Old Harley’s don’t die

Rusty Clark: at his shop: Rusty’s Bayside Custom Cycles

Small and innovative businesses are the backbone of the Redlands economy and owner operators work hard and for long hours to meet the needs of customers.

Rusty Clark is the owner of  Rusty’s Bayside Custom Cycles, of Shore Street Cleveland, specializing in Harley Choppers, Bobbers and Harley parts.

His story was told to one of the citizen journalist volunteering for Redlands2030.

Rusty clearly loves his job, and he makes sure old Harleys don’t die.

Rusty’s Q & A

Question: I had to put my head inside your shop when I saw you working on a Harley in the doorway in the morning sun and the caricature on your building.  What exactly do you do here Rusty?

I specialise in customising, restorations and repairs of Harley Davidsons. I will also build Harley’s to order.

That’s pretty unique. How many others do what you do?

I think there’s only three of us in Australia and we’re all about the same age. I suppose that does make us unique. I started in my mid 20’s as an apprentice mechanic for Honda and then Kawasaki in South Africa. I worked my way up to national service rep travelling around the country training dealer network mechanics and was then appointed to production racing preparation for both Japanese manufacturers

So what drew you away from Japanese motorcycles to American Harley’s?

I was in my 30’s and went on a long holiday to Daytona USA and fell for the Harley’s and the life style that comes with it. Harley’s are extraordinarily popular and prestigious. They are a mature person’s motorcycle in the sense when you have the speed craze out of your system you enjoy the cruise. I liken it to a V8 on two wheels. It’s the same kind of magic. They are very powerful and I knew when I got back on that plane this experience was going to change my life.

When you came back from your holiday what changes did you have to make to your career plan?

Harley Davidson had newly appointed a national distributorship with a dealer network and I approached them to become a dealer. The timing was perfect as they were prepared to send me to be trained in their Milwaukee Wisconsin factory. It was three weeks of high pressure and intense training. I came through it being told I had come second in the world amongst 20 other international students. This achievement was the opening I needed for my first shop.

I’m standing inside your shop now in Cleveland, a very long way from South Africa. What brought you to Australia?

In 1987 South Africa had apartheid and forced conscription and I had a son as well. I didn’t want that and the writing was on the wall. I decided to bring my family to a safer country. Only two countries were suitable for immigration in the Southern hemisphere accepting immigrants, Australia and New Zealand.  Australia accepted me and I moved my family to Sydney.

You opened this shop in 1989 so you didn’t stay in Sydney long. What brought you to the Bayside?

Panhead Bobber

Panhead Bobber

I had a friend from South Africa in this area and I came for a visit before going back to South Africa to pack up. It was so beautiful and I was mesmerised by all the trees and the drive to Redland Bay through glorious countryside. It was the most tranquil place I had ever seen. In Sydney I would drive for 10 minutes before seeing a tree.

When I got back to South Africa it took six months to pack up and I changed the freight movement from Sydney to Cleveland. I brought everything across. Tools, bikes, parts, everything. I completely re-located my shop in 40’ containers. This shop was my shop in South Africa. Nothing has changed. Everything came with me.

Having done all this, what advice would you give someone contemplating a move like yours?

I have followed an internal statement I once heard. Bite off more than you can chew and chew as hard as you can

You would have seen a lot of changes since 1989. What do you see has changed the most?

Everything. The traffic, the loss of trees. So much charm has gone. There wasn’t a building higher than two stories. I have been the longest tenant in this block and seen many businesses come and go and no doubt I will see a lot more. I’m here until the end.

I stand in your shop now amongst twenty or so Harley motorcycles and all so different. Can you tell me something about the bikes and which is yours?

1947 Knucklehead Restoration

1947 Knucklehead Restoration

Every one’s a different bike. I have several bikes. I take mine out at lunchtime to get a kebab or when doing local errands. 

There’s no room in my garage at home for my bike so I leave it here. I’ve restored everything from a 1937 UL to a 1947 Knucklehead to a 1973 Shovel Electra Glide and so many more. I have photos of them all and some are on my web site.

Every bike is an individual.

Back to your own bike. You’ve pointed to one in particular as being very special and wondering what’s the story with this one?

Mild Custom Shovel

Mild Custom Shovel

I built that bike from scratch 15 years ago and took it with me to USA in 2003. I travelled for seven weeks, rode 17,000 miles across twenty states. Twenty of us from Australia went for the 100th year celebrations and national rally. That was the highlight of my career as it was timed for the 100th centenary celebration of Harley Davidson. The first one built in 1903 so 2003 was the 100th year.

There was a double highlight in this trip as I had imported the frame for my bike from the Carson City based manufacturer  called Paughco .  I rode the  bike where the first piece was made right up to the front door and met up with the people from Paughco. It was an extraordinary experience. It’s my take on going back to Mecca.

Have you ever entered your bikes in shows?

Bikes I have built, restored or customised have been on the covers of Harley’s in Australia, OZ Bike and featured in magazines like Live to Ride and a few others

I called into your shop because there’s no mobile number on your business card or shop door. Is that because you are old school Rusty or is there another reason?

You’re never alone with a mobile phone.

Okay Rusty, I will leave you alone then and besides I just can’t get past the fact Cleveland has the ‘one of only three’ people in the country who have this unique business. Who would know that but it’s also lunchtime and I’m getting hungry so, is there any chance of getting a ride with you to the kebab shop?

I’ll just find you a helmet.


Editor’s note:

In response to subscriber feedback, Redlands2030 continues to explore the local small businesses of the Redlands.

Rusty’s Bayside Custom Cycles and Choppers can be found at Shop 5, 63 Shore Street Cleveland.  The web site contains a portion of the stock carried and the work Rusty has completed.

His web site explains that bobber is a motorcycle that has had many of the stock accessories removed to reduce weight or to present a “clean” or minimalist aesthetic. This usually includes safety and courtesy equipment like reflectors and turn signals. While a chopper is a radically customized motorcycle, archetypal examples of which are the customized Harley-Davidsons seen in the 1969 film Easy Rider.


Redlands2030 – 30 July 2016

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3 thoughts on “Old Harley’s don’t die

  1. What an interesting article by RustyI have NEVER wanted a motorcycle BUT Harleys are different as Rusty says. I am too old now but I look with envy at some Guys on their Harleys.JUST CRUISIN.excellent interview/Gary

  2. What a great story love to hear about different people and their journey in life. Hope the citizen journalist does more interviews. Well done

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