1939 Triumph T100 ‘custom’

When I acquired an original paint 1939 Triumph Tiger T100 frame and gearbox the fun began, as I wanted to put together a race-style bike like someone would have built or modified either pre-war or immediately post-war.

Making it a rolling chassis was my first priority, and a Norton pre-war girder fork was fitted to the frame, followed by a Norton 16H hub and brake. The rear wheel hub is late model Triumph, the kind with the sealed bearings rather than taper style rollers. The larger diameter axle had to have flats machined in it so it would slip into the dropouts. The modern brake plate was trimmed of its dust ring, and the brake shoe pivot was sweated out and a new one machined up and TIG-welded to the plate by Derek Pauletto at Trillion Industries. This new piece slides into the channel on the frame and acts as a brake plate retaining device. The rims — 21″ front and 19″ rear — came from Central Wheel Components in the U.K., and Buchanan’s in the U.S. laced everything together with stainless steel spokes. Front tire is ribbed 3.00-21″ Avon, and rear is 3.50-19″ Avon Speedmaster.

A mangled Triumph 3T rear fender was fixed using the removable rear portion. A section of the main fender had to be cut out, with a section of the rear welded in place by Derek Pauletto. I never intended to run a front fender, but more on this later.PREWAR_TRI_1

Meanwhile, the hunt was on for a set of pre-war engine cases. I missed a set that was for sale locally at a swap meet. The purchaser immediately put them up on eBay and quadrupled his money. Thanks to Les Binnell of Ontario, he sold me a set of his surplus cases for a reasonable price, and a 650cc Triumph crank was found. SRM provided proper shell bearing connection rods. The barrels came out of England, as did the head. Motoparts in Edmonton machined the crank and fit the rods and new +.060 pistons to the bored cylinders. A timeworn set of primary cases turned up on eBay, and by now, it became evident that the parts I was gathering all had a certain amount of ‘age’ to them.

I liked this worn look, so instead of going for a restoration, the pieces were cleaned, and cracks or broken threads repaired, and then put to use. The ‘stroker’ engine was carefully assembled by Neil Gordon, and placed in the frame by Neil and Bob Klassen. As a paraplegic, I don’t ride but still enjoy getting my hands dirty playing with these things and I rely on a network of friends for many of the heavier jobs. I rebuilt the gearbox, which was really in nice shape, and used an early four-plate Triumph clutch.

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Plans were to run a Lucas headlight with ammeter and switch panel and a plain gas tank. But when John Whitby turned up with the swap meet find 5T tank that has thick red paint — likely applied decades ago by some biker with good intentions — it was too good not to use. I had some pieces of a dash panel, and those went to use on this project.

Because I was now running a tank top instrument panel, however, I couldn’t run the headlamp with the gauge and switch. A source in the U.S. told me he had a nice old Lucas with original chrome, and that he’d be happy to send it to me. I couldn’t believe it when it arrived, because it’s the correct 8″ lamp for a Triumph T100, and has the original fluted flat glass and reflector — and after it got here, he said he didn’t want anything for it, that he was happy it had a home. I packaged up one of our Modern Motorcycle Mechanics, Second Edition Reprints and a copy of Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter and mailed it off as a thank you. However, with that big headlight up front it looked unbalanced, and that’s why a Wassell ribbed fender, salvaged years ago from a Velocette restoration project, was cleaned up and put into service. Rear taillight is a reproduction Crocker, and it’s a great piece with a real glass lens.

A reproduction Lycett saddle frame was sectioned 5″ to narrow up the back end and new seat spring mounts made to suit. Up front, a 1″ diameter handlebar of universal pattern was flipped over for the crouched look, and I drilled holes for cables and mounted bar end levers. AMAL provided a new 1″ throttle as well the reproduction carburetor that has the float bowl mounted on the right, with idle and air screws on the left.

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I had bits and pieces of a Lucas twin magdyno, but was missing an armature for the magneto. Gregg Kricorissian of Ontario modified a later armature, and completely rebuilt the instrument. A friend donated a well-used set of header pipes, and the megaphones were sitting on my shelf, These are actually the megaphones that came off of J.B. Nicholson (of Nicholson Bros. Motorcycles) personal 1939 Speed Twin. They were used when he was hillclimbing, and have plenty of scars to prove it. Just right, in other words. I made lightweight internal baffles using aluminum for the end caps, and Derek Pauletto TIG welded those together.

