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1965 Triumph Tiger Cub Sports
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The final versions of the Tiger Cub are considered by many to be the best of the breed. Mike Estall bought his T20Sh for a hundred pounds (and it might have been over-priced!)...

Mike Estall is the UK’s foremost authority on Triumph Tiger Cubs and Terriers. Mike has literally written the book on the subject, and maintains the Cub Register, thus keeping track of all those Cubs in the wild. Mike has owned more than one or three Tiger Cubs, but this particular bike is his favourite model -- a 1965 Cub Sports, T20SH.

The Cub began life in 1952 as the T15 Terrier, which was a unit construction 149cc ohv engine, plunger frame with trad-Trumpet nacelle styling. A weak big-end bearing was identified as an early Achilles’ heel and remained a problem for several years. To give the new model some promotion, Edward Turner rode a Terrier from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 1953 in a publicity stunt intended to counteract rumours of unreliability. He covered 1000 miles at an average speed of 36.8mph, returning 108mpg. The T20 Tiger Cub was then introduced the following year, with its 197cc capacity, dual seat and upswept exhaust.

Anti-gravity tiled floors were common in the 1950s, so sidestands were rarely used. Triumph Tiger Cub Brochure

In 1957 the Terrier went out of production, and the Cub was given a new swinging arm frame. Rear bodywork arrived in 1959, as did the slightly sporty T20S with 14.5bhp and a potential 80mph. For 1960 Triumph changed to using the energy-transfer ignition system arrived which still causes dismay among owners to this day. The Monobloc carb was also introduced this year and proved to be much less problematic.

Triumph Tiger Cub Brochure: "The T20C... includes certain items such as larger wheels and upswept pipe which make it easily adaptable for competitive riding."

In 1961 an uprated oil pump greatly improved engine lubrication then the following year the engine was mightily beefed up with new bearings and many other mods. The road-going bikes replaced the unreliable ET ignition with a battery and coil. The final gripe for owners was the position of the points which were extremely awkward to access, and these finally moved to the side of the timing case in 1963. A hybrid Bantam-Cub appeared in 1966, and production ceased in 1970. In its 16 year production life some 113,000 T15s and T20s were sold to over 150 different countries

Bit of t-cut and a wipe-down; it'll be back on the road tomorrow... 1965 Triumph Tiger Cub Sports - "Before"

Mike bought his 1965 Sports Cub in 1989 when it cost him a whole hundred pounds. Mind you, he wasn’t certain when he first clapped eyes on the thing that the hundred pounds had been entirely well-spent. The Cub was in a ‘just awful’ condition and gave him paws – sorry, pause – for thought; ‘when it fell out of the back of the Transit van my heart sank…’ Take a look at the ‘before’ photo and you’ll see why Mike was momentarily dismayed!

So to transform the Cub from an alleycat ‘before’ into a pedigree ‘after’, Mike worked for around 200 hours (call it a month of solid labour) and spent some £1400, spread over two years. He did the lion’s share of the work himself apart from the chrome and zinc plating, and the wheel-building.

The result? An ‘extremely reliable’ machine which Mike has used for Sunday afternoon blasts and trips to events for more than a decade, showing off his handiwork and what he considers to be ‘one of the best-looking lightweights from any manufacturer of the time.’

'Absolute reliability', it says here... Triumph Tiger Cub advertisement: "It'll skip through city hold ups without a care in the world..."

That isn’t to say that the Cub is fault-free – even a supporter as stalwart as Mike knows that the breed has its foibles. ‘The bike smoked lightly for the first 500 miles but this cleared as the rings and bore bedded in. It is a bit more noisy than I would like.

Valve gear rattle and a prominent exhaust note were always characteristic of the Tiger Cub and sometimes they can be too obtrusive for my liking. The ‘R’ cam contributes most of the rattle and the silencer needs replacing – I’ve tried a larger silencer but it makes no difference.

Tiger Cub stuff on

‘I fitted Boyer-Bransden electronic ignition from the outset, which cost £50. I couldn’t exactly define the ignition point which made ignition timing a matter of guess work. With a traditional points system you can see exactly where the contacts open (fag paper, 0.0015” feeler or test meter), but with the Boyer system it is difficult to judge where the trigger point is because all you see is a magnet wiping past a sensor. Once set up, it has worked superbly well.’

Mike has now travelled 5000-plus trouble-free miles on the Cub, getting around 80mpg and 250 miles to the tankful. He normally uses original brand tyres but in this case fitted Chen Singh rubber, and they’re still going strong.

1965 Triumph Tiger Cub Sports and proud owner Mike Estall - "After"

Over time, other items have been modified to suit: ‘I’ve fitted the alternative high-rise handlebar; the Sport riding position became a bit uncomfortable after more than an hour or so. The front suspension is a bit harsh on bumpy roads and multi-rate springs would help.’ Those are minor concerns, however, and the Cub’s sporty performance is perfectly matched by its petite physical size: ‘the ease of handling is now very welcome at my age!’ says Mike.

Mike still admires Sports Cub’s style and appearance, and he’s not the only one to be impressed by it. This very bike was used by Triumph in their 1995 sales brochure, to emphasise the modern company’s link with yesterday’s heritage. Then Mike’s Cub was the star of the show in the 1999 Century of Wheeled Transport event in Leicester, where it was ridden by the Lord Mayor. Not bad for a bike which, 18 years ago, could so easily have gone to the scrap-heap!


More Tiger Cub information

Mike Estall’s book, The Triumph Tiger Cub Bible is available through Amazon

The Tiger Cub Club welcome enthusiasts of the breed, and live here:

Tiger Cubs have been featured in the printed RealClassic magazine in issues 12, 19 and 31, and you can buy those issues here...


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