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Triumph Motocross? You Have To Wonder Why …

The Triumph motocross program is shrouded in mystery but it appears Triumph Motorcycles will enter the enduro and motocross segments. The evidence is a company press release introducing motocross legend Ricky Carmichael and five-time World Enduro champion Ivan Cervantes as consultants on the process. If you want to know what makes a motocross bike tick there are few riders better than Ricky Carmichael to provide insight. 

Triumph says there will be a comprehensive range of all new competition models in both genres and that development is well underway. When we asked for more information, perhaps a photo or two, the answer was no but more details would be forthcoming in a few months. Triumph doubles down on the intrigue by saying it will support factory racing with a commitment to top tier championship action in both series.

Triumph CEO Nick Bloor says the company is “100 per cent committed to making a long term impact on the sport and building a winning lineup for a new generation of Triumph riders.”

While this enthusiasm and embrace of new challenges is admirable, the obvious question is why would Triumph enter a segment that is so very full of excellent and extraordinary competitors? KTM, Husqvarna and all the Japanese brands as well as several emerging ones with a lot of knowledge and expertise already vie for the slightest advantage. Triumph is no stranger to the dirt and has middle and heavyweight experience in their ADV offerings and Ernie Vigil did place fifth in the 2019 NORRA Mexican 1000 rally on an only slightly modified Scrambler 1200. Still, the motocross and enduro segments seem far outside the company’s current realm. We did report last issue that Triumph is working in cooperation with several UK organizations with the aim of potentially developing an electric motorcycle – and like it or not, that segment represents the future of motorcycling.

triumph motocross advisor

Perhaps Triumph feels they know something BMW didn’t know when it attempted the same thing back in the early 2000s. It was a short lived experiment and the BMW motocross machines faded into history as the company focused on the utter domination of the large ADV segment among other efforts. Harley-Davidson headed to the ADV segment with the Pan America but that move was essentially made to grow the brand. The need for Triumph to enter the offroad competition segment seems far less clear — for a smaller company, it sells a lot of different bikes. The extremely diverse lineup already spans sport, super-sport, cruiser, heritage, touring and a future electric platform. There is already a lot of room for growth in categories that don’t require starting from scratch. A Triumph motocross push would be doing just that.

Part of the reason for a Triumph motocross effort might be nostalgia. Triumph continues to idealize the glory days of the 1960s with the hare scramblers, desert races, Steve McQueen stunts and Bud Ekins riding skills. But the difference is that back then a Triumph was made into a dirt bike because there were few other options. This is no longer the case.

…. But There Is A Precedent

But then again, the British motorcycle industry was once dominant in the motocross scene even in North America. Brothers Don and Derek Rickman began racing motocross in England toward the end of the 1940s and steadily improved until both brothers were on the British team for the Motocross des Nations. The problem the men ran into while racing was the lack of lightweight motorcycles on which to compete. Beginning with modifying existing bikes including Triumphs and BSAs, the brothers decided the true solution was to build their own frames. As building proprietary engines was out of the question, the brothers built their now famous nickel plated frames to fit engines from other companies, particularly Triumph, BSA and Matchless engines. One of the primary innovations was the use of the frame as an oil reserve tank. The hybrid bikes with Rickman frames were up to 40 lbs lighter and therefore faster than others and their success resulted in a large demand in North America. 

With their motocross frames established but facing greater and greater challenges for the quickly improving and eventually dominant Japanese dirt machines, the brothers turned their attention toward street and road racing bikes and eventually would go on to build racing frames powered by the big Japanese four-cylinder engines. With Rickman fibreglass fairings and improvements like disc brakes the bikes proved very popular and iconic through the 1970s. But, as with the motocross segment, the Japanese companies would drastically improve their own chassis leading to less demand for the Rickman bikes. 

The Rickman brothers were a brief but dominant force in the motorcycle industry building up to 4,000 bikes a year and thousands of frames. Beyond the innovations of Rickman frames and setups, the most lasting influence —and a definite tribute to the skills of the two men — may have been the forced improvements of motorcycles from the big manufacturers.

Like other storied British names, the Rickman legacy has lived on in a number of forms and ownerships. Metisse Motorcycles, named after the Rickman’s term for their own hybrid or “mongrel” models, has seen several owners with the current one breaking ground on a new production facility in 2019. The company offers a cafe racer, a nostalgic scrambler and, possibly inevitably, a “Steve McQueen Desert Racer” with the traditional Rickman style nickel plated frame and an air-cooled 997cc  in-house engine.

AMA Hall of Fame member Derek Rickman died at the age of 88 in July of 2021

John Molony, Canadian Biker Issue  #355

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