Neil Gordon and Bob Klassen were the first to fire the bike, and after switching the plug leads around on the head it lit right up. There were some oil leaks to remedy, but it now has just over 94 miles on the Smiths speedometer, rebuilt by Andy Henderson of Vintage British Cables. The bike’s ‘debut’ was at Ill-Fated Kustoms‘ 2016 Kickstart show at the Springbank Airport. There are many others who have fingerprints all over this motorcycle, including Dennis Firth, Mike Jones and Adam Franke. Thanks to all.

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Dermot Walshe — Motorcycle Illustrator

Here’s a column that first appeared on the pages of Cycle Canada about four years ago — still one of my favourites. It’s a reminder that motorcycles, and the passion for them, transcends the metal. Dermot Walshe continues to draw, mostly kids cartoons, but he has plans for a motorcycle feature in the future. Enjoy!

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Image courtesy of Dermot Walshe.

 

With a stroke of his pen Dermot Walshe dramatically moves a motorcycle from the road or the racetrack to the printed page.

Walshe, of Oakville, Ontario is a man of talent. Armed with a pencil, pen and ink, and a computer he creates amazing images. Just have a look at the accompanying panel drawn by Walshe of Stanley Woods on a Cotton motorcycle circa 1922 racing in his first Isle of Man TT. It’s perfect.

Born in 1962 in Toronto, Walshe vividly remembers the first time he ever saw a motorcycle. He grew up on the outskirts of the city, and from a small stand at the side of the highway he would sell rhubarb to passing motorists. One afternoon, Walshe heard thunder. He looked up to the sky, and there wasn’t a cloud. Then, a big Harley-Davidson roared by, and another, followed by a B.S.A., and more – likely all big American v-twins and British iron. To young Walshe, the procession seemed to last half an hour. In all likelihood, it was less than a minute or two. But the sight of that passing gang was seared in his memory.

Not long after Walshe determined he would get some money together and buy a bike. But that didn’t happen until his first year of university, when he dropped out of landscape architecture and bought a used Yamaha SR185. Walshe said he bummed around Toronto on this single-cylinder machine with push-button starting, and he crashed it quite a few times before he needed a replacement.

From that point, Walshe’s motorcycling career has been nothing short of interesting. Between 1989 and 1995 he raced vintage machines including a Yamaha SRX600 and a Honda CB350, and said some fast laps at Mosport and drafting at Daytona were among the highlights. He’s traveled by scooter around Indonesia, and by his count has bought, sold, ridden – or destroyed – more than 50 motorcycles such as a Norton 850 Commando, a Ducati 860 GT and a 1950 B.S.A. Gold Star. Aesthetically, pre-War motorcycles with a rigid frame and a girder fork are his favourites, although he just bought himself a 1977 Yamaha XS650.

As for art, Walshe was always handy with a pencil and paper. He’d sketch and doodle and draw comic strips, and planned to do something creative with his life. Landscape architecture wasn’t it. While in that program, however, he met another student who commented on his drawing talent, and told him he should be in animation. Animation? He got a big shock when he learned what that was.

“That’s when I had my first inkling that animated cartoons were actually manufactured,” Walshe said. “I never really thought that you didn’t take a camera to cartoon land. I was kind of naive that way.” He attended an animation program at Sheridan College but never finished. Eventually, Walshe put his not insignificant talents to commercial use as a storyboard artist –someone who must quickly and accurately draw out the scenes of a movie, television show or commercial. He’s worked for the likes of Disney on films such as Mulan, Return to Neverland and Little Mermaid 2. For most of the last decade he’s worked on a freelance basis (click here to see samples).

During periods of downtime Walshe likes to dabble with projects that are of interest to him. Such a project is the tale of 17-year old Irishman Stanley Woods, who struggled in 1922 against factory teams and experienced riders to finish in fifth place aboard a Cotton motorcycle during his first Isle of Man TT race.

“Stanley Woods inspires me,” Walshe said. “He had a lot of audacity and he refused to give up. He was a gentleman racer who played fair but took advantage of everything he could.” Woods, in fact, had raced his father’s Harley-Davidson before deciding he could take on the TT. He wrote to most major British motorcycle manufacturers, requesting a ride, and it was Cotton who took on the youngster. His creative requests helped him land the Cotton, but nothing was going to come easily. During his 1922 outing on the 350cc Cotton, just about everything that could go wrong, did. He botched the start, having to stop to retrieve some fallen spark plugs. The machine caught fire in the pits. Not long after putting out the flames and back on the circuit, Woods had to stop and wrestle with the valves thanks to a broken push rod.

