When Triumphs Go Bad!
A quartet of chopped, hopped and popped Triumphs
In the premier biker movie of all times, the 1953 The Wild One starring Marlon Brando, the hero “Johnny” is not riding a Harley. Instead, he’s roaring around on a Triumph, a trophy tied to the handlebars.
Maybe the motorcycle brand’s name was a metaphor for the character’s action-packed life and the reason the movie makers chose a Triumph, or maybe Brando just preferred the machine personally. Whatever the reason, after the movie’s release, black leather jackets and Triumph sales skyrocketed. Bad was now good.
Triumph was founded in 1886 by a German immigrant to London, one Siegfried Bettman who came up with the name for his bicycles. By 1902 he was hanging motors (Belgian made) in the spindly frames and producing motor-cycles from new headquarters in Coventry. Three years later, Triumph was making its own 100% bikes. Fifty years later, they latched onto another famous moniker, the Triumph Bonneville, and as they say, the rest is history.
The Thunderbird was introduced in 1950 and then in 1958 the famous Bonneville launched itself into motorcycling history. Sales were more than brisk, some 48,000 Triumphs produced in the banner year 1969. But after some 20 years of economic troubles and corporate wheeling-dealing, the company was dissolved in 1983.
A new owner with a new vision, John Bloor, revived the company in 1990 and built a new factory in Hinckley where he unveiled a whole new species of Triumph in 1992. They would enter the U.S. market in 1995, followed by a re-launch of the famous Bonneville in 2000. Over the next several years the company prospered thanks to high-quality machines that attract a whole new generation of riders.
In any case, people have been “chopping” or customizing Triumphs, aka Trumpets, since they were chopping and customizing Harleys, the choice a function of geography and finances. In recent years there’s been a re-boom of interest in Triumph customs, both the classics of the 1960s-70s and even the new batch of “modern” Triumphs. But you just can’t beat a late-’60s 650cc Triumph for character, attitude, trim good looks and enough power to bridge the fun gap between the 20th and the 21st centuries.
Seen here are four Southern California variations on a Triumph chopper theme, bikes built by individuals each with a unique perspective on what constitutes a Brit Bike Gone Baaaddddd!
The Mark of Kane: Triumph TT Hotrods
The homage to the ’60s bobber chopper seen here is the creation of a Brit-bike fan named Earl Kane, his enterprise called “Cycle Art by Earl” and located in San Pedro, CA.
“My first big bike build was a 1937 Indian Scout that I bobbed when I got out of the Navy,” says Earl. “I’ve done cars and boats, and now I’m back to bikes and fabricating custom alloy parts for them.”
Since Earl‘s been building bikes and custom parts since 1964, he was there when this Trumpet was new, as the gnarly hardtail is built around a 1964 Bonnie powertrain placed in a TR-6 frame with an aftermarket hardtail rear-end mated to an equally classic Ceriani front end. The rear wheel is a Harley 16-incher laced to a Triumph hub, and that rear spinner knock-off was transplanted from a 1950s Hildebrand sprint car. A 19-inch wheel upfront wears an 8-inch ’69 Triumph twin-leading shoe brake assembly.
“The front brake works great, but with the back brake it helps to drag your feet,” laughs Earl.
His own handiwork can be seen in the deeply and dramatically finned oil tank he designed and fabricated to match the original Webco 1960s finned primary cover. Spark is advanced via an original 1970s ARD mag, so the bike runs batteryless with no unsightly switches to clutter up the bars.
He also made the velocity stacks and the chain tensioner as well as the chromed steel pan seat. It’s doubled up with a liner underneath, and those pads contain gel foam under leather. Earl says that with the combination of the springs, taken from a Stingray bicycle, it makes for a fairly comfortable ride even with the hardtail design.
You’ll notice a very trick kickstart lever, Earl’s signature piece found on all his bikes. “The first one I whittled out of metal, then I had a bunch made by water-jetting.” Earl says the bike is usually a first-kick thanks to the mag. When the bike fires up, the headlight comes on, and that headlight is a 1950s Appleton auto spotlight.
Asked how it felt to ride the bike, Earl says, “From bar to bar and to the beach it’s fine. It’s not exactly a cushy freeway bike, but I’m 64 and it doesn’t beat me up.”
