Tuesday, January 20, 2009


These photos of Bob Dylan date from 1964/5, when he rode a Triumph on the leafy roads surrounding his home in Woodstock, New York. This charming young folk singer, a man of unpredictable habits, was a charismatic figure on his red-and-silver '64 Tiger 100. He was often accompanied by a lovely young lady named Joan Baez, who was his early defender, lover, and co-performer, notably at the August 28, 1963 March on Washington, in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his 'I have a Dream' speech. Dylan's music, implicitly political during this period, became anthemic to a generation seeking change.

The Triumph must have given him a needed break from his resounding fame at the age of 23; we all know the curative effects of a ride through the woods on a scintillating and well-balanced motorcycle. He had recently released his third album, The Times They Are A'Changin', which had gone double Platinum. His second album, Freewheelin Bob Dylan, had gone Platinum, and included the single 'Blowin in the Wind'. His first album, 1962's Bob Dylan, sold a mere 5000 copies. By 1964, many other artists were covering his songs and scoring hits with them as well. During the two years he owned his Tiger, Dylan had recorded four more albums; Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde, all of which went gold, platinum, or double-platinum. Added to the recording dates were incessant US and European tours, appearances, and photo opportunities; a punishing schedule.

On July 29, 1966, it was announced that he had suffered injuries after 'locking up the brakes' on his Tiger 100, not far from his manager Alan Grossman's house in Woodstock. Though no hospital data records an entry from Bob Dylan, he claimed to have suffered facial lacerations and 'several broken vertebrae in his neck'. Quite an injury, yet no ambulance was summoned.

Dylan had this to say about his crash: "When I had that motorcycle accident ... I woke up and caught my senses, I realized that I was just workin' for all these leeches. And I didn't want to do that. Plus, I had a family and I just wanted to see my kids." (Cott, Dylan on Dylan, 2006) In the months after his 'accident', Bob Dylan withdrew from what had been a frenetic touring, recording, and appearance schedule, and didn't play much in public for 8 long years. His music became more personal, less political, as he explored blues and country music in later years, much to the chagrin of his fans. Nowadays he rejects political interpretations of his lyrics, but his presence at events like the March on Washington tell a different story.

He certainly cut a stylish figure on his Triumph, although it's a shame the motorcycle took the rap for a man who clearly needed a break. Above is the cover of his 1965 album, Highway 61 Revisited; peeking out from his psychedelic blue satin shirt is a Triumph tee, which surely boosted sales amongst the young and hip. An early example of 'product placement'!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I enjoyed it. While I knew the general history of Dylan and his Triumph, I appreciated learning a bit more and how bikes have always had an interesting role in popular culture.


Anonymous said...

Have you ever read "been down so long it looks like up to me"? Written by Richard Farina, Joan Baez's brother-in-law. He died falling off a Triumph at a party, celebrating the publication of that book, April 30th, 1966. Here's another story for you to chase.

And Paul, I am saddened by your city-familys' loss of James. I was on a Frank Forester ride with him. I love your web-site and recommend it to everyone with an interest in old bikes.
Tom, Norton Club

vintagent said...

I will look into the connection with Farina, who I do know about. They must have been close, and I imagine Farina's death came as a blow to Dylan. With his own crash so soon after, perhaps his life/mortality came into focus, and he decided to make a change.

Anonymous said...

Accordingly to his own statement, Bob Dylan was looking for the "right sound" on this album.
Easy to find out by listening to his masterpieces, say : Mission accomplished.
So that leaves me with the question : Is his choice for a Triumph motorcycle a thing by chance ?
No way, I think. The sound of a Triumph is motorcycle. It makes one of the right sounds, a sound motorcyle should be going to do !

Ralf Kruger

Anonymous said...

.. I saw Dylan live four times in one week – he was crap. Probably seen him live 12 times, only one good performance

Tried to sit through the film ‘I’m not there’ on the weekend couldn’t make it – far too arty for me

My first ever album was Dylan, had all his vinyl albums, which I have now given to my son.

Highway 61 cover is iconic and track number one is the world’s best tune ever produced IMHO – but he produced some real crap too



Anonymous said...

Hi, Paul,

I enjoyed TV’s recent Triumph history pieces, on the Bonnie’s 50th anniversary and Bob Dylan’s ’64 Tiger Hundred experience. Good stuff. I have a Bonnie-50th piece at the NY Times waiting to run this Spring. A note on Dylan: his manager was Albert Grossman, not Alan.

Also like your keen insight on the auction scene and trend in bike values. Keep up the good work.

New TV reader and fan,

Lindsay Brooke

Garth said...

I really like his Triumph. Triumphs are about the only brand new bike I would ever buy- not that I have the money for that. I was kinda thinkin' it would be really cool if Triumph did a 500 twin, not so big and heavy as the 900.

Back in the day I guess 650 was big, but now it's small. I like that about my BSA, though, really, I'm tall for it.

By the way, Dylan looks so small on his bike! He reminds me of a friend I have. I dig it. : )

Anonymous said...

found yr blog and really enjoyed it. I have also been putting 2gether a bit of a bike page if wanna see its http://www.musicswapshoppe.com/triumph_bonneville.html


Anonymous said...

hoping that you can keep your blog up daily , in fact you should start a image bin cleaned every 24 hours we got to have something to read with our morning coffee , all ten of us that have been to your blog 30,000 times lol dave

Conchscooter said...

"...charming young man." Charming? Really? Ooops I forgot I might not be the only middle aged ironist around. The Trumpet is definitely charming.

vintagent said...

Charming is certainly in the eye of the beholder... and perhaps satire would be more accurate...

Anonymous said...

Some good information on both Dylan's Triumph riding (more often a passenger to Joan Baez because she was the better rider! They'd switch a few blocks from their destination so he wouldn't be embarrassed.) and Farina's death (on a friend's Sportster at his wife's 21st birthday party. Farina was a passenger and tried to straighten the bike out in a tight turn.) can be found in Hajdu's Positively 4th Street.

Brother said...

Nice blog and why wouldnt he ride a Triumph? Think Marlon Brando as the Wild One, Steve McQueen and the Great Escape not to mention Fonzy in Happy Days ;-)
BUT I wouldnt trust some awkward biographers ramblings for fact. After the accident Dylan was in intensive care for three weeks....its a fact..... It took nine months for the internmittent amnesia and numness down the right side to heal.....Fact, before the accident Dylan was regarded as a damn fine flat picker and finger picking guitar player...and not too bad on the electric. After the accident the numbness in his right side prevented him from being able to articulate his fingers to pick a guitar and you will notice he can only strum, relying on other musicians to cover the lead role for him.
As for not selling out? Just asl Ol' Mr Coke Cola!
Dingo Dan
69 Bonneville
54 Thunderbird (Triumph of course)

David Himel said...

Dylan was always cool, and an anomaly from my perspective. I found a Dylan album in 1980 when I was going through my brothers collection looking for punk albums. My mother referred to him as a "poet who couldn't sing well" lol I thought that is perfect sounds like art....I own a vintage Triumph T shirt exact to the one he is wearing on the album cover..its part of my vintage tshirt collection. Nice piece as always the writings continues to entertain me in a world of blogs without writing!

doug said...

Does anyone know what happened to this famous Triumph?

Boo Long said...

On the first colour picture he's displaying some very poor riding with his feet off the pegs on loose ground.
No wonder he came off! People may have thought he looked cool on the bike but that looks very uncool to anybody who knows about bike riding.