Walter Had it Right

  • Photography + Interview by Ryan Handt
  • Words by Cam Elkins

With his Dad a pilot with the Dutch Air Force, Rob grew up around engines. As did his father and Grandfather, too. “They basically both were always wrenching on old bikes, cars and everything else that had an engine basically”, say Rob of his family’s automotive pedigree.

Being in the military, Rob moved around a bit and back in the 70’s his family were stationed in Canada about 2 hours north of Winnipeg. He was 2 years old when the moved into the NATO Air Force Base.

Shortly after the move, Rob’s Dad bought him his very first motorcycle, a 1971 Honda QA50. “It had those small 12-inch wheels with these really fat tires”, remembers Rob. His Dad taught Rob and his brother to ride it and they regularly took it through the prairies as soon as they were able.

As he grew older, Rob’s taste in bikes matured through Yahama XT 500s and Honda XRs. “I then went into a phase where I had a whole bunch of CB’s: 350’s, 550’s 750 fours. Those where cheap back in the 80’s man.”

After tearing around town on near-disposable Japanese bikes, he acquired a healthy number of falls. Out of the 15 or so falls he had 5 ended up with bone breakage, include a protruding collar bone. “I basically would crash ‘em all. My brother would help me get another bike road ready and would already say, ‘Well that’ll last another two weeks.’ I was just really young, reckless and simply did not look far ahead enough I guess.” It was only when his brother got a Harley-Davidson that he started to get a bit more relaxed.

 “My brother, who was always the far better wrencher than I am (he has an Italian Classic Car Restoration shop back in Holland now) got himself a Harley first and he chopped it up a bit. I would always drop off my CB at his place and beg to take the Harley out.”

Flash forward to today and Rob now has three Harleys, including a hardtail bobber stashed over in LA at a friend’s place for riding during regular work trips there.

“It actually took quite a while before I could afford my first Harley. It was always the dream though. Harleys are cool.”

During a ride on the El Diablo Run, Rob met Walter Gemeinhardt from Kickstart Cycles in Hackensack, New Jersey. On the ride Rob had has some engine trouble (and another fall) and Walter and a bunch of other boys from Jersey stepped up and helped Rob out. “Those guys are all are good mates now; we actually all just rode the last EDR back in June 2015 again. “

Shortly after, Rob stepped into Walter’s shop and saw a “super cool little Triumph bobber sitting there”. The bobber was actually known as “the Brown Eyed Cyclops” and was built by Choppahead for a returned US Marine, commissioned by the Marine's wife. “I totally fell in love with this bike the moment I walked into Walter’s shop”. The bike was lean, stripped of its tank and fenders. It didn’t matter to Rob, who bought it on the spot.

The bike was already a standout with the modern 2004 Bonneville engine built into a compact hardtail frame. But there was more to the custom that drew Rob to it.  “The thing that’s so special about this bike was that it had a whole bunch of supercool details such as how the forward controls and the rear break-oil container are mounted. The custom Choppahead leather seat, although not the original, is also really a work of art.”

And Walter and Rob quickly got to work on it. Although most of the updates were cosmetic, including the matte black tank with the Dutch flag and orange stripe to bring it into his family of Harleys. However, unlike the Harleys, with its unique combination of dependability and unforgiving contact with the road, Rob found himself enamoured with the Triumph.

“This thing always fires up, runs amazing and is super-fast. I always say it’s like riding on the back of an angry wasp.” He says. “This is by far the hardest bike I’ve ever ridden. The whole bike is so rigid (let’s not forget how bad New York streets are!). But it's so light with such a fast, powerful modern engine… I find I’m back in that danger zone, taking some risks here and there I’d never take on my Harleys. The Triumph has really turned out to be my favourite kid.”

Apart from enjoying his Triumph, Rob loves the motorcycling scene in general and is quick to dismiss anyone labelling him. “When I go to work and people say you're a biker. I'm not a biker. I ride motorcycles, drink beer and have fun - but I'm not a biker. The guy with the 3-patch outlaw cut, he’s the biker. So yeah, for me, other than just loving to ride, meeting cool people is also a big aspect, which is pretty amazing.”

 “It's definitely a bit of a family thing, without it becoming this club thing with colours or anything. Fuck that man.”

For go to riding, Rob defers to his mate, Carl who is based in LA, who also works in advertising and has inadvertently ended up in the same cities as Rob. All the way from Amsterdam, to London to New York Rob and Carl have landed in the same cities. On his last move Rob called Carl to tell him about the move and before he could say a thing, Carl blurts out “I’m moving to New York”.

“So there we were again. We have done a lot of riding together, EDR’s, Born Free’s, and around California in general. I have a bike in LA parked at his place so when I’m out there I have a ride. So yeah I’d say that since I left Holland he’s my main man.”

Beyond riding around the US, Rob has also completed a couple of dream runs overseas. “When I was young I had an XL500C, shitty off-road bike. I did two months, all of Europe; I went all the way down through France, Tuscany, the whole Amalfi Coast, amazing ride. Did a whole bunch of other cool trips as well.”

Travelling the world definitely hasn’t quenched Rob’s thirst for more adventure.

“The Long Way Down and The Long Way Round. I would love to do something like that, definitely a dream. And then there’s this David Bechham documentary I saw not too long ago where he goes on this bike trip in the amazon (Into The Unknown Trailer) which actually gave me a completely new appreciation for the dude. They take these brand new Triumph Scramblers and ride them all the way through Brazil.

I know Beckham wasn’t a super experienced rider, but he said: ‘Yo, I’m retired, I have plenty of money, these are my two best mates: Let’s go ride motorcycles and have an adventure!’ I can dig that."

"I think it ultimately all goes back to the people you meet through this crazy thing. I saw this interview Walter did about the Gypsy Run last year where he’s saying that he can ride motorcycles every day of the week – but these cool runs and meets such as the El Diablo Runs, Gypsy Runs, Born Frees or Brooklyn Invitationals every day don't happen every day. That’s where you see these guys you haven’t seen all year and it’s automatically perfect to hang out again, drink a few beers, talk shit, talk bikes and go for a ride together. 

“And for me now, it’s not even about the bikes anymore it’s about the people you meet. I have met the most amazing dudes and chicks whilst riding motorcycles, man. It’s sort of deeper than when you meet people in a bar or at work or whatever. There’s this thing that binds – motorcycles. It’s a bit unexplainable.”

“I think Walter had it right.  Ride motorcycles, have fun.”