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2017 Triumph Bonneville T100 – Ride Review

Photos by Megan Harris

"I've had a look at this motorcycle of yours whilst you were having your supper," my wife's grandmother says upon my return from the pub.
Grandma, as she allows me to call her, is upper-middle class and English to the core. She is naturally wary of Americans and has been known to suddenly burst out laughing at the idea of my being able to make a living writing about motorcycles. Add to this the fact she is somewhat deaf, a condition not helped by my natural Texas mumble, and it's easy to see why she and I don't chat a lot. When my wife is around, Grandma prefers to deal with me in third-person terms: "Now then, Jenny, does Chris want tea?"

My wife isn't around this time, though. I've ridden the 2017 Triumph Bonneville T100 down to Devon on my own, staying the night, so I can get meet photographer Megan at the beach the next morning before tourists arrive. Without my wife as interpreter, Grandma and Grandad (who is also…

The long road

When I say that I was ready to give up, perhaps it would be more accurate to say I wanted to be ready to give up. I wanted to be able to. I wanted to be able to say to myself: "You know what? Forget this. Do something else; clearly this is not making you happy and you are not suited to it. Move on."

But even as I lay in bed through most of the next day I found myself still reading Hell for Leather articles online, watching just about any motorcycle video or short film I could find and posting my favourites to Tumblr (along with all the other webby stuff that amuses me), and playing that stupid daydream game of trying to determine exactly which bike I want to get.

It's those videos, especially, that really get me. That Ride Apart episode in which Jamie goes to Sequoia National Forest on a Bonneville has become a kind of life ambition –– a vision of how I want to live my life. So much so that almost any motorcycling daydream now involves my strapping Kriega gear to the back of the thing.

"I'll get a [name of bike goes here], a few Kriega bags and head up to the Cairngorms," I'll tell myself.

Thereafter I'll fall into a kind of melancholy at the thought of all the obstacles between myself and that ideal. First and foremost, of course, is the motorcycle license.

One of the myriad challenges I have to overcome in getting the license is that I have so little experience on a motorcycle. Apart from the handful of hours I rode when I was 18 years old, the whole of my riding experience amounts to just six days, spread out over the space of 2.5 months. 

Account for the fact that these riding days are always finished by 4 p.m., and generally include lunch, multiple tea breaks and no less than an hour of waiting around for various things to occur, and it's likely my total lifetime on-bike hours hover somewhere around 24-30.

Hindsight being all that it is, and knowing now how much money I've lost in unsuccessful exam attempts, it might have been a wiser move for me to just buy a 125cc bike and ride around with L plates for a year or so. But the past is just that: the past. And one cannot know it until it has occurred. So I am left to only move forward and hope that all this money (money that by now could have paid for a plane ticket home) will turn out to have been better spent than it presently feels.

Jenn suggested that I just take the hit financially and spend an extra day training. A day of riding around without the pressure of a test. And that's what I did last Thursday.

It went well. The wind was ridiculous (I'm guessing this video was recorded on the same day), but I handled it and felt cheekily proud to already have experience in some of the worst of British weather. When I failed my Mod 2 the first time it was so cold we encountered snow; when I failed it the second time we encountered a torrential downpour on the ride home; now I've also suffered high winds.

I think my instructor, Andy, feels a kind of sympathy for me. At one point in the day, for no reason in particular, we stopped at Thunder Road and he went straight for a Honda NC700X, a bike I've expressed interest in several times before. I think now that he was subtly trying to remind me of the point, trying to place a goal before me to help me see beyond the immediate hurdle of the exam. And I suppose it worked. I am eager to try again.

Well, I'm not sure 'eager' is the right word. Willing. Obliged. I don't feel I can give up, as much as I may wish I could.


  1. At any closed door (ie: your bike test), you keep banging away at it and eventually it will open for you and you will go through it and get what you wanted on the other side.

    No decent examiner should pass anybody who brakes but stops after the line. At a road junction, it's either right or wrong. It's not MOSTLY right. It could have been a child only MOSTLY not hit but unconscious and bleeding under your front wheel. If you approach lights on yellow, go for it, if you're yards away. Don't try to do 2 different things. The questions to ask yourself are: What is the speed and distance from the traffic lights that I decide to go on OR decide not to? How can I find out this out?

    You were fortunate to get failed twice. The feedback should be telling you what your weaknesses are. It indicates what you need to work on. Practise going through dozens of traffic lights for 1 hour non-stop. Do it until you have got the WORRY of traffic lights changing suddenly, fully sorted out in your mind, so that you are not freaked out when you approach traffic lights. When you go for the test, you don't want uncertainty at the back of your mind. Get it sorted mentally.

    "He could have let me pass anyway. It was only a small mistake." is just NOT the right attitude for a biker. He's done this for a job maybe for decades. What he's on the lookout for is the right attitude and if he detects something that worries him right from the beginning, he's going to be looking out for some evidence of it later during the test, not for the bits you do perfectly well.

    If you look into your mirror, try to make it more obvious to the examiner that you are doing this - the helmet should clearly move, not just your eyes, so that he can tick it off his list. Look like you're watching everything around you, behind you and in front of you. Look attentive not panic-stricken.

    You've taken the shortest route to get on the road. There are riders on L-plates who have had them on for years. They've got used to the idea of riding around without ever going for the test. It's going to be so hard for them when they go for the test because they've learnt to ride like crap, whereas you are on a pretty clean slate and just about to get that nice bit of paper with the word 'PASS' at the top.

    You really need to make him feel, "I want to pass this guy. He's got the right attitude for a biker." Sometimes, it means to be deliberate, decisive. A decent bit of strong acceleration on the straight doesn't go amiss. Get up to speed quickly. Don't give the impression that you are an indecisive learner, toodling along with a glazed look trying your best to pass the test.

    In town traffic, show evidence of care toward others when you could have gone ahead, ie: zebra crossings. Watch female car drivers for evidence of the correct attitude. As a biker, he's very interested in your ATTITUDE on the road rather than how good you turn the handlebars or lean on the bends.

    The freedom of the empty road, great adventures, going for a blast on beautiful A-roads in the country all await you. It'll be worth the hassle and you'll forget the silly exam in a week. You are going to enjoy yourself, like never before! Trust me.

    1. I'm 37 years old. I've been driving for 21 years. I'm not afraid of traffic lights - I get how they work.

  2. "Watch female car drivers for evidence of the correct attitude."

    But not the texting your besties and putting on makeup part!

    Half of the people who've almost run me over are women!

    Heyo! I'll be here all week. Thanks for coming. Don't forget to tip your waitress.

    Anyway, I just want to say that you need to give Jenn a hug. She is a wise woman.

  3. Chris:

    Lucky is right ! Give Jenn a great big hug. She knew you needed more practice, to be relaxed without the stress of an instructor watching.

    Black Inazuma is right. Act like you own the road, and also show courtesy to others on the road. Ride confidently like you know what you are doing.

    One day soon as you are riding your bike you will think about these challenges and you will be smiling inside your helmet that you finally DID IT ! and be proud of your achievement but right now, not so much

    Riding the Wet Coast

  4. Chris,

    I'm sorry I'm a bit behind on my reading, but I'm glad I saw this post. I hope you're not still struggling, but if you are please read this:

    and then this:

    and then remind yourself that the same fearful, frustrated, banged-up woman who wrote those article just a few months ago just rode 3,600 miles. . . with thousand more to go. ;)

    Shit Chris! If I can do it, you can do it. Don't give up! I want to ride with you one day!!!




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