#305 – Pride of Toronto

A smooth-running old Bonnie makes an important day even more special.

The Pride of Toronto

What’s the most fun you can have on two wheels? It seems I answer that question often, but the ways change all the time. Recently, it was riding a Triumph Bonneville. Imagine going from your regular ride to a 1955 model that shifts on the opposite side, starts only when kicked and your face hurts from grinning?
It was World Pride in Toronto. Like hosting the Olympics, it brought an extra million or more people to town for the festivities. A friend of mine who I’ve known since my early years of riding, Geoff Collins, couldn’t ride in the Parade for heterosexual reasons, but wanted to participate in some way. His beauty had recently been used in a movie. He decided he wanted her in the Parade.
It took me a day to mull it over. The old BMW enduro I call Casper wanted to be in World Pride too. But she’s ridden in so many Prides and in numerous cities. Twenty-four hours later I responded with a firm, yes! Then I began to wonder what it would be like, and if I could still ride an old British bike.
He brought the bike to my house and then I took him for a ride so I could get a feel and he could instruct from the pillion. That went just fine. But it didn’t have a main stand, and the side stand leans the bike far over. I always had to stand on my British bikes to kick start them. I didn’t seem to have the strength, the weight, the technique, something, back when I weighed 125 pounds and the bikes sometimes needed multiple (multiple) kicks to fire. I was nervous and heavier, not sure about stronger.
This bike has been well tweaked. For Geoff, Angel’s a first-kick bike. I turned the gas on, tickled the carb (which means I pushed a little plunger that holds the float bowl down) until it filled with gas. Ignition on and, wow, it started on the second kick!
So I test-rode to work in the mornings. I left my house in that half-awake state but by the time I fired her up I was wide-awake. A single drum in the front means leaving extra room for stopping at all times—a bit like Fred Flintstone brakes. But the funny thing is that it made me realize my own bike does not have spectacular brakes either. My vintage single disc does not stop like modern doubles, with double piston as well. I adjusted quickly to the new machine, concentrating at all times to shift on the right.
I showed her off. But the strangest thing happened. People said the bike was beautiful but no one believed her to be at all old. Same thing on the road. While I was grinning my way around town, no one noticed us. The bike has straight pipes, off to the side like a Trophy, done that way for the movie. It sounded loud and sweet, but loud like a Harley. I noticed many while riding the Triumph. It seemed we were lumped into the same category. Just another bike. How could that be?
I’ll tell you how. I parked next to a 2012 Triumph. At a glance they looked surprisingly similar. A sparkly blue 1955 in mint shape looks like a brand new Triumph, and not all that special. Amazing.
At night, going out to see Sarah Schulman’s The Lady Hamlet at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, I chose to go on Casper. The next morning, I rode the Triumph. Again that night I went downtown to North Bound Leather’s meet and greet on the BMW. I was switching back and forth just like the old days when I had both my Triumph and Norton on the road. Only back then, it was one up, or one down. At least these two machines were both one down—I think, because it’s surprisingly hard to remember what we do automatically.
There were two parades that the Triumph got to ride in. The first I considered a trial run. I would see how we did to decide if we could manage in the biggest Parade Toronto has ever seen.
We met at Allan Gardens at the start of the Dyke March and joined the lineup of Amazons and others, well before noon. Geoff was there as backup, but as it happened, I didn’t need him for more than taking photos. The bike started first kick the entire time! He watched us ride off, and then walked the route to where we stopped. Eventually he started walking ahead and meeting us at our breaks. If we rode non-stop, we’d be so far ahead of the marchers it wouldn’t make sense. By the end of the March I felt confident the bike would be fine for Sunday.
It is an amazing experience to lead a march or parade on a hot summer day and have thousands of people cheer on each block. It feels individual, like they’re all cheering me! This is the time of year that those of us who are discriminated against both subtly and overtly get to feel real support. Our High Holiday crosses gender, ethnic and religious lines and brings us all together in the most joyful celebration. Even the Toronto police enjoy working the event because it’s just fun, the “crimes” being racy outfits, not guns or violence. What was once a protest against police brutality has become a celebration.
The first Pride Parade in Toronto was in 1982. The women led on motorcycles. Police took pictures, made notes and recorded our licence plates. That was the beginning of my police file.
I rode the hottest bike in the Parade on Sunday. It was wonderful. We were fortunate to be at the start of the Parade that was SIX hours long!
World Pride made Canada seem like a dream country where so many marvel at the freedoms we have. Canada is held in high esteem. We’re not like Uganda, Jamaica or Russia. But we still have discrimination. Let’s fix that.
The biggest thrill of Pride made me want to get my own pretty Tiger back on the road. Geoff said he’d help. First, I have to find insurance. That’s an issue in itself. But I’m thinking it’s time.