A biker – not a bikie

Facing one of my biggest fears, I jump on the back of a motorbike for a tour of the Gold Coast. Was I right to be afraid?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Gold Coast Motorbike Tour, Queensland, Australia

The man waiting at the lobby of the Peppers Broadbeach Hotel on the Gold Coast looks slightly out of place. Big brown boots, faded jeans, a leather jacket over a black shirt and a face more worn than all of them. He’s holding a takeaway coffee and asking the receptionist if she knows where I am. She’s acting professionally but is slightly on edge. You can sense the relief when I walk in and greet the man enthusiastically.

Wildfire Tours, Motorbikes, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

Mac Swift is a biker – in the sense of someone who rides a motorbike. But he’s not a bikie – in the sense of someone involved in a criminal motorcycle gang. The problem is that here in Queensland, the state government has been cracking down on the outlaw gangs and that has blurred the line between the two in the eyes of the public.

“We always get a mixed reaction,” Mac tells me when I ask about it later.

“I have to say that in general people understand and accept and I’ve never had any issues. You always get some people who are wary but that’s from not understanding who we are and what we do. I’ve got to say that’s very few and far between. Most people know the difference.”

Wildfire Tours, Motorbikes, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

Mac runs Wildfire Tours, which offers motorbike and vintage car tours around the Gold Coast on Australia’s Queensland coast. There are beaches here – sure. But only a short ride away is the beautiful hinterland with rolling mountains and glorious bushland. It’s as though the roads were made for motorbikes and this is where Mac takes me for a ride on the back of his Harley Davidson. We pass through small boutique villages, past farms, and into the green and brown Australian landscape.

Wildfire Tours, Motorbikes, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Wildfire Tours, Motorbikes, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

“The customer base we have is pretty varied,” Mac says.

“I do a lot of the 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 year olds because they generally have it on their bucket list and it’s something they want to do. There’s an interesting story about one guy I took who was 96 and I picked him up and we’re going along and on the way he was telling me he used to be a policeman and he used to ride a Harley. Where I was dropping him off was at a restaurant and I stopped just before the carpark and he jumped on the bike and took it in and his whole family was there running around saying ‘Grandad, what are you doing?!’”

Wildfire Tours, Motorbikes, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

I’ve always had a fear of motorbikes. You’re a little too exposed and close to the ground for my liking. I try to avoid riding them as much as possible but sometimes on my travels it’s unavoidable. Jumping on the back of a bike in SE Asia or South America can often be the only way to get somewhere.

The back of a Harley Davidson is surprisingly relaxing, though. Although I find myself hanging on tight the whole way, my heart stops pounding so fast after a while and I feel some of the tension leave my body. I don’t know if I would call it ‘a thrill’ but it’s certainly a different and beautiful way to see the region.

When the ride finishes, I have a bit of a chat to Mac. We had tried to talk along the way but, with the wind and the noise of the engine, I feel like we had just been shouting at each other and pretending to understand what the other was saying. It was nice to have a coffee and hear a bit more about Wildfire Tours.

Wildfire Tours, Motorbikes, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

What would you say to someone who’s a bit scared of motorbikes?

“Don’t be a bloody wuss! I’ve had a lot of experience taking people on the back. I’ve done all of the accreditation courses. So I understand people’s fear but all I say to everyone is I’ll go around the block and if you really find you can’t handle it we won’t go any further… but every time I’ve done that, I haven’t had an issue. People really love it because the fear of anything is not having done it or having done it once and being scared. I think when people realise actually being a passenger on a Harley is relaxing they relax into the experience and enjoy it a lot more.”

Wildfire Tours, Motorbikes, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

Why aren’t motorbikes as popular in Australia as they are in other countries?

“There are probably a lot of reasons for that. If you go to Europe there are scooters because there’s no parking. You adapt to where you live. Because we have more parking available, it’s not such a big problem. In Australia it’s a recreation sport – although I know a lot of people who would ride to work between Gold Coast and Brisbane and the reason they ride is in a traffic jam they can go up the sides so they get there quicker. But we don’t have to in the same sense as other countries.”

Wildfire Tours, Motorbikes, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

I think it’s the smaller bikes I’m more scared of. Is there a big difference between them and a Harley?

“There’s a saying that the reason God invented Japanese bikes is to keep dickheads off Harleys. There are all sorts of bikes for all sorts of reasons. People who ride Harleys would probably never ride a Japper and people who ride a Japper would never ride a Harley.”

Wildfire Tours, Motorbikes, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

So what’s so special about a Harley Davidson?

“It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t ride a Harley but the experience with the noise and the vibration, the feeling. I have been on and ridden Japanese bikes and I absolutely hated them. If I was on a Japper bike I would have a speeding ticket because I see no point in buying one if you can’t go fast. The times I have ridden them I have ended up going really fast and I don’t see the point in that because I ride for the enjoyment of riding rather than the thrill of going fast.”

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Queensland but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

19 thoughts on “A biker – not a bikie”

  1. Interesting article. I wonder how much the state government clampdown on “bikies” is going to affect this guy’s business? Obviously, he is totally legit but I’m wondering if he has suffered any police harassment – I know other riders have.

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    • I think Mac is a great example of someone who has found a way of doing something he loves and making a business from it. It’s not for me – but for someone who loves bikes, what a great excuse to ride around in the fresh air!

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    • He he – thanks for saying that. But, of course, the bike is not moving. I looked very different when it was on the road (ie, my eyes were clenched closed and I was hanging on for dear life!!)

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  2. Love this guy – what a character you got to meet – and I had to chuckle about the scare he gave the staff at Peppers (I can completely envision the episode)! What a great way to see Queensland – though I fully admit my absolute terror of motorcycles as well. Good on ya for conquering your fear Michael! -Veronica

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    • Ha – yes, you guys are in a perfect position to imagine what it would have been like there at the reception. It probably wasn’t quite as bad as I made it out…. but it was enough to give me a bit of a chuckle too! 🙂

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  3. I’ve always wanted to learn how to ride but i’ve also always had that fear of wiping out and ending up roadkill. Maybe I should stop being such a wuss as Mac says, haha. Harley’s definitely appeal more to me, a more relax and also more badass way to ride.

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    • It felt a lot safer sitting on a Harley than a smaller one but I don’t know about riding one. I feel like it might be harder to get used to it in the first place because it’s such a heavy machine.

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  4. I wonder what Mac thinks about my scooter 😛 It is really interesting that Australia’s bike culture is reserved for the fringe populations and that the country is simply used to having a lot of space for big cars. I sometimes think that Japanese motorcyclists and scooter drivers are on the bottom of the transportation food chain while Harley riders are at the top 😛

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    • I don’t know if Mac would judge you for your scooter… he just probably wouldn’t want to ride it himself!! 🙂
      I always think it’s weird how other countries have so many more motorbikes than Australia… but I guess it’s all to do with what is most convenient.

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  5. Sounds like a really fun tour! My husband has rode a motorcycle ever since I’ve known him. We’ve been talking about doing some traveling on his bike soon. Have you heard about Saddle Sore races?

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  6. Thank you for an interesting post, Michael. I love the sound of the vintage car tours. I’ve always had a thing for vintage cars. I have owned a few in the past, but prefer the idea of renting one when I get the urge to cruise around in style. (Practicalities!) The scenery you’ve captured is stunning! Thank you!

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    • I think that’s just the kind of people they are hoping to attract – those who love vintage cars but don’t own one. This give you a great taste of it and you get to see some beautiful scenery and have a nice relaxing day!

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