Former Austin prepresser repairs, builds vintage Japanese motorcycles


England-born mechanic Chris Kelland specializes in the repair and building of vintage '60s and '70s motorcycles. After working in the prepress industry since he was 15, Kelland decided to pursue his love for old engines.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

The sound of revving motorcyle engines can be heard in a small alley off of Old Koenig Lane. Old Yamahas, Hondas and other two-wheeled vehicles are often seen trailing up and down the street after coming out of a small motorcycle shop called Limey’s, where owner Chris Kelland specializes in repairing and building old vintage ’60s and ’70s
Japanese motorcycles.

“We stick rigidly to the ‘nothing after 1980’ thing for the simple reason that, when you try to do everything, you’ll never be good at anything,” Kelland said.

Limey’s is filled with haphazardly placed spare parts and a general sense of chaos, set against the back drop of the shop’s bright, lime green painted walls.

Kelland’s work is reclusive, and on any given day he can be seen wearing a black T-shirt, black jeans and black boots to accompany his grease-covered fingers. The next thing to note is Kelland’s accent. 

Originally from Southeast London, Kelland has been in Austin for about 10 years. He drinks 12 cups of tea a day and occasionally reverts to British jargon. He said the name of the shop was inspired by what Americans called the British soldiers sailing to the United States during the Revolutionary War. 

“I started specializing in British stuff, and then I discovered the Yamaha 650 twin,” Kelland said. “It was as close as I could get to a British bike, only without all the problems British bikes have.” 

Kelland first moved to Austin to work as a prepress consultant. He calibrated printing machines and specialized in making the colors that are printed out match the colors that appeared on the screen. He calibrated the systems for UT’s print division and gave seminars on color to students at Austin Community College.

After his first year in Austin, Kelland won 12 awards for his work in color printing at the Printing Images Awards. 

“It’s rare for an English person to say they’re good at something, but I was really good,” Kelland said. 

Although Kelland had been in the printing industry since he was 15 and had become renowned for his work, the general apathy in the field discouraged him from continuing. 

“I wanted to do what I do as best as I could, and no one really cared,” Kelland said. “Now I’m just kind of done with it.”

He instead decided to pursue his other longtime passion: motorcycles.

Kelland’s first bike was a small Honda 50cc that he used to get back and forth to work each day as a teenager. He began learning how to fix damages to his bikes. 

“It was a financial thing, really,” Kelland said. “I started honestly destroying my bike because I didn’t know what I was doing. I just couldn’t afford to get other people to work on
my stuff.”

In 1984, Kelland opened a bike shop in England. But, with no experience or direction, the business failed in three years. 

“I was 20 years old. I had no business sense. I was terrible with money,” Kelland said. 

Kelland kept motorcycles his full -time hobby. After he moved to Austin, he started working on bikes out of his home, and, when customer demand grew too high, he decided to open up a shop. 

“It’s sort of a battle, the older these bikes get,” Kelland said. “To repair these things properly you would have to spend a fortune, so we try and just make them run as best as they can without replacing everything.”

Elijah Reese works alongside Kelland at Limey’s, and the two spend six days a week in the small lime green space. 

“When Chris first opened, I had him cleaning carbs for me, and then I started doing frames and welding for him, and it kind of progressed from there,” Reese said. 

Limey’s has been in business for four years now and serves customers that range from longtime motorcycle collectors to young college students who purchased their first bikes
through Craigslist. 

Le Brown started coming to Limey’s three years ago and has had two of his Hondas repaired and maintained by Kelland. 

“He’s a know-it-all that happens to, in fact, know it all. Even his competitors admire him,” Brown said. “He brought my bikes back to life.” 

Kelland’s interest in working exclusively on older bikes has some emotional ties.  

“I think, honestly, if the desire for vintage motorcycles disappeared completely, I think I’d be finished,” Kelland said. “I just have no passion for new motorcycles.” 

Kelland is not much of a rider, and instead focuses on repairs, or what he calls “turd-polishing.” 

“It’s a feeling. It’s really hard to explain,” Kelland said. “I’m just a mechanic. I like making these old machines live again, and that’s really why I do it.”