There are Triumph Motorcycles built now but there were some classics from the past that for me are the top British Classic bikes. Many who rode them at the time remember them as being leaky. There would often be a few spots of oil under the bike and on some there would be a pool of oil. The manufacturing process was old fashioned then and the crankcases had a vertical split usually and were impossible to get a good seal on. Also with the twin cylinder bikes there would have been a certain amount of vibration which would not help matters either.
So the British bikes were a bit rough and ready, compared to today’s super bikes but they were renowned for having really good handling. It was not surprising that when the first Japanese bikes were appearing on the British roads. bikers were unanimous in the assessment of the Japanese bikes as fast in a straight line but rubbish going around corners. I have first hand experience of this with a ride on an early Suzuki 550 ram air-cooled two stroke, which was interesting to say the least on bends. The other thing was that the Japanese bikes were high revving bikes compared to the British bike and took a totally different approach to get the best from when riding. There was a joke that the old Brit bikes would fire every other lamppost because they were so slow revving.
A Top Four Classic British Bikes
- Although I would want to say the Triumph Trident T150V in this number one slot, because I owned one in my youth, I have to say Triumph Bonneville. A twin cylinder bike that was very popular. The engine was strong and easy to work on. It was a work horse of a bike that I rode on many occasions. Famously they would leak oil from the crankcases and from the cylinder head like any good British bike, but the Bonneville was great to ride. It could have been on tracks, when going around bends because it was so stable on those Avon RoadRunner tyres. There was also the Triumph Tiger which was a cheaper version of the bike.
- BSA GoldStar 500cc single cylinder bike. This bike was a star of the T.T. Motorcycle races in the Isle of Man. It was fast and much modified for the racing. On the roads it was like the British bikes of the time, very stable on the road. It had a good solid motorcycle sound that make the new motorbikes sound more like sewing machines.
- Norton Commando A twin cylinder bike that was comfortable to ride because of the isolastic frame. Basically what that means, is that the rider was isolated from the vibration coming from the twin cylinder engine. It was a good system when it was new and in good order, but it did take some maintenance as it made the bike sloppy when in poor condition. It was because of this technology, that the Triton was invented, where a Norton engine was used in a Triumph frame. That combination was successful many times in the isle of Man also. The British Police used the Norton Commando motorcycle extensively for the Police motorcyclists.
- BSA Bantam The original design was German, but it was changed to be built in British factories, Birmingham Small Arms Company, after the second world war. It had a 175cc two stroke engine and was very basic in the design and build, built between 1948 to 1971. The reason it has to be in this list, is because of the number of these bikes that were sold. These BSA Bantam bikes were the motorbikes that took the British working man to work in the mornings. Not very a very powerful bike and they had either a three or four speed gearbox. There was a late model called the Bushman which had a higher mounted exhaust, and destined for the Australian market.
There are a number of motorbikes that could be on this list like the Ariel Square Four, Velocette Venom, Vincent, Brough Superior, AJS, Matchless and Royal Enfield. You have to wonder what could have become of the British motorcycle industry if it had been managed better.
The Japanese invasion of the motorcycle market kind of started with the Suzuki ‘Kettle’ water-cooled 750cc two stroke triple and the Honda 250 SuperDream and has continued unabated to the excellent motorcycles that are available now like the Kawasaki Ninja 650R. We are now about to buy foreign motorcycles of all types, the easy rider style to the trail, to the road bikes and super tourers. Where I live though it seems that the Harley Davidson bikes have made a comeback. Could be the sunny weather and not much need for rain gear, that agrees with that sort of bike. At least there are still Triumph motorcycles being manufactured now. They look pretty good to in a nostalgic sort of way.