A chance meeting with the legendary builder of British racing triples
Wandering the paddock at any racing event is always entertaining. You never know what type of race bike you’ll see or who you’ll happen to meet. This past July, we attended the AHRMA Classic MotoFest of Monterey at Laguna Seca in California, and it did not disappoint. Cameras in hand, Geoff and I toured the pit areas. At the end of one row was an old vintage bus and a small gathering of riders in their leathers, with others relaxing or tuning vintage motorcycles.
Just three old codgers tinkering on a vintage race bike. Who knew one was a legendary builder?
Camaraderie is contagious, so we stopped for a chat and to ask some questions about their entries. Geoff had noticed the “letterbox” style fairing on the nose of one of the bikes and upon further inspection he noticed that the 750cc four-stroke road racing bike had three cylinders. He complimented the group on what he assumed were beautiful replicas of a Rob North BSA Rocket 3 and a Triumph Trident. We knew that Rob North had motorcycles in the Barber Museum. That was when he was corrected by Chantelle who replied, “Those are the real thing and my dad, Rob North, is right there!”
The triple master himself- Rob North.
For those of you who loved the 1970s, and the bikes and riders of the Golden Era, meeting Rob North in person is a special treat. He is currently 82 years of age and still works seven days a week in his fabrication shop located in National City, California. He likes to stay active building, tinkering, and developing his “Triples” and quipped, “What am I going to do, watch TV?”
A Rob North racing mill.
When asked how he first became interested in motorcycles, Rob replied that it started when he was 15 years old in Coventry, England. On his way home from school each day, his route took him past a motorcycle shop. Rob would stop and look in the window to watch the owner building and repairing motorcycles. One day as he was watching, Rob noticed that the owner was struggling to braze two frame pieces. The owner waved at him through the window to come in and hold the tubes for him. From then on Rob said he was hooked, and the gentleman taught him everything he needed to know, so that he could eventually design and fabricate his own motorbikes.
Beautiful blend of vintage form and function.
Rob North’s talent and skills have secured many trophies for the riders of his BSA and Triumph Triples. Dating back to 1970 at Daytona, with Gene Romero placing 2nd and Donny Castro 3rd, both on Triumph Tridents, along with Gary Nixon’s 1st AMA win for the Rob North Triumph Triple in New Hampshire, Rob’s work for Triumph improved the handling and performance for these legendary riders. 1971 saw Dick Mann win the Daytona 200, Gene Romero 2nd and Don Emde 3rd, as Rob North Triples swept the podium.
Rob (L) and Jason Lindquist (on bike) tuning before Jason takes it back on track.
The list of other American and British riders and road racing legends who made their mark on Rob’s machines is impressive, and yet Rob is a quiet, humble, lovely person to converse with about his contributions to racing and his design accomplishments. Thank you to Rob North for the chat and for continuing to reward the curious with your knowledge about the history and development of road racing during the 1970s.
Story and photos by Barb & Geoff Nickless