AUTO & MOTO ARTISANS - AUSTRALIA

Triton thoughts…


17 Jan 2018

Three years ago to this very day I purchased a Triton. It wasn’t running and it wasn’t registered, but the idea of owning a classic cafe racer – arguably the definitive classic cafe racer – was impossible to resist. Three days ago I helped load it into the back of a truck and, if all goes well, it should be in the hands of its new owner today. The circle of life, and all that.

So what have we learned? Well, for the backstory and build blog follow this link, but here, in no particular order, are some thought on owning and riding the Triton.

It wasn’t comfortable…

If you think the bum up, head down ergonomics of modern sports bikes are a bit much, climb aboard an old-school cafe racer. In line with the GP bikes of the day, the clip-ons are low, the tank is long, the seat is low, and the pegs are high. If you’re short it’s a stretch to the bars, if you’re tall you’ll find your legs doubled-up under you jockey style. Throw in stiff springs and thin seat padding and it’s easy to see why racing back to the cafe before a record finished was all the rage…ride much further and it brings on the pain.

It did actually handle…

The Featherbed frame deserves its legendary status. The swingarm might look a bit spindly by today’s standards, but the frame is reassuringly rigid and blessed with good geometry. It’s not really that flickable, but it’s far from ponderous. Commit to a line and it’ll hold it regardless, change your mind and it’ll oblige without shaking its head…it’d just prefer you’d got it right in the first place. The original builder’s choice of forks wasn’t bad either – the Honda units work nicely on a lighter bike – but the Marzocchi shocks (added later) were a little oversprung. Overall then: responsive enough, and stable and forgiving enough to give you the confidence to ride fast.

It wasn’t really fast…

Fun fact: a Triumph T120 won the Isle of Man Production TT in 1969 becoming the first Production bike to clock a100mph lap from a standing start. Despite that, cracking ‘the ton’ back in the day was a bit of a white-knuckle dare affair needing plenty of road and plenty of revs…the latter being something the Triumph twin isn’t really fond of. There’s not a lot of horsepower there – Triumph coyly claimed 50bhp (a shade over 37kW) for the T120R “with straight through exhaust” in its 1970 handbook –and with a four-speed gearbox acceleration isn’t exactly blinding either.

It was fun to ride…

Despite the lack of comfort and relative speed the Triton was a blast to ride – you just had to be in the right mindset. Fortunately, the very act of staring the bike (free up the clutch, tickle the carbs, prod the kickstart through a couple of times, and let it warm up) has a real ‘60s vibe – you want to pull on an open-face helmet, grab your goggles and a white scarf, and tear off to beat up kids on scooters. Ridden in the context of its time the Triton feels really special…providing you remember that the gear and brake pedals are the ‘wrong’ way around.

Reactions to it were mixed…

A surprising number of ‘bike people’ simply didn’t know what a Triton was. Those that did were either happy to see one and pleased to discuss how it was all put together, or dismissive because it wasn’t what they thought a Triton should be. I got comments like “real Triton’s have pre-unit engines” and “those forks ruin it”, to which I’d acidly ask what their Triton was like – strangely enough none of the haters seemed to have one.

Would I do it all again…

Absolutely…but maybe not like that. The original objective was to get a non-running bike back on the road without straying too far from the original builder’s vision and the ‘barn find’ patina. In that regard the whole exercise was pretty much a success. Having got the bike ‘finished’ the invariable “what now” question popped up. To be honest there were things the original builder did (aesthetic and mechanical) that I didn’t particularly like, and things I knew I’d want to change if it were a keeper. After much mental struggle over cost/benefit and effort/reward, tempered by the growing feeling that the bike should really be kept in ‘as built back in the day’ condition, I arrived at the conclusion that if I really wanted to own my idea of the perfect Triton it would be better to sell it and start from scratch.

That’s a project for another day…or maybe it’d be better as a Norvin or a Narley Harton. There’s one thing I can tell you with absolute conviction – if you’re any sort of classic bike or cafe racer enthusiast you owe it to yourself to have a ride on a Triton.


 


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