When you name a bike after one of the world’s greatest racetracks, it had better be good. If not, you risk a copious amount of egg on your face! No worries for Triumph, though, in that department. The Daytona 650 had a top speed of 160mph. And weighed in at just 363lb dry. Either in a straight line or through corners, then, performance was not an issue.
For all that, the Daytona’s in-line four engine made a modest 110bhp. The power was unleashed, though, with blistering efficiency. Revs peaked at 12,750rpm – courtesy of 16 watercooled valves. Anyway, a wise man knows not to equate strength with size. The Daytona 600 was not as big as some of its superbike rivals – but it packed a potent punch, notwithstanding!
Looks-wise, the Daytona was drop-dead dynamic. Taking in every twist and turn of its bodywork took time. What could have been a jumbled mess was, instead, an intricate interplay of curves and scallops. There is a 3-D depth to the Daytona’s design. So, superior styling – plus tip-top technology – made Triumph’s Daytona 650 a track day dream come true!
The BSA A10 Golden Flash first appeared in 1950. In terms of engine layout, it was a classic British parallel twin. BSA were based in Birmingham – at the Small Heath factory. ’71 saw the iconic marque hit the financial buffers. Mercifully, it was bailed out by the Norton Villiers Triumph conglomerate. By that point, though, BSA’s best days were behind it. As if to clarify that, the last BSAs off the production line wore the Triumph logo!
The Golden Flash wrote the book on practical. British-built bikes had been known to deposit the occasional oil leak, back in the day. Not so, the A10! Economical and efficient, it was eminently reliable. Its 35bhp engine delivered user-friendly power. The A10’s top speed was just a tad shy of the ‘ton’. As far as handling went, the ’54 model A10 sported a shiny new swing-arm. That was a big step up from its plunger-suspended predecessor.
On the visual side, the Golden Flash was a good-looking bike. Its BSA motor alone was a metallurgical masterpiece. Exiting it, sweetly-shaped down-pipes splayed around an intricate semi-frame. In both engineering and styling, then, the BSA A10 Golden Flash displayed the best of British design. Flash, by name, yes … but certainly not by nature!
The Ariel Square Four was designed by Edward Turner. His finest hour was yet to come. He would go on to oversee Triumph – in its Sixties glory days. The first version of the Square Four, though, was released in ’28 – back when Bonnevilles and Tridents were but blurs on the ‘Brit bikes’ horizon. Square Four referenced the bike’s 1,000cc motor. It was, in effect, two sets of parallel twins – one in front of the other. The exhaust port was shared. The downside of that layout was that – while the front brace of cylinders enjoyed lots of cooling air – the rear two did not. That could make them a tad recalcitrant – especially on hot days!
The ’58 model Square Four was good for 105mph. Warp-factor speed for a road-bike, at the time. And – by definition – more than enough to keep ‘ton-up boys’ entertained. They were the 100mph Rockers – who had the occasional contretemps with Mods. Turner – and Triumph – would do brisk business with them, in the coming years. What made the Square Four’s top whack stat still more impressive, was its weight. 465lb needed careful coaxing through corners.
As its name suggested, the Square Four was a solid-looking motorcycle. In the sense of impressively robust, that is. Its telescopic front – and plunger rear – suspension units complemented each other nicely. The four-header exhaust set-up sat neatly between the two. The ‘Squariel’ – as it was affectionately dubbed – soon took its place in the rapidly-growing roster of popular British bikes. All in all, then, the Ariel Square Four can hold its head high. Even in the company of the mythical machines toward which Edward Turner was moving!
On the face of it, the Triumph Speed Twin was the quintessence of Englishness. But, it had Germany to thank for its existence. In 1902, two Germans – Siegfried Bettman and Mauritz Schulte – grafted a Belgian-made Minerva motor onto a bicycle. Believe it or not, Triumph was in business! Three years later, the Coventry-based company produced its own engine. It obviously ran well. Before too long, ‘Trusty Triumph’ had entered the biker vocabulary.
The Speed Twin was launched in ’37. Its parallel-twin motor made it faster and smoother than its single-cylinder rivals. The 498cc motor made 29bhp. Top speed was 90mph – heady stuff, at the time. The new bike was the brainchild of Edward Turner. It displayed commercial courage – as well as styling skill. The motorcycle industry is inherently conservative. In other words, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Single-cylinder ‘thumpers’ had monopolized the market for years. Turner’s Speed Twin, then, broke the engine layout mould.