While Earl specializes in Triumphs, he also works with BSAs and the occasional Norton. His price range for building one of his gnarly bobbers runs $7500-15,000. If you bring all your own parts that could drop to as low as $5K.
You can check out his other bikes (and some cool vintage sprint car photos) on his web site http://www.earlsbikes.net/ or you can call him at 310-218-2979.
The Harbortown Bobber, aka Movie Bike
There are even more screenwriters in L.A. than waiters or corner coffee shops, something like 50,000 movie scripts registered each year with the Screenwriters Guild, and only around 100 bought.
Beating the odds, Scott DiLalla fused his passion for bikes and film and started up One World Studios, and went on to create the award-winning Choppertown and Brittown movies. Looking for a new two-wheeled “star,” he decided to design his own vision of the perfect Triumph chopper, eventually calling it The Harbortown Bobber, also the name of his latest film project. Earl Kane, previously mentioned, would also play a major role in its creation.
“I have always loved motorcycles. Working on them, riding them…. everything. I grew up in New York just outside of the city and all my friends were into American iron, so naturally I was, too. Then one day I saw the coolest chopper I had ever seen and it happened to be a Triumph. I got my first Triumph in 2006 and even ended up buying two in that one week.”
A couple years later he began his new project seen here which began with two bikes he bought as parts bikes, most of a 1969 Triumph and a1971 Triumph Bonneville café project that had gone nowhere, its 750cc motor eventually powering the Harbortown Bobber. As he set about designing and hunting for parts, Scott focused on a hard-to-find Wassell peanut tank then had it modified to his vision, including a new tunnel and relocation of the filler hole.
The oil tank and fenders are fabricated from spun steel, while tire choices were a 16-inch in the rear and 21-inch in the front.
“The wider rear tire (130 Metzler) and the form-fitting fender add a sense of weight to the rear which helps give it that different look when compared to other Triumphs,” Scott explains.
The frame was a different matter. Scott drove the 1400 miles along famous Route 66 to Denver, Colorado and a shop called Shamrock Fabrication to put his hands on it. “We did 3,000 miles in one week, but it was worth it,” says Scott.
At this point, Earl Kane was bought into put it all together while the film recorded the process as part of the film, art imitating life in reverse.
“We spent most of our shooting days in Earl’s shop until the bike was completed, watching as he fabricated a seat, license-plate bracket, cool chain tensioner, fork stop bungs, a headlight mount, even painted the tank.”
Earl also introduced Scott to jet coating (ceramic coating), a process similar to powder coating that car guys use to insulate their exhaust pipes as well as give them an aluminum finish. The treatment was applied to the bike’s gas tank, oil bag, and fender with the resulting polished aluminum look.
A final touch was a custom leather seat hand tooled by Gilbert Gonzales, capping off a two-year odyssey for the building and filming the Harbortown Bobber. (More info about the movie at http://www.harbortownbobber.com/)
Powerplant Springer: Old School Grit, New School Metal
You could say Yaniv Evan of the Los Angeles-based Powerplant Motorcycle Company has his head in the clouds and his feet firmly planted on the ground – the foundations of classic ’50s choppers. His head has been in the clouds thanks to his training in aviation fabrication, in particularly the massaging of aircraft-quality metals.
Says Yaniv (pronounced Ya-neev), “I like the organic, hand-beaten look, one-of-a-kind choppers and bobbers, and so I spend a lot of time filing and sanding by hand, rather than CNC machining. I mix and match a lot of different kind of parts, from bikes, cars, you name it. I make a bunch too, out of stainless, brass, copper whatever looks right, for my Harleys as well as the Triumphs.”
You get that same impression when you step into his shop located on L.A. hot spot Melrose Avenue. The alley behind the shop is covered in high-quality graffiti painted by a professional art co-op. Inside the shop you find part museum, part clothing store, part artist’s studio, part junkyard… and a unique receptionist greeting at the door named Tiny. Tiny ain’t so tiny. His head is as big as a soccer ball and his teeth would scare a T-Rex. Tiny, a gun metal grey Pit Bull with python green eyes, takes a sniff at your leg… and other parts. A lot of sniffin’.
