Injury, frustration and adrenaline are no strangers to both the bike and skate world. Customising your set up, trial and error, working out the kinks from a new trick or from your latest build. The parallels go on, and Pro Skater Bjorn Johnston, NZ native, is well versed in both disciplines.
It all started young enough, on his 10th birthday when he first got a skate deck.
“I remember one of my best friends who lived around the corner had just got a skateboard and it was so cool! They were quite expensive back then in New Zealand and I told my parents about wanting one. My Dad is a surfer and had been a skateboarder when there were no waves. This was back in the 70’s and I don’t remember him doing much skating once I was born, although he did still have a set of tracker trucks and kryptonic wheels lying around the shed.
At the time he was the head of Welding and Engineering at the local Polytech (TAFE) and decided we could actually make a skateboard rather than buy one. So he basically sourced all the steel to make a press from off cuts at his work and he welded it up. He then sourced thin plywood veneers from a supplier in a small town about 3 hours away and we ordered them. Skateboards then, and these days, are made up of 7 plys of Canadian hard rock maple, but the veneers we got were thicker so we ended up having a 5ply board!
I still remember the day the board went into the press. He told me we had to leave it in there for a long time for all the glue to set and harden. It seemed like an eternity! I would ask everyday if it was ready.
Once it came out, we traced around the shape of one of the older kids in the neighbourhood’s boards to use as our template. It was so exciting once we put it all together. It was the best birthday present ever, but it was short-lived. I took the board to school everyday, and I think maybe a week later one of the older kids at school asked if he could have a turn. I hesitantly gave him a go as he claimed he knew how to Ollie and I wanted to see. Bad move. He tried one Ollie and snapped the tail! I was devastated! Dad was cool about it though, and decided we needed to make another one, this time with reinforcement, so back in the press went the plys , only this time they had a thin layer of fibreglass through the very middle. This board was so strong, I don’t think anyone could break it, it got used for ages and worn right down, but never broken. I still think it could be floating around the shed somewhere”
But what about the other wheels that piss off the oldies?
“I’m fairly new to bikes. I think it was 2010 I got my first motorcycle! I had always been fascinated with motorcycles though, my neighbour growing up was part of a local MC and had a mid-80’s Harley softail that I would always hear, and as I got older a lot of my friends loved to ride dirt bikes. I remember being at this skate event in Lake Forest, CA probably in 2008 or 2009 and seeing some of my mates who were sponsored skateboarders there, they had come up from Encinitas on their bikes for the event.
Later that afternoon I was heading back to Long Beach on the freeway with my friend, when suddenly both of my mates came blasting past us on Vintage Harley choppers; tall sissy bars with boards strapped to them. Just in tee-shirts, going like 100 down the 405 freeway, splitting lanes and getting to where ever they were going a lot faster than us. I thought, “fuck that looks cool”.
I think about a year later, I went on another skate trip to Perth and my friend, who was the photographer, was telling me how he was planning to go for his learner licence once back in Sydney. We discussed bikes pretty much the whole tour and as soon as I got back I booked in my learners and started searching for a bike. The very first bike I bought was a little Yamaha SR250.”
So motorcycles and skateys, do you think there’s a relationship between them?
“Definitely! I think it’s all sort of part of that dangerous, rebellious lifestyle. Skateboarders are natural thrill seekers, they like to scare themselves and get the adrenalin going, and thats what keeps us hooked. It’s searching for that feeling, that next thrill. So it’s only natural that when our bodies get too beat up to skateboard at a high level we want to find another thrill. I think motorcycles fill that need perfectly! Although, bikes are way more dangerous and coming off a skateboard is nothing compared to coming off a bike!
Skateboarding is also about balance and movement, so I think it helps with riding bikes you get those same sort of movements. Hammering into a corner, leaning in on a bike is similar to flying around a bowl on a skateboard. The other similarity I think is the fact that both bikes and skateboards can be frustrating and test your patience. Trying to learn a trick over and over and not quite getting it I would relate to things going wrong with your bike and having to sit there, figure out what it is and then the patience to fix it. It’s a very satisfying feeling to build and fix a bike then ride your creation down the street as it is to figure out a new trick and throw it down a handrail or set of stairs for the first time”
“I currently have a 1996 Harley-Davidson Sportster. She’s an 883 XLH that I’ve changed around a bit myself, with the help of my buddy Roger. We’ve just done a few things like rear shocks, seat, pipes, handlebars, air filter, coil and speedo relocation, chopped fenders, lights etc. I’m yet to get stuck into the insides, but have been talking about buying a 1250cc kit forever and just haven’t pulled the trigger to purchase it yet. It’s next on the list.
I also recently bought a second bike back in NZ when I was visiting a year ago. One of my Dad’s friends had a 1984 FXEF Shovelhead, the last of the Shovels and was the second owner since 1986 ! We went around there to have a look at it and talk bikes, and the next morning he called up asking if I would like to buy it? The thing is insane! My dad’s mate was in the MC I talked about earlier, and has built the whole engine up a few times himself. It’s packed with the works, bored out to 1365cc, High comp pistons, ported and flowed heads, blueprinted and balanced, vintage Ducati front end, with twin Disk brembo’s the list goes on.
The real reason I HAD to have this one though, was that it was manufactured in November of 1984, which is the month and year I was born. I think it was meant to be. Now I just need to find the time and money to get it over here”