Mr. Turner did double-duty at Triumph. He was both head of design and general manager. His administrative tasks clearly did not impinge upon his creativity. The Speed Twin looked great standing still. And – with a dry weight of just 365lb – it looked even better, swinging through corners. Edward Turner – visionary that he was – had dreamed up a bike ahead of its time. The Triumph Speed Twin was a blueprint for many a motorcycle to come. ‘Brit bikes’ were on the march … and coming to a showroom near you!
In ’83, Triumph looked dead in the water. Finally, the once-famous firm went into receivership. If it was to survive, it needed a saviour – and fast! Up to the plate strode multi-millionaire building magnate, John Bloor. A new HQ was set up in Hinckley, England. That was not a million miles away from the original Triumph factory – in Meriden, Birmingham. For the next eight years, Bloor and his colleagues planned a new range of Triumphs. One of them would be the Speed Triple. Throwing off the shackles of the wilderness years, the new bikes would be modern marvels of engineering. There would also, though, be design references to Triumph’s glory days.
In ’91, six new Triumphs rolled into the showrooms. The parallel twins of yore were no more. Now, three- and four-cylinder engines were the norm – complete with double overhead camshafts and water-cooling. Stylistically, a sea change had occurred. The new ‘British’ bikes were as futuristically slick as their Far Eastern counterparts. Indeed, their suspension and brakes had been made in Japan. Notwithstanding, they were clutched to the ‘Brit Bike’ bosom with eager arms. Whilst there were reservations amongst dyed-in-the-wool riders, a new breed of bikers was just glad to have a British brand-name back in motorcycling’s mix.
The names of the new arrivals harked back to the past. Trident, Trophy, Thunderbird … these were legendary labels! In ’94, came the Speed Triple. For bikers of a certain age, that evoked memories of the Sixties’ Speed Twin. Technically, though, it was state of the art. Saying that, Triumph had long turned out a tasty ‘triple’. But, this was a three-cylinder machine with some major updates. As a result, it clocked up a top speed of 130mph. 97bhp was output from an 885cc motor. The bike’s ‘naked’ look – devoid of a fairing – pared weight down to 460lb dry. It also lent itself to lean and aggressive styling. Road tests were positive. The Speed Triple was competent in every category. Unsightly oil stains were a thing of the past. A mighty marque was back on its feet. The Triumph Speed Triple – and its second-generation siblings – would take another tilt at the two-wheeled big time!
Unlike some of its ‘Brit bike’ brethren, the Norton Commando Fastback 750 was a smooth and comfortable ride. Well, by 1960s standards, anyway. That was due, in no small part, to Norton’s proprietary engine-mounting set-up. Made up mostly of rubber, it was dubbed ‘isolastic’. The Commando’s motor was a parallel twin – not a layout synonymous with seamless power delivery. The isolastic system, though, duly dialled out the worst excesses of the inherent engine vibrations.
Norton had long prided itself on its bikes’ handling prowess. The Commando turned out to be no exception. In ’73, the bike was taken to the toughest road test of all – the Isle of Man TT race. Norton’s road-holding claims were upheld. Peter Williams – the Commando’s rider – took the Formula 750 trophy.
The road-going Fastback’s performance was almost as impressive. Its 745cc motor put out 58bhp. And with the Commando weighing in at just 418lb, that meant a top speed of 117mph. With so much all-rounder status in its pocket, the Commando was bound to sell well. Sadly, though, not well enough to save Norton from its date with financial destiny. For its uncommon blend of style and substance, however, the Commando Fastback 750 will be forever revered by classic bike enthusiasts!
Scott may not be the most famous manufacturer in motorcycling history – but it certainly has its place. As, indeed, does Scott’s most celebrated bike, the Squirrel. The British marque won the Senior TT – in both 1912 and ’13. And the Scott trial – which began in ’14 – and became a bastion of off-road motorsport – was named after the Yorkshire firm. Founded in ’08, Scott went on to produce finely-crafted motorbikes for decades to come.
Engineering excellence – forged in competition’s crucible – flowed down into Scott roadsters. The Squirrel was the prime beneficiary. Squirrels came in several flavours. There were Super Squirrels, Sports Squirrels and Flying Squirrels. All came with a 596cc motor – mated to a 3-speed hand-change ‘box. Squirrels handled well, looked and sounded good – and merrily skipped up to 70mph. In the Twenties, that was quick!
