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.)