For those of us who’re more than happy to accept the epithet of ‘petrolhead’, there is little we like more than spending time in our garage, working on our own personal choice of internal combustion engine-powered transport.

Whether this be car, motorcycle, pick-up truck, scooter or ride-on lawnmower, most of us relish in spending time that results in grease under our nails and clothes that smell of petrol, and the loving shouts of, “Don’t come in here stinkin’ like that!” that echo forth from our significant others when we finally call it a night and shuffle in to the house.


But being a petrolhead isn’t just about twirling spanners. And being a streetfighter freak isn’t just about building and riding radically modified sportsbikes that’re about as socially acceptable in the second decade of the twenty-first century as disemboweling a rat in a kindergarten. With your bare hands.

While it’s our ability with the spanners (and sockets, and screwdrivers, and ratchets, wrenches, hammers and everything else that a decent workshop is equipped with) that really shows our petrolhead credentials, what many people have yet to realise is that to gain the serried ranks of the gold-plated and much-heralded ‘tuner’, then we need to be more than just a spanner monkey.

Anyone can spend thousands on high quality equipment, and relish in their rolltop tool cabinet that cost more than any form of transport that I have ever bought – and that’s before it got filled with equally-expensive tools – but the real mark of a true petrolhead isn’t shown by the bags of tool receipts that amount to an expenditure that’d put Elon Musk’s annual electricity bill into the shade, but of
being able to maintain, modify and make-do with only the most basic equipment. It’s about building something special without resorting to spending more on the tools needed to do the job than on the actual vehicle on which the job needs doing.

New tools are always welcome, as are extras of the common used (and misplaced) items

New tools are always welcome, as are extras of the common used (and misplaced) items, just don’t spend all your budget on them!

Don’t get me wrong, it’d be absolutely wonderful to have a tool cabinet the size of what I believe you down-unders call a ‘utility vehicle’, crammed full of spanners and wrenches with lifetime warranties and no chance of ‘snapping-off’. But surely it is far better to be spending money on the building of bikes
than in equipping the workshop and then having no spare dosh to buy anything to work on?

I’m not suggesting that you purchase just the minimum of tools of a quality that is oft-described as ‘monkey metal’, as a spanner made of cheese is only any good when you’re hungry. But why have half a dozen sets of open-ended spanners of barely differing configuration when a nut or bolt can be held with just one? Crap quality tools are just a liability that’ll cause more grief than the saving could cover, so buy decent quality gear, but no more than you actually need.

A tyre changing machine should get some good use!

A tyre changing machine should get some good use!

Believe me, I’ve made the mistake. We all have. It’s difficult to ignore a tool catalogue, or to walk past a hardware store without thinking that just one extra ten mill’ spanner would be a good idea, but when that temptation starts to extend to things that you will never, ever use, then it’s time to have your wallet confiscated by your significant other (who probably isn’t aware of your unending desire for ‘Yet More Tools’). After all, are you ever going to get around to using that English wheel that you’ve been drooling after? Or that two tonne hydraulic press? The digital carb balancer or electronic torque wrench?

For me, it’s an obsession with literature that proves the most mind-numbing – I’ve bought books on cylinder head design, fibreglassing bespoke bodywork, the theory of forced induction and turbocharger design and race bike chassis design, yet I have never indulged in any of those pursuits.

A well stocked shed, with tools, machinery and literature

A well stocked shed, with tools, machinery and literature

Hell, I’ve not even read past the first chapter of any of the books… But those very publications are part of my petrolhead persona, and they will be there if I need them, and it could be argued that any tools or equipment that we invest in have exactly the same purpose. Not to be used immediately, but to sit patiently, covered in a tarp at the back of the workshop until the time comes that you need them, and need them right now!

Having directly contradicted myself, I’ll try and change the subject by looking at another aspect of the life of anyone bewitched by the internal combustion engine – the supplementary interests. As you’re reading this on a website that is devoted to motorcycles, it’s safe to assume that your own personal interests lie in motorcycles, either road-going, race bikes, or both.

Darryn Binder

We all like our motorsport too, and feel the need to check out any motorcycle we hear

I can virtually guarantee that, if there’s a programme on television that is about bikes, or bike racing, that you’ll watch it. And that if you’re in a pub or bar, and someone pulls up outside on a bike, that you’ll have a look or make a comment regarding the machine. And you’ll probably be thinking of what you could turn that bike into, or what parts you could use on your own project.

But what defines a true petrolhead – and particularly the sort that might be reading this column – is the way that they use their transport. In brief, it’ll be in a sporting fashion. Exploiting the power and handling, pushing the boundaries of tyre grip and rev ceiling, and essentially just having fun. Every. Single. Ride.

Fightin Words

While this may disappoint police officers, infuriate neighbours and scare the living shit out of sedate car drivers, it is of an irrelevance to the dedicated petrolhead. For they are only concerned with the welfare of their engine. And if there’s the slightest hint of pre-ignition, the lightest of rattles from valve gear or
a reduction in suspension damping then that’s nothing more than a reasonable excuse to get in the workshop. After all, there are specialist tools that can be bought to help solve all of those maladies… Ride more. Build more.

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