In the early 1980’s the ‘Cruiser’ class was growing like crazy. The Japanese manufacturers were selling them faster than they could make them. I know because I was selling motorcycles at the time, the dealership owners even made me ride one as a demo bike for three months. I was happy I had a full face helmet, nobody knew it was me?
Harley thought they had the market cornered but the Big Four from Japan were eating away at Harleys market share like a Pit Bull with a fat juicy pork chop. Harley Davidson even got Congress to pass a tariff bill against bikes from Japan over 700cc. Those were weird times. But cruisers kept selling…even the Suzuki Madura.
Triumph was in decline and were doing everything they could to keep going so they entered the ‘Criuser’ market with the TSX. Triumph took the standard Bonneville and gave it a couple of tweaks. The main thing that was changed was lowering the bike. Change the shock angle, a 16″ rear wheel. Next was adding a stepped seat. Then for looks, they blacked out the engine cases. That’s pretty much it, instant Cruiser. This was the last hurrah for Triumph. It was a good bike, not great but good.
I found a really nice one on ebay this morning. It’s all stock (which I like), not too many miles and only one ding in the tank…oh well. If you’d like to have a classic bike that is a bit unusual (not many were exported to the US), comfortable to ride and won’t break the bank, click on the link below for more info and more pictures.
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1983 Triumph TSX 750</a><img style=”text-decoration:none;border:0;padding:0;margin:0;” src=”http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?ff3=2&pub=5574881880&toolid=10001&campid=5336495545&customid=1983+Triumph+TSX+750&item=361542053185&mpt=%5BCACHEBUSTER%5D”>
When most motorcycle people think of Classic British Motorcycles the first bike to come to mind is the Bonneville. Well, except for my friend Ken…who thinks Norton was far better looking and more fun to ride (he also holds two Bonneville Salt Flat Speed records on a Norton…no wonder he’s a bit biased).
By the standards of the time it was light, great handling, plenty of power and beautiful to look at. It was, and still is to this day, a wonderful motorbike. The Bonneville of the era was the perfect platform for anything you wanted it to do. The Bonnie would travel (leaving a small trail of oil along its way so you could find your way home), you could race it, turn it into a cafe racer, or if you were sick enough…a chopper..Even though I think that those that chopped Bonneville’s (some ??are pretty good looking) should be sentenced to motorcycle prison for life with no parole…but thats just me.
The Bonneville is the bike that did everything good but nothing great until you got your hands dirty…then it became close to heaven on two wheels. In 1976 Triumph got its hands dirty. The motor was upgraded with better pistons, rods,bigger oil pumps (so you can leave more on your garage floor) , electronic ignition (now you don’t have to rely on the Lucas (the Prince of Darkness) and you got a better front suspension. oh, and an electric start. For those of us that have ridden older Triumphs there was also a shift change …from the right side to the left, which had become the norm universally.
In my heart I do believe that the Triumph Bonneville is one of the few perfect motorcycles ever made, including the new generation Bonnies. When you stab the kickstarter on an older model or hit the button on a new generation version it has a soul that says “lets go and lets go fast”. It may not have the rumble and grumble of an American V-Twin but the Triumphs soul of speed is there in your right hand.
I found a great one on ebay this morning that honestly needs virtually nothing. It’s beautiful. Well I would change one thing…I really don’t like those ‘Buckhorn’ handlebars. Other than that..a wonderful piece of British motorcycling.
Click on the link below for more pictures and a more detailed description.
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1979 Triumph T140e Bonneville</a><img style=”text-decoration:none;border:0;padding:0;margin:0;” src=”http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?ff3=2&pub=5574881880&toolid=10001&campid=5336495545&customid=1979+Triumph+T140e+Bonneville&item=191850760027&mpt=%5BCACHEBUSTER%5D”>
The Thunderbird is one of the motorcycles my step dad put me on at the beginning of motorcycling life. Well, actually after a Yamaha 80 and a Bultaco 250…he wasn’t so dumb as to put a teenager in the late 60’s on one of his treasured motorcycles. But when he did, well, life changed forever. My life was ruined…I fell in love with British motorcycles.
The Thunderbird was a variant of the 500cc Speed Twin. As Triumph was growing in the American market they realized riders wanted more power…we Americans love more power. Hell, we have lawnmowers that have more power than some motorcycles!! The Speed Twin was punched out to 650cc. The Thunderbird was the model that got all the other British builders to jump up to 650cc.
