A Classic Ride to the 2011 Bonneville Vintage Grand Prix

Reader Contribution by Steve Solko
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“It’s been a while since we did this, eh?” my brother Carl said with a grin as he pulled on his helmet. By “this” he meant take a multi day ride on our motorcycles and yes, it had been a while. About 20 years or so by our best recollection. It was the summer of 1990 or ’91. He was riding a 1974 Kawasaki 500 H1 and I was riding a 1981 Yamaha 650 Maxim. We were both single and living the life (we just didn’t know it at the time). Fast-forward through time to September of 2011 and he is riding a 2005 Triumph Bonneville and I’m astride a 1980 Honda CB 900 Custom. We are both married with kids and the opportunity like this to ride is rare. We are on our way to the Salt Lake City area from Grand Junction, CO to see the 2011 Bonneville Vintage Grand Prix. Having ridden solo last year, I’m grateful to have a road companion for this year’s event. We consulted the internet mapping services on highway choices for the trip, and have opted for the lengthiest and most scenic route assuring that only about 45 of the 324 mile trip will be done on interstate highways.

Warmed up and ready to go.

After a quick 23 mile stint west on I-70, from my house in Junction to Loma, we have established that when my speedometer says 75 mph Carl’s Triumph says 85 mph. While it has plenty of power to go for more, it is most comfortable riding the Triumph between 65 and 75 mph on its speedo. That works out fine as the rest of the day’s roads will almost exclusively have a 65 mph limit. As we wind our way north on Highway 139 the road bunches up into a great wad of curves. A more pleasant ribbon of bituminous would be hard to find. One noticeable change is the air temperature lowering as we rise in elevation to almost 8,300 feet. As we wind down the north side of the pass the pavement condition forces our speeds to diminish but only for a few miles.

Highway 139 heading up Douglass Pass

We stop in Rangely at Betty’s Cafe for what will be the best food of the trip for me. A terrific plate of the best fried chicken I’ve had in ages. As we park and dismount a scenario unfolds that will repeat itself like a mantra over the next few days. A gentleman who was sitting on the front porch of the cafe leans forward in his chair and remarks how he used to have a Triumph like that and how he used to tear up the street and put the other bikes to shame with it. Here is the part that will ring throughout the weekend: He really regrets ever getting rid of it. After lunch, another 34 miles onward to Dinosaur, CO. Not being certain of the alcohol availability in Utah, we stop at the last liquor store in the state to pick up a bit of refreshment to be enjoyed at our final destination later that evening. Before we get rolling again I ask Carl if he wouldn’t mind switching bikes. I got the answer I was hoping for and a few minutes later I’m screaming down Highway 40, crossing the border into Utah on one of the funnest motorcycles I’ve ever been on. The Triumph’s tank seems so narrow at the knees, and with the addition of the downswept handlebars it really makes the motorcycle feel sporty. The last time I rode a twin was an early 1970s era Honda CL 350 that belonged to my sister. A fun bike to be sure but no comparison to the machine now beneath me. With the Triumph’s six gears you’re never at a loss for spare power. Just roll on the throttle and the additional speed just pours on effortlessly. It is the first time in years I’ve ridden a motorcycle without a fairing and the instant change from what I had been riding all morning is jolting. The blast of wind in your chest and helmet is refreshing, but I’ve forgotten how much it hurts when a bug goes pinging off your knuckle. I know, it’s what I deserve for not wearing gloves. 

 As we pass through Vernal & Duchesne, I can’t help remembering the last time I came through both these towns was about four months prior in early May. It was so cold I was riding with long underwear on and was darn glad to have them. I got to ride for a couple of days with a small group of SOHC Honda riders taking part in a cross country relay rally. My Honda is a DOHC but they were kind enough to let me tag along with them. Great bunch of guys and hardy riders to boot. They were all riding unfaired or minimally faired 650s and 750s.

Stopping for fuel is a déjà vu of predictable events. We stop and commence fueling, a guy pokes his head across the pumping island or crosses the length of the entire lot to come over and regale us with the exploits of his faithful Triumph. Rarely ending without the requisite wistful refrain, “I never should have sold it”.