Working with Yaniv is Walter Earl, usually dressed all in black including a black beanie stretch cap pulled low on his forehead. The voice says New York, maybe New Jersey. A little Marlon Brando mixed in with Mickey Rourke. He shows you around the place.
The décor is welding tanks, huge metal vises, stacks of raw steel tubing, wooden shelves bending over full of Knucklehead and Shovelhead motors.
In the one of the shop’s work rooms Yaniv is busy hand-lettering a new sign he’s planning to hang over the front door of the shop. He gives a rundown on his life and times as he paints.
Growing up in Tampa, Florida, he got into stock car racing and in high school worked on his ’69 Chevelle. He went to aircraft mechanics school, got hands-on training in lathes and mills and working in aluminum and stainless steel, but eventually found two wheels more interesting.
“So I was about 20 when I got my first Triumph, chopped it all up. Everywhere I went in L.A. people stopped me, asking where I got it. That led to working on peoples’ bikes in my two-car garage, which led to my first small shop here on Melrose. Next thing I know I’m working 20 bikes, Powerplant opening in 2003.”
By the way, Yaniv happens to be a gourmet cook thanks to his Dad, a professional chef. He also plans to open up a restaurant after he’s finishing expanding the Powerplant Motorcycle Co. and cooking up many more tasty Triumphs like the one see here.
More information: Powerplant Choppers
The Soy Sauce Triumph: The Garage Company Stretches the Limits
If you visit Los Angeles and you’ve got bike fever, the only way to quench the heat is to make a pilgrimage to a shop with the somewhat misleading name: The Garage Company. They do not sell garages. But they do offer up a mind-boggling smorgasbord of vintage, classic and antique motorcycles of all shapes, sizes and, flavors, including soy sauce Triumphs.
A combination museum / vintage restoration / custom chopper / memorabilia / literature / apparel / collectibles emporium, The Garage Company is located not far from the sun and surf of the famous Muscle Beach. But in this case it’s not bulging biceps, but bikes.
Stepping through the front door, you’re greeted by a showroom floor glittering with restored 1960-70s classics including a KR-TT, a Triumph Triple, a Manx Norton, a Ducati 750SS, a Vincent Black Shadow as well as a small herd of newer MV Agustas, Bimotas, BMWs as well as custom built retro-Bobbers. If it’s got history, a unique look, smashing performance and serious cool factor, you’ll find it at The Garage Company.
The story began in the early 1970s and in Japan where a young dental appliance engineer, Yoshinobu “Yoshi” Kosaka, was starting to surround himself with all kinds of motorcycles. He didn’t just collect them, he raced them as well.
Then about 25 years ago he migrated to one of motorcycling’s most fertile grounds, Southern California, where he searched for vintage bikes at swap meets, junkyards, basically investing all his earnings into “precious metal.” It would prove to be money well spent.
Today The Garage Company is an L.A. landmark and a bike-lover’s major attraction. While originally a source for British, European, American and Japanese vintage, classic and collectible motorcycles and parts, the shop’s focus is now on Old School customs, mostly American but also tasty Triumphs.
Yoshi handles the design, while ace fabricator Kiyo hand-makes the pieces. Both their restorations and custom bobbers are ground-up fabrications including the design and construction of their specialty frames that often incorporate gooseneck forward second mated to hard-tail rear sections. They’re also partial to springer front ends and using NOS and vintage accessories to add color, character and flair to their one-off customs.
Says Yoshi, “I really like making something different each time for each particular customer. I always sit down and talk with them to learn about their personality, what car they drive, their job and then work those themes into their bike to personalize it. We always make special one-off pieces for each bike that no other bike will have. We make them very personal.”
It doesn’t get more personal than this radically long, long Triumph chopper, it’s highly sculpted form enhanced by a very special patina.
“After making the gas tank,” Kiyo explains, “I put it in a large tank and dipped it in muriatic acid mixed with lots of soy sauce and let it sit there for several days. The frame also was treated, all body parts given special copper art accents. It’s like an old artifact some archeologist might have dug up. Maybe way in the future, someone will dig it up. I don’t think it will rust anymore.”