Where to start? If I start at the end, then maybe that’s the hardest bit over with. Michael Bonney – one of the UK bike industry’s central pillars – has passed away. Although it was sudden, and a shock to everyone, the decision had been made a while ago and the reasons for it were understood and accepted by his friends and family. For the last six and a half years, Michael had been paralysed from the neck down after an innocuous cycling accident saw him crash and break his neck. Since then, he’d been in a wheelchair, on a breathing ventilator and needing constant supervision.
And so it was with sadness and shock, but not really surprise that his friends (so many friends…) read his post on Facebook about how he had taken the decision to turn off his ventilator and let nature take its course.
And so, Michael passed away peacefully at home, with friends and family around, on Saturday afternoon.
I can only really reflect on my own impressions of Michael, but looking back, it seems that he has been in my life for a very long time. There was no forgetting him once you’d met him, but that wasn’t because he was loud, or showy or overdramatic. He was friendly, generous, thoughtful and provocative. He would listen intently to what you had to say, but he would call you out on anything he felt you didn’t really believe. To some people, he had an Eeyore-style downbeat view of the world, but that just came from a desire not to sugarcoat everything and a need to tell it like it is. Something he stuck with right to the end.
I first met Michael Bonney in 1991 when he was one of the organisers of the NEMBA mountain bike series in northern England. He organised the Hamsterley NEMBA rounds while working a ‘normal’ office job, and even then, his influence was keenly felt in the nascent UK mountain bike scene. He was an early champion and friend of Jason McRoy and ringleader for some of the Team Hot Pies shenanigans. When he did finally leave his ‘proper’ job to take up a role at Orange Bikes, it seemed a natural step, and turned out to be a position that would see him flourish. We even chose him as our interviewee in the very first issue of Singletrack.
In Michael Bonney’s time at Orange, he wore many hats (usually simultaneously) that saw him pricing up OEM parts on spreadsheets and visiting Asian bike factories one minute and then fronting Orange’s bike show booth another. On other days he’d be riding bikes with journos, arguing head angles, spotting talented riders who needed sponsoring, or just chatting about bikes and the bike industry. There are many riders who got their first ride, or first break, on an Orange bike thanks to Michael.
Michael had an eye for a good rider, and was equally happy to help people out with favours, whether it was sorting out a bike for Guy Martin, or Danny MacAskill, or Simon Gallup from The Cure, or sponsoring a young Greg Minnaar on the Animal/Orange team.
Even after his accident, he stubbornly bent technology to his will to allow him nearly as big an online presence as he’d had before, and his four wheel drive electric wheelchair could be spotted at trade shows and bike events, as a crowd of friends stopped by to chat. He even worked with Ison Distribution to help design and launch their Mettle full suspension bike. Not bad for a bloke without working hands.
Personally, I’ve shared many great times with Michael over the years. We’ve set the world to rights on long bike rides in his adopted home of the Lake District, we’ve gone shopping for bargain Ted Baker suits in Las Vegas, he’s made me spend more than I was planning to on cameras, cars and clothes, we’ve complained about the coffee in a number of different places, and we’ve shared many happy times. Post-accident, he was happy that he’d lived as full as life as he had up to that point. He loved fast, unreliable, Italian motorbikes, convertible sports cars, nice clothes and decent coffee. He loved the cycling scene that he was such an integral part of – whether it was as a participant, or a manufacturer, or as a sage industry veteran – and everyone in the bike business had a soft spot for him, as can easily be seen in the hundreds of comments on his final Facebook post.
It was always obvious that he was never going to passively accept his paralysis, and he made sure that everyone knew he had a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order with him. He managed to re-learn to breathe without his ventilator for a while, but even that action, that we take for granted every second, was denied him.
And so, it’s a bittersweet farewell to a universally loved, cheerful, grouchy, grumpy old sod, who did nothing wrong but to lose a front wheel on a gravelly corner on a ride out on his bicycle. It could have been any of us. But it wasn’t, and we’re all secretly and guiltily glad that it wasn’t us, but we’re so sorry it had to be you. You’ve shown us that it’s possible to continue to live on with humour and positivity, but no one blames you for having had enough of it.
Thanks for your inspiration, your friendship, your lessons and your wisdom. You’re now at peace, and we’re all, truly glad you can finally rest. Meanwhile, we’re left remembering the good times and with a much better appreciation of how incredible it is to breathe, to touch, to feel and to ride a bike.
Ride on, Michael Bonney…
(Apologies to anyone whose photos I’ve poached.)
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Beautifully written and apparently there’s some dust in the room. Off out on the bike in a few minutes with a good mate, will think on Michael and recognise how lucky I am. Thanks.
Thank you Chipps, for your heartfelt word!
Well said Chipps!
That’s a really touching piece. Never met Michael, and to be honest, never really knew much about him beyond his accident’, but like the Jordi Lunn tributes, he was obviously a man who had a big impact on the people he encountered.
Beautifully written Chipps. We didn’t know him well, but that is exactly how we remember Michael.
Chatting to him at a (94?) NEMBA when he was over the moon about starting the new job at Orange. To him taking a broken wheel off us on a Sunday National race and returning it re-rimmed on Tuesday for the start of the MTB Tour of Britain. And finally, gently fighting Alison’s corner to make sure the tour organisers stuck to the rules to makes sure of a podium finish.
Time for a walk in the sunshine.
A great memorial piece. Wonderfully written and obviously from the heart.
Nice tribute Chipps. RIP Michael.
I read Michael’s full post and it was elegiac, life affirming, heart felt & heart breaking. Thank you Chipps for sharing such an elegant farewell with us all. Michael’s travails are a reminder to us all to live well and hold our loved ones tight
Well written. Thankyou.
I had the pleasure of meeting Michael in 2002 I think it was. I’d posted on the pre-hack version of this forum that I was investigating full-sus bikes for my wife. Michael piped up that we could borrow Linzi’s bike: a one-off version of the Sub-3, but built to Sub-5 geometry. We duly picked it up from Biketreks in Ambleside, no questions asked, and had a fantastic day riding out around Kentmere. When we took it back, Michael was at the shop and I had a fantastic converstaion with him about what makes the “perfect” bike, and how to coporomise one factor against another.
A true legend of the industry.
So so sad to hear this
a true gent of the bike industry and followed some of Michaels journey and commentary through Facebook
rest in peace