PLANET MECHANIC ‘I gave up being a chef to restore old two-strokes’
Philippe Vandewalle, 54, runs Old Knobblies, an off-road restoration business in Essex
“I rode motocross and enduro as a kid in the 1970s, so I learnt to be a mechanic in my dad’s Renault garage near Bordeaux. But my ‘proper’ job was as a chef and I left bikes behind. But then my teenage son got into motocross and I started to get nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ so I bought a 1984 Yamaha YZ80, spent six months on it and became a restorer by accident.
“Once I’d got the bug I went back to my first love; offroaders like Maicos, Bultacos and especially SWMS. I have 21 SWMS in pieces and 12 restored! But to get parts as an individual was hard, so I set up a business for that reason and I find there are many other people with the same ideas as me, who want a connection with their youth, and they ask me to find them bikes and parts.
“I love the way air-cooled two-strokes ‘ talk’ to you and how accessible they are to work on. Worn piston rings will ‘ tinkle’ and if you listen carefully on the over-run as you release the throttle there will be a little knocking if a crankshaft bearing is worn.
“These are old bikes and the tanks can be dirty, so my tip for keeping them running well is to get some clear fuel pipe and a mini filter to spot any debris before it blocks a jet. If you get a supple fuel line you can squeeze it between the fingers two or three times to help the float move.”
‘I love the way that air-cooled two-strokes “talk” to you’