From Porsche in Stuttgart to his own shop in Myaree
IT’S a conundrum that faces any motorcyclist who’s in the market for an older bike — should I pay top dollar for an original bike that’s in top shape, or pay less for something I can repair or restore? And, if I do buy one that needs work, how much will it end up costing me?
BMW specialist Thorsten Friz has a simple answer – when it comes to restoration costs, assume the worst.
“You won’t know how much it will cost to restore a bike until it has been pulled to pieces,” Thorsten told The Bike Shed Times.
“So my advice is this: assume the engine rebuild is going to cost you $5,000 and the rest of the bike will cost another $10,000. Hopefully it will cost much less, but you should plan for things that might go wrong.”
Thorsten has seen enough older bikes to know what he’s on about — and he warns buyers to beware of bikes that have been ‘customised’.
“I have had people bring bikes to me that have been butchered,” he says. “Mostly it’s young, inexperienced riders who like the look of a cafe racer, and have bought a bike that has been ruined. I have to say to them, ‘I’m sorry, but you’ve bought a pile of junk’.”
Wise words indeed from someone who knows BMWs better than almost anyone; someone who makes most of his living working on modern bikes in good condition but who also loves old bikes and custom cafe racers.
Thorsten’s workshop is kept busy with modern Beemers — from adventure bikes to super sports — but it’s the pristine 1958 R60/2 and the work-in-progress cafe racer that caught my eye when I called in to visit.
“I’ve only recently bought the R60,” Thorsten says, “and the cafe racer is taking me a long time! I bought it as a stock R80 and a friend of mine designed the custom seat. I have rebuilt an engine for it, but there is still a long way to go.”
Thorsten shows me another project bike, hidden under a cover in the corner and waiting its turn for restoration. It’s a 1976 R90/S; Thorsten’s favourite bike from BMW’s long history.
“It’s the ultimate motorcycle,” he says. “For a while, I was parking it outside during the working day but people kept knocking on the door, either wanting to buy it or wanting to talk about it. I wasn’t getting any work done, so I had to bring it back inside and hide it under a sheet.
“If I was able to, I would spend all my time working on my projects and other people’s projects, but that won’t pay the bills!”
Thorsten says modern machinery — and especially BMWs — are a pleasure to work on. But that doesn’t mean they are perfect.
“BMW has followed the modern trend of releasing bikes to the market too early,” he says.
“It used to be that bikes were thoroughly tested before being sold to the public, but these days manufacturers put their bikes on the road and then fix any problems on the run.
“This approach has proved successful, of course, because buyers want the latest thing — but it means there are sometimes issues that must be addressed on bikes that are virtually brand new.”
Had it not been for a couple of seemingly small decisions at the tender age of 17, Thorsten might be spending his work days tuning Porsche motor cars in Stuttgart, Germany.
But some uncertainty about Porsche’s economic prospects in the mid-1990s, followed by a decision to take an extended overseas holiday, put him on a path that today has him one of WA’s best-known BMW motorcycle technicians, working from his own workshop in Myaree, suburban Perth.
“I grew up in a town called Hofen, near Stuttgart, and did some work experience with Porsche,” Thorsten told The Bike Shed Times.
“When I finished my schooling I decided that I wanted to be a mechanic. Although I always had motorcycles, mostly small mopeds and the like, I had no intention of becoming a bike mechanic.
“So I made applications to Porsche, BMW and Volkswagen, hoping one of them would offer me a job.
“As it turned out, all three accepted me, so I had to make a choice. Porsche’s future was a little uncertain at that time and I thought BMW was the best all-round car that you could buy — so I started my career as an apprentice motor car mechanic, working for a BMW dealership.
“The workload in the dealership changed according to the season. In winter the workshop was full with cars but in summer people would bring out their motorcycles; so I was trained to work on both.”
Thorsten is not only an accidental bike mechanic – he’s also an accidental Aussie. He visited New Zealand with a friend in 2004 and discovered that he very much enjoyed life as a traveller. Keen to continue his journey, but running low on funds, he went back to Germany to earn some more money and consider his options.
“After six months, I told my family that I wanted to travel, so I packed up my belongings and headed off again; this time to Sydney,” he says.
Nine months later he found himself in Perth — and in need of a job.
“I walked into (Perth BMW car and bike dealership) Auto Classic and they hired me straight away. Not only that, but they eventually sponsored me so I could become a permanent resident.”
Thorsten stayed several years with Auto Classic, rising through the ranks to become workshop manager before deciding to go out on his own — and work on bikes, full time. His timing turned out to be fortunate. Long-standing BMW parts-and-servicing outfit Munich Motorcycles in Myaree had decided to move away from servicing and focus its efforts on parts; which meant it had a motorcycle workshop right next door that it no longer needed. Thorsten moved in and, in 2013, BM Bikes was born.
Thorsten balances his love of old bikes and an admiration for modern technology — with a common thread of machinery wearing a BMW badge on the tank.
“They are the best motorcycles in the world,” he says. “Nothing else comes close in build quality, which is one of the reasons you can find 50- or 60-year-old BMWs that are still on the road.”