Triumph. Few phrases in the history of motorbikes invoke more passion than that singular, all inclusive title. One of the industry's most recognizable names, the superficial truth shows little public knowledge of the substance behind it, routinely rolling off the tongue without pausing to reflect how history recalls the fall in Meriden, and its rise from the ashes at Hinckley. Do we know? Do we want to? ...continue here
Paul Clark's R60 racer
The cafe' racer is an undeniable and lasting force in motorcycling, mixing engineering, culture and creativity into a sub-category that continues to grow and evolve. Only correct in non-sterile form, factory cafe' builds lack the personalized element that's a fundamental part of any custom machine. You can't mass produce individuality, making the cafe' scene totally dependent on the enthusiast’s vision....read more
For a long time, I was pretty sure I didn't but don't take that the wrong way. I had no real issue (or experience) with Triumph; I simply acknowledged its existence and took in what happened to fall my way. Very much a product of my generation and social circles, when my father and brothers jumped off the Harley bandwagon and into everything else, I jumped with them. Like most motorcycle fans, my interests drew me towards the like-minded and them to me. Trading dreams and visions in the mid-70s with my high school pals, Triumph never came up on the conversation. Not even the Trident. Viewed as an old fashioned leaker that paled in comparison to the Z1 or a Jota, we believed what we read. Slanted might best describe Brit-bike coverage by the US press, but downright sarcastic is probably closer to the truth. Not suprisingly, this exact same recount has been told to me many times, mostly by people close to my age bracket. Unlike the generation before Triumph simply wasn't a frontline player in the 1970s, vanishing almost completely when the Asian horsepower wars began in 1978.
It was about then that I got my first ride on a Triumph. The details are hazy, but I recall attending a open house at old Tri-City Motorcycles is Phoenix so my Kawasaki-loving friend Randy could look over the new Z1-R Turbo. There was a crowd swarming the TC inside, so I walked outside. Tri-City also sold BMW and Triumph, and I watched with amusement as eager salesmen hustled people onto a line of demos. Behind a group of mounted BMWs waiting to leave a lone Triumph sat unadorned; no takers. “Ever ride a Bonneville?” asked a fresh faced kid no older than me. “Go on! Follow the group down Grand and peel off when you get a chance.” Shrugging, I grabbed the helmet he offered, flicked the key and stood on the lever of what had to have been a T140E (top right^). I'd been kicking my R75 for a year by then, and didn't feel the slightest bit embarrassed when he pointed to the electric start button. I remember the Bonnie felt low and narrow...impossibly narrow. It was definitely faster than my BM, but the buckhorn bars and forward pegs felt ridiculous. Twenty minutes later I returned to a row of parked bikes, but no people. No greeting, no sales pitch. The crowd and staff were too busy scarfing free hot dogs to notice. I took one last glance at the Bonneville, and left.
Years collect to form decades and if we're lucky, the passage brings knowledge. Translation? The more motorcycle history I learned, the less I realized I knew. Starting in the early 2000s I began a serious study the British brands and with it, a deeper appreciation for the industry. Some major tipping points emerged, like the time I was shooting a crate-fresh, zero-mile DBD34 Goldie Clubman at the home of a Ojai, California collector. Wandering around in his workshop after, I stumbled upon a half-hidden Rickman Metisse'. Running my eyes past the unmistakable form of the T150 triple squeezed between those nickle-plated rails, the bike was rough, but I didn't care. I was bitten and the marks still show. I can't shake the line of that Brit roadster, and I don't want to.
Fast forwarding to the present shows I've penned long and lengthy articles on many British classics; BSA, Vincent, Velocette, Norton and more. I dived headfirst into the cafe' sub-culture dominated by Dommies and Tritons. The interest grew into actual ownership, inspired by a 2005 visit to the factory that resulted in a big, black Bloor triple. Does that make me a Triumph enthusiast? Many would say absolutely not, and I'm not even close to kidding. I'm still shocked at the animosity many hold for the modern Triumpet, and so far no one I've met is willing to let me in on the secret. A great divide lies between the Meriden and 'Chinkley' camps, I'll beg forgiveness for remaining dead centre on the issue.
I must have slept in the day good pals Victor Castañeda and JJ Cerilli visited Wayne Hamilton's Triumph museum, but I sure heard about it. “You've got to get over there” Cerilli admonished. “There are things you need to see.” Hamilton, a retired Microsoft executive who parlayed his passion for the brand into a world class Triumph showplace chose the unlikely location of Apache Junction to house it, but his reasons are valid. “I winter here. No rust. It's perfect.” Featuring everything from oldies with vaporlamps and leather drive belts to modern injected Rockets, Hamilton knows his Triumphs. Later, I discovered he knew more than he let on.
That “something” I needed to see turned out to be Wayne's T140W TSS; Triumph's last gasp 8v Bonneville that's both rare and elusive. What's more, Wayne holds the certification that shows it to be the last (dated) production Bonneville off the line in 1983. That's a story. So, as I write this I'm knee deep in research for a article that will appear in RealClassic Magazine and mixing information from contacts close to the source. I knew of it, but I'd never studied the real-life, human drama surrounding the failed Triumph co-op and the more I learn, the better I understand the residual emotion regarding the brand during that period. I'm reminded again that if you dig deep enough into the history of any motorcycle, you'll eventually strike the flesh and blood behind it. “It's an emotional subject” Wayne conceded when I explained the resistance I'd encountered during my researching process. Truth is, the territory was not new to Hamilton, who knew I'd run aground sooner or later. “All I was sought were the facts” he explained. “I'd suggest you do the same.” Good advice. I'm taking it.
So the work continues and the learning grows, but through the process I couldn't shake this nagging feeling of guilt. Then, last weekend over breakfast with my friend TJ Jackson it suddenly hit me. Without knowing, I had been part of the problem. Me, and the generation I came from. Very much at the heart of the matter, it was me and people like me that left Triumph dangling; abandoned and ignored in the very industry it had played a big part in creating. That pinpointed, I'm now free to speculate why and that, ultimately, will form the basis of my story. I still prefer the Le Mans, a GS Suzuki or even a modern Bloor over the Bonnie and the reasons are deeper than adolescent ignorance, but the gap is narrower than it used to be. For now, that's the best I can hope for. Nolan Woodbury