Geoff tames his moto demons

Before Return of the Cafe Racers, I had a big interest in Japanese sports cars before all of this and I had a Skyline. I was right into that scene, I had this idea of going to Japan and buying a video camera and trying to get into the underground racing and drifting scene. 

Then the twin towers happened, But I was already in love with the whole Japanese scene. But funnily, I wasn’t into motorcycles.

I rode scooters in Italy, along Amalfi coast while I was backpacking. Then I got to a point where I was thinking, ‘Maybe I want to try something bigger.’ So I thought that I’d try motorbikes. And I was still in love with customs from when I had my Skyline. So I started digging through the Japanese moto scene.

“And cafe races came up at some point on Google. It just appealed to me.”

I decided that I was going to get an SR400 or a Kawasaki W650, because that’s what was popular in Japan. And any vehicle I own, I have to customize it in some way. I didn’t have friends that were into it. It was just a thing that I had a personal interest in. Funnily enough, this was around the same time that Deus Ex Machina started up in Sydney; I ended up going into the store and meeting them. Taka, their Japanese parts guy, helped me with ordering parts from Japan to build my W650. That was when everything started.

Then I thought, “I’m going to start a blog just for something to do. I’ll document all this and maybe somebody will enjoy it. Maybe I’ll be able to help inspire people because there’s not many of these bikes around and it’d be great if there were more.” That was 2006.

Geoff Baldwin from Return of the Cafe Racers on a Triumph Australia launch standing in front of a Triumph Bonneville T100 motorcycle
Geoff on a Triumph Australia launch in South Australia’s wine region

So what do I call this thing? Clearly cafe racers were not so popular anymore, so I thought I’d call it, ‘Return of the Cafe Racers”. And just like that I had the longest URL you could possibly imagine. I never thought it was going to really amount to anything. It was just a bit of fun. Little did I know…

Meanwhile, I had a realisation that working in advertising wasn’t doing anything for me creatively. I was just working the job for the money, but the extra money is not bringing me any more happiness. Just stress. 

So in 2012 I took a good look at my website and I figured out what I was earning. It was a fraction of the advertising gig, but I thought, “it’ll work.” And maybe if I put more time into it, it can work a bit better and I can make it a thing.

Geoff Baldwin from Return of the Cafe Racers on a Triumph Australia launch riding a new Triumph Thruxton on an Australian race track in Albury
Knee Down – Geoff tries out the new Triumph Thruxton in Albury in 2016

And all of a sudden I had all this extra time, because I’m not working 12 hour days anymore. I began reallocating the time that I had to make sure I’m doing something that’s going to bring in enough to keep me going. And also, I stopped being annoyed about the bad job I had, so it was win-win.

I remember I had an email from Chris Hunter at Bike Exif in 2009 saying, ”Can you link to me?” I looked at the site and through that he was doing it really well. Chris inspired me, I have to say. This is when Pipeburn popped up as well. Seeing them made me think that I wanted to put more time into it.

In terms of the community, I wasn’t really a big part of it. I probably had the biggest cafe racer website in the world, but I didn’t really get a lot of contact from people.

Geoff Baldwin from Return of the Cafe Racers riding his custom Kawasaki W650 cafe racer
Geoff on the W650 – his first cafe racer

But the scene grew fast. People came out of the woodwork. 

With folks I connected with in Melbourne, our initial idea was to do an event or a show. We started digging to find out what was around. And once we had an idea, we just put it out there on the socials. All these cool bikes started popping up and before we knew it, we had this great show happening in an alleyway in Melbourne.

That was “Oil Stained Brain” and it was the catalyst for Kustom Kommune: a similar concept to what we’d seen in the US but our idea was to create this space where it would work like a gym; you’d have a membership and you’d just come in and use the space when you needed to.

The interior of Melbourne's Kustom Kommune motorcycle workshop
Melbourne’s Kustom Kommune. Image via Kustom Kommune

Next we did a crowdfunding campaign to fit out the space that went really well. All the while, people were turning up to see what was going on. 

“I was trusting that something I was so passionate about would appeal to others.”

Then we opened and they came pouring in; everyone seemed so excited that this place existed. 

