THE 100,000 MILE BONNIE
A story of versatility, creativity, and freedom. The 100,000 mile custom Bonnie.
Inspired by his love for adventure, and the great outdoors, John Ryan Hebert is an automotive and lifestyle photographer based in Los Angeles. Exploring the state of Southern California on two-wheels is a constant source of inspiration for John, and the number of miles he has clocked up is reflected in the beauty of his work.
Building on the premise of the modern classic custom culture in LA, John tells the tale of his beloved 100,000 mile Bonneville and its multiple guises as a café racer, scrambler and desert sled to name a few.
‘For a long time, I’ve had an affinity for British design DNA’ Says John. ‘Some uniquely fantastic cars and motorcycles have come out of there, even the music scene always resonated with me. The Bonneville has such a classic look - simple and elegant. It’s a shape that will never go out of style.’
‘When I originally bought my Bonneville, I wasn’t intending on customising it too much as I thought it already looked great! I used to go down to the garage at night and just look at it sometimes, ogling.’
‘Not only did the bike have style, I also needed it to be super reliable as it was my sole mode of transportation. I used to commute over 100 kilometers a day to and from work, rain or shine. I needed something that was an extension of myself, something I could live with daily and wouldn’t break down or give me any hassle. The Bonneville fits the bill.’
‘Owning a Triumph Bonneville really is just an extension of yourself, in a way’
We asked John what inspired him to take the plunge and customise his Bonneville, here’s what he said:
‘I was first drawn to the café racer culture when I was canyon riding. A lot of people just think of the ocean and Venice Beach when they think of Southern California, but the topography of the region is rugged which makes for some incredible riding. The roads snake through deep passes and over tall ridgelines. You can spend an entire day in the Santa Monica mountains or Angeles National Forest without hitting a single stretch of straight road. It’s a place where you can lose yourself and be fully immersed in the ride.’
‘I installed clubman-style handlebars on the bike, which created the illusion of clip-ons. This pulls your body forward connecting you to the curves of the road. Adding a café racer style seat completed the look, throwing it back to the vintage TT race bikes of the 60’s that raced on the Isle of Man.
‘After a few years of riding, I started taking the bike further on longer, more frequent rides. Exploring new territory, the desert became my source of inspiration. I really liked the feeling of being small, and seemingly engulfed by the vast endless landscape.’
‘Being out there made me look around. I was always seeing roads and trails that went off into the abyss, wondering what hidden treasures they held. This intrigue led me to start thinking about converting the bike into a scrambler-style Bonneville. I worked with Kevin Stanley at Moto Chop Shop in LA who essentially made my dream a reality, giving me the tools to take my adventures further. We switched out the café racer seat for a flat bench style seat, throwing some moto bars on and giving the bike some knobblytyres - minimal effort and budget required. Seeing the bike in that style reignited my passion. It felt like I had just bought a new motorcycle! Changing some simple components really unlocked a whole world that I didn’t have access to before.’
‘After the scrambler came the flat tracker… I was introduced to racing through my friend Jordan Graham who races in National Hare & Hounds. I was really into desert-riding and he pushed me to join the Hooligan class, which is an NHAA racing class of bikes 750cc and up. Hanging out at a few races with Jordan and experiencing the community vibe really pushed me to take the plunge and dive into the world of racing. The community aspect of racing reminded me of going out to play pool in a league with your friends, just a little more gnarly.’
The Bonnie’s first race was the Biltwell 100, the perfect entry point to desert racing. We didn’t do a whole lot to the bike; we wanted to try and keep it as authentic as possible. We took the airbox out and gave it pod filters to let it breathe as freely as possible. We also fastened a set of Predator Pro pipes to increase power output. For ergonomics and handling, we put on a set of Mule tracker handlebars with some risers. The rear shocks were custom-built for desert racing. After the Biltwell 100, we set off for Nevada to race the Pioche GP. This one was way more technical. Finishing that race was one of the most challenging things I’ve done both on and off a motorcycle. A podium position was the cherry on top.’
After covering over 100,000 miles on his Bonnie, John tells us which were the most memorable and why:
‘The first few miles I took on the freeway the weekend I bought the bike will always have a special place in my heart. Having a machine that could cruise at speed comfortably on the open road was a novelty to me and something that I relished.’
‘My most memorable trip though must be travelling across the continent in 2020 to visit my family. It was an honour to experience the journey in such an intimate way. In a car, everything goes by in a blur. You’re not really connected to the world around you and you can travel hundreds of kilometres in a daze. It’s so much more immersive on a bike, stopping every 150-200km for fuel in random towns, camping out between rides. It really is something special.’
‘Owning a Triumph Bonneville really is just an extension of yourself, in a way. You can make educated inferences about somebody just by looking at their bike. Mine is covered in dings and scratches after covering so many miles, and if you swipe a finger across the tank or seat, you’ll find out that it’s actually black under there. But that’s why we ride. For the freedom, for the fun and for the experiences.’
‘The Bonneville stands for simplicity and adaptability, which I think are two important components of life. A true Bonneville also symbolises timelessness and avoidance of trends and quick fads that are here today and gone tomorrow.
The Bonneville will always look good and will always be relevant no matter what form it takes.’
Photo Credits: John Ryan Hebert and Kevin Pak