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John H Bike Histories - Triumph 1

Sideburn ambassador and non-T-shirt wearer, John harrison is back with some of his personal bike history

Ever since l was 13 or so I have been starstruck by Evel Knievel and stunned but Mert Lawwill and his mates in On Any Sunday. I have considered that Harley's '70s era XR750 is the epitome of aesthetic motorcycle style. Not just the finest of the dirtt rackers, but of all mo'sickles. I picked up a 1973 HD brochure, in 1973, from the local bike shop that listed it with a picture and it just looked so right. Twin, black high level pipes on the left, two massive cylindrical air filters at odd angles on the right. The factory colours were perfect. 'Jet Fire Orange'. Yeah man! These were the days when a big 'bike was a 750. The 1200cc Sportsters and 'Glides were beyond my realm of comprehension. A Norton Commando & that new four cylinder (!?!) Honda with masses of carbs & pipes were 750s so one obviously didn't need any more.

I recognised it as two-wheeled art. The first one I saw in the flesh was a stocker at the 1976 or '77 Custom Car Show at the Ally Pally in among the choppers and it blew me away because it still looked so right, and with better proportions and lines than all the custom bikes. In the 90s I heard that they had one on display in the Guggenhiem Museum of modern art in Bilbao representing the acme of motorcycle design, so I realised that I wasn't the only one who appreciated that it is more than just a racing motorcycle.

I loved them but had to accept that they would always be out of reach for me so began to think that perhaps a flat track Triumph or BSA from the same era would be a good second best and might be viable financially. A Trackmaster would be fabulous, but again, beyond my meagre purchasing ability.

I took the bikes in the famous picture of the smiling heroes of On Any Sunday at Ascot in '71 as my inspiration. Ceriani forks, Akront rims, Dunlop K70s tyres, bars with plenty of sweep (look at Tommy Rockwood #9's high beauties), no front brake and twin shocks are my pointers. A fat front tyre, no front guard and a large number plate are a must. Now don't get me wrong, a CRF450 is a wonderful thing, but when I think of flat track, this is what I see.

Anyway, in 2000 a 1972 Triumph TR6R came up via a friend who knew that I hankered after a 70s era flat tracker. Being an oil in frame model it had the splayed twin downtubes, the correct forks, a 750 top end with twin mk2 Amals, a ril purty tank and a nice 2-into-1 exhaust. But it also had low ape hangers, a seat that resembled a railway sleeper, nasty squared side panels and rusting skinny steel rims with roadrunners on, but I saw past all that and did the deal parting with some money and the registration from my Harley 45. It was a few years before I made a start on it, but my vision came together quite easily. I had a pair of ally 18in rims laced onto the conical hubs with stainless spokes, put the ancient K70 that was formerly on the front of my 45 on the front wheel and bought a fresh one for the rear. I bought a Triumph specific, XR style seat from the States, had some bars bent up after having spent ages fruitlessly searching for the perfect pair, and got a pair of earlier style repop side panels which conveniently came black, matching the frame and tank. I needed to remake the rear loop of frame suit the seat, cut off extraneous brackets & then it was out with the rattle cans to paint it up in a homage to Harley works colours. I was chuffed to bits with how it looked. Still am.

It was 2006 before I had sorted a pair of tiny LED stop lights, fitted a bicycle speedo and got it daylight MOT'd, but the bloody motor never ran cleanly. I have no previous experience of Triumphs, so was fishing about trying all sorts of things. It wasn't until 2011 after I worked out that the inlet valve timing was retarded that it really came to life. Later I was recommended Elextrex World CDI ignition and that made a massive difference in starting, power and torque. It was now a sweet riding 'sickle and we finally bonded dynamically. Some people slag the OIF models, but as I've only got a rigid Harley with rather wooden springer forks and brakes made by the soggy cardboard co as a comparator I think it's great. I've read that the frame was based on the Trackmaster and that's enough for me.

I even braved going as far as Beaulieu for a bike show (100-mile round trip) but it started running rough on the way home (a main jet undid itself), and it would regularly find a false neutral on downshifts.

Already happy with how it looked I was now happy with how it rode and was content that it was as close to my vision of a 70s Flattracker as I could get.

Already happy with how it looked I was now happy with how it rode and was content that it was as close to my vision of a 70s Flattracker as I could get.

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