T. E. Lawrence survived the dangers of WWI Arabia only to die later in a motorcycle crash back in Dorset, England. He was safe at home in a civilized world.
So why did he then go considerably out of his way to ride a series of seven high performance Brough Superior motorcycles, beginning in 1922 and ending with the SS100 in 1935?
He called them Boanerges, by the way, meaning sons of thunder.
Lawrence was disillusioned with post war military life but the civilian experience was not for him either. On a fast motorcycle he could leave it all behind.
“I let in the clutch again, and eased Boanerges down the hill along the tram-lines through the dirty streets and up-hill to the aloof cathedral, where it stood in frigid perfection above the cowering close. No message of mercy in Lincoln. Our God is a jealous God: and man’s very best offering will fall disdainfully short of worthiness, in the sight of Saint Hugh and his angels.”
“The extravagance in which my surplus emotion expressed itself lay on the road. So long as roads were tarred blue and straight; not hedged; and empty and dry, so long I was rich.”
“The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside.”
from The Road, by T. E. Lawrence
Lawrence once matched his Brough motorcycle against a WWI Bristol Fighter flying low overhead. The pilot pointed at the road to Lincoln and the race was on. Lawrence fell behind when he nearly crashed on a rough stretch of road but he recovered the lost ground and the race ended in a draw just as they were approaching the outskirts of Lincoln.
At $50,000 in today’s money, the Brough SS100 motorcycle was special. It had a super-tuned 998cc V-Twin which smoothed out nicely once you got rolling in high gear. A very fast bike for the early 1930’s, it encouraged ever more throttle. Each one was tested at 100 mph before it left the factory. But it was “skittish” and had poor brakes.
Lawrence was apparently a speed addict, so it was natural that he would love this bike, and visa versa. He said, “Because Boa loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.”
Lawrence’s last great motorcycle up close, when it was displayed at the Imperial War Museum in London. Privately owned, it is estimated to be worth almost $2,000,000.