From suit to scambler
By Sean Mooney: Lifestyle changes don’t come much bigger than those undertaken by Movember Foundation supporter and boss of New Zealand bike hire outfit Beatnik and Co., Mike Gilbert.
The 43-year old worked for a Canadian oil and gas service company for more than 15 years, meeting his wife Samantha and starting a family along the way. He was the guy who always said yes to the difficult jobs in the far-off places. “This took me to Russia, Angola, Congo, Kazakhstan, Iraq, China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, UAE, and a few others I’m likely forgetting,” he says.
Then the oil price crashed in 2014 and things started to go pear-shaped. “Suddenly the corporate directives were to maintain market share, service quality, revenue and profitability, while cutting costs and resources,” Gilbert explains. “It was a seemingly impossible task during a virtual bloodbath of clients cancelling or re-bidding contracts, employee cutbacks, cash-flow issues, and thousands of other companies declaring bankruptcy.”
After a miserable two years watching everything he’d built and the people he’d hired be lost to the stroke of a pen in an office on the other side of the planet, salvation came in the form of a ‘’package out’. Gilbert saw an opportunity to change his life completely, took the coin and ran for the hills. “I had no idea what the change would be at that time,” he laughs. “I just knew I would never get the chance to reinvent myself again, so I looked at it as a blessing.”
The following year would see Gilbert slowly shedding all the filters that years of hard work, stress and societal conditioning had placed over his eyes. “I got back in touch with the things I actually enjoyed and lost the things that were superficial or just habitual,” he says. “One thing that came rushing back was my love for motorcycles. I grew up racing motocross back in Canada, but over the years I had let life pull me away from this love.”
Perhaps it was inevitable that a sudden lack of responsibilities and no firm plans would combine to send Gilbert and his family on a global tour. “We sold everything we owned, packed up three suitcases and set off from Dubai on a wander around the world,” he says.
‘No dress code for unemployment’
It was on this trip that Mike and Samantha found themselves in Bali chatting over a few drinks about what the hell they should do next. “No fixed address, no permanent place to call home, no jobs… we were doing the opposite of what is normally expected of people our age,” Gilbert says. “Samantha blurted out the term ‘Beatnik’ and one of the definitions we found was, ‘a person who avoids conventional dress, behaviour etc’. Simple and accurate.”
The name Beatnik and Co. was soon given to a new business venture focussing on rentals and tours on Ducati Scramblers. Opening in 2017, the store is in the town of Marlborough, which is located (probably not coincidentally) in a beautiful wine-growing region of New Zealand. The company’s mohawk logo was born from the actual hairstyle Gilbert adopted as soon as he left his job in Dubai. “After spending so many years in a suit, it was liberating to just have a silly haircut,” he says. “Even my son, one and a half years old at the time, joined in with the same style. There’s no dress code for unemployment!”
The growing business has gone on to become a proud supporter of the Movember Foundation, with Gilbert getting involved in the local Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride (DGR) and running other projects to raise money for related causes. Last year, Gilbert teamed up with 23-year-old British biker Henry Crew on the Australian leg of his attempt to earn a Guinness world record by becoming the youngest person to circumnavigate the world on a motorcycle. Crew is raising money for the Movember Foundation along the way, and Gilbert generated thousands of extra dollars for the cause when joined Crew to ride the almost 6000km from Perth to Brisbane.
“This was such an amazing opportunity and I still have to reassure myself that it actually happened,” Gilbert says. “Henry is a top bloke and I’m forever grateful for his willingness to accommodate my presence for such a long time after he had been solo for the entire trip to that point. We had some great experiences, and most of them centred around getting off the beaten path and pushing our limits a bit, which he couldn’t really do previously riding alone.”
Gilbert says he is planning another ‘big trip’ to raise money for the Movember Foundation again. “It’s just in concept stage at this time,” he says. “Possibly another big ride in Oz – a bit more remote and off-road this time – or something in North America. I may test myself mentally and physically and do a solo journey.”
Rolling with a purpose
Gilbert says he believes that such altruistic adventures help to improve the reputation of motorcyclists in the community. “There will always be assholes in any walk of life that try to undo the good done by many,” he says. “However, over time with a growing riding community of ‘normal’ people and projects like this, I believe that the bad reputation will become a thing of the past. That said, the beautiful thing about motorcyclists is that no matter what people think, we are going to do what we want anyway, including helping people.”
There is inspiration for Gilbert in the memory of his late grandfather, a motorcycle lover who survived WWII, the Great Depression and prostate cancer, and who died recently at the grand old age of 100. “This gave me pause to consider what huge things he had overcome as an individual and the sacrifices he had made to help his fellow man,” Gilbert says. “I reflected on this, realised my life had been relatively comfortable thanks to the efforts of his generation, and asked myself what I was doing to make myself a better person and the world a better place. At the time, not a lot, if I am honest. I decided that needed to change and, as a fully capable person, I should be improving myself and giving something back even if it means getting out of my comfort zone.”
Participating in the DGR for the first time in 2017, Gilbert was introduced to the Movember Foundation and “it just seemed to click with me personally and my company as well”. “It was a cause that was worthy, needed by many and, in my new position, I could contribute regular and meaningful value,” he explains. “That’s why I like what Full Tank is doing. I immediately saw that it was a great concept and it was unique in its approach.”
Gilbert says he is never more content than when he’s riding a motorcycle. “The immediacy of the mental and physical input required to operate the bike and the physical feedback from the machine, the environment and everything around me creates a ‘mental holiday’ and allows me to truly live in the moment,” he says. “In that moment, I get to experience focus, excitement, danger, movement, self-expression, clarity of mind and, most of all, freedom.”
Everyone needs to find an activity that allows them to “detach and get their heads right”, he continues. “Riding, cleaning, fixing and maintaining motorcycles provides this for countless people, and I’m no different. The challenge for us all is to take care of ourselves as well as we do our motorcycles.”