Triumph TR5MX: Last of the line

Classic Bike (UK) - - Bsa B50 (and Related Singles) -

There’s al­ways been a ri­valry be­tween BSA and Triumph fans – it’s a ‘local derby’ thing. Many BSA diehards wouldn’t have a Triumph as a gift, while plenty of Triumph fans be­lieve the only good thing to come out of Birm­ing­ham is the Coven­try Road.

Which makes it more than a touch ironic that the last of BSA’S B50 mod­els should ac­tu­ally have been mar­keted as a Triumph. But with plenty of B50MX parts still kick­ing around the fac­tory, it made sense to try to make some­thing of them. And the US ‘recre­ational’ off-road market must have seemed like a good place to sell that some­thing. With the pop­u­lar­ity of the Triumph brand in dirt rid­ing cir­cles State­side in­flu­enc­ing NVT’S pro­duc­tion strat­egy, the TR5MX Avenger was the re­sult. Dif­fer­ences to the B50MX were min­i­mal. There was a 21in front wheel (oddly, the B50MX had a 20in wheel) and the en­ergy trans­fer ig­ni­tion of the BSA was ditched in favour of a points and ca­pac­i­tor set-up with a greater range of ad­vance. Im­proved valve springs and a bash­plate were fit­ted, plus an al­loy tank bor­rowed from the Ad­ven­turer twin.

Cy­cle mag­a­zine, al­ready big fans of the BSAbadged B50MX they’d tested in March 1972, were sim­i­larly im­pressed with the Triumph-branded ver­sion in March 1974. They rated the ig­ni­tion a big im­prove­ment that made start­ing a whole lot eas­ier. On track, the Avenger’s low-speed pulling power came in for high praise. Han­dling and steer­ing were bet­ter suited to smooth, fast trails than more choppy, rocky ter­rain and the brakes could have been a touch more pow­er­ful, but that was about the ex­tent of the crit­i­cism from Cy­cle’s team. Tony Howard didn’t buy his TR5MX with mo­tocross hero­ics in mind, though. He prefers a spir­ited blast round his nearby Es­sex back roads. He bought the bike seven years ago – but, un­like the sub­tly mod­i­fied BSA, he de­cided to keep the rare Triumph in cat­a­logue spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

“That made the restora­tion harder,” he ad­mits. “I spent two years col­lect­ing parts be­fore mak­ing a start. I haven’t used any pat­tern parts on this bike – ev­ery­thing is gen­uine fac­tory. I don’t use the in­ter­net ei­ther, so that made things harder still. But through the net­work of con­tacts I built up while restor­ing the BSA, I found ev­ery­thing I needed. The gen­uine tank came from a cus­tomer of Ace Clas­sics, the si­lencers and rear mud­guard were NOS from Vale-on­slow and Chris Bur­rell came up with the rear mud­guard. I even man­aged to find an orig­i­nal seat cover.”

With parts sourced or re­paired and spe­cial­ist work in­clud­ing the en­gine restora­tion, paint and wheel build­ing farmed out, the build only took Tony a few months. “It’s a sim­ple bike,” he says. “And I’ve tried to keep it that way. There are no lights, in­di­ca­tors or bat­tery and it runs an Elec­trex World mo­tocross ig­ni­tion. I’ve stuck to the spirit of the orig­i­nal.” So how does a bike in­tended for the wide open spa­ces of west coast Amer­ica trans­late to ru­ral Es­sex? Rick P is the lucky man who gets to find out...

“It takes some time look­ing at Tony’s im­mac­u­late TR5MX to get over the dis­cor­dant com­bi­na­tion of en­gine and tank trans­fer. Triumph’s 250 is com­mon enough, but some­how the B50 and Triumph’s TR5T Ad­ven­turer are both too iconic to be mixed. Us­ing the sub­tly dif­fer­ent Ad­ven­turer tank makes this seem more hy­brid than des­per­ate badge en­gi­neer­ing.

“The bikes feel very dif­fer­ent, too – partly be­cause Tony has the TR5MX in a lower state of tune than the B50. A com­pres­sion plate takes the sting out of kick­start­ing and there is def­i­nitely not the same urge when you open the throt­tle, the en­gine feel­ing more tri­als than mo­tocross – but then this bike is the greater rar­ity. For a rider, there’s lit­tle point hav­ing two bikes iden­ti­fi­able only by a tank badge.

“While Tony has built the BSA to suit him­self, the much rarer TR5MX is a cat­a­logue restora­tion. He warned me to be cau­tious on bends, but I am al­ready fa­mil­iar with the ‘creep’ you ex­pe­ri­ence with knob­bly tyres on the road – a bit like walk­ing on plat­form-soled Doc Martens. The TR5 felt as well set-up as the B50, but I was less tempted to head for the hills. There is al­ways a dilemma with rare ma­chines – do you en­joy it and risk spoil­ing it or pre­serve it, life­lessly in a glass case? Tony has done the clever thing. He has made it per­fectly pleas­ant to ride, but re­moved the temp­ta­tion to get car­ried away – there’s a B50 in his garage for that.

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