This is hardly an official-style obit about my great friend Steve Bond, aka Bondo, more a few anecdotes, some I hope amusing. He spent a lot of his time laughing and joking, so that seems appropriate, I think. Great guy with many friends. He died this week, aged 69, and there are tributes on the Vintage Road Racing Association site, where many people knew him.
The first time I met Steve was due to a typical screw-up by Canada Moto Guide’s lovable late founder Rob Harris, bless his soul. Steve had been in touch with Rob about writing for CMG, and one day Rob called me out of the blue in a panic; he was sick as a dog, couldn’t make the appointment in Toronto, could I fill in? Of course, typical Rob, he was about an hour late in calling, was already supposed to be there, so I’d be late getting to the pub.
Off I went, luckily in time to find a large, very angry gentleman stalking out the door. I interrupted him and asked if he was Steve Bond, introduced myself, apologized for the mix-up, and dragged him back into the pub for a burger and a couple of beers. Within 10 minutes we were laughing and joking about CMG, Rob, bikes, racing, and the world. Forgive the pun, but you could say we bonded immediately.
That was definitely pure Bondo, showing the most important thing about him other than his love for his family – he had a wicked sense of humour and the absurd, and a clever way of getting that into his writing, often accompanied by groanable puns. He had no patience for fools or foolishness, but didn’t hold grudges and was always, always, always ready for a laugh or a ride. That meeting would have been in the late ’80s, so we’ve been good friends for more than 30 years.
Steve had had a “real job” with a manufacturing company. He got laid off in the 1980s, decided to try writing about the outdoors for a living (he was an avid outdoorsman, fisher and hunter), and got a gig writing about that stuff for a local paper. Once he was planning a story about hunting turkeys, went to a mutual friend’s farm, sat in the woods blowing the turkey call, then suddenly felt a hot breath on his neck. He spun around to find a couple of dozen cows curious about the honking noise …
While doing that freelance writing gig, he attended a writers’ workshop and met Cherie Smith, who has been his partner ever since, a great support and companion to him.
Steve went on to write for CMG after that oddball job interview, then for Inside Motorcycles for a while, Canadian Biker out of Victoria, then for the Toronto Star for a number of years for the Wheels section. He ended up getting quite a few gigs in the car world as well as testing bikes for the Star.
Eventually I moved to a farm near Belleville, Ont., and at one point Inside Motorcycles, where I worked at the time, decided to try testing some ATVs on my land. I had a couple from Honda, and asked Bondo if he’d like to come up from his home in Oshawa for a weekend with the girls – he had two daughters from a previous marriage, who he adored to the day of his death – and we could do some testing, with the kids showing how easy the ATVs were to ride, and us trying to show off for some more spectacular pictures.
Bondo and the girls had a great time, but the only spectacular thing about the pictures was Honda Canada’s reaction to the published photos, several of which showed a couple of young ladies riding Honda ATVs – without helmets. I got called into Honda’s head office and had another one ripped, if you know what I mean, by my friend Warren Milner, at the time a product planner for Honda. No helmets equals HUGE no-no. Oh well. Bondo couldn’t stop laughing about it.
That same weekend Bondo decided to try fixing a small camera to his helmet and filming a ride (this was way before GoPros existed). It ended up the camera was pointed too low and all we got was about 10 minutes of video of the front fenders of the ATV bouncing around. For years, he told me he’d threaten the girls with watching The Helmet Cam video if they misbehaved.
I’d done a bit of racing – mostly endurance stuff in the U.S. – and was impressed to discover Bondo had been a top Pro racer in the 1970s on missiles like Kawasaki’s legendary two-stroke 750s. His favourite racing story ever was about being at Daytona one year, and having his foot accidentally stepped on by the legendary Mike Hailwood. One day, he suggested we go racing in the Vintage Road Racing Association; he had a friend with an idle Yamaha RD350 who was keen to have it on track.
I thought this was a great idea, so we entered the first endurance race of the year, and it poured rain. I went out in the first shift, rode around in the downpour until the race was red-flagged, came in sodden and frozen. It was a two-hour race and we were supposed to change at an hour, but was never called in; when I got to the pits, Steve was standing there warm and dry with his daughters. “Nice work, you’ve been out for an hour and a half,” he said. I sputtered a protest, and got, “Bondo doesn’t race in the rain.”
There was a similar occurrence at Mosport several years later with his KZ1000 …
We bought and raced a 350 cc Kawasaki triple, then he bought and raced a Kawasaki KZ1000, later a Honda Hawk, and I a Suzuki GS550, and we had a wonderful time all the way through. Then in 2009 it ended: Bondo had a huge crash on a borrowed Yamaha XT500 at Mosport, smashing his right shoulder blade into about 100 pieces, and I got knocked off at Cayuga, breaking several ribs and more. We both decided that was enough of that. We were too old for this crashing BS.
We rode together on the street a lot after the racing ended. Sometimes it was hilarious multi-day CMG group tests with Rob and charmingly mad photographer Richard Seck into the Adirondacks or Pennsylvania (I should write a book …), or just Eastern Ontario (the call to Cherie about the broken ankle was tough, as was the one to Kawasaki about the destroyed Nomad; they were both remarkably reasonable about what became known as The Nomad Incident). More often, it was just us meeting up for a day ride in Eastern Ontario with or without a couple of friends (Warren from Honda even joined us once or twice, so I guess we’d been forgiven), sometimes on test bikes, sometimes on our own machines, often ending up at the Wilno Tavern for lunch (and a shock preload increase after eating their terrific Polish food).
Riding with Steve was fantastic. He was a quick, observant, and considerate guy on the street, never a surprise; there’s a knack to riding fast enough to have fun on the street without going nuts, and he had it down pat. For that matter, it was true for racing with him, also – great guy on track, no surprises, fast and clean.
In 2015, he and Cherie decided they’d had enough of winter and moved to Maple Ridge in B.C., just a bit northeast of Vancouver. They both loved it there: the scenery, the weather, the riding, made it a perfect place to retire and enjoy life. He swapped his Kawasaki KLR 650 for a Triumph Tiger and loved it. I always meant to fly out there and join him for another ride. Clearly, I waited too long, something I’ll always regret.
Late in 2018, Steve visited an old friend in Idaho, and they climbed a pretty high mountain for some fishing. He got altitude sickness, and later he told me he was convinced that somehow that had compromised his immune system. He never really felt healthy after that. He finally got a diagnosis of lymphoma in the summer of this year and started on chemotherapy. That went remarkably well: his last e-mail to me told how great he was finally feeling, things they planned to do around the house, how he hoped I’d finally make it out to B.C. for a ride next spring. And then double pneumonia suddenly hit, followed by a visit to the ICU. That was his last trip.
He leaves Cherie, his two daughters Heather and Jamie, and Jamie’s three boys Justin, Brodie, and Deacon, plus a very, very large dog named Zeke who helps Jamie take care of the kids. He loved them all very much, and was always bursting with pride about the girls. They’ll all miss him desperately, as will I. When I get the bike out in the spring, I’ll be dedicating that first ride to his memory.
Godspeed, my friend.