Fallen Hero: Hunter S. Thompson, Robb Report Motorcycling, Summer, 2005
My admiration for Hunter S. Thompson, founder of gonzo journalism and posterboy for guns, narcotics, and sundry high-risk habits, came in spite of my inability to empathize with his proclivities. When I discovered his affinity for motorcycles, however, I found a window into the relentlessness with which he lived.
My relationship with bikes began just before my thirtieth birthday when, in a moment of age-related panic, I bought a red Yamaha Seca II. While I never mentioned the purchase to my family (most of whom are MDs who refer to bikes as "donorcycles"), those I shared my secret with were shocked. Male friends gushed enviously, while my fiancee had an equal and opposite reaction. In the microcosm of my world, motorcycles were otherworldly objects of excitement, even when they weren't being ridden.
Hunter S. Thompson's love of bikes was visceral, hands on and wholehearted, not unlike his adoration for general hellraising. Though he always had a passing interest in motorycles, it wasn't until his first book assignment, which happened to be about the Hell's Angels, that the writer became a rider. Putting his $1,500 book advance towards a BSA 650 Lightning, which at the time was billed the fastest bike ever tested by Hot Rod magazine, Thompson embedded himself in the notorious motorcycle gang. That the Hell's Angels had a particular disrespect for bikes other than Harleys spoke volumes about his choice: even when trying to blend in he took an outsider's stance, choosing conflict over comfortable anonymity.
After almost a year of riding, boozing and brawling, Thompson's book was published, landing on the New York Times bestseller list, and igniting his writing career. The rest was literary history, and though he dissociated himself from the gang when his research concluded, Thompson's rides with the Hell's Angels spawned a lifelong appreciation of motorcycles, especially fast ones.
In "Song of the Sausage Creature", his legendary 1995 ode to a Ducati 900 Supersport in CycleWorld magazine, Thompson lobbied hard for the thrilling irrationality of hyperfast death machines with child-like levels of naked enthusiasm. Though other writers have quite accurately described the sensuality of speed on two wheels, none have expressed it with Thompson's brutish insolence.