Triumph Motorcycles – The History
The Joys of Motorcycling
Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul – a wise man
While you may pass a grin at the above statement and move on, for those who know, there is a deeper meaning entrenched in it.
Automobiles have been an intrinsic part of our modern lives for a long time now. However, sitting in a car is an experience that isolates you from the outside world more than any other. Once inside, roll up the windows, turn on the radio, the air conditioner, fine tune the climate control, and there you have it: your very own personal space (a small apartment, if you like) on four wheels where there are absolutely no distractions. Driving a car is such a sophisticated experience that it is frankly boring, a soulless experience for anyone willing to experience the thrills of riding.
On a motorcycle, you experience everything: the wind, ever-changing smell of the surroundings (grass, trees and ocean), the sound of the traffic, the animals, the pedestrians passing by, even the potholes. The experience is very real as the rider is vulnerable to the physical and emotional realities of the world.
As they say, on a motorcycle we ride in the world, not just zoom past it.
Riding a motorcycle is an exhilarating experience, one of the greatest joys of life provided you are fine with the emotional and physical stress that comes with it.
The First Motorcycle
For a long time, motorcycles have lured the adventurers all over the world with their mechanical prowess, exquisite designs, and power. However, the earliest motorcycles, dating back to the second half of the 19th century, were nothing like the mean machines we see today. In fact, they were more like bicycles with front and rear wheels and a mechanism to drive the rear wheel.
Sometime in the late 1880’s, with the advent of the new internal combustion engine, dozens of designs and machines emerged across the world. In Germany, this eventually led to the production of the first series of production motorcycles in 1894 called the Hildebrand & WolfMüller.
Triumph, the Company
One of the earliest motorcycle manufacturing companies was Triumph Engineering Co Ltd, a British motorcycle manufacturing company that was based originally in Coventry and then in Meriden.
Started in 1884 by Siegfried Bettmann, a native of Nuremberg who had migrated to England, the company initially produced only bicycles. In 1886, the company was officially named as the Triumph Cycle Company. Then a year later, it was registered with a new name called New Triumph Co. Ltd and a new partner, Moritz Schulte, joined the company. Upon insistence by Schulte to transform the company into a manufacturing enterprise, Bettman and Schulte purchased a site in Coventry in 1888, and by 1889 started producing the first Triumph-branded bicycles.
The First Triumph Motorcycle
It was in 1898 that Triumph first considered the idea of extending the production at Coventry to include motorcycles. By this time, they had opened another factory at Nuremberg producing bicycles.
In 1902, the company produced its first motorcycle fitted with the single-cylinder 2.25 BHP Belgian Minerva engine with automatic inlet valve and battery/coil ignition, fitted on to a bicycle frame.
By 1903, Triumph had sold 500 of these and the company decided to extend their production at the Nuremberg factory as well. For the first few years, Triumph borrowed from the designs of other motorcycle manufacturers but the years 1904 and 1905 saw the company coming out with their own designed and produced motorcycle.
While the company started in 1884 and was incorporated in 1886, 1902 was that pivotal year when they started producing motorcycles and came to be officially known as a company producing motorcycles. In 2002, the company celebrated 100 years of continuous production of motorcycles.
First World War and Trusty Triumph
The beginning of the First World War in 1914 proved to be a major sales boost for Triumph. To provide for the Allied War Effort, production had to be massively scaled and Triumph produced 30,000 motorcycles to supply to the Allies. Among these was the popular Model H Roadster, that came to be known as ‘Trusty Triumph’ and was the first modern motorcycle from the company.
The Model H was powered by a 499cc air-cooled four-stroke single cylinder engine with three-speed gearbox for transmission and its rear wheel was driven by a belt. It also did not have pedals, a first-for any Triumph motorcycle.
That Special Decade and Special Motorcycle
Triumph was quickly gaining ground and by 1920, it had become England’s major motorcycle and car maker. Operating from a massive 500,000 square feet plant, the company was producing 30,000 motorcycles and cars every year. During this time, Triumph also started exporting to the United States, which quickly became their single most important market.
The 1950s proved to be a golden era for Triumph, even though it was sold to rivals BSA in 1951. Its range of motorcycles, starting with the 149cc OHV Terrier with a four-speed gearbox, and the larger sibling 199cc Tiger Cub produced a year later, became extremely popular.
In 1954 Triumph introduced the Tiger 110. This was a sporty makeover of the 649cc Thunderbird twin, which was a progression from the T100 500cc twin, and due to the USA market wanting more cc’s and horsepower.
Then in 1959 came what is perhaps the most famous bike Triumph has ever produced – the Bonneville T120. It had the racing genes and minimal look, and the performance to match it. Produced between 1959 and 1973, the Bonneville T120 was a special motorcycle that ended a momentous 1960s for Triumph and made it a legend among the motorcycling community. Such was its popularity, that despite being discontinued in favour of the larger T140, it was brought back in 2016 with a range of updates.
As of 2019, Triumph Motorcycles remains the oldest continuous production motorcycle company in the world, with some of the most iconic motorcycles of all times under its belt.
Here are a few lesser known facts about the legendary motorcycle company:
- Triumph once sold sewing machines. During their early days, they sold sewing machines that were imported from Europe. They subsequently discontinued selling them to focus on cycles and motorcycles.
- Over the years, Triumph has undergone change of ownership multiple times. While they started operations in Coventry, their current headquarters are in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England.
- Triumph also made cars. In 1921, the company diversified into making cars along with motorcycles. Their first car was called the Triumph 10/20 that had a 1.4 litre engine.
- Triumph Motorcycles produced military motorcycles during the Second World War.
- In 1995, Triumph launched their own line of motorcycle clothing called the Triple Collection. Its designs were inspired from the celebrities who were associated with Triumph motorcycles, such as Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and Bob Dylan.
- Triumph’s most famous motorcycle, the Bonneville, was named after the Bonneville salt flats in America where the world speed record was set by Johnny Allen riding a Triumph.
- Eighty five percent of Triumph’s motorcycles are sold overseas. This despite the fact they are the biggest motorcycle maker in their home country, England, and have an extremely loyal fan base.