As an undergraduate, I flirted with motorised two-wheel transport, and I can confirm that all the clichés about the feeling of exultant liberation that comes from roaring around the British countryside are entirely true. At that time, I learned a bit about old bikes-Indian, Scott, Brough, Vincent, Norton and, of course, Triumph. There are certain products that manage to achieve more than just their functionality, acquiring a sort of immortality.
Somewhere between the preliminary sketches and the finished item, emotion gets caught up in the construction process. The result is an object that touches your soul and speaks of another era. Were one to write a History of the World in 100 Motor Vehicles, the Triumph Bonneville would surely be one of them.
This year, Triumph celebrates its 110th year as a motorcycle manufacturer, and its peaks and troughs hold up a mirror to British life in the 20th century. Triumphs were used in two World Wars, and at one point, the company was a great British export selling more in the USA than it did in its home market. During the 1970s, it hit a sticky patch financially, and for a time in the early 1980s, the factory closed. However, the name was kept alive by John Bloor, and the result of his belief is one of those things naysayers claim has vanished from these shores: a successful and innovative manufacturing company.
It wasn’t until the late 1930s with the launch of the 5T Speed Twin that Triumph established its visual language. The company was cool (Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen saw to that), but with the launch of the Bonneville at the end of the 1950s, it became legendary.
I’m too much of a sissy to sit astride a modern Triumph. It would probably topple over when I stopped at traffic lights and I wouldn’t be able to pick it up. But I did buy a Triumph Bonneville tank badge with the intention of turning it into a belt buckle. It may not be the perfect match for my tweeds, but it’ll be a lot safer than if I were to clamber aboard the 110-year Bonneville Limited Edition. Safer-but nothing like as much fun.
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