Squirrels were apt to be temperamental, though. Mechanically, they played up a bit, from time to time. And – with their hefty price-tags – that did not go down well with owners. As the model aged – and its cutting edge blunted – sales declined. To this day, though, there is many a motorcyclist who is nuts about Squirrels. With luck – over the years – a few of them were horded away. So, you never know … Scott Squirrels may again be a common sight, on the highways and byways of Britain.
Excelsior was the first British motorbike manufacturer. The company’s best-known machine, the Manxman, was named after the TT – Tourist Trophy. That being the ultimate devil-may-care road race – through the picturesque scenery of the Isle of Man.
In ’33, Excelsior took the Lightweight TT title. Overnight, the English firm became a motorcycling name to be reckoned with. The bike which achieved said feat was dubbed the ‘Mechanical Marvel’! Keen to capitalise on their success, Excelsior conceived a racing replica roadster. At the last, though, the project was cancelled. Excelsior were worried about long-term sales. They feared its engine might prove too complex for Clubman-level ‘tinkering’!
While that eleventh hour change of heart was a loss to amateur racing, it was a boon to road riders. Instead of the ‘race rep’ they had planned, Excelsior served up the more orthodox Manxman. Its single overhead camshaft motor came in 250, 350 and 500cc versions. For those so inclined, a bit of light tuning sorted it for the track. In standard trim, it was more than adequate for country lane heroics. In short, the Excelsior Manxman pleased everyone. In so doing, it signalled the finest hour for an historic marque!
The Red Hunter was indigenous to the English Midlands. Ariel was based in Bournbrook, Birmingham. One of the original motorcycle manufacturers, it set up shop in 1902. By the ’30s, Ariel was doing brisk business – so was in a position to attract top talent. That meant high-calibre designers like Edward Turner, Val Page and Bert Hopwood. All three became icons of British bike-building. Turner, in particular, proved pivotal to the success of two-wheeled Triumphs.
Ariel produced a steady stream of stylish, yet practical machines. One of the best was the Red Hunter. It was among a batch of single-cylinder four-strokes from the firm. These bikes were a great success – and a godsend to Ariel. Financial woes forced the factory to close temporarily. Jack Sangster then took over the Ariel reins – from father Charles, the firm’s founder. Sangster reached out to Val Page – requesting that he come up with something to save the sinking ship. Page’s response was the Red Hunter. It would not be long before the ailing firm was up on its feet again.
The Red Hunter’s top speed – 82mph – was pretty damned quick in ’37. Especially, from a 497cc motor. To extract that stat from just 26bhp was testament to Ariel engineering. Sadly, suspension tech of the era was not in the same league. Namely, girder forks at the front – and a rigid rear end! Even so, Red Hunter handling was impressive – given the constraints. At least, a comfortably-sprung seat helped make up for the deficiencies. That said – with its push-rod single-pot motor – it was never going to be the smoothest of rides. At the time, though, the Red Hunter was a luxury product. Certainly, it looked the part – resplendent in its ‘red robin’ plumage. As classic bikes go, the Ariel Red Hunter was really quite refined. And could shift a bit, too!
The Douglas Dragonfly broke the motorcycle mould. BMW is now almost synonymous with the flat-twin layout. Other marques, too, though, have used that venerable engine configuration. Not least, Douglas. The firm was based in Bristol, England. Its early models saw the motor fitted inline with the frame. The two pistons went at it hammer and tongs – ‘punching’ fore and aft. The Dragonfly, though, saw them slung transversely across the frame – à la BMW ‘Boxer’. In any case, the Dragonfly made good progress – cruising at around 60mph. Beyond that optimal speed, however, performance tailed off dramatically. Ultimately, that would lead to the Dragonfly’s decline.
Design-wise, the Dragonfly was on solid ground. If anything, slightly too ‘solid’, perhaps. Is it just me. or does the way in which the headlamp nacelle flows into the fuel tank look a bit like the front end of a dragonfly? Certainly, the Earles forks – and robust rear shocks – visually complemented each other. And – above them – the bike’s logo was elegantly scripted. The Dragonfly’s flat-twin powerplant was itself impressively wrought.
In ’23, Douglas won at the TT. It was in the sidecar category. Freddie Dixon did the driving. Again, that historic outfit’s boxer motor was installed inline. The year before, on the Island, a Douglas solo racer had been fitted with a delicate-looking little disc brake. Douglas, then, were innovating – technically and stylistically. And – when it comes to nomenclature – the Douglas Dragonfly must be one of the most poetically titled bikes ever. Buzzin’, basically!