My Ride

Lincoln Cushing's 2001 Triumph Bonneville

Published in syndicated column “Cars: The Bay Area Driver’s Guide” in SF Chronicle 10/18/2018

Lincoln Cushing lives in Berkeley and works in Oakland as the archivist and historian for a major national health care provider. His passion is documenting 20th Century social justice posters, but he also enjoys his family, the High Sierra and fixing machines. This story honors the spirit of Lincoln’s older brother Jeff, an automotive journalist who helped him buy his first motorcycle in 1972 and taught him how to ride.

I love driving and I love cars. I’ve owned some sweet machines in my day, including a 1957 Mercedes-Benz 220S, a 1968 Volvo P1800 and a 1948 Willys CJ2A jeep. But nothing beats the regular joy I get from riding a motorcycle. In high school during the late 1960s the coolest kids rode used British bikes. Ariel, Matchless, Triumph – these brutish, temperamental monsters would tear your leg off if you kick-started them the wrong way. God, how I wanted one. But my parents wisely said no.

When I moved to California for college, I promptly bought a 1956 Zundapp dirt bike and have been two-wheeling ever since. After years of riding Japanese bikes (not to mention a dreadful 1968 Harley Sprint), I bought a new Triumph in 2006. I finally had my British bike.

My first Triumph was a modern retro bike, appealing to baby boomers who loved the old styling but also wanted solid electrical systems and crankcases that didn’t cover your floor with oil. When the ailing Triumph Motorcycles re-launched in 1983 they produced the completely redesigned Bonneville 800, which debuted in September 2001.

My all-black 2006 model was the last year that had carburetors and chromed tank badges, and I loved it. After it was stolen five years later I considered an old BMW airhead, but they were just too expensive. On my way to the Triumph dealership, a serendipitous phone call connected me with Greg Walker, a lawyer who had recently decided to sell his Bonnie with 19,000 miles on it. He had bought it new and had “only ridden it on weekends” with (I can’t make this up) a buddy group called “The Presidents.” Was I interested?

15 minutes later Greg opened his garage door and showed me his 2001 Triumph Bonneville with a two-tone painted gas tank. Motorcycles are easy to customize, and Greg had spared no expense. His had double-wall Swedish exhaust, bar-end mirrors, silver Thruxton fenders to match the tank, upgraded speedometer/tachometer cluster, small turn signals and chrome replacement covers everywhere. Those weren’t modifications that I would have made, but I respected them and didn’t change a thing. I added a center stand (essential if you do your own maintenance), rubber gaiters for the front forks (to enhance the retro look), a primary gear with more teeth, and an air horn because you can’t be subtle when you need someone’s attention on a bike. I also installed a helmet lock cable and a custom disk brake lock bracket.

This bike gets many positive comments and often gets confused for a vintage Triumph. The exhaust pipes are loud - sometimes too loud, as in setting-off-car-alarms-as-I-go-by loud. But then one day at a stop light in Berkeley an elderly woman in a Prius rolled down her window and looked at me. I expected her to chastise me, but instead she said, “Nice pipes! Great sound! Are they aftermarket?”

The fact that I could have that conversation is one of the many reasons I like a bike for my daily commute. With my flip-face helmet open at low speeds I can talk to strangers, smell the guy two cars ahead vaping his “medicine,” and feel sunshine on my face. It’s a much more engaged way to roll down a road. Plus, I can park almost anywhere for free. In a perfect world I’d have a sixth gear, but beyond that I’m happy with my sweet British twin.


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