Bonny is milkbar cowboy's true love

MOTORBIKE MAD: Timaru Post Vintage Motorcycle Club member Bob Langrish on his beloved 1960s Triumph.
MOTORBIKE MAD: Timaru Post Vintage Motorcycle Club member Bob Langrish on his beloved 1960s Triumph.

When Billy Joel wanted to buy Bob Langrish's Triumph motorbike he was told to get stuffed - no cheque was big enough for the Timaru Post Vintage Motorcycle Club member who is mad keen on motorbikes even though one nearly took his life. He tells Emma Bailey about the adventures he has had on them over the last 60 years.

Seventy-five-year-old Bob Langrish still remembers having his nose pressed up against a Stafford St shop window as a young'un walking home from school, dreaming of the day he would be able to ride the green BSA Bantam on display.

It wasn't to be the first set of two wheels he owned - that was a push bike he built from parts salvaged from the tip.

"That was what all kids who lived south of North St did to get a bike, which I rode to secondary school, Timaru Tech."

Next came his plumbing apprenticeship at A F Southgate and Sons which allowed him to save up the necessary pounds to buy his first powered cycle.

"I was able to pay off a new BSA roadster bicycle which cost £12 - a man's wage was £6 to £8 per week then.

"Later I brought a 1951 250cc overhead-valve c11 BSA from "Sawdust" Jimmy Craig, a car dealer in Sefton St, rumoured to quieten noisy car diffs with sawdust and bananas."

In 1955 Bob morphed into a milkbar cowboy complete with the odd run-in and run off from the boys in blue, having bought his first Triumph.

"I spent the next 10 years as a milkbar cowboy. I enjoyed being part of it in the 1950s and 1960s. It was much like Happy Days [TV show] with milkbars, parties at home and at river beds.

"Being a milkbar cowboy was frowned on by the so-called good society. But there were no drugs, knives, or shotguns.

"It was only endless fun and the odd fistfight over a girl, and when a guy went down that was it.

"My Triumph could outrun any Mark 1 '55 Zephyr the transport department had. In those times I think they enjoyed the excuse to speed and the chase, and afterwards there was no ill- feeling.

"From memory, I'm sure you needed to be handed a ticket and I know for sure once on private property you were OK - game over."

He spent 12 years riding that Triumph.

"I sold it only when I first married and later divorced. Both deals were a mistake; I should have kept the bike." In the late 1950s, he started working at Manapouri and met his second wife, Denise, whom he started writing to.

The couple married in 1959 and lived at the Upper Waitaki scheme for three years before returning to Timaru, which coincided with him buying his beloved Triumph Bonneville.

About this time he got into scrambling, now known as motorcross.

"The only way on the start line was a second gear take off as it would pull a wheely in first, wasting time and also it eliminated a gear change."

"I rode scrambles [motorcross] for just on 40 years.

"I loved the excitement, adrenalin, fun and top friendship."

As a married father of three, he was aware of the dangers of motorbikes, but never as clearly as when he and his son were involved in a head-on collision in the 1980s.

He had been on a club ride one Sunday, and on Landsborough Rd, he was pulling out to pass another motorbike when he heard his fuel cap fall off. He looked down; when he looked back up, a grill and two headlights were bearing down on him, and his son riding pillion.

"I started yelling ‘shit', but it didn't make it out, I just remember the bike crumpling like a tobacco tin and flying off the bike. I came to lying on the road and yelling out to my son; he was only 16; he said he was OK. I could have blimming well killed him."

He thought he could feel hot oil and soon realised it was blood as the headlamp grill of the motorbike was embedded in his stomach.

"The fire brigade arrived and rang Denise and said I had had a head-on and don't expect me to be alive when I get to hospital."

He was put on morphine and recalled a vision he was Jesus Christ hovering around the ceiling.

"I remember hearing someone screaming and I thought, ‘When will they stop'. I didn't realise it was me."

He had shattered his pelvis, wrist and torn all the ligaments in his legs - he was required to wear a corset while he healed.

It was two years before he was back on a bike.

"All my friends thought I was nuts, but Denise was very supportive - she knew it was what I loved doing the most. The accident did destroy my confidence on the road and I am very careful now."

Through his friends at the club he was able to rebuild his beloved Triumph that the insurance company had written off.

In 1985 he was at a Taiko meet. Well into socialising he was approached by a man buying bikes on behalf of people in the United States.

"He said, ‘I want to buy your Bonnie, Bob, for $10,000'. I said no; then it was $12,0000. We got up to $18,000; I still said no."

Turned out the buyer had an open cheque from Billy Joel. His agent had bought him a BSA from Christchurch and he also wanted a pre-unit Bonneville to take back.

"Well, said I, Billy Joel can get stuffed; I'd have a shit-load of money, but he would have the bike.

"It's fair to say Denise wasn't too pleased when I told her. I still wonder how much he would have gone up to.

"How does one put a price on friendship? I appreciate my friends helping me to have such a bike; it is not just a machine; it has the soul of friends helping a friend.

"I've been around the South Island three times on the Bonnie, been to the Brass Monkey and other rallies countless times, travelled and enjoyed endless miles of our South Island scenery.

"Our children grew up with her, not to forget the club comradeship and rides, 28 years, and more to come, body willing.

"Everyone thinks that money is a big deal but it doesn't come close to the 28 years of enjoyment."

The Timaru Herald