TRI­UMPH SPEED TWIN

It’It’s re­mark­ablekbl whatht a chaph can stum­bletbl across while­hil pop­pingi outt ffor lunch. Frank West­worth fell over a hand­some Tri­umph

Real Classic - - What Lies Within - Pho­tos by Rowena Hosea­son, Frank West­worth

It’s re­mark­able what a chap can stum­ble across while pop­ping out for lunch. Frank West­worth fell over a hand­some Tri­umph

I’ve never been a great one for win­dow shop­ping. Al­though I will trun­dle mer­rily around mo­tor­cy­cle show­rooms when I’m look­ing for a bike, I’m gen­er­ally not of the tyre-kick­ing and time-wast­ing per­sua­sion – have been on the re­ceiv­ing end of those fine pur­suits far too of­ten. Which is why the in­creas­ing trend for mo­tor­cy­cle em­po­ria to add a café to their at­trac­tions is so cun­ning – and wel­come. Be­cause sim­ply pop­ping out to meet a mate for a restora­tive slice of let­tuce and a glass of brack­ish vaguely warm water con­tain­ing the ex­tract of a sin­gle tea leaf can re­sult in an oc­ca­sional fine sur­prise.

OK, I was jok­ing about the food. Toast is great wher­ever it’s en­coun­tered, and I have an al­most lim­it­less ap­petite for tea and cof­fee. North Corn­wall Mo­tor­cy­cles, in not-so dis­tant Bude, have a biker café. I like this. A chap parks up out­side, con­sumes whichever di­etary fan­dan­gos are cur­rently ap­po­site, chats with pals and watches bikes and their rid­ers come and go. Great stuff. Passes the time agree­ably. And when it’s quiet, the café serves its other com­mer­cial func­tion – it’s only fair to go take an am­ble around

the show­room, isn’t it? Leave your wal­let at home. En­sure that some­one else pays for lunch. Two handy Rules of Jour­nal­ism.

Most of the bikes here are mod­ern, or in­deed brand new. But there’s al­ways a smat­ter­ing of old­sters. Like… ‘Oh look; a Tiger 100,’ I whis­pered guiltily to the Bet­ter Third. ‘I’ve had a few of those, and…’ pause here for a mo­ment of guilty re­flec­tion ‘…and I once ripped one apart to build a Tri­ton.’ Ah … the fol­lies of youth.

Ex­cept that the ticket on the bike de­scribed it as a Speed Twin. With that fa­mous close-finned bar­rel and head, all in al­loy? Re­ally? Time for a closer look. Also… the bike’s fit­ted with a neat set of Ro­dark pan­niers, al­ways favourites of mine, and which fit the Tri­umph per­fectly. This is not en­tirely a sur­prise, given that The Lore has it that the orig­i­nal man­u­fac­tur­ers used pressed blanks in­tended to be­come Tri­umph rear mud­guards as their lids. How ex­act that is, I am un­sure, but they cer­tainly match.

But… the bike. The Speed Twin? Is it re­ally a Tiger 100? If so, some cus­tomer is go­ing to get a se­ri­ously pleas­ant sur­prise. And this shows that al­though the ma­jor­ity of the spe­cial­ist traders in old bikes are gen­uinely con­sid­er­ably knowl­edge­able about the bikes they stock, if you find one in a mod­ern bike show­room you may ac­tu­ally know more about it than its ven­dor. This could be a good thing! In this ex­am­ple, it’s an un­usual case of a bike be­ing more than it claims to be, which makes a re­fresh­ing change.

The ma­chine’s en­gine num­ber solved the puz­zle. It is ac­tu­ally a 5T – a Speed Twin. The en­gine’s num­ber shows its year of man­u­fac­ture, and shares space with that once-fa­mil­iar ‘wheel-mark’, which sug­gests that the en­gine was orig­i­nally built with cams con­tain­ing qui­eten­ing ramps. Again, this is lore: it’s sur­pris­ingly dif­fi­cult to find in­for­ma­tion about such tiny de­tails. So, time to dive into The Tri­umph Speed Twin & Thun­der­bird Bible, by Harry Wool­ridge, which is mas­sively info-packed, al­though it’s not ex­actly bed­time read­ing – un­less you’re an in­cur­able in­som­niac.

