On the quiet city’s periphery of Ephesus, Ga., David Woodburn isn’t just your go-to guy for BMW motorcycle repair work. He’s also a captivating character who has transformed a seemingly simple place into a treasure trove.
Nestled in an idyllic landscape filled with animals, David and his wife, Emy, have fashioned a cozy residence and attached it to an established hub for all things aged and air-cooled BMW and British motorcycles.
Farm, Family, and Lots of Horsepower
David and Emy created a rustic space where bikes and stories have found a home in a place that looks more like a farm than a conventional motorcycle workshop. From rearing pigs and chickens, to goats and ducks, to constructing their house from reclaimed wood and scrap, the Woodburns built a haven — by hand for the most part — that blends rural charm with mechanical prowess.
Hailing from a small country town in Queensland, Australia, David embarked on motorcycle forays from the tender age of 17. In the moments between engines humming and tools ringing in his shop, I posed a simple question to David: “Why did he embark on this transformative journey of perpetual travel?”
His response, delivered with a reflective gaze that seemed to stretch beyond the workshop walls, revealed a deeper yearning that stirred his adventurous spirit. David confessed that the vastness of Australia, while breathtaking in its landscapes, felt too compact in terms of populace. A massive island continent comparatively sparse with people compelled him to explore beyond its horizons. The lure of the unknown, the uncharted territories that awaited, called out to David as he sought to transcend the geographical confines of his isolated homeland.
It wasn’t just about escaping for David; it was also about embracing the expansiveness of the world, discovering different cultures and landscapes that stretched far beyond Queensland’s shores. In his words, there lingered a recognition that the expedition was a deliberate pursuit of understanding, a search for the essence representing humanity.
David’s choice to traverse the globe was a soulful exploration, a manifestation of the belief that the world, with all its diversity and complexity, was a canvas waiting to be experienced, embraced, and imbibed.
A Motorcycle Odyssey Begins
In ’86, David crossed paths with Emy in the Philippines, and their shared love for adventure led to marriage, the customization of a motorcycle and sidecar, and the joyous arrival of their daughter, Mattea.
Their overlanding story, aboard a weathered BMW R80 GS and sidecar thoughtfully equipped with a convertible top with a frame and canopy to shield Emy and their toddler from the elements, spanned Europe and Africa, unfolding as a family journey.
In their venturesome odyssey, the intrepid trio displayed extraordinary fortitude, navigating landscapes that included crossing the treacherous currents of the Gilgit River in Pakistan, braving the wintry expanse of the Pyrenees between France and Spain, and skillfully maneuvering over bridges cobbled together in Zaire, Central Africa.
The family’s travels surpassed geographical exploration, morphing into diplomatic interventions as David found himself mediating a simmering conflict between two tribes in the Ugandan town of Amudat. This noble act of peacemaking garnered him a letter of commendation from the Officer Commanding Police Post, lauding the overlander’s commendable efforts toward reconciliation during their sojourn in East Africa.
Such unique encounters reflect their courageous spirit and their capacity to bridge divides and foster understanding in the diverse corners of the globe they traversed. The narrative reached its zenith with a daring attempt to cross war-torn territories in Central Africa to Rwanda.
Lurking between those lands stretched over 1,200 miles of broken tracks — meandering through muddy, eroding landscapes with unforgiving rivers. Plus, the ominous presence of government military and rebel soldiers entangled in the web of bureaucracy and the specter of corrupt officialdom.
Their path unraveled into the Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation spiraling into an ongoing civil war and turmoil. Settling in Miami in 1999, the Woodburns faced their most significant culture shock yet.
A Name Born From Kindness
Fast forward almost 2 decades, and the couple now calls a 5-acre lot on the outskirts of civilization in Georgia, their home. Their independent workshop stands as a testament to the couple’s expertise in servicing, repairing, and restoring older BMW and British motorcycles.
The workshop, aptly named Barnsley Motor Werks, stands as a living tribute to the unsung heroes of Barnsley in South Yorkshire, England. These sympathetic market towners lent their extraordinary assistance when the family faced the heart-wrenching theft of their motorcycle outfit upon reaching the U.K., marking the poignant conclusion of their three-wheeled wandering. The Woodburns’ backstory graced the front page of the Barnsley Independent newspaper, capturing their connection with the resilient spirit of Barnsley.
