#295 Triumph TR5T : Trials and Triumphs

It’s a long and winding road that leads the TR5T to Smith’s door.

The year was 1971, when, in his new role as executive director of engineering at BSA-Triumph, Bert Hopwood conceived a three-stage plan that he hoped could save Britain’s biggest bike maker. First, engineering and quality issues with the 1971 range had to be fixed, including resolving the too-tall frame of the top-selling 650 Bonneville. Phase two included the introduction of three new motorcycles for 1973 that were largely based on existing models. Finally, Hopwood drew up a range of motorcycle engines based on a modular 200cc OHC single—a 400cc twin, 600cc triple, 800cc four and 1000cc V-5, which he scheduled for production in 1975.
The interim 1973 models included a 750cc Bonneville, a big-bore 830cc electric-start Trident, and a dual-purpose bike combining the 500cc single-carb T100 twin motor and BSA’s highly-respected B50MX frame. This last bike was the 1973 TR5T Trophy Trail (Adventurer in the UK). The electric-start triple had to wait three more years (until after the Norton Villiers takeover of 1973), but both the 750 Bonnie and the TR5T were listed in the 1973 brochure.
The final part of Hopwood’s plan came to naught. After Norton-Villiers took over BSA-Triumph in 1973, new boss Dennis Poore scrapped it.

THE INTERNATIONAL SIX DAYS TRIAL (now morphed into the ISDE) was first run exactly 100 years ago in Carlisle, England. Though reliability trials had been run previously on a national basis, the international event quickly proved popular, and became an important showcase for each participating nation’s engineering prowess.
A test of rider skill and endurance as well as of mechanical reliability and durability, the ISDT required teams of riders to cover a measured course (on- and off road), within a set time. The British team won the event in the first year and dominated the 1920s, though teams from other countries—especially Czechoslovakia—later became pre-eminent. Britain last won the ISDT Trophy in 1953.
It’s said that Triumph USA’s west-coast division (essentially the former Johnson Motors company) came up with the idea of providing TR5T’s to the 1973 US International Six Days Trial team, and it proved to be an inspired decision. It was the first time the event had been held in the Americas, and the US team harvested the runner-up Silver Vase award. Three members of the US team were awarded gold medals (indicating the rider finished within 10 per cent of the winning time) riding TR5Ts, though the first place Trophy once more went to the all-conquering Czechs.
But by 1973, the TR5T was really an anachronism in off-road sport, the ISDT field being dominated by lightweight Japanese and European two-strokes. The Trophy Trail was produced for just two years.

THE FIRST TIME I SAW A TROPHY TRAIL was in the late 1990s in the window of a widely notorious motorcycle parts store on Sandy Boulevard in Portland, Oregon. Proprietor Cliff Majhor anticipated the boom in restoration of old British bikes and had bought out the unwanted inventory of numerous bike dealers on the west coast. If you needed a part for your old British bike, Cliff almost certainly had it. But his prices were exorbitant. And if he didn’t like you, he wouldn’t sell it to you at any price. To anyone who knew his store, he was… The Sandy Bandit.
It’s said a feisty customer once asked Cliff if he had a tail light lens for a 1936 Ariel. Cliff produced one and placed it on the counter. “Got the only two in the world,” he said. “$80.” The customer told Cliff in very plain language that his price was way too high. “Okay,” said Cliff, dropping the lens on the floor and smashing it under his boot. “Now there’s only one in the world, and the price is $160.”
The NOS TR5T in Cliff’s window hadn’t moved in probably 30 years when I saw it, draped in dust and the patina of neglect. “$25,000,” he told me when I asked the price …

ALBERT HOLLINGER ENJOYED A colourful career as a rattlesnake hunter, wall-of-death rider, bomb disposal expert and prison custodian. Along the way, he amassed what must be the largest collection of militaria in private hands. He also rode and collected motorcycles, including many rare and unusual items: a Rotax-powered Les Harris Matchless “G80” for example, as well as a street-going Manx Norton with lights and a kickstart. In our locale, he was known for riding a Kawasaki W650 with Triumph tank badges, and the legend, “Who Cares?” in the licence plate. But I knew he also owned a Triumph TR5T.
In his 80s and in failing health, Hollinger decided to dispose of his collection through an auction house. It was while I was waiting for the TR5T to go on the block that I learned Mark Lane had bought the entire Hollinger motorcycle collection for his Dreamcycle museum in Sorrento, BC. Mark didn’t want to keep all the bikes he’d bought, though he wanted to display the TR5T until the end of 2013. After that, it could go. We made a deal.
And so another refugee from old Blighty finds a home chez Smith.

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