Recently, Walshe drew up eight pages of Woods’ story, keeping his eye on the clock to determine how long it might take him to produce a 100-plus page graphic novel, or even an animated film. For now, it’s simply an idea that’s percolating. Walshe ideally needs someone to write a cheque before he could spend a year on such a project, but it’s one that’s dear to him.

“Most motorcycle content (currently being drawn) is about booze and babes,” Walshe said. “But I think there’s more to the story of motorcycling than that.”

The Strange Death of the British Motorcycle Industry: in review

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As the title suggests,  Steve Koerner’s book shines more light on the plight of the English makers.

When Argentina shut its doors to British motor imports, the bell tolled louder for the English motorcycle industry.

In 1948 the South American country imposed strict import quotas and significantly higher tariffs. Losing this single important market helped cause Vincent, the English manufacturer of sporting v-twins, to misfire, and ultimately end in 1955 with the final motorcycle to roll from the Stevenage factory.

Such facts are discovered in a new book written by Vancouver Island historian Steve Koerner. The Strange Death of the British Motor Cycle Industry, published by Crucible Books, documents the downfall of the Brit-bike industry.

Why another book about English cycle makers? Several already investigate the topic, including Bert Hopwood’s Whatever Happened to the British Motorcycle Industry? and Hughie Hancox’s Tales of Triumph Motorcycles and the Meriden Factory. Most recently, Abe Aamidor tried tackling the subject in Shooting Star: The Rise & Fall of the British Motorcycle Industry.

Koerner attended University of Warwick in England, graduating with a PhD in Social History. Enthusiastic about things British, Koerner’s thesis investigated the history of the nation’s motorcycle industry. Rewritten for a broader audience, his thesis became the book, which is comprehensible and not an academic treatise.

Steve Koerner visiting the  Triumph Meriden factory, June 1979.

Photo copyright Steve Koerner. This photo was taken in June 1979 when Koerner was invited to tour the Meriden factory by its Workers’ Coop owners.

What Koerner accessed that nobody else seems to have are the annals of the Motor Cycle Industry Association in the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick library. “This is an amazing archive of information,” Koerner says of his original research, conducted in the 1990s. “It took me two years to get through it all. It contains materials about the industry and trade federation representing most of the manufacturing companies.”

Based in Coventry, the association was founded in the late 1800s, and archived information includes minutes, attendance books, guard-books, copies of telegrams, membership lists, periodicals, press cuttings, show catalogues and photographs.

Koerner mined more than just the association archive, also consulting surviving company papers of B.S.A. and Triumph, trade journals including the Cycle and Motor Cycle Trader magazine and a raft of documents kept at the British National Archives.  “I don’t think any other historian of the British motorcycle industry is aware of these sources, never mind used them in a book on the subject,” Koerner says. Indeed, 67 pages of the total 350 in The Strange Death of the British Motor Cycle Industry include detailed notes and references.

“I haven’t spent a day of my life working in a factory or motorcycle retail environment,” Koerner says. “But I think I bring a different perspective to the (British motorcycle industry). It’s a business history when you get right down to it.”

Steve Koerner and his 1977 Triumph Bonneville, somewhere in the Kootenays, circa June 1978

Photo copyright Steve Koerner. In the B.C. Kootenays with his 1977 Triumph Bonneville sometime in 1978.

In Koerner’s ideal transportation world everyone would drive an Austin Cambridge or ride a Matchless G80, and he remains a devout fan of British motor products. That’s because Vancouver Island in the 1950s and 1960s was a different place. Ties to old Britannia were evident, and the corridor between Victoria and Cowichan Valley teemed with British motor products.

Born into this Canadian microcosm of British culture, Koerner became immersed in English vehicles. Apart from a couple of Chevrolets, his parents drove mainly British cars, including a Hillman Minx, a Humber Super Snipe and a Jaguar XJ6.  “British vehicles have always been a part of the family, and remain so to this day,” he says.

An avid motorcyclist, Koerner rode a 1970 B.S.A. Thunderbolt around Vancouver from 1976 to 1978. “It was a vile beast,” he recalls, but that experience didn’t prevent him from owning a string of Brit-bikes, including a new 1977 Triumph Bonneville. He shipped the Triumph to England, riding to the TT races and visiting the Meriden Triumph factory in 1979.

