Today’s modern motorcycles are outstanding in technology and performance, but there’s something magical about the old classics.

 

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to wrench on an older bike, a 1969 Triumph T100. An acquaintance had asked if I could help him get it running again. He had told me the bike would kick over after some tickling and kicking (it’s still a full kick-start), but not stay running more than about 30-40 seconds. Conceding that I am no master mechanic, yet interested in seeing if I could bring it back to good health, I agreed to take a shot at it.

I picked up the bike at his house the next Friday, and brought it home to see if I could breathe new life into the old girl. The first order of business was to check the battery and the plugs, all of which I replaced. Next, after examining and flushing the tank, I removed and disassembled the single Amal carburetor, thoroughly cleaning each part and “vatting” what I could in a can of carb cleaner. The carb had indeed been full of ethanol varnish and grime, and the idle & air screws were all out of whack. After reassembling and reinstalling the old Amal, I contacted a veteran Triumph friend, Steve, who knows these old Brits like the back of his hand. If anyone could help me fine tune this antique, Steve could.

Motorcycle “Stone Age”, but simple to work on. Notice the “tickler” plunger.

Steve arrived, and we set to work tuning the old carb. A few tweaks, turns, screw ins/outs, and within about 15 minutes, the old Brit was growling perfect and begging to be ridden. We obliged. Steve took her out first, blasting down the long, winding road that runs by the end of my driveway. I could hear the roar of the straight high pipes as he rode out into the countryside that surrounds my home. Some time later, he pulled back in, grinning ear to ear. “Running good,” he quipped. Next, it was my turn.

To be honest, this was not only the oldest bike I had ever worked on; it was the oldest bike I had ever ridden. Growing up, my father had a 1972 Triumph TR6 650 that I learned to ride on. Over the years, I have ridden various 70s, 80s, 90s and newer bikes. So taking out this 1969 classic was a thrill for me- to work on, and now to ride. Donning my gear, I popped it into 1st and throttled off.

Old meets New(er)- My Triumph Sprint 955 ST, and the T100.

I must confess, rolling on, shifting the clunky right side gearbox, hearing the deafening roar of those high left-side straight pipes, did something to me as I throttled down the deserted road beyond my home. I felt a thrill, a rebellious nostalgia I had never experienced on a bike before. I’ve ridden some cool bikes over the years, with much more power and way better handling than this, but nothing compared to the feeling of this old, loud, shuddering and shaking piece of motorcycle history. The wind blasting in my face, I found myself howling in my helmet, unable to contain my sudden youthful enthusiasm with this bike. I felt like James Dean or Marlon Brando, careening down country roads on this old Triumph. Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” was running through my brain. Seriously. It was raw, visceral, like motorcycling used to feel; like it felt when my dad rode these bikes; like it should feel again.

This was fun- to tinker on, then to ride.

No wonder so many of the moto-brands are trying to recapture and deliver that feeling again, with the return of Cafés, Bobbers, Scramblers, Trackers, etc. Yet for all the efforts to bring back the nostalgia in modern livery, nothing can compare with “rockin’ to the oldies” on an original. Sure, they require constant care and maintenance. Sure, you have to be handy with a set of tools, and carry some with you when riding these bikes for any time and distance. And sure, they “mark their territory” everywhere they are parked, they often leak so much. But after riding the T100, I’d be inclined to buy one myself now. Not as a daily rider, long distance horse or track tool, mind you. But for those days when my “inner hooligan” is growling to get out, there is nothing so thrilling as these old beasts. They are worth every dollar, drip and busted knuckle to keep them on the road.

I did return the T100 to her rightful, and happy, owner. Eventually. A bit reluctantly, I must confess.

Time to start searching the classifieds…

Rob

*Got a story about the thrill of reviving an old bike? Share it with us below!

2 Comments

  1. Lawrence

    Get the best of the Brit twins, Norton Commando. Make that 500 feel like a MG Midget compared to an XKE. Owned mine since new. Many Triumphs came and went.

    Phil Schilling, 1974…
    “The Norton vertical twin should have died and gone to legend a generation ago. In a world of perfect logic, engine designs should never maunder on for decades and finally be crushed by onrushing technology. Good ideas deserve better. Good engines should go to harvest in the fullness of their autumn; most mechanical things which struggle on simply die cold and wretched in December.
    Seasons do not cover England in perfect symmetry. Spring is cold and damp, and so is fall and winter. Onrushing technology there slows; the present walks in cadence with the past. And mechanical things like the Norton twin soldier on and on…through the Fifties…into the Sixties…and reach the mid-Seventies. In other places, someone would have raised the last hurrah at an earlier stage-when the original 500 twin turned to a 600, or 650, or 750, or 850. But somehow, no matter how deep Norton reaches into December, the final cheer never comes. There’s only the next hurrah.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      And yet, Norton died an untimely death, as did nearly the entire Brit motorcycle industry. Triumph died then resurrected, Royal Enfield relocated to India, and a few others sputtered and wheezed from time to time as their names were bought and sold.
      We do think the Norton Commando was and is an extraordinary motorcycle. “Legendary” we would add, per our story on Peter Egan’s Commando we featured last year-

      https://roaddirt.tv/legendary-bikes-peter-egans-1974-norton-commando/

      Glad you still own a piece of motorcycle history, Larry.

      Reply

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