The Bob Dylan Motorcycle Crash

Did the folk-rock legend cheat death of simply duck the limelight?

By David Edwards, Photography by Douglas Gilbert, Getty Images

Of course Bob Dylan rode a Triumph. The coolest troubadour to ever hang a harmonica around his neck owned a 1964 Triumph T100, smaller 500cc brother to the Bonneville 650. Some say he almost died on the bike. Others claim the Triumph may have preserved his sanity.

Just what happened that July 29, 1966, ain't exactly clear. Dylan was riding in upstate New York, not far from the future site of the Woodstock Festival, when he and the bike parted company. The extent of his injuries, again, is unclear. Facial abrasions, unconsciousness, even broken vertebrae were reported, forcing cancellation of his upcoming concert at the Yale Bowl. Rumors were rampant: Dylan was horribly disfigured, hopelessly paralyzed, quite possibly dead.

Yet, no hospital records have ever been procured relating to the incident, and no one remembers an ambulance carting off the Tambourine Man. At least one alleged witness has claimed that Dylan-apparently not very skilled behind the handlebars-had a simple, low-speed get-off that required a trip to the doctor's office, nothing more.

So what gives? Remember that just a few short years before, Dylan had been unknown, a struggling coffee-house singer. His first album sold just 5000 copies. Now he was the so-called Voice of a Generation, expected to weigh-in on civil rights, the Vietnam War, labor relations, and he was starting to chafe under the pressure. "Me, I don't want to write for people anymore-you know, be a spokesman," he said in '64. "From now on, I want to write from inside me ... I'm not part of no movement ... I just can't make it with any organization."

At the time of his crash, Dylan had released five albums in little more than two years, each one projected to out-do the previous, fans combing the lyrics for symbolism and hidden meaning. He had book deals, TV deals, movie deals. Sixty concert dates had been scheduled. Is it out of the question, then, that the poor man simply took his minor crack-up as an opportunity to check out for the next nine months?

Dylan all but confirmed this in his 2004 autobiography, Chronicles, saying, "I had been in a motorcycle accident and I'd been hurt, but I recovered. Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race."

Then as now, no better vehicle for that than a motorcycle-wheels down preferred.

By David Edwards
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