The en­gine num­ber re­veals that it is from the 1955 model range – the first year of the swing­ing arm Speed Twins. Tigers 100 and

110 had in­tro­duced the frame the pre­vi­ous year, so it was al­ready fa­mil­iar to the rid­ing pop­u­lace. Other clues to its iden­tity in­clude the trade­mark tri­an­gu­lar plate on the tim­ing cover and the cast-in logo on the pri­mary chain­case, both of which con­firm the fact that this is a 5T. Hur­rah. Some­one plainly liked the looks of the al­loy T100 top end and fit­ted it to re­place the orig­i­nal cast-iron items. Saves weight too. But the cost of this is usu­ally a dose of the al­loy-en­gine rat­tles. More later…

The rest of the bike is de­cently stock, with only the re­place­ment of the 5T’s orig­i­nal coil ig­ni­tion kit with a K2F mag­neto adding to the bike’s tiger­ish charm. The lights are pow­ered by an al­ter­na­tor tucked away inside the pri­mary chain­case – the best of both worlds, with mostly re­li­able lights and an ig­ni­tion sys­tem which doesn’t de­pend upon a charged bat­tery to get you home. These things are prob­a­bly less im­por­tant in today’s days of af­flu­ence, but back when these hand­some ma­chines were merely cheap old bikes, bikes to ride to work ev­ery day, both the re­li­able al­ter­na­tor and mag­neto were good things in­deed.

As we’re be­ing his­toric, I can share with you that 1955 was the first year Tri­umph fit­ted their 5T with Mr Amal’s Monobloc carb, and the year they beefed up the tim­ing side main bear­ing, chang­ing it from a roller bear­ing to a ball race, pre­sum­ably to in­crease lat­eral

lo­ca­tion. If you peer re­ally, re­ally closely, you might ob­serve that di­rectly be­low the oil pres­sure in­di­ca­tor, just be­low where the tim­ing cover’s screwed to the crank­case, there’s a bulge in the cast­ing. Ano­rak de­tails like this were some­how im­por­tant when my pals were drag­ging en­gines from crashed Tri­umphs to build spe­cials in those far­away days, mostly be­cause we dreamed of shat­ter­ing power out­puts pro­duced by strato­spheric com­pres­sion pis­tons and fa­bled E3134 cams – which would have de­manded the big­ger main bear­ings. Of course. A folly of youth … or some­thing. Any­way, this en­gine is cor­rect and bears the cor­rect bulge.

Apart from those de­tails, de­tails, the bike is pretty much as it should be. Hope­fully there’s a brochure pic here­abouts for com­par­i­son pur­poses. Al­though… the bike claims to be a 1956, and it car­ries sev­eral in­di­ca­tors that it’s from early in the 1957 model year. Re­search is its own re­ward – pos­si­bly! It can cer­tainly spread con­fu­sion.

But never mind all that – let’s fire up and go for a spin.

I am old and ex­pe­ri­enced, and as a re­sult of this I asked Lewis from NCMC to ride the bike to the photo lo­ca­tion, which he did. The rea­son is sim­ple: the bike’s not mine, I’ve no idea how it will be­have in traf­fic, and Bude in July has lots and lots of traf­fic. If the old war­rior was go­ing to over­heat, to be­come grumpy and spite­ful, I’d rather not be the one push­ing it. See … the wis­dom of the an­cient. Lewis had no prob­lems, of course. The bike proved to be the per­fect gentle­man.

