Table of contents
The myth of triumph
The myth of triumph
The twin of life
A company history like a novel and bikes like a movie: Triumph, the world’s oldest existing motorcycle factory, is celebrating its hundredth. MOTORRAD blows Speed Twin and Bonnie for a birthday serenade.
Germans build boxers, Japanese fours, Italians and Americans build Vau twos and English build parallel twins.
Two upright cylinders, finely ribbed, blocked and compact gear, characteristic covers for the motor and primary drive housing. Above all: great sound, full performance, clear construction. Only a comparison with contemporaries makes it clear how sensational they are Speed twin from 1937 is. The new 500cc Triumph weighs little more than the standard single-cylinder, and it also costs ?? that makes her one of the nicer dreams ?? hardly any more.
As early as 1937, Triumph were nicknamed trusty, reliable. It may have been created during World War I, when the H model with its side-controlled 550 single-cylinder became particularly popular. Siegfried Bettmann had delivered around 30,000 motorcycles to the Royal Army. Born in Nuremberg and trained as a businessman, Germanic activities had long been unsuspected, and he even became mayor of his new home in Coventry. His steadily growing factory for Triumph bicycles and motorcycles stood in the center of the central English industrial city. And he brought the company to the fore: 30,000 bikes plus a number of cars left his halls at the end of the twenties.
Unfortunately, Bettmann, shaken by the global economic crisis, hurried off the motorcycle stage rather disdainfully: Because he and his managing directors believed more in cars, they sold the bikes to Ariel boss Jack Sangster in 1936. This in turn resulted in the birth of the Speed Twin, and that shows how close life can be to the soap opera: Val Page came from Ariel to Triumph and developed wonderful single-cylinder and an equally impressive 650 twin. Edward Turner, made chief developer after the takeover of Sangster, had worked at Ariel under Val Page. Somehow, the two of them must have had something else to do, because the first thing Turner did was renovate the Page single-cylinder, and then stop the lovely twin.
Far too difficult, far too complicated. Turner learned his lesson when he developed the quirky Ariel Square Four because everything he creates after that takes production and production costs into account. Even marketing is no stranger to those in their thirties, certainly promoted by the fact that they pocket a few percent of the profit. In any case, his model names come off well? Tiger is the name of the single cylinder, 70, 80 or 90 stands for the expected top speed in miles.
Even the Speed Twin doesn’t get past 90. Intention? In any case, Turner has something to add to the next year. Namely, the Tiger 100, with 33 instead of 27 hp and with a bit of luck suitable for a 100-mile racer. Multiply a good 160 things by 1.61. The war sends Tiger and Speed Twin into exile, trusty triumphs are in demand, and in this respect disdainful side valves still enjoy greater trust.
But the war not only interrupted the career of the ingenious Speed Twin, it also destroyed the life’s work of an ambitious German businessman: On November 14, 1940, German bombs laid the Triumph motorcycle works in ruins. When life begins again, the Triumph are already rolling off the ribbon in the suburb of Meriden. The Speed Twin is there, of course, including the Tiger. The whole thing is managed again by Edward Turner, who after a heated argument and a short BSA guest appearance preferred to return to his lucrative position.
63 millimeters bore and its 80 stroke, a good 160 kilograms, no rear suspension, but now with a telescopic fork at the front: the Speed Twin takes off, hardly braking in the literal or figurative sense. For the starving home market, Turner actually only has a 350 series on offer, the fast 500 series both openly squint at wealthier US boys. And they are powerless against these radically sporty bikes.
The wild fifties can begin. Departure. Freedom. Tempo. One or two gentle kicks, and the twin starts babbling. His gear lever is on the right, his foot is pressed down, and first gear engages with a groan. Letting go of the clutch, a little gas, of course, everyone knows the exercise, but that it works so naturally with a motorcycle over 50 years old … Up into the second, it soon becomes a pleasure to see how smoothly the engine accelerates However, it is clear that it can handle and need more speed than English singles. Langhuber like this one, but with much less flywheel mass, it only really wakes up on higher tours.
