BUILD­ING THE SPE­CIAL

Real Classic - - Kawasaki-triumph 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

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