Aged eight in 1955 his mum who was quite sick at the time, bought John Whip his first bike, Whip said "getting your first bike was a big deal". Whip's first bike was pivotal in determining how his life would unfold, Whip has always been known as an innovator when it comes to customising bicycles. It all began with that first bicycle, accessorised with mirrors, pennants, mudguards, mud flaps, reflectors and aerials. At the same time bodgies and widgies were just getting into accessorising cars and motorcycles, Whip was a bit too young so he decked out his bicycle with paraphernalia he recalled, "it came out of Rock 'n Roll a bit like Rock 'n Roll George the local Brisbane icon and what he did with his FJ Holden."
Whip lived at Morningside just South of the Brisbane river a few kilometres from the CBD. Up on the hill from the front stairs of the Whip house you could see Hawthorne Park, and the 4 laps to the mile long (402.3 metres) slightly banked bitumen Hawthorne Park bike racing track From those stairs Whip's fascination for racing began.
Whip said, "Looking back I geuss the big thing was my mum died at the end of 1956 I was looking for something to get into, my mum had always supported my cycling, she bought me the bike."
Whip naturally gravitated to the Hawthorne Park bicycle races where he was "adopted" by the cycling community which was like one big family.
One day he was down at Hawthorne Park in 1957 on his roadster bike with 24 inch wheels - it's handlebars turned down, complete with all the paraphernalia including "rear view mirrors" attached. Whip started in his first schoolboy race and won, the commentator said, "This bloke won't have to look over his shoulder he's got the mirrors". That afternoon all the paraphernalia was gone and the roadster had been turned into a racer complete with fixed wheel. Whip started racing in the Saturday morning schoolboy races organised by Bill Hurley and Norm Gailey. That year Russell Mockridge rode up from Melbourne to Brisbane, training for the Victorian racing season, his training included professional races at Hawthorne Park one Saturday afternoon. Mockridge was sponsored by Healing bikes and Whip was a big fan of the man and his machine. A man with a big heart and generous spirit Mockridge showed up at the Saturday morning schoolboy races, Whip asked Mockridge to push him off in a race, spurred on by his hero Whip won.
Whip's dad owned a mixed business including a news agency, Whip talked his dad into selling bicycles as well as buying him a custom made Healing fixie just like Mockridge's, custom painted pink of course. With his new fixie he could race road and track and started winning lots of races with the Kangaroo Point club, for a brief period Whip switched to the "Brisbane Juveniles" who were older riders, the competition was tough.
Brisbane cabbies had an illegal betting ring near the finish line at Hawthorne Park, also using their two way radios to call an ambulance when there was a crash. Whip became a go-between for the cabbies providing insider knowledge, the cabbies profiting from the grommet's well informed dealings with other racers knowing who was in form and likely to win.
Later when boredom with life at the track set in Whip disappeared from racing for a decade and hit the surf, returning to racing in 1973 aged 27. One day Whip found himself running up a hill at Point Danger and thought"What am I doing this for, I could be riding a bike". The next day he was on Tom Wallace's doorstep organising a new bike. Tom Wallace was famous in Brisbane for his Wallace, Special brand bicycles. John Whip hasn't stopped riding and racing since that day.
Whiphas always been an innovator preferring to deviate from the standard model and show others the way. During the 70's pink was re-formatted together with black, setting him apart from the crowd. Strapping bicycles to the back of his TX 750 twin Yamaha got him to the races, sometimes alongside Steve Goodall who strapped his bikes to the back of a Suzuki "Water Bus". Whip met up with Scott Ramsay, one of the top Aussie track riders of the day, they became good mates traveling and racing a lot together. Moving a round a lot Whip lived on the Gold Coast then Bundaberg, eventually calling Brisbane home once again, even landing a job on the assembly line at Malvern Star in Spring Hill. He didn't really work much.
Whip on colour When The Cramps penned "I'm Customized" surely Whip's heart must have sung, finally somewhere someone got it. Throughout Whip's lifetime he's become known for his distinctive brand of colour, three colours have been a constant. Pink, bluebird blue and orange all complimented with black. A man ahead of his time by decades.
Pink was the in thing in the fifties, bodgies and widgies used it, back then it was a "tough" colour. Add black to "toughen" it even further, sweeten this with smart design, decals and stickers you've got the essence of the Bluebird design style.
Whip's older brother had a penchant for black.
Talking about black, Whip describes a scene which changed him forever, "When I was a kid I came home from school one day and my older brother had hung shovels, the wheelbarrow, his bike, the push mower, anything he could lay his hands on. A yard full of black things all hung on the Hills Hoist, he'd sprayed them all black, I thought it looked pretty good. It left a lasting impression, with pink you needed something to rough it up a bit, so black was the perfect compliment. I chose the matt black, you get a better finish with matt black, a nice clean look."
Orange just made sense and blended in with blue and black. Years later the Blaster Mobile would become an iconic team car on the roads of Brisbane, a matt black Chrysler Centura covered in stickers of Blue and Orange with Bluebird Sport and Blasters emblazoned from the roof to the wheels. Just like his brother, for Whip nothing could escape being customised.
Blue came from the Bluebird, in 1975 Whip was in New Zealand cycling near Wellington, he and his mate had a crash in the rain then found a bike shop in Wellington called Bluebird cycles.
"They had these really cool stickers, bluebird cycle stickers with the bluebirds, the bluebird comes from the bluebird of happiness, it's a fable I think, it's a morality tale of people looking for happiness in all the wrong places. So we bought all these stickers and put them all over our bikes, I just loved the logo, I just thought it was a classic, anyway we got these bluebirds. Later we were in a town called Ashburton on the Canterbury Plains and it was late night shopping, we were walking into shops and talking to girls and that, we went into this shop and there was this girl at one of the counters, she called me over and said 'hey I've got something for you', and I said 'hey I'm not buying anything, we're just looking around', she said 'no you'll get this when you see it' and then she pulled out this bluebird, the bluebird of happiness, so I bought it. Blue is the colour of Brisbane and blue skies, so blue came into the colour chart."
Whether you know him as The Whip, Whippie, Whip, John, Johnny, E.J Whip, or Jack Whip he later borrowed the term "grommet" from his decade of catching waves. One thing's clear he started out as "The Grommet of Hawthorne Park", became a surfer, went back to cycling and never looked back.
........mega moves that make gods out of grommets (oxford dictionary description of grommet)
MORE FROM THE WHIP LATER ...... in up coming posts we talk to The Whip on the Brisbane Blasters and what it was like to put together the first fully sponsored and kitted out racing team in Queensland during the 1980's. Plus cornering with The Whip and his favourite slam your opposition - cornering technique - gleaned from years in the surf, peppered with a little help from Davis Phinney, ultimately scoring Whip a masters world title.
2012 pictures of Whip by Robert Cobcroft. Other images from Whip's cycling scrapbook, photographer unknown.