Former paratrooper and motorcycling enthusiast Chris Allen has been deployed to Africa, South East Asia and Central America, retiring as Major. After hanging up his army boots, Chris led international security operations in East Timor, oversaw counter terrorism measures in the wake of the September 11 attacks and was headhunted to protect our nation’s Sydney Opera House. In 2008 he was appointed Sheriff of NSW. Chris is now a full-time author residing and riding on the South Coast. We chat to him about the inspiration for his action-adventure novels and the vital role motorcycling serves in his personal life.
“Honestly, years ago but I only finally got around to taking it up in 2017. When I was in the Army, a lot of my mates had bikes and it was one of those things that I wanted to do but didn’t prioritise. Around 2017-18 I was going through a very tough period personally and a friend suggested I take up riding. I know the cliché is that any middle-aged man buying a motorbike is a classic mid-life crisis, but in my case – and I know this to be true for many others – it was all about my mental health. The process of learning to ride, choosing the right bike (a Yamaha 650 V Star, which I called ‘The Sheriff’) getting out on the road and embracing the total experience of riding got me through one of the toughest periods of my life. For me it’s all about quiet solitude and peace of mind. I absolutely love it!”
What model are you riding now?
“I have a beautiful 2014 1700cc Triumph Thunderbird LT, which I call ‘The Major’. In one of life’s meant-to-be moments, I’d brought ‘The Sheriff’ into City Coast Motorcycles for a service and rego check. Once I’d handed it over to Les, I decided to have a wander around the showroom for what I thought would be a casual browse. I was chatting with Tim about bikes and looking at the new Triumph Bonneville range, when my eyes fell upon the Thunderbird. It was love at first sight; a classic cruiser in the red and black livery, with all the quality and style that you can only really get with a Triumph. I couldn’t ignore the fact that it was exactly what I wanted. So, I took it for a test ride and the next day found myself trading in my beloved 650 and taking the reins of a 1700. The first time I sat on the bike and was getting ready to head off down Keira Street, I remember feeling pretty intimidated because I’d never ridden anything more than my 650. I have to say though, as soon as I eased off the clutch and got going, the Thunderbird pretty much rode itself. It was an incredible experience and I loved it immediately.”
You served as a paratrooper for many years. Did you get to ride on two wheels on any missions?
“As much as I’d love to say ‘Yes’ to this, sadly the answer is ‘No’. Although, the prospect of a Steve McQueen Great Escape moment would have been sensational! That said, as a paratrooper there was never a shortage of opportunities for an adrenalin rush. From memory, McQueen rode an early 1960s Triumph in the Great Escape, which they modified to look like a wartime German BMW.”
As a returned soldier, what role does motorcycling play in your life today?
“For me and a lot of other ex-soldiers, motorcycling is all about mental health and the total enjoyment of the experience. Every ride is different, and you have to be thinking all the time. That’s why it’s so good for you mentally. If you’re going through something in your life and you’re feeling totally consumed by it, getting on the bike allows you to reset. Whenever I’m in the garage and look at the Thunderbird I know there’s an adventure just waiting to happen. And, if you can, that’s the moment to gear up. Once I was off my Ps and my boys were old enough, I started taking them both out for rides. They loved it immediately. I take the approach that it’s super important to give kids a healthy respect for riding as early as possible. In short, motorcycling has been life-changing for me. It’s something that can only be truly understood by doing it.”
You are a well-established author. Do you derive inspiration from real life experience?
“Yeah, a lot of the general background to my main characters and the situations they experience are loosely based on my own career and life, and also some of my closest friends. Obviously, however, when you’re writing action thrillers you have to make everything much larger than life in order to make it exciting for the reader. I wouldn’t survive half of the stuff I’ve thrown at my main protagonist, Alex Morgan, in the Intrepid series! He was lucky to survive the first book! I’ve taken the approach that it’s important to find a strong balance between realism and escapism. I like to make the reader feel like they’re right in the middle of the action while also taking them on an adventure. The greatest compliment I’ve had from many of my readers is when they tell me they’ve missed their bus or train stop because they’ve been so engrossed in the story. As a writer, you know you’ve done something right when that happens…even though I feel bad that they’ve missed their stop!”
OK Chris, what’s the connection – how does your Triumph Thunderbird LT (The Major) fit into the current book you’re penning?
“I’m really excited about this new book. It’s a departure from my Alex Morgan/Intrepid series which is unapologetically, very action-oriented. The new book features a character named Benjamin Rhett and is much more of a traditional thriller. It’s set mostly here on the NSW south coast – in and around Wollongong, along with some international connections. The reason I said discovering the Thunderbird at City Coast Motorcycles was a meant-to-be moment, is that when I originally started developing Benjamin Rhett’s story a couple of years ago, I knew that motorcycling was going to be an important part of Ben’s lifestyle. At that time, I’d been researching what my next bike would be and when I recently started working on the draft from 2019, I found that I had already written in the Triumph Thunderbird LT (in red & black livery) as the bike! So, you can imagine that when I was chatting with Tim that day and saw the bike just sitting there, I knew I had to have it. Like me, Ben is in his 50s and riding is a huge part of his mental health regime. He has a lot of personal history and trauma to come to terms with and the Triumph is integral to that process”
Has your character Benjamin Rhett always loved motorcycles, or is this a new relationship?
“I’ve kept this story relatively close to my own experience of riding. So, yeah, for Ben it’s a new relationship that came into his life at a time when he really needed it.”
Where’s your favourite place to go for a cruise?
“The NSW South Coast is one of the best locations to ride motorbikes. From the National Park north of Stanwell Tops, over the Sea Cliff Bridge and along the coast, all the way down to Berry, Nowra or beyond to Jervis Bay, you can’t go wrong. Depends on my mood. I even enjoy the ride up to Sydney occasionally, although I hate dealing with the traffic once you’re up there.”
The Thunderbird’s perfect for a cruise with a pillion. Have you taken your boys for a spin?
“I actually haven’t taken the boys out on the LT yet!! I’ve been waiting for the nicer weather and focusing on me getting more familiar with the bike.”
Where to from here, Chris; are there any other bikes you’re planning to add to your collection?
“It’d be very easy to try and sound cool by saying Triumph’s Speed Triple 1200 or the Rocket 3, but I’ll leave those to the younger folks! To be honest I’m more inclined towards the Tiger adventure bike range, the 900 or 1200. A great mate of mine has recently bought one and he loves it. I can’t see myself ever getting rid of my Thunderbird, so if I was to get a Tiger, they’d be sharing space in the garage.”
Chris has four novels in his Intrepid series: Defender, Hunter, Avenger and Helldiver. He is currently finishing the first trilogy in the Intrepid series called, The Dark Heart which will be released in 2022 and includes the stories: Ranger, Shapeshifter and Spider. Chris is also working on the first in a new thriller series featuring motorcycle enthusiast and south coast resident, Benjamin Rhett! This new book will be in all good book stores in 2023.