December 11th, 2013

A speedway champion with a qualification to match

It takes tremendous skill and determination to rise to the top of any sport. When it comes to speedway, having extreme courage is also a big advantage. Engineering apprentice Andrew Aldridge has been competing on custom built race bikes for the past 14 years and has taken out every title New Zealand has to offer. The current long track champion, Andrew Aldridge is used to breaking records and, taking to the track on a bike with no gears and no brakes, he’s broken a few bones too.

‘The bikes are faster than a Formula One car to 100km,’ says Andrew. ‘It’s basically a mountain bike with an engine. Because the bikes only weigh between 76-80kgs, the acceleration is just huge.’

Shaving weight from the bikes is what makes all the difference when competing and a lot of work goes into making the bikes lighter. A light bike is a winning bike.  Andrew’s got to be quite an expert at modifying standard parts to reduce weight. The secret is in shaving just enough weight off without compromising the structural integrity of the components. It helps that machining is Andrew’s passion because over the years he’s got the whole process down to a fine art.

Andrew is only one block course away from finishing his National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering, Level 4 apprenticeship - which he is completing through Industry Training Organisation (ITO) Competenz. Getting his ticket is a milestone that he looks forward to reaching, having taken a few years off along the way to compete on the bike circuit in the United Kingdom.    

Engineering has interested him ever since Andrew was a kid hanging around his dad’s work. When he became involved in racing bikes, Andrew’s natural choice was a trade he could put to good use in his hobby. Now employed at his family’s hydraulics business in Christchurch, Andrew says machining is what he likes best. ‘I like starting with a blank billet and ending up with something flash.  Seeing the finished product, you get a real sense of satisfaction.’

It’s clear that Andrew believes in a job well done and takes pride in his work at Aldridge Hydraulics.  ‘You’ve got engineers and you’ve got tradesmen. There are a lot of things an engineer can do but a tradesman just takes it to the next level,’ says Andrew. ‘A tradesman does the final touches – he’ll make it perfect.’

Andrew’s advice to those considering an apprenticeship is simple: ‘Make sure you want to do engineering, that you’ve got a passion for it. If you’re not too sure, do a pre-trade course where they’ll show you a whole variety of things so you can decide what line you want to take.’

Wise words from a man who knows he made the right choice himself.