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Bike Profile - Posted 23rd May 2011

Triumph Trident T160 - The British Superbike
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Once youíve fettled your treasured classic until itís as good as it can get, should you put it on a pedestal and admire it? Rowena Hoseason grabs her riding gear...

There ain't nothing else on Earth like a Triumph triple. It's got poise and it's got passion and it's got power. A quick spin on the bike you see here had me grinning like a fool. The muted growl from the pipes and the promise of superbike-style speed from the motor blew away the angst and the cramps of long days at the desk and too many hours at the keyboard.

The four hour drive on four wheels to get to Wiltshire had left me numb with motorway monotony. Just twenty minutes of raucous, rev-happy riding split the day's dull mood with shards of sunlight. Hell's Teeth, the Trident even started straight up on the button. This is a bike begging to be ridden. Ridden hard. And that's why it's something of a mystery. In its 28 year lifespan, this particular example of Small Heath's final output has covered a mere 27,000 miles.

... Triumph Trident T160

A thousand miles a year isn't a bad average for a classic, you may point out, and you'd be correct. I'd kill to cover a thousand miles a year on my own Triumph triple, for instance (but fixing it is more likely to be the end of me than anyone else). However, this is no ordinary ride-it-as-you-find-it classic. Ten years ago its chassis was completely overhauled and its engine's top end was reconditioned. I started to note all of the work which was done to it... and then decided it was too nice a day to waste on filling an entire notebook when I could be blatting around the lanes on the bike itself.

A previous owner of this T160 Trident has lavished huge amounts of attention and a considerable sum of cash on it. The bottom end appears to be untouched but almost every other aspect of the triple has been refurbished, modified or fettled. The frame's been powder-coated, the fork stanchions are new, the three Concentric carbs are fresh from the box, that's a new wiring harness, those are new sprockets, that's a beefy big battery, those are modern tyres - the list isn't quite endless but it is very long. Just about every reconditioning kit available from triple specialists LP Williams has been bought for this bike (calliper kit? Check. Master cylinder kit? Check. Etc) and the bill wasn't cheap. One invoice alone totalled £1418.39 - and that was in 1992!

Naturally fast when new, today the Trident only needs a touch of upgrading to make it a real mile muncher once again. A previous owner loved this bike so much that he transformed it into the perfect classic for riding on modern roads. And then...

...he didn't ride it.

After all the upgrades, the T160 has covered just 50 miles a year, to and from the MoT station. It's stiff, now; all the new chassis bushes and bearings need to bed in. It's been stood for an age so the carbs are gummy - they needed a good clean before it would sing happily on all three cylinders. And the front Pirelli was far too fat for the Trident's precise steering, and so gave the front end a bit of an indistinct, flabby feel which is totally foreign to a T160. That tyre is gone now, and the Trident's normal solid step has been reinstated.

Photo present in smudge-o-vision... Triumph Trident T160

Just look at it. Doesn't it call to you to grab your crash hat and fire it up?

Part of the reason for its 'urge to action' appeal is the T160's clever styling. The canted forward motor, swept-back handlebars and kicked-up silencers give it a version of the 'I'm ready for the off' look which rivals that of the Commando. The T160 possesses such a natural flair that you'd be forgiven for thinking it was always meant to be thus: that the final old industry Trident was exactly what the original designer had in mind for the British multi-cylindered superbike.

Err.... hardly.

Work on the triple project began in the early 1960s, with Bert Hopwood and Doug Hele continuing their search for the future of the British bike industry. The first prototype engine was the same bore and stroke as the ancient 500cc Speed Twin (63mm x 80mm) with a cast iron cylinder barrel, primary drive via three gears, and an output of 59bhp at 8000rpm. This one-off proved to be much smoother than a twin and yet not too massive to handle, and so the project progressed. The next step was to used a standardised bore and stroke of 67mm x 70mm (is a triple three singles stuck together, or a twin and a single? No answer required!), and to develop the engine to cope with the heat and the chassis with the extra output. BSA-Triumph needed a fast fix which used modified existing parts and tooling to allow them to compete in the superbike class, and the triple was a pragmatic solution. It was intended to circumvent the vibration problems which occurred when the parallel twin motor was pushed beyond the 650cc barrier.

