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Bike Profile - Posted 6th February 2012

1971 Triumph Tiger TR6R
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Not every Triumph 650 twin is a Bonneville. The single-carb 650 of the early 1970s adopted another of the marque's famous names for just a couple of years...

'You'll be tops when you take to the road with a Tiger!' said Triumph's marketing men back in 1971, keeping an admirably straight face. Triumph resurrected the Tiger title for this roadster-style single-carb 650 twin which, like its twin-carb Bonneville brother, slotted in to the firm's new oil-in-frame chassis.

Carbs apart, the Tiger was almost identical to the Bonneville and claimed to have 'performance to spare, with tractability, economy and smooth running. Beautifully finished in striking colours, it is designed for hard work and relaxed riding. The best of both worlds… it's the bike which shows Triumph power can be as flexible as a foil. The secret is the big twin OHV engine delivering 47bhp with its single carb, providing maximum flexibility with greater torque at lower rpm.'

Forever in the Bonneville's shadow?... 1971 Triumph Tiger TR6R Brochure

Indeed, they weren't telling too many big fat fibs. The Tiger proved to be only slightly slower at the top end than the Bonneville and its single Amal carb needed less fettling, but it still boasted gutsy grunt at low revs and better fuel economy. The Tiger delivered its maximum output at 6500rpm while the Bonneville revved 500rpm higher to provide maybe three or four more horsepower. The TR6R cost £488 new in 1971 while the T120R cost £525.

Both bikes featured the engine specification which had stood Triumph in good stead for several decades; aircooled twin cylinders of 71mm bore by 82mm stroke to give a capacity of 649cc; pushrod operated overhead valves with gear-driven cams; light alloy head, plain big end bearings and ball/roller main bearings; running at 9:1 compression (or 8.5:1 in the USA). In 1971 the Tiger used a four-speed gearbox; the five-speed version was introduced the following year.

The Tiger featured down-swept exhausts with balance pipe; its stablemate the TR6C kept the Trophy nametag with its competition associations and had high-rise exhaust pipes stacked on one side. All the 650 twins of this era came with 12 volt, twin coil electrics and indicators which would only work when the moon was waxing, the wind was blowing north by northwest, and the correct incantation had been intoned by the infuriated rider. Usually something involving 'four', 'forks' and 'ache'.

Click to embiggen... 1971 Triumph Tiger TR6R Brochure - click to enlarge

The oil-bearing frame with duplex downtubes was all-new and largely unwelcome at the time, and gave the press something to complain about for ages. The hinged seat was initially 34 inches tall (later reduced to 32 inches) and, it has to be said, quite wide, which came as a shock to many riders who were used to British twins being lithe and low. If you jump onto a TR6R from a Laverda Jota or a Suzi GS850 then it'll feel fairly petite, but if you're used to a rigid single from the 1930s then you might want to wear your longer legs that day…

The Tiger's bounce came courtesy of swinging arm rear suspension with dual Girling shocks, hydraulically damped and adjustable for load. At the front end the two-way hydraulic damping was provided by a new set of slimline forks with polished ally sliders. When first launched the Tiger didn't wear gaiters although they were reintroduced a year later, and you'll notice that this bike sensibly sports a set. The chrome of this period was not prone to staying attached to the motorcycle for many British winters and the stanchions wore rapidly, while the exposed fork legs allowed dirt to shred the seals.

This model came with the special out-of-proportion front wheel... 1971 Triumph Tiger TR6R
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The Dunlop K70 tyres were fitted to a 19-inch front and 18-inch rear wheel, with a conventional seven inch drum brake at the rear and a rather more controversial set-up at the sharp end. The eight inch, twin-leading-shoe, light alloy conical hub brake needs longer brake arms to be really effective, and even then can be tricky to adjust. Having said that, I've met a couple of conical hub stoppers which have been good enough to lift the rear wheel when applied with alacrity, so the one seen here is probably more than capable of coping with the extra mass of the sidecar. Normally, a solo TR6R would weigh around 385lb.

Some 7500 of these bikes were built in 1971, and then another 3500 in 1972. That was the final year of production for the TR6R which was replaced by the 744cc twin. This particular machine was originally built in June 1971 and exported to Jamaica in the West Indies. It came back to Blighty in bits at the end of 1996, and was gradually rebuilt into a working motorcycle again until it was re-registered in June 2001, almost exactly 30 years after it was first manufactured. The Tiger then spent a while with a VMCC club member, going on local runs, at some time sprouted the handsome sidecar you see here, and that was when current owner Keith Wort found it for sale at a car showroom.

People on seats in background: 'He's taking photo; all look the other way'... 1971 Triumph Tiger TR6R

We fell over the Tiger at the 2011 Royal Enfield weekend, where it won the RealClassic award in our street-cred concours competition. Keith rode it from the south coast up to the Cotswolds for the day; he'd owned it for a little over a year and had more than doubled its mileage in that time. As you can see from the photos, Keith and the Tiger outfit get about a bit.

When he bought it the Tiger was in good working order, cosmetically excellent, although the engine needed some attention and Keith's had to keep up with running repairs.

'It has oil leaks,' say Keith 'but who doesn't? And occasional electrical problems, but generally it's fairly reliable. The major thing at the moment is a loose exhaust outlet, again, this seems to be quite a common problem with the bikes of this era.'

People standing in background: 'He's taking photo; look the other way'... 1971 Triumph Tiger TR6R

Yup, the easy push-in pipes are famed for being easy fall-out too. However, Keith can live with trifling foibles of this type. 'The ride back from the Cotswolds was really memorable,' he says, 'on a beautiful sunny day, thought the English countryside. The sidecar and colour scheme give it a huge amount of character.'

Back in the day, the TR6R's slab-sided styling wasn't to everyone's tastes and UK-trim 650 Triumph of this era tend to be more affordable than their American-spec counterparts or the pre-OIF models. Hence the Tiger has become recognised as an affordable classic; one with minimal, known and easily resolved mechanical problems, ample real world performance to keep up with modern traffic, decent brakes (when correctly adjusted), and easy starting if fitted with electronic ignition. And a little oily incontinence, just so it feels like a proper British bike.

People standing in background: 'He's taking photo; hide!'... Triumph Tiger TR6R sold at Bonhams

A similar TR6R sold at Bonhams auction in April 2011 for just £2185, although it didn't have any documents and so would have required considerable work to get back on the road. Keith paid around £5000 for his whole outfit in 2010, and if you're considering buying a similar bike then he reckons you should take the plunge without further ado:-

'Don't think twice - just be prepared to enjoy yourself!'

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Words Rowena Hoseason
Photos Keith Wort, Bonhams Auctioneers (www.bonhams.com)

Recommended reading: regular RC contributor Matthew Vale has written an entire book on this subject which is well worth perusing if you're considering a purchase. 'Triumph 650cc and 750cc Twins: Bonneville, Tiger, Trophy and Thunderbird' is available from Amazon.co.uk

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