The 1950’s were the heyday of the Thunderbird but then came the Bonneville. The T-Bird was relegated to entry level status or as it was called then..the working mans bike. A commuter. The Bonnie had everything the Thunderbird didn’t. Well, the T-Bird still had Marlon Brando.The Thunderbird was of the ‘Pre-Unit’ era of bikes (1949-1962) …the engine and transmission were separate pieces, but in 1963Triumph adopted unit construction. This really was a good thing. It made it easier at the factory level, easier for you and I to maintain and the bike lost thirty pounds. All good.
In ’63 not only did the T-Bird get the new motor it also got needed chassis improvements, but as things go so did the Thunderbird by 1966. The Thunderbird was a great bike, it did everything you would want a motorcycle to do but the Bonneville was much more alluring. I also think that the Bathtub body work didn’t help the ‘Bird’. 1965 was the last year of the body work. Now I look at it and think this is very cool…for it’s time. Does it make the bike more valuable? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I found one ebay this morning that is need of some TLC. The potential is there it’s just going to need some love. The seller says it runs good. These are great bikes just don’t abuse them, take care of them and this is a bike that will give you years of fun…and oil leaks, but what the hell, the body work is worth it! You won’t see one of these everywhere you go. Oh, and check out the headlight nacelle…too cool.
Click on the link below for more pictures and a little (and I mean little) bit of info.
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1965 Triumph Thunderbird</a><img style=”text-decoration:none;border:0;padding:0;margin:0;” src=”http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?ff3=2&pub=5574881880&toolid=10001&campid=5336495545&customid=1965+Triumph+Thunderbird&item=252345894051&mpt=%5BCACHEBUSTER%5D”>
I found a very interesting collection of bikes on ebay this morning…Ok, it’s just a guy clearing out his garage. We’ve all had to do that over the years either because we ran out of room for the new motorcycles we wanted or more than likely because our wives were tired of having to look at what she considered junk and couldn’t get to what she was trying to get to.
So, this guy has two interesting motorcycles and one that goes on the front bumper of a motorhome bound for Florida. First is a 1969 Triumph Tiger Cub, a simple little 250cc motorcycle. The Cub was unreliable, period. It had lubrication issues, bearing problems, a weak triple tree and of course Lucas electrics. But still an interesting little motorcycle.
Next up, a Honda VT500 Ascot. In my view this is the gem of the bunch. Truthfuly the VT500 wasn’t the most powerful bike of it’s era or genre, yet…it worked. Now I have to say, it has one of the most ugly headlight setups I have ever seen. I would instantly change it! Except the wiring harness would probably be an absolute nightmare…a good Saturday project.
The VT500 didn’t have all that much horsepower (54…That seems plenty for having a lot of fun?!) but what it did have was a nice tight chassis that gave the bike really fun handling. It was styled after the FT500 Ascot single (which I raced for years) but came with a 6 speed tranny, shaft drive and a little more comfortable ergo’s. My old friend Mike Eaton (one of the greatest surfboard builders ever!!!) had one. I got a chance to ride it on the twisty roads of Point Loma in San Diego and had way too much fun. This is a great bike.
Next is a 1972 Suzuki Rover. Put it on the front of your motorhome and hang out at the KOA’s across the country on your way to visit the Grandkids in Florida. Actually, this could be a really fun little trail bike, however, it went over like a fart in church. Didn’t sell. But hey, everybody can use something to take up space in their garage. You could probably hide this little bike behind all the other junk your wife doesn’t know about (yeah right).
It’s a pretty interesting package deal. Click on the pics for more info and pictures. And by the way, this seller is by far the worst picture taker I have ever seen! Do not let him or her come to your wedding!!!
99% of us know Triumph as a British motorcycle company. Another 75% of us know that they started by making bicycles (very common in early motorcycle manufacturing) in the late 1800’s. 5% of us know that Triumph was started by two German brothers.
I was not part of the 5% until today. I found a very interesting old Triumph on ebay this morning. As I was reading the description it said it was German. OK? I looked at the pictures and noticed that the logo on the tank knee pads was different than what we are used do. Time for research.
1886 Bicycles in England, 1902 Motorcycles in England, 1903 Motorcycles in Germany (homeland of the brothers that founded Triumph). Then here comes World War One. In 1913 the company diverged.Triumph Germany became TWN; Triumph Werk Nuremburg
Triumph Germany mainly developed 2 stroke motorbikes while Coventry focused on 4 strokes. TWN built military motorbikes through world War Two. TWN used the ‘Twingle’ motor of which the bike I found today.
