By University of Queensland journalism student Paul Joshua
It’s no coincidence that long-time bike fan Charlie Webster chose to restore a 1972 Honda XL250.
The 61-year-old Brisbane electrical contractor owned three XLs during the ‘70s and was the first person to pick one up from the Honda dealership in Toowoomba. That same year he rode the XL to an unexpected victory at the Queensland Enduro Championships and the only modification Charlie made was to fit a larger knobby tyre on the front. The owner of the dealership was very happy with Charlie’s win because the XL sold like hotcakes following that unexpected victory.
Charlie was not only the underdog because the Honda XL250 had not had a lot of off-road race success, but he was also competing against race favourite Hans Tholstrup . The well-known Danish adventurer’s achievements read like an extract from the Guinness Book of Records: solo crossing of Australia by car; motorcycle crossing east-west; solo flight around the world in the smallest plane; fastest around the world by motorcycle; truck across Australia’s centre; double-decker bus jump of 25 motorcycles with Dick Smith; solo walk across Simpson Desert; open boat from Australia to Japan; and solar car across a continent.
Charlie’s mates had given him a hard time before the race, but he entered just for the love of riding. The glory of a race win against Tholstrup on an unlikely bike came as a welcome surprise.
Charlie also rode one of his XLs from Toowoomba to Mt Isa across mainly unsealed roads. It took him three days because the bike has a limited range of just 100km.
The epic ride paved the way for his business as an electrical contractor, travelling the countryside on his BMW R75/6 carrying everything he needed to give someone a thorough quote.
Among the memorable bikes Charlie has ridden over the years was a Norton 750 Commando Fastback that belonged to a mate. He had swapped his car for the bike as a favour so his mate could get around while recovering from a motorcycle accident.
Charlie also had his share of crashes. The worst was crashing a Suzuki PE175 at Conondale motocross track and breaking his leg.
After a long search, Charlie found an XL in Toowoomba that was in a suitable condition for restoration. It had low mileage and Charlie knew the only two previous owners from when it was bought brand new in 1972. The XL didn’t need a lot of mechanical work, but it was badly corroded. It took Charlie a little over 12 months to source all the parts and return the bike to its original condition.
For his next venture, Charlie seems to be following in the footsteps of his old racing nemesis, Hans Tholstrup. Earlier this year Charlie bought a 1989 BMW R 100 GS Paris-Dakar edition and he is now preparing to circumnavigate Australia.