Sophisticated Banter with Innovative Auto Engineer Nigel Petrie

Sophisticated Banter with Innovative Auto Engineer Nigel Petrie

How things work; most people generally could care less. If it works, whether that be our coffee-maker or our car, then we're usually satisfied. Nigel Petrie on the other, well his mind dives a bit deeper. Always has. 

From the moment he jumped atop his first motorcycle Nigel has been fascinated with how things work, particularly when it comes to things that go fast. Constantly thinking of different ways to do what's been done, Nigel is a craftsmen in every sense of the word. 

Starting with raw materials, he turns ideas into concepts and concepts into custom, road-ready vehicles. Nigel was nearly riding motorcycles before taking his first steps and has since turned his passion for two wheels into a fulfilling profession. 

Get to know Nigel below in the latest installment of Sophisticated Banter below. 

Tell us about your background - where are you from and what was your childhood like?
I grew up a sleepy little town called Cobden in Victorias South West, my love for two wheels begun from an early age, my dad had motorcycles and I raced BMX from the very moment I got off my training wheels. 
And how did that love for bikes first come to fruition?

We lived on the outskirts of town, behind our house stretched these green rolling hills for as far as you could see. I think I was around ten years old when dad took me to the local wrecker and we picked up an old beaten up Honda XR75. Together we cleaned it up and asked the farmer who owned the land if I could ride on it, he obliged and gave me access to his entire property. I still get that same feeling when I fire up my bike and go exploring, I don't think that excitement will ever leave me.

Does engineering and a love for it run in the family?

Both of my Grandpas were plumbers. I had always been fascinated to know how things work and if they could be improved. I remember exploring their garages and understanding that if you want something done then all you need is the tools and skills to do it. 

Any early inspirations that got you into what you love today?

My parents were petrol heads, we went to the Speedway, the Drag Races, Car Shows, Motocross etc and although the drivers and riders were incredibly skillfull it was the machines that I was always focused on. 

Tell us a bit about your progression through life as you pursued this love for bikes, cars and how you get to where you are..

I went to Cobden Technical School and in the later years I put the majority of my time into the Trade Wing, we had an Automotive class and also a Metalwork class, I loved cars and motorcycles but it was the construction methods that I fell in love with, I started to understand that anyone can learn how to take things apart and put them back together but not everyone has access to the machinery that a Metalworker has. Halfway through my last year at high school my mum took me one and a half hours away to the big city to go for an interview with Ford to become a Fitter and Turner. I got the job and they gave me time to finish year 12 and find a house in Geelong. That was 17 years ago, in that 17 years I moved through the company and into Research and Development and as of 2 months ago I am now working for myself.

Your company is called "Engineered to Slide", tell us a bit about how that got started and what it means to have your own thing going

My company is called Engineered To Slide and it all started 13 years ago when I started competitively drifting race cars, after work I would develop and upgrade my car and also help others do the same to theirs. It got so busy that I needed to get away from it all from time to time so I started to revisit my love for motorcycles. Of course I started modifying my motorcycle and the same thing happened but this time it wasn't just my friends it was large companies. I enjoyed the process of sharing what I was doing and without realising it I was building my company through the cars and motorcycles that were coming out of my home garage.

Explain to people who don't know you, what you do on a daily basis since you've branched off and started working for yourself. What does a typical day look like?

Engineered To Slide is now my full time operation and my dream job, over the past 10 years I have seen large businesses struggle with the way in which manufacturing is changing in Australia. I have always wanted to be diverse and build my company so that I have the structure to move quickly on innovation and future projects. My day to day starts in the office with the emails, replying to prospective clients on their upcoming projects, organising any parts that need to be ordered, working out the materials that I will need, writing proposals for company projects and also packing the merchandise orders. Once thats done I will get the running round done and pick up anything I might need for the afternoon, then I am into the workshop and on the tools. My day is usually 12 hours long and sometimes a lot longer but I love what I do and I don't tire of it. 

What's your favorite part about what you do?

