Showing posts with label Classic British Motorcycles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Classic British Motorcycles. Show all posts

Triumph Speed Twin

Triumph Speed Twin 1930s British classic motorcycle

On the face of it, the Triumph Speed Twin was the quintessence of Englishness. But, it had Germany to thank for its existence. In 1902, two Germans - Siegfried Bettman and Mauritz Schulte - grafted a Belgian-made Minerva motor onto a bicycle. Believe it or not, Triumph was in business! Three years later, the Coventry-based company produced its own engine. It obviously ran well. Before too long, 'Trusty Triumph' had become a part of motorcycling vernacular.

The Speed Twin was launched in '37. Its parallel-twin motor made it faster and smoother than its single-cylinder rivals. The 498cc motor made 29bhp. Top speed was 90mph - heady stuff, at the time. The new bike was the brainchild of Edward Turner. It displayed commercial courage - as well as styling skill. The motorcycle industry is inherently conservative. In other words, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Single-cylinder 'thumpers' monopolized the market for years. Turner's Speed Twin broke the engine layout mould.

Mr. Turner did double-duty at Triumph. He was both head of design and general manager. His administrative tasks clearly did not impinge upon his creativity. The Speed Twin looked great standing still. And - with a dry weight of just 365lb - it looked even better, swinging through corners. Edward Turner - visionary that he was - had dreamed up a bike ahead of its time. The Triumph Speed Twin was a blueprint for many a motorcycle to come. 'Brit bikes' were on the march ... and coming to a showroom near you!

Ariel Red Hunter

Ariel Red Hunter 1940s British classic motorcycle

The Red Hunter was indiginous to the English Midlands - Ariel being based in Bournbrook, Birmingham. One of the original motorcycle manufacturers, it set up shop in 1902. By the '30s, Ariel was doing brisk business - so was in a position to attract top talent. That meant high-calibre designers like Edward Turner, Val Page and Bert Hopwood. All three became icons of British bike-building. Turner, in particular, proved pivotal to the success of two-wheeled Triumphs.

Ariel produced a steady stream of stylish, yet practical machines. One of the best was the Red Hunter. It was among a batch of single-cylinder four-strokes from the firm. These bikes were a great success - and a godsend to Ariel. Financial woes forced the factory to close temporarily. Jack Sangster then took over the Ariel reins - from father Charles, the firm's founder. Sangster reached out to Val Page - requesting that he come up with something to save the sinking ship. Page's response was the Red Hunter. It would not be long before the ailing firm was up on its feet again.

The Red Hunter's top speed - 82mph - was pretty damned quick in '37. Especially, from a 497cc motor. To extract that stat from just 26bhp was testament to Ariel engineering. Sadly, suspension tech of the era was not in the same league. Namely, girder forks at the front - and a rigid rear end! Even so, Red Hunter handling was impressive - given the constraints. At least, a comfortably-sprung seat helped make up for the deficiencies. That said - with its push-rod single-pot motor - it was never going to be the smoothest of rides. At the time, though, the Red Hunter was a luxury product. Certainly, it looked the part - resplendent in its 'red robin' plumage. As classic bikes go, the Ariel Red Hunter was really quite refined. And could shift a bit, too!

Douglas Dragonfly

Douglas Dragonfly 1950s British classic motorcycle

The Douglas Dragonfly broke the motorcycle mould. BMW is now almost synonymous with the flat-twin layout. Other marques, too, though, have used that venerable engine configuration. Not least, Douglas. The firm was based in Bristol, England. Its early models saw the motor fitted inline with the frame. The two pistons went at it hammer and tongs - 'punching' their way fore and aft. The Dragonfly, though, saw them slung transversely across the frame - à la BMW 'Boxer'. In any case, the Dragonfly made good progress - cruising at around 60mph. Beyond that optimal speed, however, performance tailed off dramatically. Ultimately, that would lead to the Dragonfly's decline.

