Old Motorbikes Rule!

The beauty of riding an old bike like this is that they perform quite well...the excitement and feedback is achieved at a more relaxed pace

WHEN I was about 12 years old, a wee lad living in Scotland in the 1960’s and already into bikes, there was a rigid, spring-hub T’Bird dumped in a parking lot near some mate’s place and nobody seemed to own it. Every now and then someone would stick a battery and some fuel in it and thrash it around the streets till the battery went flat or the fuel ran out, then they would dump it. I always wanted that bike but eventually someone just took it away.

My recent story with this Triumph starts at the Ballarat Swap 2019 on a long wander through the almost 2500 stalls. I was at the very bottom end of the stalls, which is about half-a-km from our stall, when I spotted the bike that has always been on my bucket list — a rigid, sprung-hub, 6T Triumph 650 Thunderbird.

It was not quite in original form as it was painted in Tiger 100 colours. These bikes were originally painted polychromatic blue ‘all over’ and I always thought that was just too much blue!

The title ‘sprung-hub’ refers to the rear wheel which incorporates a compression and rebound spring inside the rear hub, working on the axle that gives a small amount of rear suspension still using the rigid frame.

The bike appeared to be very original and complete, in good condition, and in its non-butchered shape, right down to the original wiring loom.

Upon getting the bike home and checking it out in more detail, all I found was that the bike had suffered a broken piston ring which had damaged the cylinder. All I had to do was replace the rings and the barrel that I happened to have in stock.

I did a full service and fitted a set of ‘asbestos’ AM4 Ferodo front brake linings, as I feel that the risk of getting mesothelioma from them is less of a worry than ending up in the side of a Camry because the driver “didn’t see me” and I couldn’t stop.

The bike is a very nice one to ride and feels as if it will still do the 100 mph that they achieved when new. It cruises comfortably at 120 km/h and the much maligned sprung-hub works very well and does not cause any strange handling. They were scorned when they had some wear as the back-end could feel rather loose, this was mostly on the early ones, Mk1, but this is the later improved Mk2 version.

Not much is known of its history as it was purchased by a guy in Mackay Qld after it had been retired as a daily ride-to-work bike from home to the wharfs where the owner worked. The bike apparently suffered the failure and the head was removed although it had been refitted when I purchased it.

I have checked (through a friend) the dispatch records and can pin it down as having been built in January 1955 to a special order supplied with rigid frame (as the swinging arm type had been introduced in 1954) and sidecar gearing. These feature are confirmed on the engine and frame numbers. Although the engine and frame numbers don’t match they are both from the same batch, so most likely were swapped at some stage in the services workshops.

I think that it was dispatched to Malaysia or one of the close Asian countries and may have been ordered in the T100, 500 cc colours as the public could only purchase bikes up too 500 cc and the authorities may not have wanted the public to know that they had 650’s!

The beauty of riding an old bike like this is that they perform quite well, not in the league of a modern sport bike, but are much more fun at a lower speed as the excitement and feedback is achieved at a more relaxed pace; and if you should get it wrong, you probably will survive, where as a modern bike only gets exciting at ballistic speeds and when it goes wrong they scrape up the bits remaining!

Old Bikes Rule!

words by Paul Dunster; photos by Julius Goboly, Tower Photographics: 0407-486-759.

You can check out more photos of Paul’s Triumph at Jenna And The Rigid Thunderbird.

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