Cape Town - Alan Gruneberg is no spring chicken. He’s been around the block a few times, often on a powerful motorcycle. And many of the things that rock the world won’t alter his day.
If Gruneberg hadn’t had the opportunity to make a life with motorcycles, he would have made it with some other machines. He’d never have sat behind a desk.
As far as he is concerned, applying his by now extensive technical knowledge to service or repair a machine is just about the best thing he can do, other than go for a ride, of course.
Domestic life is not really his thing. He was briefly married, but it didn’t work out.
His life revolves instead around his Philippi workshop, far out among the Cape Flats vegetable farms with all its old but fine machines and tools and the motorcycles for which it acts as a hospital.
His workshop, which is also his home, feels like a cave.
It’s dark and grimy for those who don’t appreciate it for what it really is. For those who do, it’s Aladdin’s cave.
It stretches deep into a building, it’s dim. That is mainly because at least half the lights are off. Gruneberg is not a waster of energy.
“It’s a waste of electricity to leave all the lights on when you are working only in one part of the workshop,” he says.
“I work alone, I don’t employ anybody. If you employ somebody, you’re stuffed. You have to open up in the mornings, you have to be there to check that things are done properly, you have to make sure your people are all right.
“I can leave when I like, close and go on a bike run, go on holiday when it works for me and get busy with what I want whenever.”
Gruneberg is not a noisy person. There is no big sign announcing that you have reached his place of business, Pig Cycles.
He does not advertise. Even when he speaks, he doesn’t speak loudly.
A diminutive fellow at 58, he has cut short the beard that made him look fierce 20 years ago. A small tail of long hair protrudes from under a beanie, but it’s tied up. Image doesn’t come into it.
Still, timid is not a word you could justify using in a description of him, as his single-minded pursuit of his own mind simply does not allow for that.
He began messing about with motorcycles at a young age, mainly because his parents told him he was not allowed to ride.
“It’s funny how such things go with boys. When your parents tell you not to do something, that’s the first thing you go out and do,” he says, laughing.
Gruneberg qualified as a fitter and turner, learning how to use lathes and milling machines to make component parts and cut gears. He spent about 10 years on commercial ships as an engine-room fitter, before returning to dry land.
“I must have been 10 when I started messing with bikes, but the first bike I ever bought was a Honda CB550 when I started working. I soon swopped that for a BMW 600 though.
“I always wanted a Harley Davidson and I got one that caught fire. That is how I came across Pig Cycles. It was owned by Paul Friebus and his father, Henry.
“Paul always wanted to go to the US, so the business came up for sale in 1994 and I wanted it.
“But I had no money, so I made an agreement with them to take it over and pay it off as I went along.”
In the Pig Cycles workshop, there are a number of motorcycles waiting for attention.
One very old (1946) Harley-Davidson is nearing completion, but a few spares are still missing. Gruneberg put the bike together from parts found all over.
Two Harley-Davidson shovelhead models and a 1980s BMW belong to him, while another BMW is being repaired on a ramp.
A big job Gruneberg has to take care of is a custom chopper he has to build for a customer. It is one of those with the enormously wide wheel at the rear.
It is not his favourite look or ride, but it is still a bike that needs work and, as such, it’s of great interest to him.
A Royal Enfield also sits quietly to one side, waiting for spares.
“Parts are often a problem.”
“I sit here with everything ready, but without some part and they are expensive and take time to arrive.”
Gruneberg is excited about the motorcycle “scene” of today.
“I think it’s festive,” he says. “Every weekend, you can do something with your bike. I am quite happy for those people who got in on the off-road and travel scene with their GS motorcycles. It’s good for the industry.
“Okay, so as long as the bikes are new and under warranty, I won’t see them, but once they come out of warranty, that’s when guys like me get to work on them.
“The more the merrier, I say. It’s great to see the growth. I go on runs with many clubs. I am not a member of any specific club. I have friends in many clubs and I like to keep it that way.
“I want to choose where I go and when.”