Flourishing as more than a workshop, this refuge has become a rural way station, a sanctuary of generosity akin to the warmth the couple experienced throughout their global escapades. David and Emy, with open hearts and hands, extend their hospitality to fellow overlanders, offering a bunkhouse with camping space next to an overwhelmingly equipped bike workshop — a manifestation of the reciprocity and kindness that has defined their extraordinary journey.
It’s beyond a rest stop. It’s a continuation of their worldwide camaraderie, facilitating a space where shared stories are regaled by all walks of life alongside beautiful old motorcycles, woven together to form a tapestry of connection and community.
Wrenches, Wheels, and Warm Welcomes
Immersed in a lifetime of wisdom surrounding pre-1996 BMW and British motorcycles, David has sculpted Barnsley Motor Werks into an oasis for the maintenance, restoration, and repairs of vintage motorcycle enthusiasts. Stepping into this two-wheeled museum-like retreat, I found myself surrounded by a lifetime of craftsmanship — rough-hewn handmade jigs, endless shelves of engines at various stages of reconditioning, and an abundance of parts that stretched the boundaries of my imagination.
David, a true artisan, crafted a wheel bearing check tool from an old swing arm and axle, utilizing parts salvaged from a Jeep factory in Michigan. A whimsical touch was added when he chuckled, admitting he couldn’t recall how to reproduce that homespun tool today.
The workshop resonated with the lively personality of its creator — David showed me his handcrafted and machined tools, their original purposes now lost to memory. He humorously envisioned his legacy transforming into a trendy barista bar, orchestrated by their daughter, with the massive volume of contents casually sold for a mere $2,000.
On rare occasions, collectors successfully approach David, eagerly acquiring one of his prized BMW motorcycles from his private collection for a substantial sum. Yet, the workshop walls still narrate sagas of these vintage rides, forming a formidable backdrop to the property.
When Two-Wheeled Stories Are Better With a Third
Adjacent to this historical collection, their former home-on-wheels resides in the sacred backroom — a peculiar sight once loaded with aspirations and dreams. It was where Mattea transitioned between perching in front of her father astride the saddle to snuggling next to her mother in the sidecar, obtaining several lifetimes of hard-earned but enriching experience within a decade!
This multifaceted sidecar served as a makeshift kitchen for on-the-road culinary creations. Simultaneously, a sideboard transformed into a learning space where Mattea received her homeschooling from Emy during their travels. David reminisced how he was clad in a blue Belstaff-looking jacket — made indestructible with Teflon lining — weathering the years of their strenuous trip.
The couple extends their warmth beyond the workshop, hosting an annual event transforming their property into a nexus for around 40 like-minded bikers. Within this inviting communal space, stories weave seamlessly with shared experiences, forging a welcoming atmosphere amid an Aladdin’s Cave of the couple’s quirky eccentricities.
Despite David’s repeated attempts to take a step back from the intricacies of repairs, he inevitably finds himself drawn back into the world of fixing various motorcycle issues — a testament to the inescapable and addicting allure of his lifelong passion.
In every nook and cranny of Barnsley Motor Werks, the essence of the Woodburns’ journey persists, immortalized not only in the vintage motorcycles but also in the fabric of the workshop itself —a living chronicle of their enduring spirit and the collective anecdotes of those who share the road less traveled.
The Dynamic Duo of Two Wheels & One Unforgettable Odyssey
Beyond their mechanical expertise, David and Emy embody more than the role of motorcycle mechanics. They are an enthralling duo — David, an unconventional Aussie blending classic Australian humor with a self-deprecating charm, and Emy, an unassuming yet formidable Filipina wielding Herculean strength and the ability to navigate challenges as deftly as David. Their story, evolving from global wanderers to local legends, continues to leave an indelible mark on every heart and soul they encounter.
However, don’t take my word for it; begin your exploration by delving into David’s book, Dis Big Pella Walkabout: An Odyssey, establishing a unique chapter in the annals of family travel. In a heartfelt gesture, David dedicated his book to his daughter, expressing profound gratitude for the years she spent overlanding in a sidecar through Europe and the African continent during the ’90s.
As the sun sets over Barnsley Motor Werks, the Woodburns’ legacy echoes through the revving engines and nostalgic stories, inviting all to celebrate a life fueled by a shared passion — an adventure where anything’s possible, turning the open road into a remarkable tale. Check out Barnsley Motor Werks for yourself through its Facebook page or through a visit in Ephesus, Ga.