Every once in awhile I have a conversation with someone who discovers that I am a motorcycle rider. At some point they usually ask me what kind of bike I ride. That’s when I tell them it’s a Triumph Bonneville. Sometimes they have heard of the brand and sometimes they know what a Bonneville is, but usually they don’t.
The Dream Planted
Often they ask why I ride a Bonneville and not a Harley or some other more common brand. I explain that when I was in junior high and about 11 – 12 years old, there were two brothers in my neighborhood who came home from the war in Viet Nam and went out and bought brand new Triumph Bonneville 650’s.
These bikes were at an all time high in popularity in 1968-1969 due in part to celebrities like Steve McQueen and the land speed records set on Triumph’s at the Bonneville Salt Flats. These brothers would race their 650’s up and down our street doing wheelies and generally showing off. At that impressionable age, I thought those were the coolest motorcycles in the world, and that impression never left me.
Motorcycles are also a part of my family heritage. My Dad grew up on a farm in central Illinois with 5 older brothers and 2 sisters. His oldest brother, “Turk” was a mechanical genius and at some point during the depression, Grandpa sold a clock in order to buy Turk a motorcycle. We think the first one was an Indian, and a later one was a Harley-Davidson. We are not sure what the motorcycle is in the photos below.
My Dad, who was the youngest in his family, and his next older brother were no doubt influenced by Turk because when they were old enough, they converted a bicycle to a motor-driven bicycle and later ran around the farm and country roads on a Cushman scooter.
Growing up, my Dad gave me access to his tools and workshop and in the process taught me how to keep my bicycles and our lawn mowers, etc. in good running condition. He encouraged and participated in my building, customizing and modifying of bikes, go-carts, mini-bikes and the like. I don’t know how many “sting-ray” style bicycles I built and sold in those years… but it was more than a few.
In my pre-teen years, I mowed lawns and had a paper delivery route to earn money. I worked hard and saved up and bought a brand new “mini-bike” similar to this one, with a Tecumseh engine..
The main thing I remember about the mini-bike was that it was always breaking!
The Car/Truck Era
At age 16, my first car was a 1963 VW Bug that my Dad and I repainted and fixed up. I loved that car! Later, in my early 20’s I purchased an old 1955 Ford F-100 pickup farm truck with the goal of turning it into a street rod. The project took me and my Dad 2.5 years to complete and it turned out pretty nice!
After the truck was completed I also bought, repainted and upgraded a 1972 Datsun 240Z before getting married.
More Family Influence
Around this time (early 1980’s), my younger brother got the 2-wheels itch before me and bought a motorcycle. He started with a Yamaha and graduated up to a BMW. I would ride his bikes around the block just for kicks, and just dream of someday getting one… but only after the truck project was done!
Then life happened: marriage, kids, house, job responsibilities, colleges, etc. Most of my wrenching involved keeping the family vehicle(s), lawn mowers, house appliances, and what not in good running condition and well maintained. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-50’s and the kids were leaving home, getting married and starting their own families that I was able to realize my dream of owning and riding a motorcycle.
Motorcycle Dream Realized
It all started when one of my co-workers heard me talking about my motorcycle dream. He offered me his 1981 Honda cb650 four if I wanted it. It didn’t run, but it seemed like I might be able to get it going so I said, “I’ll take it.” I was able to get it running and I used it for about a year (2007) to run around town, get my “M” license, and learn more about 2-wheel machine mechanics.
The Honda wasn’t a very reliable bike. Probably because of its age and that it had been sitting for a long time, it needed more work than I was capable of providing with my limited experience and knowledge. It became a frustration to me as I couldn’t ride it with any confidence. So, on June 22, 2008 I rode it out to the one Chicago area Triumph dealer… Motor Cycle Center in Villa Park, IL, and a few hours later had traded it in on a brand new 2008 Triumph Bonneville – the bike of my dreams!
I didn’t know much about Triumph Bonneville’s at that point either. It really was a purchase based mostly on a childhood dream and emotion. However, as you might guess, I have never regretted it and have become much more passionate about this great machine in the years since.
Although none of my sons have motorcycles, they all share my love of cars and we try to do as much of the maintenance and repairs on their cars as possible. Most of their Christmas and birthday gifts from me are in the “tools” category. I am often the first call they make when they run into a car “issue.” I get joy out of being able to help troubleshoot and participate in the solution.
It won’t surprise me if someday in the future, when other more important life phases are past, at least one of them gets a motorcycle. We’ll just have to wait and see.