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The Subtle Art of Flying

Reading Time: 5 minutes read

The Cafe Racer is a different breed, and we have our own situations. Pure speed in sixth gear on a 5000-foot straightaway is one thing, but pure speed in third gear on a gravel-strewn downhill ess-turn is quite another. — Hunter S. Thompson, Song of the Sausage Creature

Post by Meagan Wilson.
Photos and title by Ben Wilson.

The 2015 Triumph Bonneville T100 is by no means a superbike. It tops out in 5th gear, and the speedo goes up to a relatively modest 130 miles per hour. Compared to, say, an Aprilia SL 1000 Falco, it’s a sedate ride with standard (upright riding position) ergonomics and a clattery 865cc engine that’s as charmingly British as they come. It’s oft-recommended as a good second bike (you’re almost guaranteed to thrash your first bike). Various models of Triumph Bonneville are also a favorite base bike for cafe racers, and a Google Images search for “custom Bonneville” yields a host of beautiful results. None of which are my bike.

The author with her 2015 Triumph Bonneville.

It is also possibly worth noting that when Hunter S. Thompson wrote “Hell’s Angels” the Bonneville could “…run circles around a stock Harley 74…” (pg. 89).
All of that aside, you can almost as easily find yourself “…face to face with the Sausage Creature” riding a 250cc bike or scooter, especially if a full-size pickup might be involved.

It was one of those near-perfect early fall mornings that I’d been looking forward to through the hot-as-hell Texas summer. Low 70s, only slightly foggy, as I set out on my slightly-past-dawn commute. Savoring the music in my ear and the wind in my face, traveling a route I knew pretty well. Except, I needed to make a left-hand turn across traffic, from a main thoroughfare into a side street. There was a turn lane, no stop light, and a nearly blind corner just ahead. I slowed down in the turn lane, but there was a break in traffic, and it looked like I could make the turn without stopping, or even gunning it much. Easy-peasy.

Damaged right handlebar on Triumph Bonneville.
There used to be a bar-end mirror here.

But, no. Suddenly, there was a large pickup barreling down the road, where there had been none. The monstrosity seemed to be speeding up, as it approached the point where our paths would intersect. Fuuuuck! screamed my brain. No good. I wasn’t going fast enough to be confident of making the turn, even with a healthy twist of the throttle. So I took the only option open, and hammered on both brakes. This, ladies and gents, is one way to have a very classic and well-known motorcycle crash, known as a high side.

Triumph Bonneville motorcycle with right turn signal smashed.

The bike stopped, but the rear wheel came around more-or-less level with the front one, putting the bike sideways. Generally in these situations, momentum carries the bike sideways until you hit a rail, or ditch, or slide under a semi, or any number of crazy and deadly-or-nearly-deadly obstacles. This was a low-speed scenario, so the Bonnie hit the ground instead of sliding forever. The main impact was to the right side.

Years of martial arts training took over, and I ditched and rolled, fetching up still within the area between two lanes of whizzing traffic. Which, by the way, didn’t stop, pause, or slow down. This is going to be expensive, was my first semi-coherent thought, followed by, It’s leaking gas. Better turn the engine off. Thanks, Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams. That one’s for you.   

A tow truck driver for the city saw the whole thing, and came back around to help me pick up my stricken bike. “People just don’t care,” he commented, shaking his head at the still-rushing traffic.

Triumph Bonneville with damaged headlamp.

There is nothing romantic about a bad crash, and the only solace is the deadening shock that comes with most injuries. — Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels pg. 93

This story would be different, if I weren’t a full gear addict. My Sedici helmet shows signs of impact, as does the textile over the elbow armor on my Rev’It jacket. Ditto, my Bilt riding shoes. My Levi’s did a good job, too. There’s a small fuzzed spot on the left leg, but no holes or real scrapes. (helmet pic) My neck has pretty much stopped spasming, thanks to prescription muscle relaxers and naproxen, ice, and hot showers. The bruises on my left leg from tank impact are healing up, and the check for my damaged gear claim is supposedly in the mail. 

The author's scraped motorcycle helmet.

My blue Bonneville is in the shop, getting all pretty and shiny again. And, why the hell not, while they’re at it, I’m having Clubman handlebars and Predator exhaust slip-ons put on. Next stop is probably a bullet fairing, and a better seat. You know, just the basics.

Whoops! What am I saying? Tall stories, ho, ho… We are motorcycle people; we walk tall and we laugh at whatever’s funny. We shit on the chests of the Weird….

But when we ride very fast motorcycles, we ride with immaculate sanity. We might abuse a substance here and there, but only when it’s right. The final measure of any rider’s skill is the inverse ratio of his preferred Traveling Speed to the number of bad scars on his body. It is that simple: If you ride fast and crash, you are a bad rider. And if you are a bad rider, you should not ride motorcycles.  — Hunter S. Thompson, Song of the Sausage Creature

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Pacific Northwest native, travel and craft beverage writer. Exploring the intersections where beer (and coffee and spirits), food, travel and culture meet.

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