Sonoran Desert Sunset

Sonoran Desert Sunset

10 April 2016


In 1969, after serving in the US Army in Vietnam, I returned home to MT for a few months, then moved down to Tucson, AZ.  After finding an apartment and a job, I knew it was time to follow a dream I'd long held ~ to own a motorcycle.  And not just any bike would do.

By pure chance, one day I was at a car wash and in the bay next to mine, a young man was carefully cleaning a motorcyce that caught my eye.  I struck up a conversation, and learned that he was actually looking for a buyer (ironically, in anticipation of being drafted).  He invited me to follow him to his place, to show me the magazine write-ups that had been done on his bike ~ a 1963 Triumph Bonneville 650, a classic street bike with a reputation for quick response to the throttle, safe cornering and easy manners.  Of course, its livery was British racing green.  I was hooked.

The next day I cashed all but one of the 25 US Savings Bonds my parents had set aside for me ever since I was an infant ~ just enough to pay the $600 asking price.  I was as green as a biker could be, but I sensed that this was a steal, and didn't haggle.  When I settled into the seat of my new 450 lb. ride, I felt its heft and bulk and knew I'd better take slow side streets home until I had the feel of its weight, its rhythms.  Where was the sweet spot where you're gradually twisting the throttle from idle into higher RPMs, and simultaneously easing off the clutch handle to engage the gears without grinding them?  How much was too little brake pressure, or too much?  How do I keep this much mass balanced on two wheels without falling over at a stop light?

Turned out I was a ready learner, and my Triumph a forgiving teacher.  So long as I kept within my own limitations, the ride was sweet and steady, conversing in an understated rumble at an easy lope.  That voice deepened and sent resonating vibrations into the bones of anyone near when we accelerated.  Still understated, but powerful.

I didn't learn until years later just how lucky I'd been to buy my '63 quickly.  There weren't that many made, and they were coveted by pro racers and amateur enthusiasts alike.  In fact, my bike's mirror twin sister, right down to the color, was a member of actor Steve  McQueen's motorcycle collection, and his favorite.  His was tricked out for desert racing.  If you've ever seen the famous motorcycle chase scene from the movie 'The Great Escape', you've seen McQueen's '63 Triumph ~ repainted and modified to resemble a WWII German military motorcycle.  Pretty cool.

Well, in time other bikes passed into and out of my life ~ a '71 Triumph Bonneville 650 (gold and black, bigger and bulkier, without the '63's clean lines, somehow it was never the same experience), and an '82 Honda Silver Wing Interstate (back when the Silver Wings were true motorcycles, not just souped-up Vespas.  '82 was the last year that SW came with 500 cc engines.  Mine was full-dress ~ fairing, windshield, hard-shell saddle bags, and a hard-shell trunk that was interchangeable with a rear passenger seat ~ with its own version of zip and a pleasure to ride at higher speeds or in the rain, since that full windshield kept me shielded nicely).

Alas, two successive traffic accidents (1985 and 1990), both on the Silver Wing and both featuring little old ladies in big old sedans failing to yield my right-of-way and crossing into my oncoming path, finally laid the Wing to permanent rest.  My then-partner said I had a choice:  motorcycles or her.  She could not bear to receive another phone call from an ER, and I don't blame her.

That was then.  Now it's been twelve years since we parted ways.  Now Spring is finally making its tentative way into the valleys and mountain slopes of western Montana.  And now I'm once again in lust with a particular motorcycle.

You'll see it in the image above ~ the 2016 Triumph Bonneville T120.  The designers sought to blend modern technology (ABS, ride by wire, traction control in turns, digital instrument readouts) with the clean, simple look of street bikes like my old '63 (no flash, no angular ninja lines, digital readouts discreetly hidden beneath two simple round analog gauges and available at the touch of a switch, even the rear view mirrors are round, stabilized atop metal stalks mounted to the handlebars).  Those design engineers succeeded in stellar fashion.

I came across the 2016 Bonnevllle in a 'Rider' magazine preview, and could not resist visiting the local Triumph dealership to see if their rave review is true.  It is.  The sales rep rolled out their only black T120 in stock, and I was stunned, in love at first sight.  This bike has nearly the same dimensions as my '63, but is more muscular without sacrificing its lean, loping image.  

If my health allowed me to ride on two wheels safely, I would face a number of contrasts between the '63 and the '16.  Such as ~ price, $650 and $11,500.  Engine, 650 cc and 1200 cc.  Cooling, air and liquid.  Transmission, 5-speed and 6-speed.  Weight, 450 lb. and 495 lb. (an astonishing accomplishment, keeping the newer model's weight so low).  Gas mileage, 40 mpg and 56 mpg.  Brakes, disk and ABS.  Et alia.

I.    Want.    One.

The reality of now being 69 years old, with Parkinson's Disease and two herniated lumbar disks along with a list of lesser afflictions, intrudes itself.  Not to mention financial reality.  I love I want, I realistically cannot have.  For now.

All my life I've been intellectually curious, physically adventurous, a dreamer of dreams.  And everyone, everyone needs a dream.

p.s. ~  Below you will find images of my former motorcycles, or their clones.  In order of both manufacture and ownership, they are:

1963 Triumph Bonneville - 650 cc -  street/sport

1971 Triumph Bonneville - 650 cc - street/sport

1982 Honda Silver Wing Interstate - 500 cc - street/touring

Some dreams fade.  Some remain ever alive.  Here's to your dreams, and mine.

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