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Bike Review - Posted 30th March 2016
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Triumph T100SS – Buying Guide

'A truly great 500' said Triumph. 'Easily handled by the experienced rider – the Tiger 100 is produced especially for the sports motorcyclist.' Rowena Hoseason reviews a nimble classic twin...

When Triumph introduced their unit construction 500 twin, it was still saddled with the bodywork from the pre-unit models of the 1950s. The fully-clad T100A was ‘slower than the original Tiger 100… a sheep in wolf’s clothing.’ So the first T100S/S of 1962 was a slightly strange creation, a sporting 500 twin with a bit of a bathtub attached. The new SS looked a lot less stodgy than the T100A however, and swapped the fork-top nacelle unit for a stand-alone chromed headlight. Its mudguards had shrunk but it still sported a sizeable bikini around its midriff.

Triumph T100SS – Buying Guide Click to embiggen...

Despite its compromised styling, the SS offered class-leading performance for a single-carb 500 twin. While the Speed Twin boasted 27bhp, the SS used its revised camshafts and 9:1 compression piston to produce 34bhp at 7000rpm. Losing the tinware saved the SS some 27lb and certainly put a spring in the Tiger’s stride.

However, the generally accepted view that a 500 Triumph will out-perform a 500 BSA in all situations isn’t entirely accurate. The T100SS is significantly (by at least 50lb) lighter than the A50 – that’s because the A50 is essentially a 650 machine fitted with a smaller engine. The A50 is bigger all round in fact, apart from in the price department. Back in 1962, the T100SS cost 10% more than the BSA which in real money equated to two weeks’ wage.

Triumph T100SS – Buying Guide 1962 Triumph T100SS - Up for auction at £8k with no bids....

So was it worth paying the extra for the Tiger? In speed tests at the time, the T100SS reached the magic ton. The BSA was indeed slower… by an entire 3mph. The Triumph would accelerate from a standstill to 80mph in 14 seconds. Which is exactly the same time it took the A50 to hit the same speed. It’s only when you look at the lower end of the performance curve that you start to see where the Triumph truly beat its rivals. The T100SS was half a second faster than the A50 from nought to 60mph. But in the traffic light dash – up to 30mph – the Triumph was unbeatable. It hit the urban speed limit in just 2.5 seconds while the BSA was left admiring the T100’s tasty tailpipes. And that is how the Triumph earned its supersports reputation: on short, sharp dashes with outstanding mid-range acceleration.

The American T100SS was never afflicted with the bikini rear enclosure, and the British model finally lost its modesty and revealed all in 1964. The new oil tank and sidepanel weren’t any lighter, but they looked more sporty and further enhanced the appeal of the machine among trendy young things. At the same time, Triumph made one of many attempts to stop the pushrod tubes leaking (not entirely successful) and gave the 500 new forks which were similar to those used by the 650s. The steering and handling didn’t really improve much until 1966 when a new frame with a single-piece front loop and wider swinging arm was introduced.

Triumph T100SS – Buying Guide Click to embiggen...

Then in 1967 and 68 came the changes which really made the SS into a pocket-size superbike, adopting a new cylinder head based on the Daytona racers and (finally) a frame which was sturdy enough to make best use of the twin’s enhanced performance. The T100SS was effectively replaced at the top of the 500 range by the twin-carb T100T Daytona, but it also adopted several of its stablemate’s improved components including a 26mm Concentric instead of the old Monobloc , Triumph’s two-way damped forks, a new arrangement for timing cylinders separately, and then in 1969 the T100SS achieved its ultimate specification with a bottom-end overhaul and a seven-inch 2ls front brake in a full width hub.

Triumph T100SS – Buying Guide
Triumph 500s on Now...

All this potential performance inevitably encouraged frisky riders to push their Tigers to the limit. A typical 18 year old T100SS owner confessed that in 1976 his throttle had just two positions – ‘off or full on.’ His riding style generated the expected mechanical repercussions and he spent a couple of weekends each month adjusting the points, re-setting the valve clearances and replacing the tappet covers when their threads wore loose. That same chap suffered an oil pump failure which resulted in lube being liberally applied to the outside of the engine, and his leg, and the rear tyre. His T100’s electrics suffered as well, with regular vibration-induced shorts and a burnt-out out coil. The petrol tank fixing bolts sheared so the fuel tank always wobbled around. And then the crank fractured across one of the big end journals, virtually splitting it in half…

Triumph T100SS – Buying Guide 1965 Triumph T100SS - Up for sale at £4,750....

These experiences should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone who intends to use a T100SS to the max: it’ll last an awful lot longer at speeds of 60 to 70mph and you may actually retain your dental work. These days, a T100SS is entirely suited to spirited B-road romps, making the most of its exhilarating acceleration without caning it senseless at the top end. You’ll find scruffy, non-standard examples, probably in need of recommissioning or a spot of TLC for three grand. Don’t pay more than £5k, even for a ready to ride show-stopper – prices for unit construction models aren’t rising right now.

Words by Rowena Hoseason


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