The Motorcycle Diaries / Part 01
Triumph Trophy 500
Around 1965/66 my obsession with motorcycles was escalating. I had a few hundred bucks set aside for this. I recall being mesmerised by dreams of unfettered personal mobility - plus the attraction of looking cool.
Understandably, my family were fairly dubious about this obsession but it became, for me, a factor in my manly strides towards independence. We had a family friend, a beardy university graduate called Alex, who was old enough to hold his own with adults but young enough to identify with my foolish determination and he offered to help sort out a good machine. This won plaudits from father Henry and mother Mari-Ann who felt I would be guided by better judgement than my own. Alex came with me to look at a couple of privately advertised possibilities. He endeared himself to me forever by saying, as we looked at a terrifyingly huge and oily Royal Enfield 750, “I don't think this is a good buy at all, but if you really want it I'll tell your parents that I think it is.”
We eventually settled on a beautifully stripped Triumph Trophy 500. I tended to fall in love with every motorcycle I saw, but even I could see that this was special. The owner was a semi-hells angel type, but quiet and proud of his abilities as a bike mechanic. It had slightly raised handle bars but wasn't “chopped” (it still had rear suspension). It was simply clean and uncluttered. No unnecessary add-ons or badges; a slim functional seat and practical but minimalist mudguards.
And it sounded heavenly. As Alex drove off up the road for a quick test run, dragging his feet either side as he shot off, I knew this was the one with an almost physical ache. We did the deal and the guy dropped it round our new town house the next day. I was too nervous to try to ride it that first day but psyched myself up for a trip out to the Lakeshore next morning.
Madness, now that I think about it. Never having ridden a bike before, I got up next morning and, dressed in jeans, sandals, and a short-sleeved shirt (no helmets in those days), pushed my new 500 out into the alley way and proceeded to climb aboard and get to grips with the kick start. Never as easy as it looks, it took me a few tries before the engine caught and spat out that invigorating parallel twin splutter. Gingerly, I let out the clutch and nearly hit the opposite wall.
Teetering precariously, I half rode / half walked the bike out on to the street and eased my way out into the city traffic. Once in motion balance is never a problem and I began to savour the gyroscopic properties - leaning into curves and generally defying gravity. It was gloriously sunny day and I headed out towards the Lakeshore without mishap, only occasionally twisting the throttle forcefully to feel the G forces and shoot past cars as if they were mere mortals. I followed the dual carriageway to the Dorval roundabout and exited smoothly and swimmingly, until I had my first experience of a panic freeze. I was going too fast around the roundabout and, instead of easing off on the throttle or applying brakes as a sensible human might, I simply froze up, hanging on with whitened knuckles as the bike shot up on to the curb and stalled in the grass about a foot away from broadsiding the concrete foot of the overpass.
Suitably chastened, I shakily kick started the bike again and rode cautiously back on to the tarmac and jittered off towards the Lakeshore Road.
It wasn't long before I found myself feeling relaxed and cocky again. Intoxicated by sunshine and summer air and the cool breezes off the lake, I wended my way to my old friend Jeremy's house. I wanted to show my bike off to him just as he had done to me a couple of years before, but, in the absence of any planning or foresight, I discovered he wasn't at home.
Unfazed, I simply got astride my beloved beast again and prepared to head back. As I reached the centre of Pointe Claire I encountered a queue of traffic. From where I was at the back of the queue, I couldn't see what the problem was but there was no traffic coming the other way so I swung majestically out into the oncoming lane and accelerated magnificently past the stalled mortals, the sun in my face and the wind caressing my shirt and my hair - until I suddenly saw why all the traffic had stopped.
The car at the front of the queue was turning left! This was my second experience of a panic freeze and, just as before, I was powerless to do anything intelligent and simply rode the bike straight into the side of that car. How I wasn't killed I'll never know, but something made me stand on the pegs at the last minute and I found myself sailing across the car, gashing my chest and stomach on his broken aerial in the process (hey buddy, how bout fixing that aerial), and landing in the middle of the road on the other side with a perfectly respectable somersault and a splatter into the front of another car waiting patiently for the car I'd just hit to make his turn.
Time came to a virtual standstill as all this unfolded in slow motion until I found myself slowly getting to my feet. Without noticing anything else, I staggered back round the car I'd hit to see my poor motorcycle lying on its side, bleeding oil into a growing pool. Slowly my hearing came back and I found myself, blood flowing through my torn shirt and slowly soaking into my jeans, being hollered at by just about everybody in the immediate vicinity, not least the driver of the wronged vehicle. I have very little recollection of the immediate aftermath, but the citizens of Pointe Claire must have been further and significantly pissed off as traffic piled up, police were called, and assessments made as to who was the biggest arse in all this.
Clearly and incontestably that was me, and, after I'd been sufficiently harangued by all interested parties (including the police), I was left to pick up the bike and see if I could get it home. The bike had a cracked engine case and a bent exhaust pipe and foot peg on the right side. The front wheel was no longer true and the forks and the steering were badly skewed, but I could roll the bike to the nearest garage. I tried to untwist the forks a bit and topped up the oil, and, gambling that I could get home before it all drained out again, jumped on the kickstart. Mercifully it started beautifully and I wobbled my way back on to the road. At a little above jogging speed, I and my abused machine limped home as the sun set and darkness hid our infamy.
I'd managed to clean myself up before any family spotted me, but the bike took a bit of explaining as it stood twisted in the back drive. I eventually got it to a recommended bike shop to discover that repairs were well beyond my current financial capabilities. In the end, I sold my poor distorted steed to a friend of a friend who took it on as a rebuild project.
Thus, apart from lingering insurance issues, closed the first chapter on my book of motorcycling. On the plus side, I had a pretty impressive scar to show my buddies back at university.
Does motorcycling generate manliness?
- The Motorcycle Diaries / Part 02
Somewhere in northern Wisconsin my endurance gave up. I stopped outside a combined roadside diner and 2 story clapboard motel and tried to pry myself off the bike.
© 2018 Deacon Martin