Design-wise, the Dragonfly was on solid ground. If anything, slightly too solid. Does the way in which the headlamp nacelle flow into the fuel tank look a bit like a dragonfly? Possibly! Certainly, the Earles forks - and robust rear shocks - visually complemented each other. And - above them - the bike's logo was elegantly scripted. The Dragonfly's flat-twin powerplant was itself impressively wrought.

In '23, Douglas won at the TT. It was in the sidecar category. Freddie Dixon did the driving. Again, that historic outfit's 'boxer' motor was installed inline. The year before, on the 'island', a Douglas solo racer had been fitted with a delicate-looking little disc brake. Douglas, then, were innovating - technically and stylistically. And - when it comes to nomenclature - the Douglas Dragonfly must be one of the most poetically-named bikes of all time. Buzzin', basically!

Velocette Venom Thruxton

Velocette Venom Thruxton 1960s British classic motorcycle

Velocette was a stylish name for a motorcycle manufacturer. But, it did build sleek, sophisticated products. The Venom Thruxton was one of them. Venom aptly described the ferocity of the bike's tuned engine. Thruxton was, and still is, a racetrack - near Andover, England. That, too, was appropriate - since the circuit's free-flowing layout is tailor-made to give race bikes their head.

The Thruxton was first and foremost a roadster. That said, it was easily converted to Clubmans spec. As a production - or 'proddy' - racer, it provided the best of both worlds. Along with its potent motor, it boasted rock-solid suspension, light-alloy wheel-rims, and a twin-leading-shoe front brake. On the open road, the Thruxton cruised at 90mph. That was good going in '65 - especially from a single-pistoned machine.

The Thruxton was purposefully styled. Finessed features were a fishtail silencer and ventilated front drum brake. The Venom's jet-black paintwork was moodier than Marlon Brando - on a bad day! The cursive script of the Velocette logo set off a sweetly-shaped tank, to a tee. A combination, then, of rugged good looks and raw power, the Venom Thruxton spat two-wheeled poison. Best not get too close to it ... and the alluring aroma of its Castrol R oil!

Triumph Trident T150

Triumph Trident T150 1960s British classic motorcycle

Not even its most ardent fan would claim the Triumph Trident T150 to be the best-looking of bikes. Especially in the curve-conscious USA - where the Trident's straight-line styling was not to every taste. True - the Trident's 'ray-gun' silencer was Batman-flash. But that alone was not sufficient to rescue a somewhat staid design. Ergonomically, too, things were decidedly conventional. Particularly the 'sit up and beg' riding position. This was a British-built bike, after all … not a cool American cruiser. Styling-wise, it was more stiff upper lip!

On the performance chart, though, the Trident's spikes were higher. It made steady progress up to a top speed of 125mph. And there was high-quality handling, to match. Unfortunately for the Trident, the timing of its '69 launch was not great. The Honda CB750's release was just around the corner. And the Japanese machine's four-cylinder engine would usher in a new dawn for motorcycling.

Not that that mattered at the racetrack. The Triumph Trident would be etched into the annals of sporting history - by the legend that was 'Slippery Sam'. Percy Tait took the Trident-based racer to production TT triumph - from '71 through to '75. At Stateside circuits, too, Triumph triples blazed a trail. In large part, that was thanks to their Rob North frames. In '71, Gene Romero finished second at Daytona. His Triumph looked suitably resplendent in its blue-and-white fairing. A mixed review, then, for the Trident. While it was cheered to the echo at the citadels of racing, design-conscious road-riders were not always as rapturous. But if the Triumph Trident T150 was ever thought of as a tad dull - that was before its throttle was twisted!

Vincent Rapide

Vincent Rapide 1950s British classic motorcycle

In '49, the Vincent Rapide was a superbike. At the time, a top speed of 110mph was seriously quick. Handling-wise, it was impressive, too. Philip Vincent designed its cantilever rear suspension set-up while still at school. He just had not got round to founding the company at that point! And at the front end, too, the Rapide was suspended by state of the art hydraulic forks.

