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Bike Review - Posted 2nd December 2015
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Triumph TR5T Adventurer

Triumph's Trophy Trail took centre-stage in the October issue of RealClassic mag-azine. Paul F Shoen continues the story with some personal experiences with the American models...

The T100C, the successor to the T100SC, was produced in competition form for only one year, 1966, the Jack Pine model. This machine was shipped to the USA with trials universal tyres and without instruments, where the importer fitted a Tri-Cor VDO resetable enduro speedometer. Subsequent bikes gained dual clocks, a battery and twin exhausts at the factory. Although it would continue to collect ISDT gold and Enduro Championships, from 1967 on, the production T100C fundamentally was more of a street scrambler (a street bike with high pipes) and less of a trail bike. As noted in the article in RC138, market wise, it was up against 350 and 450 Hondas. I had a chance to ride one of the last T100Cs in the dirt when it was new, and I found it to be a graceful, honest handling bike with a sweet engine. As expected, however, its weight tended to discourage any heroics.

The TR5T was marketed in the USA as a Ďtriple threatí Ė street, trail and enduro competition, or what everyone else called a dual-purpose machine back in the day. The overall gearing can be changed easily to bias it for either street or dirt (smaller or larger rear sprockets, respectively). As the magazine test machine demonstrates, the larger conical front brake can be substituted for better pavement performance. A limiting factor as regards top end is that there isnít the room to fit dual carbs, a la the DaytonaÖ although the head can be reversed for road racing. (See below). The TR5T handles much like its single cylinder cousins, even with the extra weight, and can be ridden in anger on and off the pavement. Itís hard not to fall in love with the smooth power delivery, and in the dirt, traction is plentiful and power slides are drama free.

Triumph TR5T Adventurer

Its competition cred was sealed by its 1973 ISDT results. Along with a compliment of Rickman Zundapp 125s, the 500 and 1300cc class TR5T equipped British team finished second overall in a sea of two-stroke haze. Although these bikes were modified for the event, the basic machine was identical to the production models, and the works spec was within the ability of serious privateers to replicate or better, in part or whole. The ISDT competition exhaust headers (for the high silencer), B50MX seat, hot cam, QD rear wheel and Rickman front end were available over the counter from BSA-Triumph at the time. Ultra-trick pieces like aluminium cylinders were not used on the 1973 ISDT Triumphs.

The Triumph Bandit 350 mentioned in the article was never intended as an off-road bike, but (and even more so than the later T100Cs) more as a street scrambler to go heads-up with the Hondas. If the Bandit had entered production, it would have been trouble on green lanes, and completely useless in enduro competition.

Triumph TR5T Adventurer
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Pricing in the secondhand / collectorís market reflects the TR5Tís place at or near the top of 1970-on Triumph 500s, which is as it should be.

The main difference between the 1973 and 1974 models besides the colour (yellow and red, respectively), is that the 1974 model had changes to the frame near the swinging arm and rear motor mounts intended to strengthen that critical area. The 1974 also had a much better airbox than the singles. I am not sure what the 1973 model had originally in that respect, but the ISDT bikes used a modified 25/50 T/SS model part, a fairly humble bit of kit.

The TR5Tís footpegs were placed more to the rear than on the singles. Itís a better dirt-oriented position, and makes it easier to lift the front end as well as control a drifting turn. The TR5T pegs can be used on the singles, and I recommend it for off-road use. Some riders prefer B50SS pegs, longer seat, lower front fender or larger petrol tank for the street, all available off the shelf. The passenger pegs are mounted to the swinging arm itself on this entire family of bikes, less than ideal, but far better than not at all.

What both the B50 and the TR5T lacked most in comparison to the Japanese bikes was a fifth gear. (Except when a B50MX was on the motocross track, where its weight was the negative factor versus the two-stroke competition. It wasnít Jeff Smithís motorbike, mind you.) The British 500s respond well to power mods, and their handling is superior to anything comparable. As a reference, in the 500 production road race vintage classes in AHRMA and WERRA, the B50, TR5T and Honda 350 go at it with hammer and tong. While the Honda 450ís power canít be matched, its handling precludes using it to advantage under racing conditions. Give the British bikes a fifth gear, and I am afraid the Honda 350 would also be out of the hunt.