Thus the original Trident and Rocket 3 models were revealed to the public in 1968 and went on sale in the UK a year later. The early styling came as a shock to many, who had expected a new Triumph to look like an existing Triumph and not like something out of Buck Rogers.

Very quickly, the Flash Gordon effect was toned down for the all-important American market. Huge racing success followed, including five TT wins in a row for one single bike; Slippery Sam slithered into history.

A major facelift was planned for 1973 which would have taken the triple engine to 830cc and so created the Thunderbird III, but this model didn't get beyond the prototype stage. The name was dumped when it was suggested that Ford might not be entirely happy it - a bit of a cheek considering they'd borrowed the name of their car from the Triumph twin in the first place! In any case, the collapse of industrial relations at Meriden and the blockade scuppered thoughts of an entirely new model. Production of the Trident was moved to the BSA works at Small Heath, where the engines had always been built. The men of Meriden weren't exactly happy at this turn of events and refused to release the Trident's tooling and technical drawings, forcing NVT to go back to the drawingboard, literally, to get the T160 made. Considering its gestation, it's a miracle that the T160 arrived at all.

Five speed gearbox? Whatever next?..

But arrive it did, and with many of the Thunderbird III's features intact; electric starter, 5-speed gearbox, 10-inch disc brakes front and rear, and with the aircooled 740cc pushrod engine sloped forward in the frame a la Rocket 3.

The T160's lump sat higher and further forward than the T150's did, redistributing more weight over the front wheel to give better handling at speed. Together with the new frame, based on the ones used by the successful production racers, this gave space for not only (hurrah!) the electric starter and big battery but (boo!) a huge airbox to muffle induction roar.

The single downtube steel frame and carefully damped suspension used the lessons learned on the racetrack to give the T160 the kind of confident precision which Zed One riders and CB750 pilots never knew. The T160 wasn't as taut as the Italians of its era but it was way more controlled than the Japanese superbeasts. The forks used shorter springs and were positioned at a slightly steeper angle (28-degrees) to give faster line-chopping. This also increased the amount of judder transmitted to the rider, but only slightly. The T160 boasted a good six inches of ground clearance thanks to the raised frame tubes, and the swinging arm grew by an inch to keep it all stable at high speed. As a result it's not the strongest rear fork you'll ever meet, and a determined journo of the 1970s claimed to have bent one while riding hard over rough ground, two-up. Hmm.

A neutral light? Whatever next?..

More than 200 changes were made to the earlier T150 Trident in the process of creating the T160. The foot controls swapped sides to satisfy US legislation. The revised instrument panel sprouted a neutral light. Power was now fed through a duplex (previously triplex) primary drive chain to the dry, single plate clutch. The emission control monster got its claws into everything; adding silencing and muffling and general strangulation to the bike's breathing system (and adding an irritating contribution to the overall vibration).

But it was the style of the T160 which changed the most. It wasn't slabby and it wasn't blobby and it wasn't traditional Triumph... but it carried enough of the marque's spirit to be easily accepted. Unlike the T150, the final Trident is a sleek beast comprised of flowing lines and comfortable curves. And it's more than just a pretty face - it's a flyer.

If you're a Brit single rider by preference, or you feel most comfortable with compact parallel twins, then the set-across-the frame triple engine might put you off.

The Trident feels big when you sit on it. The T160 has a wide saddle and you'll need more than a 32-inch inside leg to touch down firmly on both sides at once.

On tiptoes it can feel a little precarious; the T160 is 40lb heavier than a T150 and much of that mass migrated upwards. To us young whippersnappers however, it's tidily slimline - the narrow bars revealing just how slender it really is. My biggest problem is that I always snag my legs on the non-folding footrests at low speeds (yes, yes; they should be ON the footrests, not dangling. I know).

