Second Skin

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(Warning: some images below may be gross)

Katie, much like the state of Tasmania, is small but has a tonne of character. But she didn't let her small stature, nor a traumatic setback, from staking out and protecting her place on a motorcycle.

Katie grew up in the state’s north and, as most people who live country-side find, she was bound to know someone who rode motocross. In her case it turned out to be a friend from school. But it was her family friend, Darrell who fired her interest. “I loved hearing his stories about his accidents, all the bones he broke and skin he lost. That was cool”, she recalls. Katie soon took a keen interest in it and at the age of ten her Dad bought her a red and blue ’84 Honda QR50.

Living on a farm provided plenty of space to buzz around and on Sundays Katie found her favourite riding spot; the motocross track. “The bike was rad! It just kept going and going. The sound of two-strokes revving at the track is enough to get any kid excited!” This lasted for a year or two until horses took over Katie’s life. But after moving to Hobart for work and study it was only a year and a half ago that riding mechanical beasts caught her sights again.

With work in the city of Hobart, Katie needed to get around and decided on a motorcycle. Under the influence of life growing up with her Dad’s hot rods and love of restoring old Fords, Katie had a certain look in her mind for the bike she wanted to get. “I was really drawn to the custom bikes and styling of Café Racers. I was completely obsessed and searched for weeks on end looking for a bike with the right ingredients to be mine.”

Losing patience in finding the right bike that was both affordable and had the look she was after, Katie settled on a 2014 Sol Invictus Mercury 250 which she named “Rocket”. “Some friends and I did some minor customising to the bike, fitted clubman bars, tidied the rear end up, new indicators, wrapped the pipe, replaced the stock muffler with a shorty reverse megaphone and she was pretty much done.”

Not having a car license, Katie’s experience on the road was pretty minimal and riding in traffic the first few times certainly tested her nerve. However, once she was comfortable she discovered her first addiction. Speed.

After some months of building her confidence on the road, Katie and her boyfriend Bryn decided to head up to Orford, an hour and a half north of Hobart. The road to Orford is absolutely stunning in its scenery and long winding corners through lush bushland topped off with breathtaking ocean views. Even on its busiest day any rider would be lucky to pass another. “My pipe was loud and the air was warm. It was a perfect day.”

Unfortunately, Katie’s exhilaration was soon to be cut short. Heading into a tight downhill turn, Katie panicked and stomped the rear brake and eyes fixed to exactly where she didn’t want to stop. Hitting the side of the road she crashed and was trapped with the bike on top of her small frame, her leg pinned by the exhaust pipe. “I was screaming so hard my ribs felt broken and the sharp burning feeling coming from my left calf was excruciating.” The pipe was fusing her skin and pants into a molten mess. For Katie, time was passing far too slowly and it seemed like eons until Bryn finally tore the bike away and freed her.

The ambulance arrived soon after, eased the pain as much as they could while pouring sterile water onto the burn. As the pants came away from Katie’s leg, she couldn’t believe it was hers. “I am a sucker for checking out some blood and bone but when it's your own, it's a different story!” Aside from the internal knee damage, battered chest and third and second degree burns Katie’s main concern was her bike and the guilt she felt for crashing it. Being her first bike and all the future adventures that come to mind when owning your first bike it can be pretty crushing to lose all of that in an instant. “I already had a sentimental attachment to her, so seeing little Rocket on the side of the road all banged up was pretty unsettling.”

Back home, Katie spent two weeks in bed, resting and recuperating before had had her skin graft operation, with a lot of time to think. A lot of that early time was replaying the events of the crash over in her mind and wondering how she could have prevented it from happening in the first place.

Her mother, Bronwyn, who had come down to help care for Katie, also offered to buy her a car so that she’d stop riding. Katie stood her ground and turned the offer down without hesitation. Yet Bronwyn still respected her decision without any further pressure, despite seeing her daughter unable to walk for a time and being with Katie on the day of her surgery.

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It didn’t take long for Katie to get her mindset back into riding. She was soon watching online videos on how to be a better rider and taking smoother lines. Every day she also delved into bike mechanics and customisation videos.

“It was all in an attempt to build up my confidence again. I still had some self-doubt in my mind with the fear of dropping my bike and nightmares about not making it through twisties”.

Bryn was a large part of Katie’s recovery too. He had told Katie about how he felt responsible for her crash by encouraging her to push through the corners a little harder. Katie reassured him and told him not to worry; It was her decision to take the corner faster than she should have and that a crash wasn’t going to stop her from riding. They’d be going on many more rides together.

“It was something we shared, bonded over and enjoyed together”, says Katie.

Soon after Katie’s skin graft surgery and being fresh off crutches, she and Bryn rode two hours north of Hobart to the fantastic annual Ross Motorcycle Rally, which has some of Australia’s best vintage and classic bikes. It was there that she saw her new ride, a classic 1976 Honda CB400 Four, which Katie swooned over at first sight, particularly the four-into-one pipes. Aside from its near timeless looks, balanced stance and just the right amount of chrome, for Katie it was the perfect bike to get back onto.

“I love how she rides; as smooth as silk.”

Katie has had the CB400 four for about a year now and has made a few minor changes including an engine overhaul to replace seals and gaskets as well as lowering it to suit her small frame. Future updates will include tidying the tail end with a new custom fibreglass seat made by PopBang Classics and a new shorty reverse cone pipe. But for now Katie loves the classic style as is. "She gets a lot of attention, not just from bike enthusiasts but from all kinds of people. Lots of older guys tell me about the time they had a CB400f when they were younger and how much they loved that bike”.

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Today Katie and Bryn often ride around the state, taking her favourite roads (and some of the most beautiful roads in the country) through to New Norfolk and Hamilton where she gets to open up the throttle beyond the limited city roads.

Katie also is keen to get more Hobart ladies riding and has plans to start an all-female riding group. So far it’s just Katie and her best friend Rhiannon who is starting out on a Mercury also. “It’d be great to connect with other like-minded girls that share the love for custom bikes, tinkering, riding, fashion and having a good time. So girls, if you’re reading this, make yourself heard!”

Looking back to her rough start to motorcycling and forward to the kind of experience she hopes to get, Katie has since took to naming her CB400f “Billie”. “I was after a name with a little punch to it, something a little feisty. The name was pretty relevant at the time as I was listening to lots of Billie Holiday, and the previous owner of the shop I work at was called Billie. But the cool thing is that the name “Billie” means “protection”. It seems fitting after all that other stuff happened.”

 “And I love how she makes me feel confident within myself.”

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