Photo by Valerie Guignet
Tucked away in the old industrial area of Bonner Heights in Melbourne, Florida, is a bike shop that is a living time capsule and, in the era of motorcycle superstores, Southern VTwin is a breath of fresh air. You won’t find a website or Facebook page for this shop. Wayne Carpenter, the owner, doesn’t even have a cell phone. But he does own machine shop equipment and just about anything else one would need to work on Harleys. In 20 years, he’s never had to advertise. He’s just a laid-back guy who lives life and runs his business without needing “Internet and social media marketing.” And honestly, he’s happier for it. The shop keeps slam busy, barely able to keep up with the demand. He spends his days doing what he loves, working on bikes, not wasting time online. Stop by any day and you’ll see the bikes lined up outside underneath a huge palm tree, with more kick-start bikes than electric start. He specializes in building engines and working on older bikes, but he also works on the newer stuff. They do just about everything in house. “I rebuild about anything and everything. I got a full machine shop, engine room, and fabrication shop.”
And literally under his feet for each hour the shop is open is Jake, a half-American and half-German Rottweiler. I asked Wayne if he ever trips over Jake. “Ha, when don’t I?” He laughed. “Jake is constantly there next to my feet. Sometimes it happens on an hourly basis. Jake does not let me out of his sight; in fact, he never goes too far from me. I can leave doors open and he never wanders. I got him August nine years ago when he was a nine-week-old puppy. He was scared to death at first of the motorcycles. It took a couple weeks and he hasn’t left the shop since. He’s my shadow; I trip on him and walk over him daily. He goes under anything and everything, whether it’s a stool or a chair. He’ll put his head in between the fork and frame of a motorcycle, a loop in the air hose. But most of the time he’s right under the lift at my feet while I work.”
Jake’s a pretty clever guy. There are plastic strips that hang in the doorway between the air-conditioned showroom and the non-air-conditioned shop. And on real hot days, he likes to sit in the doorway, with his body in the AC and his head looking out into the shop, keeping an eye on things. He doesn’t want to miss any action.
Sometimes new customers are a little leery of this 127-pound dog, but they soon discover that Jake is just another member of the Southern VTwin crew. Jake is also very good about doing his job of security. While the shop is open, Jake is very friendly to all the customers, but once that overhead door closes, he’s on duty. Anyone who knocks on the door or comes too close to the building finds out fast that it’s a good idea to wait till business hours. He acts like he’s going to come right through the window.
Jake is a goofball, Wayne told us; there’s never a dull moment. He’s always doing something goofy, especially when it comes time to fire up a bike. Wayne works on a lot of kick-start bikes. As Wayne gets ready to start kicking, Jake will start running circles around the bike because he knows what’s about to happen. And once the bike fires up, he’ll get near the end of the exhaust and start trying to catch or huff the pressure from the pipes, snapping at it. “Or when you’re getting ready to take off on a test drive, he’ll start prancing and jumping around, and once you shift into gear, he’ll take off in the other direction.”
But Jake has been slowing down lately. He was diagnosed with bone cancer in his left rear leg. “Ol’ lady’s got him on a special diet and hemp oil. She’s been doing a lot of research. I don’t dare feed him; she’s in charge. Used to be he was like me; he never stayed still, always into something, driving me crazy. He still does it, but it’s cut back. But he gets around OK; doesn’t seem to bother him. But that’s the thing about dogs; they don’t tell you if they’re hurting. His spirit hasn’t changed at all. He’s still our goofball.”