Pulling away on a Trident feels peculiar if truly old bikes are your thing. It's not over-equipped with stump-pulling grunt, and you need stir those three carbs into action and get the revs rolling to fi nd out what all the fuss was about. Put some elbow into it: the T160's best performance hovers between 4000 and 5000rpm - and some folk I know will never ride a Britbike beyond 3k! So you need to give it some thrust and let it breathe a bit, releasing something like sixty high-stepping horses from the 120-degree, pushrod engine.

This one is quicker from the off than a standard T160, thanks to its upgrades and especially its LP Williams Legend exhaust system. If I was really brave I'd be able to confirm that it'll see 115mph at 7000rpm in top - but you know I ain't that careless with someone else's bike. Instead I can tell you that it whistles straight up to seventy in third with remarkably little racket from the top end - this might well be the quietest T160 I've encountered. In fifth gear it settled to a really easy, high mileage stride, humming and growling, and prepared to drop down as far as 30mph before starting to stutter and demand a fl ick down a cog or two.

The usual buzz through the footrests at over 4k is gone; fixed by a set of anti-vibe footrests. The saddle is more comfortable than the standard plank - although the T160's hard-arsed problem is diffi cult to fix. It's not just the thin seat which is at fault; the development team couldn't quite position the footrests where they need to be. As a result your feet are neither forward nor back nor in the right place, and you can't carry much body mass through your legs. So you tend to forget to lean forward with the bike, and slump back, and let yourself rest on your behind. Result? Compressed foam and a numb bum.

The seating position is about the biggest flaw I found on this T160. It's very much the motorcycle which NVT were aiming for: a true British superbike, able to hold its head high in international company.

The second-best T160 colour scheme..

I've just re-read all the old road tests and there is continual thread of suppressed sadness in them. The writers of the time knew that the T160 was nearly right - and it WAS so nearly right - but they also knew that it was the end result of an awful lot of compromises and it carried the future of the industry on its back. So, many of its foibles were forgiven because of what it represented. A further thirty years of independent development work have fixed most of the obvious niggles, and now the T160 has very little left to apologise for.

With the right tyres fitted this bike handles well enough to wear away the footrest rubbers once again; it'll peel confidently into corners with a nudge of body weight and exit each bend without that 1970s tailend shimmy we all know and don't love.

The T160 always encourages an involved ride, and this one is no exception. You won't get away with sitting like a sack of spuds at low revs. Take charge, relax into the thrum and hustle of a happy triple, and stay on the throttle. The 4.5 gallon tank will take you 150 miles or more, so what are you waiting for?

This Triumph has been given so much attention that it doesn't deserve to sit in a showroom for one more day, not when the sun is shining and it is so ready to ride. Think of it as a lonely heart, waiting for its perfect match to come along. 'T160 Trident seeks partner to travel together and see the world. Ready to roll whenever you are.' Someone buy this bike and ride it, please. Before I do...

Triumph Trident T160 Fact Pack
  • Built from 1975 to 1976
  • Bore / stroke 67mm x 70mm
  • Capacity 740cc
  • Power 58bhp @ 7250rpm
  • Compression ratio 9.5:1
  • Carburation 3x 27mm Amal
  • Concentrics
  • Transmission 5-speed, chain drive
  • Frame Tubular steel cradle
  • Tyres 4.10 x 19
  • Brakes 10-inch (254mm) discs
  • Seat height 31.5-inches (800mm)
  • Wheelbase 58-inches (1473mm)
  • Ground clearance 6.5-inches (165mm)
  • Dry weight 502lb (228kg)
  • Fuel consumption 38mpg
  • Braking distance 27ft from 30mph
  • Standing qtr-mile 13.95 seconds
  • Top speed 120mph
  • Tridents Old and New on Now....

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    Words: Rowena Hoseason
    Photos: Rowena Hoseason, Frank Westworth

    First published in RealClassic Magazine No.4, which is now sold out. You can search the available back issues here: classicissues.com/welcome.asp?title=RC

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