10 Questions with Ken Downie


Q1: Where did the idea of this book come from?

This is one of the many book ideas I’ve been thinking about for quite a while. It’s sort of an homage to the book Working Men that Glenn Busch published years ago combined with a Vanity Fair column from the late 1980s early 1990s that I loved to read. Vanity Fair would give celebrities a new car to take for the weekend and review, and the stories were always more about their relationship to cars, and often started with the family car of the writer’s childhood, moving on to their first car and so on. There was always a cool photograph of the famous person and the car. It was a shame they stopped that column: I’ve never forgotten it and I think all this time later it played a small part in the way I structured the stories for this book.


Q2: Could you ever have imagined that you would eventually have spoken to and photographed as many as 85 bike owners?

I guess I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too difficult to find so many people. I could easily have done more, but we had to stop at some stage!


Q3: How long did it all take?

It wasn’t all done in one go but it took close to a year — longer than I expected, but I always underestimate projects like this.


Q4: Covid must have got in the way of some it?

It was a bit of a delicate dance around Covid, and not being able to leave Auckland for several weeks during that second lockdown certainly made the whole process a lot longer to complete. Occasionally bad weather got in the way, too.


Q5: what sort of camera gear did you use to shoot this book?

I used a Canon 5D Mark II, a camera that’s getting a bit long in the tooth these days, but it still does the trick.


Q6: All the bikes are amazing, but was there one in particular that gave you a complete thrill to see?

Mark Bryant’s little green Suzuki Stinger is so cute. I remember seeing one these little bikes for the first time when I was a kid. A friend’s older brother had got a brand new one and I still remember thinking to myself that I could get one of those one day, too. I only wish I had — they are getting quite expensive now.


Q7: Some readers might be amazed by how many women there are in this book, many of them riding really serious bikes. Did it surprise you?

I wasn’t so surprised that women had big flash bikes but one thing’s for sure, women are just as into speed as the men — in some case more so.


Q8: What’s the rarest bike in this book?

The rarest bikes are the Britten and the Brough Superior.


Q9: The oldest?

The oldest bike is the 1920 AJS Model D780, owned by Ian and Marilyn McKinlay.


Q10: The one you would just love to ride yourself.

I’ve never ridden a small, fast, high-tech modern bike like the MV Augusta 675 triple that Mike Hood owns. I think that would be quite interesting.