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Melbourne motorcycle scene changes

Melbourne's Elizabeth St motorcycle district discussion paper
Melbourne's Elizabeth St motorcycle district

Melbourne’s famous Elizabeth St motorcycle precinct is dwindling as shops close and move online to reflect the current trends of riders shopping on the web rather than in shops.

Modak Motorcycles is closing shop and moving its business totally online while Spot On Motorcycles is moving out of Elizabeth St to Hoddle St to bigger and cheaper premises.

That leaves only Mars Leathers, Yamaha City and Peter Stevens in the original motorcycle precinct which was a major part of Australia’s motorcycle history.

Modak historyModak Motorcycles shop Rally to honour motorcycle shop icon

Modak Motorcycles began in 1903 and is one of the oldest small businesses in Melbourne city.

It was bought by the Beanham family in 1955 and Mrs Jean Beanham worked there  right up until her death in 2016 aged 91.

Mrs Beanham in her Modak Motorcycles shop Rally to honour motorcycle shop icon
Mrs Beanham and son David

She received a Lord Mayor’s platinum award for 50 years of service to the city.

Her son, David, 62, has also worked there since he was a kid too small to see over the counter.

He says riders don’t go out to shop anymore, using online instead.

So his business will continue but only online.

He blames the rise in land taxes for their move. Their premises will be leased out.

Spot On history

Spot On Motorcycles in Elizabeth St
Spot On Motorcycles in Elizabeth St

Spot On Motorcycles was rented about 40 years ago by motocross racer Jack Pengally from Modak.

“The city is changing,” says Jack.

“I love the city, but the land tax has increased so it’s now too expensive.

“There is still some walk-in traffic, but there is that much construction work around so it is hard to get into the city.

“Also online has become a bigger part of the business over the past 15 years. We have everything on line.

Elizabeth St historyElizabeth St Melbourne motorcycle district

The first motorcycle shop in Elizabeth Street, and probably Australia, was opened by the Milledge Brothers in 1903.

Elizabeth Street is built on a creek and was the place to catch a coach to the gold fields in the 1800s. It then became a gathering place for horsemen and riders.

It was also a recruiting place for riders for Victoria’s WW1 motorcycle regiment. Riders took their own bikes to war.

After WW1 it became a social hub for the motorcycle community when motorcycle competition was a huge spectator sport in Melbourne. Harold Parsons blew the world away on his Indian.

After WW2, Elizabeth Street boomed with prosperity as new bikes became available.

In the early 1980s the original Motorcycle Riders Association established its headquarters there.

This was a time when riders’ rights were important. Just one of the legacies from those years is Victoria’s footpath parking law.

In 1988 it hosted the Bicentenary MRA TOY RUN with World Champion Wayne Gardner on stage.

In 2003, the Centenary of Motorcycling was held in Elizabeth Street with a motorcycle on display from each year since 1903 courtesy of the Veteran, Vintage and Classic Clubs.

  1. I can remember as a lad in 1966 going into Modak to buy spares for my Norton. At that time all the manufacturers were represented and Elizabeth St on a Saturday morning was a hive of activity with bikes parked up as far as the eye could see. There were even dedicated centre parking for motorcycles west in LaTrobe St and Lonsdale St. No Coffee shops then just milk bars and hamburger joints where evryone met for a yarn and maybe organise a weekend camp- out on the Yarra River at Warrandyte ( now almost an inner suburb). So sad to see Modak close up, as undoubtedly all the others will follow and a large part of Victoria’s motorcycling history will be lost
    Aaaahhh the good old days.

    1. Yep, was pretty much the same in 1976 also. You could spend all morning drooling and window shopping.

      1. I can remember buying my first motorbike in 1949 – a BSA 350 cc, at Finlay Bros.
        That part of Elizabeth Street was chock-a-block full of parked motorbikes every Saturday morning.
        I would the ride the BSA to all of the scrambles on weekends out West past Footscray.
        I remember Bernie Mack with his sidecar who used to win many scrambles. Was his a Norton?
        My No.1 idol was Geoff Duke, who won many TT races on his Norton in England in the 40s 50s.
        Later I dabbled with British sportscars whilst in Melbourne. I now live in Switzerland and am now 90 years old. v

  2. The bike shops on Elizabeth Street were about the only things worth looking at in town since I was a youngster. Many a happy Saturday morning I’d spend wandering along there, not just in the shops but checking out all the customer bikes parked along the footpath. Bought at least 2 bikes and a ton of gear along that strip over the years. Bummer.

  3. Bought a bike in Elizabeth St in 1996 and still have it.
    The internet is not all doom and gloom. It allowed myself and a couple of other owners of the same model bike to set up a website and online club for owners of this particular model. The club now has members scattered all over the world.

  4. Bike shops have moved out of the city just like everything that used to be in there. Further up Elizabeth were all of the car dealerships. They too have moved. Natural progression. Why would riders want to be in the CBD if they could avoid it?

  5. Yep totally agree ,being a 70’s child I still to date walk up and down even that there is not a lot left

  6. I walked past yesterday and was sad to see Modak closed. I have bought gloves from them over the decades, the last pair only a few years ago. I still have two pairs of rabbit lined leather gloves from the 70’s that require constant repair and no lining left in the fingers. I did ask if they can get some nowdays but they said the chinese imports killed them off a long long time ago. Lucky rabbits.

    I also have a pair of Mars leather pants I bought in 1975. I say they must have shrunk as they have been way too small for 30 years. But I still I dubbon them every few years, and latley have lost a bit of weight, there is a good possibilty I can wear them again soon. Shame the Stag Leather jacket I got at the same time totaly wore out. There jackets and gear still seem good value nowdays.

  7. I bought a Honda CX500 from the boys in Elizabeth St ,and must have sat on the saddles of a few dozen bikes I wanted ,plus the few test runs I did ..

    This week I had to go all the way out to Dandenong to purchase a Triumph Thunderbird. and yes it was found Online.

    Like the Climate ,things `Do Change`

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