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
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?