Motorcycle Diaries is a website that shares rides from people from around the world. I’ve posted a number of Ontario specific rides on there. They currently have a 2020 Dream Ride contest going on until April 30th, so here’s my pitch.
I didn’t come to motorcycling until later in life. When I was very young, maybe six years old? I was at my grandparent’s house in Sheringham, Norfolk in England one spring Saturday morning in 1975 when a group of vintage vehicles passed by on what was probably a rally. I was the little blond kid standing on the railings by the side of the road waving at them as they thundered by, and many of them made a point of smiling and waving back, including a guy on a Triumph Speed Twin. It was one of those flashbulb moments you never forget. Nothing looked cooler than that bike and rider thrumming through the receding sea mist in the cool morning air.
Years later after immigrating to Canada, I was finally old enough to start considering driving and I immediately gravitated towards motorcycles, but my mother was strangely insistent that I not do that. Even though we weren’t well off my parents dug deep to help get me a car instead. I got deep into cars owning a wide variety of vehicles, learning how to repair them and even pursuing performance driving courses and cart racing while living in Japan, but that bike itch was always there.
After my mum’s suicide I discovered that my great aunt, with whom she shared a name, was an avid rider who was killed in a motorcycle accident a few years before I was born. I also discovered that my mum’s dad, who I was very close with growing up in Norfolk, was also an avid motorcyclist up until the death of his sister, which must have rocked the family since no one had even mentioned her to me. I’ve never understood how an accident like that (an army truck accidentally pulled out into her, killing her instantly) warranted this kind of silence, but my mum’s side of the family has always been… interesting.
Despite being a major part of the previous generation’s lives, motorcycling had evidently became a taboo subject that left me ignorant to a deleted great aunt who I now feel a great affinity for and a love of my granddad’s, who I thought I knew well.
I’ve been riding now since 2014 and I’m on my seventh bike. I’ve taken multiple advanced off road training courses and done some long, international trips, including a trip to the last MotoGP race at Indianapolis that had us ripping down the back straight of the historic Brick Yard on our own bikes – mine being an $800 field find I’d restored in my garage.
I’ve made a point of expanding my familiarity with different bikes by renting them and riding in places ranging from Pacific tsunami zones to the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, usually with my son on the back. We’ve had some great adventures. I’ve also made a point of becoming mechanically proficient with motorcycles, having just finished my latest restoration.
That’s my bio. Here’s the dream ride:
In discovering my family history around motorcycling I also connected my grandfather’s rather incredible Second World War tour of duty to riding where, among other things, he served in the RAF’s motorbike stunt team.
Bill served as an MP in the RAF and travelled with the British Expeditionary Force to France in 1939 in order to repel the oncoming Nazi war machine. When it all went wrong, Bill ended up trapped in occupied France for a number of weeks after Dunkirk before eventually finding his way back to the UK just in time to catch planes that fell out of the sky during the Battle of Britain. He then went on to fight in Africa for several years, but it’s his time in France during the ‘Phoney War‘ during the disastrous Battle of France and the allied retreat that is the basis for my dream ride.
After some exhaustive research I discovered Bill’s path through France from the autumn of 1939 to the spring of 1940. My dream ride would be to follow in my granddad’s footsteps on a period motorcycle through Northern France in the springtime, just as Bill did.
From letters to my grandmother and military records, I discovered that Bill was attached to RAF Squadron 73 who operated across Normandy and up to near the Belgian border over the winter of the Phoney War before being chased south under fire around Paris and through Ruaudin and Saint Nazaire before he finally found a boat back to Plymouth out of Brest, nearly two months after Dunkirk. In the process he failed to get to the Lancastria with the rest of his squadron, the majority of whom died on it as it was sunk by dive bombers in Saint-Nazaire.
Being able to follow Bill’s chaotic retreat with his squadron through France while finding evidence of the great conflict and seeing things he saw between moments of terror and heartache, and doing it on an RAF Norton H16 or a period Triumph Speed Twin would be a heart wrenching and mind blowing experience that would connect me back to a forgotten piece of family history on a number of levels.
What a dream ride that would be.
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