My favorite part of what I do is definitely the final assembly of a car or motorcycle, there are a bunch of different aspects to this process. The first is the physical form taking shape, the vision switching to reality. The second is the mental side of it, I have a hard time switching off from my projects, they consume me and up until the point that it's finished and tested there is always a million questions running through my mind. So when the projects all said and done I clean up the workshop and breathe a big sigh of relief and happiness. It's this rollercoaster of emotions that makes what I do exciting, it's definitely not for everyone and requires a whole heap of self control but I seem to manage it alright.

And the most challenging?

The most challenging aspect of my job is trying not to take on too much, I want what I do to stay creative and for that I need a level of headspace to facilitate enough freedom for creativity, theres a fine line between a production line and bespoke well thought out creations.

You've worked for big brands in the past, like BMW, Triumph and more - tell us about those experiences

I love working with big brands and their marketing teams, in the past I have worked with Harley Davidson, Triumph and BMW to name a few. It fits with everything that I love to do, I enjoy writing, photography and helping people understand the product through my perspective. 

A big part of your job is taking ideas and bringing them to life. Tell us about the process..

Having a vision is one thing but having the skills and the personal discipline to see that vision come to life is another. Most of my projects start out with a really loose idea and tend to get pretty complicated as they progress. I am visual person and I love lines, shapes and contours more than flashy paint and over engineered fabrication methods.

What types of projects are your favorite? Bikes, cars, customizing?

For me I love the entire process of customizing, I mentioned the rollercoaster of emotion earlier, in the beginning it is the vision and excitement of what your embarking on, throughout the build there are so many hurdles to cross, as each ones completed the excitement of the finish line looms and then the pure bliss of the final product and testing phase. I love building new motorcycles as the process is simple and the focus is completely on the shape rather than the performance. But on the flip side building old motorcycles is equally as rewarding, learning their quirks and how they like to be ridden is something that has always interested me. 

Dream Car? Dream Bike? 

Dream car, would be a dead stock 1965 Ford Bronco towing an early 1970's Wood Deck Raysoncraft Speedboat powered by a 392 Hemi, Dream trip? It would be a month in California with the Bronco and the Boat on a Summertime trip to Lake Tahoe for a day on the water. 

Dream Bike? I already own it, its this one, a 1955 Harley Davidson Panhead. I bought the frame and engine sight unseen in the USA, I had it shipped from New York to San Francisco then borrowed a friends 1959 Harley Davidson to fabricate all of the custom parts on it, I boxed them all up and sent them to San Fransisco and once cleared through customs I flew in and spent a few days bolting it all together. From there I strapped my bag to my sissy bar and off I went on a solo trip that transversed the West Coast of USA taking me to the most amazing events and locations. I love this bike for the good times that we had together, if you ever need to find yourself then get on

top of a motorcycle and head off into the unknown, it was the most amazing experience.

Hobbies outside engineering and working on bikes and cars?

Spending time in the high country of Victoria, in the morning ill take a trail ride through the mountains on my dirt bike followed by an afternoon spent blasting down the mountain on my Downhill MTB thats followed by a swim in the river and a few Pale Ales while cooking a BBQ. 

What does the future hold for you, and Engineered To Slide?
2019 marks a new chapter for ETS, I have just setup my business within Deakin Universities Manufutures site. The benefit for ETS being ran out of the University is that I can move forward on a bunch of exciting ideas that I have for the future of motorcycles. I am a one man operation but having the support of the University means that I can work on a far greater capacity then I did before moving in, I have a lot of very smart people with links to some very exciting machinery and processes. 
My goal has always been to collaborate with like minded people and push myself to be innovative, to work within an inspirational environment (my workshop) and have a fleet of motorcycles ready to get my knees in the breeze if the stresses of work get a little too much.
Anything else for the people?
Thanks for reading and thanks to OTIS for being the glass between my vision and the reality.
Check out Nigel's business blog 'Engineered to Slide' and follow his journey @engineeredtoslide

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