And then it was my turn. First im­pres­sions: it’s lovely and light, tremen­dously easy to roll around, not even faintly in­tim­i­dat­ing. The side­stand is easy to op­er­ate from the sad­dle and there’s no cen­tre-stand? I looked again. How odd. Not a prob­lem. OK, time to fuel on and kick up.

First kick. Few things en­dear a ma­chine to me as much as sim­ple, easy first-kick start­ing. Al­though the top end is Tiger 100, I sus­pect that the pis­tons are stock 5T, and the cams cer­tainly are. Why? Be­cause de­spite that usu­ally jan­gly al­loy top end, this is a me­chan­i­cally quiet en­gine, and al­though the

ex­haust note is ‘clas­sic’ it’s not at all harsh. I’ve owned and rid­den far too many pre-unit Tri­umphs to be un­fa­mil­iar with the sounds of higher com­pres­sion pis­tons and lumpy cams, and those sounds were ab­sent. Un­like the tick­over, which ar­rived and stayed all the time I had the bike. Great stuff, and more un­com­mon than you might think.

Tri­umph clutches should be light, and in­deed that was the case. Tri­umph’s pre­unit gear­box is also very good, and this one slipped down into first at tick­over with only a click – no crunch. Well… it did the first time! Af­ter that, for no ob­vi­ous rea­son, it would crunch un­less the lever was de­pressed ev­erso gen­tly. It was best to se­lect neu­tral be­fore stop­ping com­pletely, but that’s just the old fa­mil­iar­ity again. Which is fine. And off we go.

That first im­pres­sion of light­ness re­mained. This Tri­umph is se­ri­ously easy to ride, and al­though it would be im­pos­si­ble to mis­take the early swing­ing arm frame for any­thing mod­ern, the sus­pen­sion did ac­tu­ally work, both front and back ends feel­ing happy to­gether. The en­gine pulled well, too, no spit­ting nor pop­ping nor smoke. And with a quite sur­pris­ing me­chan­i­cal quiet. It didn’t get rat­tly even when hot. Even the oil pres­sure ‘mush­room’ did its thing, al­ways a nice pe­riod touch.

Once out of the trad­ing es­tate and head­ing for the At­lantic High­way (doesn’t that sound

grand!), I was able to let the old gent speed up. It would be un­kind to throt­tle the thing and risk break­ing it, but it pulled eas­ily to a re­laxed 55mph cruise, which is where so many older ma­chines feel at their most com­fort­able.

The front brake is weak. Ev­ery one of these brakes I’ve rid­den has been just as bad. It looks to be the full-width type in­tro­duced for 1957 – an­other pointer to the dis­tant his­tory of the ma­chine. But it still is a lit­tle … chal­leng­ing. There are other, bet­ter Tri­umph front brakes, and were this mine I would fit one. The rear is per­fectly good, as is of­ten the way. In­ci­den­tally, the mouth or­gan tank badges were in­tro­duced for 1957 too…

What else? The large Miller am­me­ter shows a charge, so sparkly things are tak­ing place inside the pri­mary chain­case, where the clutch also goes about its task in dark­ness and hot oil, and the Re­vu­la­tor speedo clicks along like clock­work. The Re­vu­la­tor? A cun­ning (also cheap) way of of­fer­ing the rider a rev counter with­out ac­tu­ally fit­ting a rev

counter. They look nice, but try­ing to work out the twin’s revs while pro­ceed­ing along HM high­way at Top Speed feels like that fa­mous recipe for disas­ter. How­ever, Tri­umph liked them, and here’s one now. Inside, it’s a plain old Smiths Chrono­met­ric.

And the bike is com­fort­able. Just like a 1950s tour­ing ma­chine should be. It’s all en­tirely fa­mil­iar … if only to some­one en­tirely fa­mil­iar with ma­chines of this age and type. The seat is wide and sup­port­ive, the rider’s legs dan­gle like an eques­trian, and the bars are wide and re­laxed. It’s ac­tu­ally great. Apart from the front brake. I have a thing about brakes. Never mind the leg­endary feath­erbed han­dling, the rea­son I’d have built a Tri­ton would have been to get the ex­cep­tion­ally bet­ter Nor­ton brakes.

