people have such pride, dedication and care in their crafts and aspire to build and manufacture products that are of the highest quality. The Toyota company is a perfect example – I recommend googling the company’s history, (and visiting the factory if visiting Japan) it’s unbelievable and inspiring. I guess in my opinion the Japanese Automotive Industry has better quality control and streamlined manufacturing processes while maintaining lower costs (than its US and European rivals) for parts and import, and they are pioneers in hybrid tech. Haha the new project is still a work in progress, but of course it’s another Jap bike!
JM: Do you prefer travelling with a person, a group, or alone?
CH: Bit of both! Most of my riding has been/is done with my husband Matt. I’m lucky to have married my best mate. We get out as much as we can and love adventure. We’re heading north on a trip at the end of the year. Whether that trip will be taken on Betty or the next build, I’m not sure yet.
JM: Space is often at a premium on long trips. If you could only take two things with you to cover a multitude of possible breakdown scenarios, what items would you choose to take and why?
CH: Shifter spanner and Allen key set – because that’s pretty much what I need to keep my bike together. If it can’t be fixed with these then it’s an electrical problem.
JM: When and where was your most memorable riding experience?
CH: Earlier this year at Throttle Stomp in Bairnsdale VIC. I got to send Betty down the drags and race against and meet some great people. Rode her there and back to Canberra and didn’t need to touch a thing (that’s Japanese reliability! ;) )
JM: Was there anything you wanted to talk about that we’ve missed asking you?
CH: Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming issue of Retro Bike, you may just see Betty again ;)
Jo is a buxom redhead looking for adventure. She loves her motor children equally, and if you ask really nicely, she might let you take them for a spin. Easily distractible, but also easily obsessed, she is our Editor-in-Chief, resident proof-reader, and zany ideas lady. Caffeine is her fuel of choice.