Stoke man Bob Ching with his 1951 Triumph Thunderbird, a motorcycle he’s owned for more than 50 years. Photo: Phillip Rollo.

50 year ownership a real Triumph

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Bob Ching used the metaphor of a cowboy telling his horse “get me out of here and I’ll look after you for the rest of your life” when chased by Indians. Apparently the same applies to his 1951 Triumph Thunderbird – a motorcycle he’s owned for 50 years.

The Stoke man was pointed out by Nelson Classic Motorcycle Club president Peter Wood at the club’s annual show at the Stoke Memorial Hall. Peter says it’s rare to see anyone hold onto a motorcycle for 30 years let alone 50.

Bob, who speaks through his long whiskers which he clearly didn’t have when he first bought the bike as a 17 year old engineering apprentice, says this September will be 50 years to the date he obtained it. Still holding on to the original ownership papers, which are actually dated December 1954 because the previous owner took a few months to find them again, Bob recalls the moment he and the Thunderbird met. “It was in pieces when I bought it. It was abandoned in a workshop so I bought it off the guys there. I was doing an apprenticeship at the time and it cost me 25 pounds,” he says.

Bob has lots of memories on the bike, including tours and “picking up girls”, and says he will never part with it. “I lived on a farm and having a motorbike got me out of having to do farm work. It got me out of there,” he says, recalling his cowboy and Indians metaphor.

He has stayed true to his word of looking after it and hopes to pass it down to his grandchildren one day. Most of the Thunderbird is original, the biggest addition being a new front wheel. However, it was taken off a classic Triumph too, so it’s close enough, Bob believes. “I don’t paint it because that’s how it looks. Mechanically it goes really well. I’ve put new style things that have made it perform better like the original brakes were pathetic. Most of it is still the original, it’s got the original engine.”

Bob, who just retired as a chief engineer on a ship, gives the Thunderbird plenty of use, even in the winter. He plans to ride to Bluff in September to celebrate the 50 years.

Each club member has their own story, and Peter says the reason for the show is to get all of the 200 members together for a weekend so they can catch up over their biggest passion. Generally members go on rides every fortnight but that might only include 12 to 30 riders. He says the first day was “steady” while Sunday had plenty of people through the doors. If you have a motorcycle that is over 25 years old and are interested in joining the club, contact Peter on 540 2832.