Bloemfontein a biker’s paradise

Artisan Wayne Smith and airbrush and fine artist Verushka Hawcock have been working together for over 20 years. Both of them playing a crucial role at Free State Chopper where they specialise in custom paint, servicing, and any other custom work. PHOTO: GYPSEENIA LION

From graffiti on the walls to helmets packed on shelves, you know you are entering a biker’s paradise from the moment you arrive at Free State Chopper in New East End. Artisan and motorcycle enthusiast Wayne Smit and Veruschka Hawcock gives the Bloemfontein Courant a glimpse into their world of motorcycling.

Hawcock says that her father belonged to a bike club, and that is where she was introduced to the complexities that are tied to the culture, some of it being politics among and within the culture. She, however, is not fazed by it, as there is a good and a bad side to it, but for her, riding a motorcycle is about the adventure. “You’re just supposed to ride to enjoy your bike,” she says.

Veruschka Hawcock shows off a few custom designs in her studio. PHOTO: Gypseenia Lion

The airbrush and fine artist who is working on a custom design for Smit’s motorcycle, says that although the city is still behind, the kinds of jobs they do depend from customer to customer. In the beginning, people just wanted the classic Harley Davidson, but that has changed over time. “It’s very restricting, but every once in a while you’ll find a guy who wants to go all out chopper,” she says.

A custom design Hawcock is working on for Smit’s bike. PHOTO: Gypseenia Lion

With over twenty years of experience, the one-stop custom shop does in-house work that upholds the authenticity of craftsmanship. A skill that, according to Hawcock, has been declining over time. “The craft of doing things by hand is slowly disappearing. That knowledge is not there and it is not only in what we do but in other trades as well. Everybody wants to sit behind a computer or tap something on a phone – instant gratification – and there you go. We still like to do it the old-school way and not just buy new parts and pluck them on,” she says.

Smit prefers to use authentic mechanics to work on bikes at the workshop. PHOTO: Gypseenia Lion

This stands by the motto that Smit lives by, which is “do it correctly or not at all”. The pair met on a bus during their school years, when they were in different stages of their lives. Hawcock customised Smit’s XS1.1 Yamaha when he got out of the army. He worked in the mine for five to six years, decided to book his last shift and went home unexpectedly.

A customised bike at teh workshop. PHOTO: Gypseenia Lion

“I am starting on my own, he said,” Hawcock explains. That’s when Free State Chopper grew from a garage to a small shop in Welkom. The company expanded to have a shop in Bloemfontein, which still embodies the authenticity of motorcycling, from customising motorcycles to simply enjoying the ride.

“When we ride, it is lekker,” Hawcock concludes.

Gypseenia Lion