Twingles are really interesting. Two pistons in one cylinder. There are two separate bores, one for intake and one for exhaust but they share a common combustion chamber, a very efficient design. Sears and Roebuck sold Twingles (made by PUCH of Austria) under the Allstate brand for a number of years.
Back to the BD250. It was mainly designed for the military and was equipped with hardware to mount a sidecar, important during the war. It was also quite fast for a 250cc, again important in the war.
The one I found today is really nice and would be wonderful fun. It has had some renovation work done, not museum level (I like that) but looks great. It will probably need some work to become rideable but there again is part of the fun of owning a bike like this. A little side note here, the was nicknamed “the Hedgehog”.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures.
The first motorcycle I ever crashed was a 1952 Triumph Thunderbird. Well, wait…I did ride my fathers CB160 into the back bumper of his new Impala but all that was was an ‘OOPS’…no real damage except to my 14 year old pride.
The Thunderbird was my step dads pride and joy and I did a pretty good job of causing he and me quite a bit of work…and money. There went my next two months paychecks. Besides learning how to fix old British motorbikes (including how to cut your own cork clutch plates) I learned to love British bikes. I still have one.
After the crash my stepdad actually let me ride it again and again until I could afford my own Triumph. Over the next few years we went through a couple of Bonnevilles, a BSA or two and a T100R Daytona that I kept for years. He kept the Thunderbird until he passed away just a few years ago.
The Thunderbird was a grown up version of the very popular 500cc Speed Twin. At this point in time Triumph was working hard at a gaining a marketing foothold in America. They had to compete with Harley Davidson and Indian. The 500 didn’t have the same ‘stuff’ the big V-Twins had. The down low grunt, the sound and the look.
When the 5T was pumped up to 650cc it gained enough horsepower to be quicker than the big twins and that was very appealing to the American market. Triumph was also using the ‘Sprung Hub’ rear suspension which was a huge improvement over the regular rigid frame that was common on most motorcycles of the time. Nowadays we are so spoiled with the suspensions we have available to us!
Most of us of a “certain age” have seen the 1953 movie “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando. This movie was about a motorcycle gang that rides into town and wrecks havoc. All in good fun??? Well, in this movie Marlon Brando is riding a Triumph Thunderbird and it was the first time a motorcycle logo / brand name was shown in a film…pretty cool huh. Though it may not have been the image Triumph wanted to portray or maybe it was good marketing. Oh, here’s another cool thing. In the movie, Marlon was riding a Black Thunderbird, Triumph didn’t make a black T-Bird. After the success of the movie, for a very short run, Triumph made a black bike and called it the Blackbird. Always have throw in a bit of useless trivia.
I found a 1952 T-Bird on ebay this morning that is going to require more love than God gave the Isrealites. I have shown you basket cases that I thought would fun to put back together and I’ve shown you bikes that just needed some simple love. But…to get this one rideable could take as Led Zepplin would say, “A Whole Lotta Love….” Now you can keep this bike as a ‘Bobber’ style, you can turn it into a very cool Cafe Racer or if you’re incredibly ambitious return it to stock. Good luck. I would imagine that finding an original headlight nacelle with the instruments in it would be , well difficult to say the least. Maybe not though?
I wrote about this today because of my personal connection to a ’52 Thunderbird. Click on the pics below for more pictures and a little info.
For some weird reason I apparently am on a BSA kick. I started my road riding life on a BSA, I restored a BSA C15 (which got stolen out of my garage while I was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich) and my friend sold his BSA to another friend who then sold it to another poor unsuspecting soul. Such is the life of vintage (old) British motorbikes. BSA’s being hugely popular for some reason never reached the same level of sainthood that Triumph did???? I don’t know why.
I rode a 1969 Triumph Daytona 500, much like the BSA A50 but with better handling. Here is what I figured out about BSA motorcycles. They may have not had the quick, light, agile, quick handling of the Triumph (same company by the way) but the BSA was the sturdier of the two.
Think about this for a moment…when Triumph came out with the X75 Hurricane (which I lust for each and every day) it was the BSA motor. Craig Vetter made the perfect pairing.
So, back to the A50. This is a great motorcycle. This is a bike that I would have no problem throwing on a set of soft saddlebags, a tank bag and going for a nice long (2 weeks or more) ride. well, the saddlebags would however have to have a quart or two of Castrol in them….
