Risky Business

Meet Mark Filetti, an aircraft engineer who also builds motorcycles in his spare time. The proud owner of Dirt Road Cycles in Sliema, shares his passion for bikes with us as well as some of his pet peeves.

So, I have to ask, what’s the attraction to bikes?  

Since I was young enough to remember, I was always fascinated by bikes. It started with BMX bicycles and eventually grew into a passion for motorbikes.

I grew up in Australia till I was around 13 as my dad used to work there but we moved to Malta when he got another job offer here. Most of my friends back there had bikes to run around with and they used to let me have a go on them. I remember I used to pass this Honda showroom sometimes and just be fascinated by the beautiful machines on display.

Back in Malta, I think I was around 21 when I saw a bike like the ones I had seen in the showroom back home, so I just went in, bought it and rode off with it. I didn’t even have my motorbike license yet.

You work as an aircraft engineer but still managed to find time to build up your own business too. How do you manage to cope?

I try not to take on too many clients at one go and prioritise by working on just one or two bikes at a time. The thing is, that it can easily go from overwhelming to practically nothing. It’s not like working as a mechanic, for example, where you have regular service jobs coming in.

It all comes down to planning out a project well and it depends on what they want to be done. I don’t like leaving clients high and dry when I’m halfway through a project so I guess I have a certain discipline for deadlines, which has been carried over from my full-time job.

Tell me more about this bike business of yours.

I own a garage in Sliema, called Dirt Road Cycles, where I basically handle just about everything that has to do with bikes. From building them from scratch to restoration and customisation as well as smaller jobs like changing a part.

I guess it started out as a hobby then grew into a part-time business. I usually head straight to the garage after work and in summer, I get to be there more often as I get 3 and a half months off from my full-time job.

Balancing a full-time job and a business seems like hard work. How do you like to enjoy your time off, when you get any?

My hobbies tend to revolve around bikes too. I’m part of a motorcycle club and we go abroad together sometimes, taking the bikes up for long rides. 

Work keeps me extremely busy so it’s hard to find the time to ride like I used to. That being said, I still ride every day, to and from work. My girlfriend also rides.

I usually work at the garage on Saturdays too but I always try to keep Sunday free to visit my parents, meet up with friends and just let off some steam.

I understand you also used to take part in judged events and competitions with your bike.

That’s true, I used to compete in off-roading races and adventure riding around areas like Dingli and even came first place a few years ago.

Did you ever suffer any injuries while riding?

I actually got badly injured when I was riding once. My foot got caught and it ended up being a nasty fracture so I went around 7 months without riding. During this time, I sold my bike and then bought a more modern one later on.

The situation on the roads in Malta has become very dangerous for motorcyclists in particular. What are your thoughts on this?

In fact, it happens to be one of my pet peeves. I can be a very short-tempered guy sometimes and things like this just drive me up the wall.

Some drivers can just be really selfish on the roads. They have no consideration for their surroundings and don’t look out for those around them, especially riders on bikes, who are in a more vulnerable position.

It’s not even just a matter of quickly checking their phone… I spot a few of them actually scrolling through Facebook while driving!

Every time I hear about a motorcycle accident on the news, I start messaging friends with bikes to check if they’re ok and pray it wasn’t one of them.

This small island mentality can be a life or death situation for many riders. Bad road conditions don’t help either. My off-roading experience has actually allowed me to save myself from suffering bad falls but other riders might not be able to do the same.

However, it’s best to accept that this fear is a part of riding, especially in Malta.

To say that bikes are a large part of your life would be an understatement. What are your goals for the future of your business? Do you ever think of doing it full-time?

Of course, it would be nice to do it full time one day. For the time being, though it wouldn’t be feasible when you add up the costs of the parts and my labour. It’s difficult since you want to rest assured that you have a certain income coming in, especially with a loan to pay off. Prices need to be kept low too, and you’re not getting paid an hourly rate like you would in a ‘proper’ job.

That is the dream, however; to do so well with the garage that it would become my actual job.

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