Naturally, such advanced engineering sought competitive expression. Land speed record attempts followed. In line with tradition, Bonneville Salt Flats - in Utah, USA - played host to them. Rollie Free topped out at fractionally over 150mph, on a suitably tuned Rapide. His protective clothing consisted of just shoes and swimming trunks - the better to save weight. Now, that is commitment!

The Rapide was a good-looking motorcycle. Vincent's scrolled emblem embellished a shapely tank - which itself sat atop a metal masterpiece of an engine. Pleasing lines popped up everywhere. Among them were latticed spokes, curved exhausts - and the deft diagonals of the shocks. The Vincent Rapide, then, was visually stunning - and had performance to match!

BSA DBD34 Gold Star

BSA DBD34 Gold Star 1950s British classic motorcycle

In a hit parade of the best all-time classic motorcycles, the BSA DBD34 Gold Star would be in with a bullet. And of the plethora of bikes produced by the 'Birmingham Small Arms' company, the Gold Star went straight to 'number 1'. The 'Goldie' wrote the book on classic bike charisma. Its name was a tribute to Walter Handley's 100mph lap of the UK's most famous banked oval racetrack. Handley was awarded a Brooklands Gold Star, for his high-speed trouble.

The Goldie was a great-looking machine. Race-style, clip-on 'bars crouched over a chrome tank - emblazoned with the Gold Star badge. Below, focus flowed from a gaping Amal carburettor - through the finned cylinder-block - to a stylish swept-back pipe. Such visual extravagance was matched technically. The Gold Star roadster had a straight-line speed of 110mph.

In sporting terms, the Gold Star was a versatile competitor. It shone not only in road racing - but in motocross and trials, too. '56 saw the bike's stellar début - at the Isle of Man Clubmans TT. The BSA DBD34 Gold Star was a café racer dream come true. Fast-forward a few decades ... and there is many a classic motorbike fan still dreaming!

Triumph T120 Bonneville

Triumph T120 Bonneville 1960s British classic motorcycle

The Triumph T120 Bonneville must be among the most iconic motorbikes ever made. Indeed, its name alone is liable to induce weak knees in its devotees. The Bonnie - as it was dubbed - invokes visions of a time when the material world was made out of metal. Plastic, back then, was but a brittle blip on the horizon. Now, it goes without saying that the future of the planet comes before that of classic motorcycles ... well, it does, according to non-bikers, anyway! That said, the petroleum and oils of yesteryear had a 'spirit' - which today's sanitised synthetics singularly lack. Such 'aromatic' products were an essential part of the design icon that is the Triumph Bonneville.

It is ironic that a bike that so epitomises Sixties Britain should reference the US. Utah's Bonneville salt flats have long been the snow-white setting for many a piece of high-speed history. In '56, for example, Johnny Allen climbed aboard a Triumph Streamliner - and proceeded to gun it up to 214mph. The Triumph Bonneville roadster was good for just over half that. Still, 110mph was more than enough for most 'ton-up boys', at the time. Indeed, it allowed them 10mph leeway ... in case of headwinds, perhaps - or less than clean carbs! Bonnie aficionados spent so much time in the saddle that it became a virtual part of their anatomies. And that was pre-computer games!

In Triumph's glory days, the Bonneville was the beacon for the brand. Some quarter of a million Bonnies passed through the firm's Meriden factory gates. On the Isle of Man, a Bonneville won the Production TT - in '67. Two seasons later, and a Bonneville set the first 'proddy racer' 100mph lap of 'the island'. Those ton-up boys must have been in seventh heaven! And even on less celebrated roads, the Triumph T120 Bonneville was a legend in its own landscape. So, when the rockers decamped to the seaside, that infamous day in the Sixties - to do battle with the mods - it is a safe bet there was many a Bonnie blasting down to Brighton beach!