500cc is plenty enough to get you anywhere you want to go. Most of the world rides around on 125cc! Your Pizza and mail in Mexico gets delivered on a 125cc motorbike! Robert Persig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance…which I still think is a crappy book and I don’t understand why people hold it in such high esteem?) took a cross-country trip on a 450 cc motorcycle two up. 500cc is really plenty.
Championships were won on BSA’s…Dick Mann, Jim Rice, Keith Mashburn all winners on BSA’s yet BSA seemed to be the ugly stepchild compared to Triumph. BSA took chances that Triumph didn’t. Remember the ‘Ray Gun’ mufflers on the Rocket Three? The kinda flat gas tank and the grey frame on the Lightning? Still, BSA lead the troops but some did not follow. Too bad.
I found a really nice BSA A50 on ebay this morning. Low miles, great condition (for its age) and a bike that would be so much FUN to ride.The seat is ugly but it can be changed easily enough, other than that…buy it and ride it.
Click on the pics below for more picture and more info. This is a very cool motorcycle
I started my street bike life on a Lightning 650. It vibrated, it leaked oil everywhere (we called it marking it’s territory…or also remembering where you parked it), and it was a bit unreliable. Some days it would run great, others…well, not so much. But…I loved the bike. Up until the day I traded it in on a Kawasaki H2. My step dad was not all that pleased (I think he was a high priest in the British motorcycle community back then) but he did give me some sort of a blessing?
The 650 Lightning was and is a great example of British Motorcycles. It may not have the name recognition of the Triumph Bonneville but if you put them head to head or wheel to wheel the BSA is right there. Just ask Dick Mann.
BSA actually started out as a Gun Manufacturer..Birmingham Small Arms.In the later part of the 1800’s BSA started building bicycles it was just a natural expansion of their industrialization, from there it was motorcycles.By the mid 20th century BSA was the worlds largest producer of motorcycles! Also at that time BSA owned Triumph, Ariel, Sunbeam…they were huge. Busses, farm equipment weapons…an industrial giant. Then it all fell apart. But, BSA hung on until it no longer could. Most people I know in the Vintage Bike world would probably choose a Triumph over a BSA very time. The Triumph is quicker handling thats true but, the BSA is truly a roadworthy machine. A bit smoother, more comfortable and a chassis that is designed for riding distances.
I found a very nice A65 Lightning on ebay this morning that has a very good selling price and is in quite good condition. It has been gone through pretty thorouhly so should be an instant rider. Although, I would instantly get rid of those horrible ‘Buckhorn’ handlebars and put something far more appropriate, like a set of Euro Touring bars.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and info about this very clean BSA Lightning
Ok, lets face it, this was not BSA’s finest hour in some people’s opinion. The Rocket 3 was a rather late answer to Honda’s market changing CB750-4, but still the Rocket 3 is an incredible motorcycle.
By 1971 BSA was trying everything they possibly could to sell bikes, sadly this version of a great bike went over like a fart in church. They painted the frame a dull grey, they made the gas tank smaller (you could only go about 75 miles before you started pushing) and it was kick start only…where’s the magic button? and of course, you always knew where you left your bike parked because it marked its spot with a bit of Castrol. Oh and did I mention the brakes? Think of Fred Flintstone? Ok,enough of the downsides, there is a lot of ups to the Rocket 3.
Yes, the Honda CB750 had a disc brake up front, yes it had an electric starter, it could go more than 75 miles on a tank of gas, and yeah, it was comfortable. But…the Rocket 3 was faster, handled better and had a soul that the Japanese four couldn’t match. That soul, sadly, didn’t transfer into sales however.
Over the course of its production run, the BSA went through the ugliest gas tank every put on a motorbike to the one of the coolest set of mufflers ever put on a motorbike (the”Ray Gun Muffler”) and yet still retained the power and handling that made it great.
Interestingly enough, more people are more familiar with the Triumph Trident than the Rocket 3. Same motorcycle, different badges (Triumph was part of the BSA group at the time). If you believe that, you would be wrong. Here’s what made the BSA better. The frame was fully welded versus the Triumph’s ‘lugged and brazed’ frame (Schwinn bicycles use lug and brazed construction), one reason why the BSA handled better. Number 2; The motor was tilted forward in the frame 15 degrees where the Triumph was straight up, this gave the Beezer better weight balance and more responsive handling.
In 1971 Dick Mann won the Daytona 200 roadrace on a Rocket 3. Interestingly enough, he previously won on a Honda CB750. This was the Rocket 3’s swan song.
