British Invasion

Mar 24, 2012 View Comments by

With a handshake and a “Welcome to the club”, my old buddy John French officially ushered in another card-carrying member of the old British bike fraternity. The initiation to this oddball confederation of masochistic machine-heads has been an event I’ve coveted for a long time. Still, I had to question my sanity as the Bonneville was wheeled into the bed of my pickup. While never having owned a Brit-bike, I’ve known many who have. Quite simply, they’re folks who ride to the beat of a different piston.

My old pal Freddie lived on a boat and rode his Triumph Tiger year round, even in the snow. Yates just got his Norton squared away and waxes poetically about the time, and especially the expense involved. “It’s only money, I ain’t never seen a U-Haul following a hearse”. And while the good Mr. French does appear quite “normal” on the surface; it’s important to remember that he makes his living buying, selling, and trading all moto-things British out of a basement garage in a questionable part of town… “the rent’s right.” His friendly Georgia drawl is an excellent cover for the enabler lurking inside. A couple of weeks ago, I suffered another cerebro-emotional attack of the Union Jack and, in a moment of weakness, gave him a call. “Come on down” he said “I got a couple ‘a things lying around.”

You see, I’ve long harbored the desire to ride a classic British bike. Now understand, the modern machines from Triumph are wonderfully engineered, reliable, and even –well – soulful, they’re just not the jolly old Englanders. Maybe it’s the swoop from the R not joining the H in the redesigned logo. Or maybe it’s the fact that they don’t leak oil, are blessed with working electrics, are absolutely reliable, and come with an unusual feature known as a dealer network. Don’t get me wrong, old Triumphs have an extensive dealer network as long as you have access to eBay and/or enjoy rummaging around at swap meets. Be that as it may, the new Englanders seem to fall just short of pleasing old timers, and old-timer wannabes like me.

So, there I was in John’s shop, surrounded by shelves heaped full of old bike parts, an unhealthy number of guitar amps, an array of John’s homemade guitar effect pedals, and Kathy was safely ensconced in her office several miles away. What could possibly go wrong?

Now, my 2008 Honda XR650L, that didn’t leak a drop of oil, found a new home at John’s. A 1965 “hot rod” Triumph Bonneville that does leak a drop of oil… or two, now lives in my garage. My “new” Bonnie is an absolute blank slate that holds unlimited promise and, I’m proud to say, is the furthest thing imaginable from trailer queen status – it’s pretty ugly, but in a bulldog kind of way. The motor runs good, that’s all that really matters. And let’s face it, how often do you get to scratch an old bike itch with a machine that rolled off the assembly line the same year you did? It’ll be an interesting ride; I’ll keep you posted.

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About the author

At 16, I got my motorcycle license and cut my street teeth aboard a Honda MT250 dual sport. I quickly discovered that motorcycle touring was an excellent antidote for acute wanderlust.