In the Garage: Two wheels good for Winnipeger
WINNIPEG — In his detached single car garage, Derek Molinski is hard at work. He’s entered his 1980 Yamaha RD400 project motorcycle in the Winnipeg World of Wheels and needs to have it wrapped up by early April.
Molinski, who was born and raised in Winnipeg, has the skill and ability to meet the deadline. He comes from a family that’s always been involved with working with their hands. His grandfather ran taxis and performed all maintenance on them himself.
“I remember his garage was just a greasy mess from lubing suspension and doing oil changes,” Molinksi says. “And, my dad was a body man. I was often working alongside him, wrenching on bicycles or other projects. I was always having to fix stuff myself.”
After high school, Molinski says he was interested in graphic design, but knew university wasn’t something he could manage. He was, however, very interested in cars and enrolled in an auto body course. Molinski became a Red Seal journeyman, all while working on his own custom projects such as Honda Civics.
“I was swapping motors, replacing suspension, doing paint and changing wheels and tires, anything I could do to modify a car,” Molinski says.
He did all of this work in his grandparents’ garage, staying warm with the heat of a wood stove. But by the time he turned 25, Molinski had decided it was time to move on.
“Cars had to go, the projects were too big and expensive,” he explains.
He couldn’t stay away from doing something with his hands, however, and in his early 30s Molinski began riding and modifying motorcycles.
“My first bike, a 1975 Honda CB400F, was $300,” Molinski says. “It was so easy, small and simple to work on. I unlaced a wheel and relaced and trued it in my living room.”
With his welding and body experience, Molinksi had the skills to make a new subframe for the Honda and he built a café racer custom with plenty of style. When that was done, Molinski decided to build a 1975 Suzuki GT550.
“I really like the café racer look with low handlebars,” Molinski says. “On the Suzuki, I cut up one of two gas tanks I had to make the rear tail section.”
Both of those builds were in previous Winnipeg World of Wheels events. Now, his Yamaha RD400 is nearing completion for the 2019 show.
Here’s what we learned about Molinski, his small workspace and the tools he uses to build his custom motorcycles.
Q: What tools are in your collection and where did they come from?
A: I got a number of my dad’s hand-me-down tools to get me kicked off in the auto body industry and have filled up my toolbox as I’ve gone. (Molinski no longer works in a body shop, he left to work for Manitoba Public Insurance doing collision appraisal.) Any tool a body man would have, such as hammers, dollies, or sheet metal tools I’d either buy or make and have a lot of different specialty tools in my tool box. Now, with my motorcycle hobby, I’ll go and buy a tool, make it, or borrow what I need. I’ve got a basic Lincoln MIG welder, and can go borrow larger tools, such as a sheet metal brake, when I need to.
Q: Which tool or tools do you use most often?
A: I don’t think I have a real go-to. My first body hammer was a Snap-on hammer, and I’ve gone through two or three handles on it. A body man’s go-to is something to cut with, weld with, and hammer with. I’m fortunate some of my friends have bigger equipment I can use when I need to, such as that sheet metal brake.
Q: How did you learn to use the tools? Did you go to school, did someone teach you, or do you watch YouTube videos?
A: My auto body teacher Lawrence Danylchuk was a big mentor for me. He got me involved in Skills Canada, a government funded organization that promotes trade skills in youth. I was in the provincial competition and placed first. Then, at the nationals, I got gold. I went to the World Skills in 2001 in Seoul, Korea, and placed 10th out of 16 competing countries. Basically, I’ve learned a lot from my dad, Tom, and then my auto body teacher, Lawrence. He saw something in me, even though I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my ability.
Q: What’s the most important project in the garage right now?
A: The Yamaha has to be ready for the Winnipeg World of Wheels, and that runs from April 12 to 14. I registered to light a fire under me to get it done, because it was supposed to be done last summer. I’ve got a different fuel tank for it and have custom built a tail section. I’ve taken off the dual rear shocks and added a mono-shock from a 2012 Honda. With my builds, I like to remove all unnecessary tabs, hide the oil tank and make everything minimal so people wonder how it all works.
Q: Is there anyone else in the house or in your life interested in working in the garage?
A: Well, my brother, Jeremy. We’re the same, but different. We share common interests and will connect on a few projects, but for the most part, I’m on my own in my garage. I like to lock the door, turn on the music and get to work.
If you have a workspace filled with tools, projects or memories and are willing to share, let me know; I’d be pleased to write it up. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.