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Photo by  Jurgen Pokrandt. Of his ride, Koerner says: “My Norton originally came out of the factory as a 1974 Roadster model with a red-coloured tank.  Several years ago I changed it over to an Interstate model with a used tank (metal and factory original) and seat (both of which I found via the Norton Owners’ Club in Britain) along with new side-panels which come from Fair-Spares in Burnt Bridge near Birmingham.  The tank is painted traditional Norton silver-grey.  No, I realise the paint scheme is not correct for 1974 but I think it looks pretty good, despite, no doubt, objections from the purists.”

He currently owns a 1974 Norton Commando Mk. IIA Roadster, which he’s converted to Interstate specification. There’s also a 1958 Matchless G80 in the shed. However, the bike he now rides most is a Harley-Davidson Road King.

Koerner is as much a British motorcycle enthusiast as he is an academic, but he doesn’t wax nostalgic about the industry. He is critical in hindsight, and although players in the trade aren’t identified as heroes or villains, it’s fairly obvious who they are.

Steve Koerner in front of old Norton factory, Bracebridge St., B'ham, circa autumn 1992

Courtesy Steve Koerner. This is the same Norton seen in the previous photo, and was taken at the Bracebridge Street factory in the early 1990s.

Managing director of Ariel and Triumph and later chairman of BSA, Jack Sangster, is a hero. “He was competent and successful,” Koerner says of Sangster. “I think he came out of the womb on a motorcycle, and he was effectively a talent scout, hiring Edward Turner and Val Page.”

Bernard Docker, chairman and managing director of B.S.A. from the late 1940s to 1956, is a villain. Koerner describes him as ‘inept and scandal-prone’.

B.S.A. was a massive company, with several divisions including Daimler – a low-production luxury limousine maker. Docker wanted the firm to break into the far more competitive middle class car sector, which in the 1950s was largely dominated by Humber, Jaguar and Rover. Moving Daimler downscale was a high-risk strategy, poorly conceived and executed with millions of pounds wasted. The results almost destroyed both Daimler and its parent B.S.A.

“If only a small amount of money had gone into motorcycles instead of cars,” Koerner says. “B.S.A. never recovered from drowning in red ink, and when Sangster took over he had to sell off assets to keep the company liquid.”

Koerner investigates many facets of the British industry, which seems to have built itself into a corner after the Second World War as it supplied mainly sporting motorcycles to a young, male dominated crowd. But the industry had tried post-1918 to design and market an ‘Everyman’ motorcycle, one that would appeal to a broader audience, including women. The scooter was the answer.

Many of these new products were either designed or built by the aviation industry (after the First World War, airplane manufacturers were looking to expand their markets and utilize their manufacturing capabilities). Vehicles such as the Skootamota and the Reynolds Runabout, and even the Ner-A-Car, which was engineered by an American but first built in Britain, couldn’t find traction.

Of the machines produced, Koerner says, “(I think) these British scooters failed because, although often innovative in concept, they were undermined by poor design work and engineering. I suspect the companies which made them just didn’t have enough experience in making motorcycles/scooters to make a success of it.”

Bike on assembly line, Meriden July 1979, 1

Photo copyright Steve Koerner. This assembly line image was taken in June 1979.

Crippled by the early 1970s there is no easy answer regarding the downfall of the British industry, but Koerner’s book is one of the better attempts at an in-depth exploration. “Life is complicated,” Koerner says. “And there aren’t simple explanations. It wasn’t all Bernard Docker’s fault, nor was it German or Japanese manufacturers, or the attitude of management. It’s simply not that simple to explain.”

Triumph trials and tribulations

They say it’s easier to start with a complete bike, one that’s at least assembled. But even then, what previous sins of assembly might have taken place?

Basket cases, well, they are another story. I’ve been working on this Triumph bitsa bike for more than two years. It started life as a TR5 bottom end, discovered in a dusty box. No head, just cases and barrels. From there, parts and pieces have come from many different sources, and even though, for the most part, they’re all Triumph, some of the items haven’t wanted to play well together.

A rusty frame from Saskatchewan. A gearbox from Wes at Four Aces. A primary cover rescued from the trash heap (seriously!)

Wheels, forks, and clutches. All have given grief. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Here, after rigging up an oil bottle and dribbling some fuel in the float chamber, is proof. Friend John Whitby provided the boot. Click below to view.

Triumph Pre Unit Video