Handy like a 250cc, this is the praise for many large-volume Brit bikes. In fact, none of them comes close to the Speed Twin, because it almost spins on the plate, and that screams out ?? offroad. Tradition in England, very fashionable in USA. Turner’s just as civilized as it is high-performance half-liter starts to turn a long nose for the singles: the Trophy appears in 1949, and it lays the foundation for the wildest form of driving a Triumph Twin. What a show, when something like that gurgles in tight turns, when it hits the gas without hesitation and starts barking while drifting out. We raced them, we scrambled them, we did everything with them: A petite twin has replaced the terrier as the man’s best friend.
But how it works: Because American men in particular believe that bigger is better, the active US importers are demanding more displacement. They also sense danger, because the competition is also working on twins. Edward Turner ?? in constant concern for his and the company’s profits ?? Drills from 63 to 71 millimeters and increases the stroke by two to 82 millimeters: Speed Twin gets a big sister in 1949.
The Thunderbird proves two things: First, that there was a time when Triumph had its ear closer to the market than anyone else. Second, that Triumph recognized the importance of US exports earlier than any other company. In good years, more than two thirds of all large bikes cross the pond. Initially, such a brisk export is a prerequisite for the allocation of rationed materials, but even after the end of the forced economy, Turner does not see at all that he should look at Europe again. Triumph becomes part of a wonderful leisure industry. The boss knows that, he doesn’t even have to look at Marlon Brando as “The wild one” on his T-Bird.
In slight contradiction to this realization, there is Turner’s aversion to certain and especially the expensive forms of motorsport. While Norton employs a small army of factory drivers and even builds the racing Manx in series, Turner supports the Six Days team at best. He leaves his Americans to thunder and break records over salt lakes. In order to have a rifle at hand when they want to sell their journeys. Where was this salt lake? Bonneville. That has sound. The only thing missing is the bike for the name. In order to come close to doing justice to the good Johnny Allen and his 310, later even 345 km / h, the 650 twin now gets two carburettors and a one-piece crankshaft and a few other little things ?? then with its 46 hp it becomes one of the greatest successes in motorcycle history.
The best motorcycle in the world ?. Definitely a superbike. Not as stable as the Norton feather bed, but faster. And more beautiful. Plus still pretty trusty. It cemented the 650cc displacement as the measure of all things for the next few years, no one can imagine needing even more power. This view is now out of date. On the other hand, the wonderful drivability of the Bonnie could one day turn out to be a classic value: As soon as the Smith tachometer shows only 1100 revs, the synchronous runner accelerates properly when accelerating. Not like a muscle mountain trained for speed, more like an experienced hero of work. Casual, efficient, skillful.
An ignition every 360 degrees, both pistons race up and down in lockstep, 6500 times a minute when 46 hp are to be generated. Only in the upper speed range is the power output accompanied by an aggressive sound, up to 5000 tours it all sounds like an increasingly energetic swelling trumpet. Which already suggests listening to this solo at changing speeds. Those who are less musically inclined are reminded of this by the, well, let’s say hard vibrations at constant speeds. Co-rotation, inertia forces as with a single cylinder.
Vibration damage is an issue. When the streets get better and people get hot from A to B. When the CB 750 and the like show how easy it is, and the Bonnie heroes don’t want to be petty and turn the collar off their bike on the autobahn. That then is the obviously tragic part of the Bonnie story.
But actually the drama of this world class motorcycle started much earlier. Triumph has been part of BSA since 1951. Sangster had sold for a respectable price, remained in the management of the company, to which Ariel also belonged at the time. Later he even took over the management again, Turner became head of development for all brands, at Triumph everything stayed the same. But only somehow, because the bottom line is that Meriden played cash cow. Triumph profits seeped away throughout the group. Engines were swapped back and forth, the brands lost their profile, good ideas ?? for example the three-cylinder Trident ?? were discussed until they were only half as good.
The Triumph and BSA twins from 1971 onwards were to wear a standard frame. The classy Bonnie became plump. Then it should be built in Birmingham. The workers went on strike. For 18 months. When they started producing again in 1975, the Bonnie was actually already dead.
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