The ultimate bike for that class would be based on the factory prototypes Triumph built near the end: a Daytona engine in the road race inspired Bandit frame. Give it a parallel intake head and a Quaife five-speed gearbox. In competent hands, on most Sundays the rest of the grid would be gunning for runner-up position.

Triumph TR5T Adventurer

One of the unique features the TR5T shares with the BSA singles is the eccentric swinging arm / chain adjustment system, similar to ones used also by Rickman, CCM and in some cases, Cheney. Its supposed purpose was to ensure proper chain alignment. (I am unsure why BSA failed to see that a similar positive locating design could be used at the axle itself.) It does make wheel / tyre changes simpler and easier than some other systems, since the axle can be removed, the wheel moved forward to slacken the chain, and then freed without loosening and resetting the adjusters.

I will say however, I have had the fixed eccentric plate separate from one end of the swinging arm spindle on my B50 road racer during morning practice for an afternoon race. (Much hurrying and scurrying about ensued). The advent of the long travel suspension dirt bike made the downside of this design only too obvious. To the extent you move the swinging arm pivot away from the countershaft sprocket, you increase adverse forces the chain exerts on the rear suspension, which does the handling no good at all. As far as I know, CCM was the last manufacturer to employ this design (1979), well past its due date.

Triumph TR5T Adventurer

Like the Norton P11 and the Triumph Hurricane, the TR5T came about because of the efforts and influence of the USA distributor. A prototype was professionally built using a 1971 dove grey BSA B50MX chassis and a T100C engine in California, and having been well pleased with the result, all concerned wanted more of them. Putting a Triumph 500 in a BSA frame was not a new idea, however. Triumphís ISDT teams had been trying to bootleg this hybrid for competition, usually unsuccessfully because of upper management opposition, for years. The all-welded BSA frames were stronger than the Triumph lugged and bolted pieces, whereas the Triumph 500 twins had proven far more reliable than the BSA B44 singles.

When my 1973 Trophy Trail was about 10 years old, suitably modified to my purpose, and I was still young, I had to make what was an epic ride (for me, that is). Under damp conditions in the late fall, I rode from the Pacific Ocean at Eureka, California east on the notoriously dangerous, famously fun and beautiful Highway 299. This twisty, and at times treacherous 150 miles of two-lane blacktop crosses over the Coast Range and then the foot of the Trinity Alps as it winds along the majestic Trinity River canyons to Redding. Rock slides and wandering deer occasionally add to the entertainment value. From there, it was 40 miles more of curving, bouncy country lane ascending into the Sierra-Cascade range where the pavement ends mid-way between the Lassen and Shasta volcanoes. The rest of the route was 10 miles of rocks and mud laid atop a forest road to a 5000 foot elevation, the snow line. And then back again that same day.

I was in a wee bit of a time crush, as you might imagine, so I ran her as hard as I could without risking going to jail, 20mph over the posted limit wherever possible. The only glitch was that the high speed vibration loosened and melted an electrical connector (I was running an ET system, no battery). After a brief roadside stop to tidy and tighten, she lit right back up and carried on like it never happened.

Once I left the pavement, if anyone had been following me, they would have had to call it off, as we made quick work of the rough terrain. We made the return trip without pause and got back to the coast about dark. Iíll never forget how she effortlessly carved her way through those mountains, all day long. Wet, dry, hard or loose, the surface made no difference. The road, in the words of Leonard Cohen, was Ďlike smoke that curled above my shoulder.í

Triumph TR5T Adventurer

Now, Iím not the man I used to be, but the Trophy Trail is ready to fire up and spin it like that again tomorrow.

If you want to know why Triumph built this bike, well, there it is.


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