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European Motorcycles, Inc.
Restoration and Repair in Redmond
As you ride down the Red-Wood Road between Redmond and Woodinville don’t be surprised if you see another rider braking with the left foot. Just north of 124th is the home and warehouse where long-time Puget Sound resident Steven Giblin has set up shop to service popular brands of vintage European motorcycles such as pre-1982 Triumph, Norton and BSA.
Prior to 1975 most motorcycles manufactured in England arrived in the U.S. with the shifter on the right and the rear brake located on the left side of the frame. Taking a walk through Giblin’s shop is a throwback to an era long since past. You’ll see a classic Triumph three-cylinder Hurricane parked between a cherry 70s BSA and one of a handful of beautifully-restored Nortons. Of the twenty-five plus bikes we saw in the shop on a Saturday afternoon in October, only three had left side shifting.
Born in Minnesota, Giblin had his first brush with motorized two wheels when he built a mini bike using a motor from a snowmobile at age 10. In 1969 his family moved to the Northwest and Giblin took a job at the original Renton Honda store as a lot boy doing some work in the service department. After high school, Giblin went to the Cycle Institute of America in Colorado where he learned the finer points of motorcycle mechanics.
Upon returning to Seattle he went to work for Dewey’s Cycle on Capitol Hill on and off from 1974 to 1995 where he graduated to General Manager. While at Dewey’s, he acquired his first British bike, a 1966 BSA 441 Victor.
After two decades with Dewey’s, Giblin scraped together all the resources he had and opened European Motorcycles, Inc. in Seattle’s north end. Within two years EMI had outgrown the location. Property was purchased in Redmond and the business moved to its current location in 1997.
"Most of my customers are between 45 and 85 years old," says Giblin. He says the baby boomers are retiring and either resurrecting their father’s old ride from the back of the garage or dusting off their old bike set aside when work and family took up their riding time. Are there new customers to the British bike category? "I have this one guy who’s a CPA in Bellevue in his mid 30’s, and he’s got 17 Triumphs!"
Giblin’s specialty is restoring and maintaining bikes from the past – offering the service needed to bring Grandpa’s old classic that’s been rotting behind the shed back to life and return it to its natural beauty.
Ebay has also been a boon to his business, although Giblin calls eBay a "frightening place." According to Giblin, the bikes coming from eBay often take more money to fix than they were purchased for, but eBay is one of the only place some of these rare bikes can be found.
Currently, Giblin’s focus is on Coventry and Meridan (pre-1982) Triumphs and Nortons. While he does some work on them, the older Ducatis come into his shop rarely and he doesn’t work on BMW.
On his website, Giblin sells many specialty, hard to find tools for those working on their bikes at home. However, he doesn’t just sell tools. Giblin has tapped into his vast experience and designs and manufactures some of the tools he sells (as well as uses), such as his unique Triumph valve cover/inspection cap wrench.
Photo: The Rocker Box and Inspection Plug Tool - a Giblin original
With all the bikes in his shop in various states of restoration, the future of vintage British bikes seems secure, but Giblin is concerned. "There are fewer of us around," he says when asked about others working in his field. Motorcycles have changed so much since he was first trained, and many of the new generation of mechanics don’t know how to work on these old bikes.
With the growing number of eBay bikes, baby boomers and fewer vintage mechanics around, Giblin finds himself "doing everything" these days. But with his shop fully equipped with five service bays, and plenty of hand, power and machining tools, European Motorcycles, Inc. is more than capable of handling the demand.
In fact, his recent work can be seen at the shop and often around town, since many of his customers are active riders. It is a rare first Wednesday of the month that goes by when members of the Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts are not gawking at another of Giblin’s resurrections outside the club’s meeting in Georgetown.
From repair and metal work, to rebuilding and his secret cleaning process, Giblin does it all in top-flight fashion. Next time you see a rider braking on the left side of his classic Triumph, don’t be surprised if he tells you Steve Giblin is his mechanic.
TM/Fall 99, updated by Patrick Duff/Winter 07
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