Taking the measure of motorcycology

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IOL mot pic apr10 Stretch Henrick 1 . Stretch Henrick measures up a Laverda Mirage piston using an oversized micrometer.

Stretch Henrick is a man obsessed with measuring everything about motorcycles. He owns an enormous collection of measuring instruments, from state-of-the-art laser beams for setting wheel alignment to collector's items such as micrometers more than a century old that can still measure accurately down to one thousandth of an inch (0.025mm) - about half the thickness of a human hair.

He grew up in Wellington, and bought his first motorcycle - a Honda 175 - at 17. Like every cash-strapped teenager, he soon learned to repair and maintain it himself, but it was only when he began studying electronics that he learned the importance of accurate measurement.

It was during this period (early 1975) that he developed one of the first electronic ignition systems, using an infrared light source, a sensor and a little wheel with a slot cut in it as a trigger - and argued for hours with the mechanical students, trying in vain to convince them variable valve timing was possible.

Henrick bought his first Italian motorcycle - a Laverda 750GT - in 1979 and, since there was little or no technical assistance available, taught himself to work on it by simply measuring everything he could. By the time he graduated with a Master's Diploma in Technology in 1987, measuring how motorcycles work had become a passion.

Most mechanics work by a simple process of substitution

Suspicious parts are replaced until the problem goes away. Henrick believes that with sufficiently accurate measurement, the fault can be traced to a specific component, which doesn't always need to be replaced; faulty fuel-injection, for example, can often be cured by measuring fuel pressure and resetting the fuel pump to deliver the fuel correctly.

A stalwart of the Italian Motorcycle Owners Club (he has, at one time or another, held every position on its committee) he was always willing to share his knowledge with fellow enthusiasts and, at their request, began working on their motorcycles.

In 1992 this was formalised as Eurobike, at first in his garage at home, and from 1998 at a workshop in Woodstock, where he took on the agency for Aprilia motorcycles, even finding the time to race an Aprilia RSV Mile with some success. A final move to more central premises in Roeland Street was ill-timed, however, just as the world-wide recession collapsed the market for exotic motorcycles.

Henrick soon realised that the only thing keeping him afloat was in fact his mechanical expertise, and the painful decision was made to relinquish the agency and go back to what he does best, super-accurate tuning and repairs.

The garage at his home was rebuilt and expanded, and after 20 years the wheel has come full circle, with Henrick once again welcoming customers in a small but surprisingly neat workshop where every tool has its place and measuring instruments take pride of place over everything else.

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