Business Profile: Champion Motorcycles, Abbotsford

Date 24.8.2015

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader


Champion Motorcycles, Abbotsford

Tucked away behind the Yarra Hotel in Abbotsford, Vic, is Champion Motorcycles, a custom-bike business that converts postie bikes into cafe racers, flat trackers or even choppers.

Proprietor James Clark, an engaging and warm-hearted soul, restores and customises motorcycles, but for five-odd years the majority of his endeavours have centred on customising Honda’s humble CT110, affectionately known as the postie.

His premises are snuggled in one of inner-Melbourne’s iconic laneways, allowing customers to enter via the lane or through the heart of the 1855 pub, with beer in hand.

Few classic bike stores are worth visiting on the merits of their interiors alone, but this den of bearing grease and Persian rugs is an obvious exception. The interior of Champion Motorcycles is a thing of beauty.

Its inception was triggered by some pals of James’ who’d taken a leap into the pub game and asked him to wander down and lend advice on how to present it. Ever the watchful entrepreneur, James spied the old shed-like structures at the rear of the beer garden. The history of the buildings was epic, especially for local footy fans, as they were the original changing rooms for the Collingwood AFL team when the Magpies played at nearby Victoria Park across Johnston Street. James quickly became the new lessee.

With vast experience in film and television production design, James has fashioned an inviting and endlessly detailed bikers’ nest. Curious motorcycle knick knacks adorn every spare inch of the store and workshop. Exotic denim, the latest grips, hand-designed devil-faced incense burners, you name it, James has a cabinet full of stuff to make you drool.

James’s daily grind involves purchasing former Australia Post motorcycles from various auction houses and then completely modifying and transforming them to suit the needs of each customer.

Make no mistake, this is an end-to-end hand-tailored postie-modern café racer supply chain.

Now that Australia Post has upgraded to a fancy new model, James has the luxury of sourcing A-grade examples of the old model. “AusPost generally retires its bikes at between 25,000 and 30,000km on the clock, so most bikes are late models and in great condition,” James says. “My customers are able to have input into the style, colour, trimming and tyre choice.”

Once the bikes have rolled into the workshop, James completely disassembles and prepares them by shaving guards, stripping them for painting and polishing and rebuilding the engines.

“I source parts such as headlights, indicators, handlebars and mirrors from Japan, UK and also locally. Other parts are custom made right here in Melbourne, including seats, underslung exhausts and saddlebags.”

The entire process takes up to four weeks and nothing at Champion is left unattended.

Champion’s niche in the custom-bike scene thrives on the fact that the Honda CT110 is exclusive to Australia.

“While the US has the Honda Trail, Aussie CT110s have a few distinguishing features such as heavy-gauge rims, heavy-duty suspension and stronger transmissions,” James says.

The business has enabled small-capacity, lightweight bikes to establish strong loyalty among learners, female riders and budget-conscious enthusiasts. The dead-simple design of the Postie’s centrifugal clutch attracts new riders and the bikes are an ideal gateway to bigger-capacity machines.

With a range of up to 200km between refills of the 5.0-litre tank, the CT110 is well suited to the inner urban rider. James offers some caution however. “The bikes have a top speed of about 90km/h, so freeway riding is out. But that hasn’t stopped plenty of riders touring with this bike around Australia and around the world.”

James fosters a relaxed atmosphere in his store and welcomes visitors into the workshop.

“We have plenty of motorcycle memorabilia to keep you interested and, if you get thirsty, the pub’s out the back for a frosty beverage,” he says. So speed down to meet a man who shares a bottomless passion for inner-city classic motorcycle culture.

Nick McGee is a classic motorcycle and car repairer, restorer and writer.

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