BUILDING THE SPECIAL
When it came to trial fitting the engine, Gordon was indebted to advice from his friend Joe Moore, who’d already experimented with a similar project. ‘He was really helpful, not only in what things to do but in what things not to do. Whatever you do, don’t weld your rear engine plates in, he told me. It’s fine while you’re just using empty crankcases to line everything up, but then once you build the engine, it won’t go back in with the head and barrels on. He also gave me very good advice on head steady design. I’ve not fitted one yet, the bike’s quite newly finished and still evolving, but I welded the brackets in place ready before I got it all powder-coated.
‘I didn’t like the huge big casting on the frame below the headstock though, or the really crude way Kawasaki joined up the removable downtubes. So I cut the whole lot off and made my own downtubes and cradle. It’s all welded in, so looks a lot neater, but I can still get the motor in and out without dismantling it at all. I made the bolted-in rear engine plates, jigsawed from 10mm Dural plate – well, it’s better than watched Coronation Street – so if I ever do get a gearbox problem say, I can get into it without having to strip and then remove the bloody engine...’
Ah, the engine. Gordon knows a thing or two about Triumph engines, having starting building and racing them over 50 years ago.
‘I began with a pair of crankcases. Well, not a pair actually, the right one came from one of my old racers, it snapped a brand-new Renolds primary chain in the Isle of Man. I showed it to the Renolds rep who was there. “Has it done much damage?” he said. “Well, it’s broken the crankcase, bent the crank, wrecked the clutch, destroyed the alternator, so not much damage really...”
‘He missed the irony and said “We’ve had a bit of a problem with these chains we’re getting from France. Next.” And that was that. But that’s racing, no warranties.
‘ The other half I must have bought somewhere. Sometimes when you use different halves you need to re-face the tops to get a flat face where the barrel sits, but these were very good anyway. Most of the bits to build the engine I had in stock from all my spares. I wanted a parallel port head, so I could run a single carb, but I only had a splayed one. It turned out Kevin had a parallel one but wanted a splayed one, so we just swapped. He removed the steel inlet stubs and machined up some threaded alloy top-hat inserts. Then I was able to drill and tap them to fit a single carb manifold. I’ve
used a single Mk1 Concentric, it’s used but a fairly decent one. The motor’s only on stock T140 cams and compression, and I’ve only lightly ported the head, but it seems to go well enough.
‘Most of the rest I just made up from bits and pieces. I filed out the triangular holes in the Aprilia top yoke to take Hinckley Triumph handlebar clamps. It’s an old Suzuki chainguard, and I made the battery box and oil tank using ex-Royal Enfield toolbox lids that Alastair Hillaby gave me. He also gave me a bunch of old T140 pipes that had worn chrome, so I cut and shut them to make the exhausts. The megas came from Feked, unassembled. I cut the long reverse cones in half, turned the ends inwards, fitted some wrapped perforated tube first, then welded all the bits together.
‘I have a variety of seat moulds in different widths, so I just used the right sized one to make up the seat base and hump from fibreglass, and I made the footrest plates and pedals and linkages, and just whatever else was needed really. Oh, I used a damaged Royal Enfield kickstart, I bent and reshaped it a lot. The boss is splined, not cotter pinned. So I cut the Triumph shaft in half, bored a hole down it, did the same to an Enfield one, used a cut-off drill shank as a spigot, pressed the two halves together, veed it out all the way round then welded it up.’
And with that, Gordon fired up the bike, first kick, from cold, and said ‘ Turn left at the end of the road if you want a shorter ride, or turn right if you want to head out into the country and some twisty bends. Take as long as you like, off you go.’ Simple as that. Let me tell you straight away, people, this bike is superb. It instantly feels ‘right’ beneath you. Light clutch (Gordon has his own mod using a specially faced ‘half plate’), easy going controls, neutral handling. Truly, it’s a revelation. I expected and got perfect carburetion. Anyone who’s raced Triumphs for as long as Gordon did should know a thing or two. But I was amazed by the flexibility. Talking about it afterwards, we were both genuinely surprised by how broad the power is. You can drop down to hardly any revs in the higher gears and the bike still pulls. Then you can short-shift and ride the torque, or hang on and use the upper rev range. Either way the bike just surges forward. The tone from the home-made silencers is superb too, deeper and not as harsh as a normal Triumph and almost more BSA-like.
The front end looks to be carrying a fair amount of rake, and the yokes have very little
lead, so I was expecting fairly slow steering. But on the move the bike is surprisingly neutral. Slower turns or higher speed cornering, the bike tracks really well, needing very little rider input. As you might imagine, when you really want to press on, the best way is to get all your braking and downshifts done first, then lay the bike down and power through the bends. You’re rewarded with lovely stable cornering – and of course that throaty roar from the exhaust.
Despite the economy origins of the forks and modified shocks, the suspension was actually very good at both ends, compliant enough to be comfy in combination with the excellent riding position, but firm enough that mid-corner rough surfaces didn’t induce any wayward misbehaviour. Braking was very good at the front. There’s not much weight for that large single disc and Brembo four-piston caliper to haul to a very rapid loss of speed when required. The rear brake, however, was frankly Not Very Good. Gordon agrees entirely. The linkage and rate seem fine, it’s most likely just a new set of pads needed. Apart from that, there’s very little to fault at all about the bike.
To say I was impressed is an understatement. That’s not to say I doubted Gordon’s talents, but he would be the first to admit that when you embark on these projects you never quite know how they will end up. Often there’s a rawness to a special build, sometimes indeed that’s the intention, to inject a little edginess into an otherwise bland, standard machine. Equally, the reward of having built your own motorcycle can overshadow any resultant shortcomings, but Gordon’s ER/Triumph really doesn’t have any.
The bike’s appearance is very ‘factory’. The lines and angles and shapes of the form; its purposeful look which reflects its functionality; the colour scheme – all these aspects belie the vast disparity of source material, the previous uses and eras of the various components. To make a bike that’s built from bits and pieces look so cohesive is one thing; to make it ride like that is quite another. Gordon’s special is as refined to ride as it looks, the elegant, almost monochrome carbon-fibre and stove-enamelled finish accentuating the alloy-highlighted but otherwise all black motor.
This thought came to me while I was blasting about through the countryside, stayed with me while I was trundling around the lanes, and still occupies my head now. If I’d not known anything about the origins of the bike, if I’d just bought it, even if I’d just bought it brand new and paid a considerable sum for it, I’d think it was great. I’d think the factory really knew what they were doing. I’d think the designers had worked well on the presentation, and the engineers had worked well on the performance and rideability. I’d think here was a bike I could really live with. Of course, you can’t a buy a bike like this today. You need fuel injection and watercooling and a host of modern technology to comply with current regulations. But if I had just bought this bike brand new, I would think I’d just spent my money really wisely.
I really can’t say any fairer than that.
2. Build up the rest of the machine, check that everything fits
5. A little extra bracing rarely goes amiss
6. Handsome swinging arm, and a neat location for the rear brake
3. Make up some rear engine plates, and convert a side panel from something else
4. Headsteadies are always a good idea with a Triumph twin
7. The special takes shape. Engine in, front end looking good
8. Detail. The answer always lies in the detail
1. Take a frame. Fit an engine to it. Sounds simple, no?
What it claims to be … it is
The bike boasts a right-foot shift, and a perfectly executed rear brake on this side
Front forks are from something else: from a Derbi GPR125 in fact
Rear end bounce is controlled by a pair of less than expensive shocks, while comfort is provided by a special seat, of course
Simple … and effective