I quickly realised how amazing the community was and I met so many people through that event. It was also really good for me to get out into a community rather than just being behind my screen, talking on emails and being a computer geek.

In 2016, the manufacturers realised that motorcycle blogs existed and that they had big audiences. So within a couple of months, I’d been on press launches in Sydney and Tasmania, and I got invited to one in the UK. Unfortunately, we were the new kids on the block and the older journos were really worried. ’Look at this idiot! He can’t ride; he just has a website! He’s got no idea!” We were a big threat and they let us know it.

A man crowd surfs at the Malaysian ARt of Speed custom motorcycle show in kuala lumpur
The Art of Speed show in 2018. Remember before COVID?

We started getting invited to other global events like Art of Speed in Malaysia and Mooneyes in Yokohama as special guests.

One of the first ones we got invited to was this event in Indonesia. My whole opinion of Indonesia was wrong because I’d only been to Bali, but Bali is not like the rest of Indonesia.

The show itself was huge, but the entire country was a big highlight. I was just buzzing. The customisers there were doing whatever they wanted because the laws aren’t as strict. I couldn’t believe that they were riding these things on the street. It was so creative because they had no real restrictions.

A retro Yamaha motorcycle is photographed at Indonesia's Kustomfest motorcycle show in Yogyakarta
Indonesia’s Kustomfest show in 2015

As for the longevity of the site, I guess it’s mainly because I love this stuff. Having access to a global audience is why my blog worked. If I’d just based it in Perth, I’d have about three readers. It has been a struggle at times, but I persisted because I really love it. I had 15 years doing the same thing. Locked to a computer screen, two social media accounts, a newsletter and a store, all on my own the whole time. It gets difficult and there’s long periods of time when I never really had a holiday. I was cool because I got to do all of that amazing stuff, but over time I think it was getting to be a bit of a love/hate relationship.

Then I started getting offers to buy the blog from a New York company. They’d approached me before and I’d turned them down. But they just came back to me later on just at the right time. My wife and I we’re looking at building a house down here to the south of Perth, so we made a deal and it went ahead. As soon as I pressed the button, I got filled with regret and fear, but I guess I got over that.

So I’m now employed by my own old website, which is kind of funny, but I don’t really have the pressure that I used to have. It made me realise that I was probably too precious about the website before now. The new owners are really positive about what they want to do with the site and about the community, too.

A Kawasaki Z900RS parked on the side of the road in Australia
Geoff’s latest bike – his new Kawasaki Z900RS

When I was, when I was young, we lived in 14 different houses before I moved out of home. So, change just kind of feels natural, I guess. I’m never going to have long service leave ever. I’ve never kind of sat on one thing for that long. But my blog is probably the longest running kind of thing that I’ve been focused on for any period in my life. Although my marriage is getting close to that now as well. I shouldn’t say that!

It’s funny, my wife and I are really similar in that respect. We’ve kind of realized that we’re incredibly adaptable. We’ve had crazy ideas. When we took our honeymoon, for instance, we went away for 10 months and before we left, we sold everything Just offloaded as much as we possibly could, went on this trip and came back and had nothing. But then we just started again and figured it out

When I sold the website, I said to my wife, “I think I’m going to have to get something because I feel like I’ve just let a big part of me go and I kind of need something from it, you know?” And she was great, she said, “You need to do that. It makes sense.”

Geoff Baldwin from Return of the Cafe RAcers and his wife Ashya on their wedding day in Western Australia
Geoff on his wedding day with partner, Asha

For ages I was trying to decide on what to get; I’d done reviews of all the ‘modern classics’ I was interested in. Do I get a Triumph? Do I get a Husqvarna? Do I get this or that? The Kawasaki Z900RS just kept coming back to me.

I love the Kawasaki. It’s an inline four and I’ve never had any inline four before but I’ve obviously ridden them on launches. People talk about inline fours not having as much character as twins and stuff like that, but this bike is really fun. It’s got a lot of go; probably more than I need.

I’ve already customized a heap on it. And I’ve got a full exhaust system and everything that’s about to go on it, which is just even crazy. But now that I’m at home, I still just can’t help but tinker.

The Kawasaki Z900RS parked up in Western Australia