I Did It In Denim – Tom Gilroy

Growing up on a farm set the basis for working with, and modifying motorcycles for Tom Gilroy. Setting up a workshop in his garage at home on the Gold Coast, Tom now specialises in building custom bikes, putting in as much work as he can to get his business Purpose Built Moto off the ground. He strives to create modifications that no one has thought of before, continuously pushing himself to be different in the way that he thinks and builds.


When did you ride your first motorcycle?

I grew up on a farm so I always had bikes in the shed, and with that comes working on them and fixing them up. At one point when I was about 16, my mum put the hard word on me because I had about eight bikes sitting in my shed. I used to get given them – I had people hand me bikes from helping them move a house – all kinds of stuff. So I would fix them and sell them to friends.

What comes first with the bikes – business or pleasure?

It’s gotta be the pleasure. If you ask anyone in the motorcycle industry, it’s not really something you do for the dollars. Everyone involved has their own certain thing that they love about it, whether it’s the community or riding. My kind of thing is getting in there and making something new that other people haven’t thought of. I try to push myself to be different in the way that I build.

What do you love most about riding?

I love working on motorbikes just as much as riding them. At the end of the day, it’s tools down, call a couple of the boys, grab your keys, jump on your bike and head for the hills. We can go out for a quick ride around a mountain before sunset and get a beer on the way home.

What’s your favourite part about building?

My favourite days are my fabrication days. Waking up, going out into the shed and starting with a blank canvas of almost nothing and working my way to creating. As the pieces fall into place, you get the finished product and whoever owns it gets crazy stoked about it.

How hard is it turning this into a business for yourself?

Ask me again in 12 months! It’s still early days and my humble beginnings. I put as much work as I can into it and it’s really rewarding, so it doesn’t fill like a chore. If I didn’t have bills I’d do it for free.

What beats do you listen to in the shop?

I listen to a lot of different stuff. I have Tame Impala playing right now, but I also really love mellow beats. It depends on what I’m doing with work – if it’s late in the afternoon I’ll chuck on some hip-hop instrumental, but I also listen to 70s rock and psychedelia.

What have been some of your biggest challenges and triumphs while building bikes alongside a customer?

The best thing is having them drop around, or giving me a hand when they want to work on their bikes and seeing how stoked they are on the way it’s going. The biggest challenge is trying to communicate my ideas. I can’t draw; I can’t physically put down for them the idea I have in my head because it’s difficult to explain in words. To have me just talking to them and them not understanding, it’s difficult conveying what I want to do in words until they see it.

What’s your favourite bike that you’ve built so far?

I love them all. I mean, I’ve built a bike for myself which is great because I get to ride it every day, but I get the same enjoyment when I go out with someone else who I have built a bike for and they’re just tearing around on this thing, loving it. They’re not really comparable, each one presents something different for me.

What do you love so much about the older bikes?

Old bikes have character. They’re not as technologically advanced as anything you can buy now. They have a history, a story – they have little tics that you need to learn from riding them. Each one has its own personality in a way I guess. It’s something you can’t really understand until you jump on and ride one.

You say that building bikes is the closest you’ve come to art – what’s your dream building canvas?

I really, really like early 70s model race bikes. I haven’t had the opportunity to build one yet, but I’m sure it will happen soon. That’s kind of where my love started – my old boss when I was a teenager had a 1967 Triumph and while I had always been around motorbikes, I’d never seen anything like that.

How does your love of riding motorcycles and riding culture influence your personal style?

I get really dirty so I wear a lot of black. White t-shirts just don’t work for me.

How important are a good pair of jeans to you and your craft?

Well, I pretty much wear denim for everything. I wear a denim shirt when I’m welding, I wear jeans to keep grinder sparks off my legs. So it’s a safety thing just as much as a function thing – I can drop my spanners and go to the pub if I have to.

Do you have any crazy riding stories to tell us?

One that sticks out – I was 17 and me and my buddies had gone away for a motocross riding weekend. I had taken a girl with me to chill with us for the weekend while we rode bikes. We got a little bit of wind under us and started showing off – she was standing on the side of the track and I hit this big jump (a 100ft table top). We were all mucking around and there was a bunch of us coming in a row, so we hit the jump and my tail kicked up on the dirt bike and I didn’t have any hands on the handlebars *because I was showing off* so I kind of crashed down on the land ramp and had the bike fall back onto me afterwards. The three-hour awkward drive home so I could go to the doctors was pretty rough.