Given the choice, I would pick a BSA Rocket 3 over a Trident every time (don’t tell my friend Ted…who loves his Trident more than well, more than just about anything?) And, think about this…a motorcycle that I would give up my entire collection for (I’d still have to finance the balance for one…) the Triumph X75 Hurricane, uses the BSA motor.
So, I found a really nice ’71 Rocket 3 on ebay today and it is one of those that has the grey frame and the small gas tank, but hey, I like it. The bike is a semi-restored model, which means it still needs a few bits and pieces, but is a good runner. 11,100 miles on the clock and has the usual oil drips but this is a really cool bike that will be great fun to ride for a long time. You would be amazed at how smooth a well sorted triple really is. I would have no problem throwing a tank bag and a set of soft saddle bags on and heading around the country on this bike.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures.
Not too many people are familiar with OSSA motorcycles much less Yankee. A quick history here…isn’t that part of the charm of this blog???
OSSA actually started out making movie projectors in the 1920’s, motorcycles didn’t come along until after World War Two. At that time a lot of motorcycle companies got into the business of making (or importing) smaller two stroke motorbikes…BSA, Yamaha and even Harley Davidson. It was also a time that Moto-Sport was growing. Europe was the international base for all things motorcycling…Moto-Cross, Enduro’s, Trials and Road Racing. The only Moto-Sport America can lay claim to is Desert Racing.
Up until the mid to late 1960’s American Desert Racing was dominated by Triumph, BSA, and Harley Davidson…big, heavy, single and twin cylinder bikes from Britain and here at home, then came the Europeans with their light weight two strokes and literally and figuratively left everybody in a cloud of two stroke smoke and dust.Husqvarna,Bultaco,Montessa,OSSA,DKW,Penton,KTM…the list goes on. The Japanese got into the game as well.
OSSA was primarily known for its Trials and Enduro bikes but also had some relative success in both Moto-Cross and Road Racing. In the late 1960’s Eduardo Giro (grandson of the OSSA founder) developed a Monocoque framed road racer that in the hands of Santiago Herrero won four 250GP’s. Sadly Sr. Herrero was killed at the Isle of Man in 1970. After the death of their racer, OSSA withdrew from roadracing and focussed on Trials.
Here in the United States, OSSA was popular in Flat Track racing, National Champion and racing legend Dick Mann won the 1969 Santa Fe National ShortTrack aboard an OSSA he helped develop…cool huh?
Now you know enough about OSSA to get you laughed out of any motorcycle trivia game. But this post is about the Yankee Z500, which is basically two OSSA 250’s mated together. The motor was originally developed for European road courses but they were also looking for versatility both on and off road. The Yankee Motorcycle Company was the importer of OSSA Moto Cross and Enduro machines and John Taylor, the head of Yankee in New York wanted to design and build a bike that would compete with the Euro’s but be better by being more powerful,better built, more reliable and faster. OSSA was well known for being reliable, some thing I can’t say about my beloved(?) Bultaco’s. Mr. Taylor enlisted the help of Dick Mann to design the chassis which had some unique features such as a rear disc brake, the first of its kind on a dirt bike. Also, low gear in the standard 6 speed transmission, which wasn’t allowed in AMA racing, could be disabled to comply with the rules. And one more cool thing about the Yankee…the top fork crowns were manufactured by Smith and Wesson. I guess you could shoot somebody if they got ahead of you on the trail? Just kidding, this is non-violent blog.
There were 762 Yankee Z500’s built. A couple of things happened here, first production delays. The first 500’s didn’t come the assembly line until 1971 and by that time the Japanese manufacturers had really stepped up their development and Yankee was now behind the curve. Secondly, no matter how good they rode, they were a bit on the heavy side for serious Enduro riders. So production of the Z model was discontinued after a short run. But I have a question, there was a regular street going 500, has anyone seen one here in the U.S? This motorbike looked to have huge potential? Why wasn’t it brought to market? Granted the road going two strokes were starting to fade by that time. Could it have competed with the Suzuki T500? Oh yeah!!. The Kawasaki triples?,Handling yes, performance no. The Yamaha twins? Probably so.
Today I found a really nice, I mean really nice 1972 Yankee Z500 on ebay. This bike has only 1880 miles on the odo, it is all original with the exception of the front fender which is a Preston Petty unit which is period correct. It is not a runner but the seller says it has good compression, kicks through and shifts through all the gears. My guess is that getting it running should be pretty easy, it has just been sitting decades. The bike is cosmetically in great condition it appears. So, I think someone should get this bike and make a very unique and cool cafe racer out of it…what else would I think?
Click on the pics below for more pictures and some info.