Oh … the frame. The han­dling. The rea­son guys built Tri­tons and Trib­sas and the like. It’s fine. The bike is so light and so ag­ile that even the du­bi­ous block-tread rub­ber­ware doesn’t make it feel even faintly skit­tish. And the roads were en­tirely dry. And I did not try to ground out the footrests. We just … swung along to­gether through the bends, in­clud­ing a very nifty set of esses head­ing back to base. Very easy, very re­laxed. A fire-breath­ing T120 this is not. And they built Tri­tons be­cause there were a lot of crashed Tri­umph twins. That front brake again, per­haps.

What this bike is, is a tourer. A re­ally hand­some mid-1950s tourist. Check out the ex­cel­lent Ro­dark pan­niers again. Aren’t they great? They’ve noth­ing like as much cart­ing ca­pac­ity as a con­ven­tional set of boxes from some­one like Craven, but are far, far more stylish. And you can buy a mod­ern ver­sion too! The new mod­els are made from fi­bre­glass rather than se­ri­ous steel so save quite a lot of weight and will nei­ther rust nor rat­tle. Who said all progress was bad?

So we have a clas­sic mid-50s tour­ing Tri­umph. No fire-breather, no sport­ster – de­spite the nifty top end. Easy to start, easy to han­dle and easy to live with. It’s easy to fit mod­ern light­ing with­out spoil­ing ei­ther charm or looks, and if you’re af­ter an al­ter­na­tive to, say, a BSA A7 or any of the tour­ing AMC of­fer­ings, one of these could very well be the an­swer – par­tic­u­larly as few things could be finer than hav­ing two Tri­umph twins in the drive­way, one an­cient and the other brand new. A Speed Twin to match your Street Twin, sir? Hmmm… food for thought?

Above:: And if you peer very closely, you might just be able to ob­serve the bulge in the crank­case which re­veals the pres­ence of the big­ger, bet­ter main bear­ing inside

Typ­i­cally tidy Tri­umph drive side, com­plete with the ‘short’ pri­mary chain­case with in­ter­nal al­ter­na­tor

Left: What it’s all about: Mr Turner’s iconic en­gine. We’re un­sure why it’s ‘iconic’, ex­actly, but it surely is

Some­thing to make a fuss about: the all-al­loy bar­rels and head from a Tiger 100. Lovely cast­ings, very hard to find today

Once upon a time, tour­ing Tri­umphs like this one were a com­mon sight on the roads of touristin­ten­sive Corn­wall

Have a brochure pic. The test vic­tim is pretty much as they were back then Per­fect mo­tor­cy­cle for a lit­tle prom­e­nad­ing. How can you tell that it was quiet?

Clas­sic Tri­umph rider’s view, com­plete with the only slightly scary lug­gage rack That fa­mous na­celle, com­plete with Re­vu­la­tor, huge am­me­ter and oddly placed kill but­ton

Above and be­low: The front forks ap­pear some­what spindly, but work OK. Un­like the brake, which looks pretty fee­ble and is!

Some care­ful work has gone into this ma­chine. Sparks by Mr Lu­cas’s K2F mag­neto, fu­elling by Mr Amal’s Monobloc. Neat drip tray to pre­vent drips from the lat­ter land­ing on the for­mer

In the de­tails: Tri­umph had their own ideas about twist­grips, han­dle­bar rub­bers and how the horn / dip­switch should mount Off we go… Re­turn­ing a lit­tle later, with what may have been a happy smile ‘Is this go­ing to be a pig to start hot?’ The an­swer’s in the neg­a­tive

Lewis and Frank com­pare thoughts. ‘I think it’s some kind of Honda’, said Frank…

Great pan­niers. How is it that other­wise mostly sane adults can be­come en­tranced by pan­niers?

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