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My Life on Two Wheels

A motorcycle enthusiast shares his passion for restorations and the open road.

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Kevin Browne with his 1935 Triumph T70 Tiger motorcycleCourtesy Kevin Browne
Kevin working on his 1935 Triumph T70 Tiger.

My First Bikes

When I was a lad of ten in Essex, England, I had a friend who would let me ride his 98cc James Comet motorcycle around the fields. This exposure to a two-wheeled vehicle ignited my love and enthusiasm for all things motorcycle-oriented. Shortly thereafter, I got my own bike, an Excelsior Universal 150cc, which my dad and I bought for about $7.50. It came in bits and pieces but within a few weeks we had it reassembled into an operational motorcycle. I was thrilled and proud. The only thing missing were handlebar grips, which I fashioned out of electrical tape until I could afford real ones, and I was good to go!

I rode that bike until I was old enough to acquire my driver’s license. When that happened, I immediately went out and bought my first street-legal bike. It was a beautiful blue-and-cream James Superswift, which I used to ride to work as an apprentice mechanic. The time I spent with that motorcycle was an ideal training experience for what would eventually become my future motorcycle restoration hobby.

In due course, I graduated from the Superswift to a 600cc Norton Dominator motorcycle and sidecar. Riding with a sidecar was a very different experience and required me to learn a few new driving techniques. In my late teens, I began collecting British bikes, as they were inexpensive and available in the 1970s due to brands being more prevalent and the British bike industry going broke. That collection consisted of about 26 bikes, including Triumph motorcycles, Nortons, BSAs, a Velocette, a Matchless, Ducati and more. I would have to say that my favourite at that time was a 1970 Norton Commando Roadster.

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Classic motorcyclesPhoto: Kevin Browne
A few of Kevin’s bikes.

Rediscovering My Passion

When I immigrated to Canada in the early ’80s, my collection was partially sold and the rest donated to a local museum; however, I wish I still had some of those bikes in my collection today. Upon my arrival, my focus was to establish a new life, so my motorcycle hobby was put on the back burner for several years. It wasn’t until about 1990 that I was able to start riding for pleasure again. My wife and I would average about 12,000 kilometres every summer, going to rallies, races, sightseeing, and exploring backcountry roads all over western Canada and the United States. One of my favourite trips was a ride to the California Laguna Seca Raceway to watch the MotoGP racing. There were a number of factors that made that trip special for me, including the fact that it was my wife Heather’s first solo ride on a BMW 750RT, our first time touring the beautiful West Coast, and my first live MotoGP race. My bike at the time was a comfortable and powerful BMW K1100 LT.

Every summer for the past 30 years, I have undertaken a bike road trip to many different locations including British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Nevada, to name a few. Up until about 12 years ago, we would take our camping gear and sleep under the stars, but my old bones currently prefer a softer bed. Each and every trip was memorable in its own right. I met a lot of interesting and special people along the way. Sadly, my wife Heather, who will be with me in loving memory always, passed away in 2010.

Here are 10 legendary Canadian road trips you need to take at least once.

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BMW R1200 GS motorcyclePhoto: Kevin Browne
On the road with a BMW R1200 GS.

A Retirement Pastime

Now, being retired and living in the Edmonton area, I have focused more on collecting and restoring older bikes. My first collector bike purchased in Canada in 1985, was a 1975 750cc Triumph Trident, in very rough condition. I restored it and still have it as part of my 15-bike fleet. My current collection includes Triumphs, Nortons, a Royal Enfield, Kawasaki W650, Yamaha MT 01, Honda CBX, BMWs, and a 1950 Sunbeam S8. The oldest is a 1935 Triumph Tiger 70, which is still in great condition. The Sunbeam belonged to my father, who had it since the 1960s, and I managed to bring it over, along with a few others, from England during the last ten years.

My passion for restoration comes from my enjoyment and satisfaction of seeing a machine come back to its original glory. The scent of grease, lubricant, gasoline, internal combustion and old leather, as well as the unique notes from the exhaust pipes, all invoke memories of simpler times and propels my desire to preserve these old beauties.

It would be fair to say that I have owned, enjoyed and sold hundreds of bikes over my years of being an enthusiast. If asked what my favourite one was, I would have to say it’s the one I am restoring, working on or riding at the moment the question is asked. I must confess, however, that I am more than partial to the colour yellow. As for my own weapon of choice, after years of riding, I have settled on a BMW R1200 GSA (above) as my preferred ride. It is comfortable, quick and can handle whatever road I throw at it.

The biggest challenge I have with collecting is storage space. My wife of six years, Debbie, has graciously allowed me to put five bikes in our walk-out basement. I am happy that she enjoys riding as my passenger and shares my enthusiasm for collecting. I feel privileged to have custodial ownership of these bikes and be a temporary keeper of motorcycle history. I hope that one day the next generation will enjoy them as much as I do.

Next, check out this collector’s vintage motorcycle replicas.

Originally Published in Our Canada