We arrive at our destination safely and without incident. Just how I like it. Saturday morning we nab breakfast and head out to Miller Motorsports Park. On the way there we stop by the south shore of the Great Salt Lake for another scenic photo opportunity. 

As we pull into the race track to park, my brother and I are instantly struck by the row of cool bikes in which we are parking. Right next to me is a Royal Enfield. Next to it is a Suzuki Water Buffalo. Next to it is a tricked-out BMW that has some gorgeous cafe stylings. All this and we have hardly gotten our helmets off. The day’s events, like last year, do not disappoint. The fantastic bikes in the show tent, the LeMans style running start to the CB 160s class, the sidecar racing, hand-shift bikes, two strokes running against four strokes, and most of these motorcycles are at least forty years or more old. All for a mere $10 admission fee.  

You could even take a test ride (public roads – not the track) on a variety of new Triumphs. A stroll through the paddock area is enough to make you drool. With almost unlimited access, you can get a pretty decent view from almost any of the spectator viewing areas. If you sit in the stands on the last turn you can applaud for the riders as they exit the track and nearly all oblige with a wave back. The track facility itself is first-rate so it is difficult to find a downside to the entire event. Sunday’s racing was just as pleasurable; a very relaxed atmosphere, great weather and grin-generating entertainment. I can tell by the look on Carl’s face that he is reveling in it as much as I am.

 After the checkered flag on the final race comes down on Sunday, we head for our trusty transports for the journey home. Again, rather than hopping on I-15, we opt for a scenic highway and head south on Highway 36 down to Silver City where we jump on Highway 6 into Eureka. I have to pull over to check out a gigantic block and tackle kind of pulley set up capping the top of an old mine shaft. Both Highway 36 and 6 are just what the motorcycle doctor ordered. Nicely paved roads, minimal traffic and gorgeous Utah countryside scenery. Back to reality as we get on I-15 just long enough to get us to the Spanish Fork exit. Unfamiliar highways and construction zones make for some uncomfortable navigation but we muddle through fine. We stop for fuel for the bikes and fuel for the riders with the same unsurprising results. As we ate, the four state troopers who were dining in the same establishment had to stop before getting in their vehicles and check out our bikes. Two officers left right away but two stayed talking to each other next to the Triumph.  One was gesturing to the other and I could just imagine the story that he was telling. I’m willing to bet it ended with something like “I wish I still had it.”

 A mile past the giant wind turbines that stand sentry to the canyon out of Spanish Fork the temperature drops dramatically. Easily a twenty degree tumble. Here was something I had not encountered at all on last year’s ride. Cold air. We had to pull over at the first rest stop and bundle up. Just as quickly as the temperature dropped the sun exited our view leaving us with just under 230 miles to ride in the dark.
We swapped rides again and I rode the Triumph about 60 miles from Price to Green River. The unfaired Triumph was a bit brisk to ride. I thought for sure as we went lower in elevation the temps would rise up like they did last year but it stayed pretty chilly the whole rest of the ride home.

That last 110 mile slog from Green River to Grand Junction is a little tough to do when you’re tired, it’s dark and it’s colder than you care for. I narrowly missed a fox that was out on the road eating something that had previously been not so lucky. A few miles later I clipped what I think was a bat. I’ve hit birds before and there is usually a puff of feathers but not so for this winged mystery creature. Events like that tend to perk you right up. I made sure to put on some highway pegs for this years trip as last year it was so hot I was just dying for a place to put my feet that was away from the heat of the motor. Turns out I don’t have that issue this trip. Now I find myself tucking in to get closer to the warmth. Arriving home about an hour and a half later than estimated we both fall prey, with no resistance, to the lure of sleep.

We were able to add about 750 trouble-free miles to our odometers in three beautiful days. We commit to not letting another twenty years go by again before getting up on the pegs together. The next morning as Carl prepares to go home, a neighbor walking by with his dogs pauses and puts the finishing touch to our weekend. Naturally, he must impart to us a now familiar tale of a day gone by when there was a Triumph titled to his name and of the bragging rights that come with it. You, of course, know what the last words out of his mouth were as we ended our conversation. “Never should have sold it.” 

Makes me want to go out and give my Honda a big hug. 

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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