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Triumph Tiger 80
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Triumph twins may be the most famous classic bikes of all time. But what about the bikes they replaced? Matt Little writes in praise of the Tiger 80, and Jim Peace continues a Tigerish tale...

One part that nobody ever seems to cover when writing about Triumph twins is what was pushed off the production line to make room for them. In the pre-Speed Twin era Triumph’s brand-leader was the Tiger 90 (500cc single). By all accounts it wasn’t the best 500 on the market at the time but the smaller Tigers 70 and 80 (250 and 350cc) variants were among the best sporting singles available at the time.

Now there's a handsome bike... 1937 Triumph Tiger 80

It seems unfair to me that so many other Brit singles from the 1930s were able to continue production into the 50s and 60s while the Tigers 70 and 80 were not reintroduced post-war because their makers were too preoccupied with making twins. Apparently Triumph listed a 350cc single for the 1946 season, but I don’t think any were actually manufactured. I guess they must have been too busy making twins to bother.

I think my 1937 Tiger 80 is far better in terms of performance, quality and design than my 1941 G3L. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with the Matchless (it too was probably better than average in its day) but I do have to wonder that if the Matchless heavyweight single was able to sell well into the ’60s what might the Tiger 80 have been able to do post-war?

And there's another... Matt's 1937 Triumph Tiger 80

The only two areas where I find my Tiger 80 to be inferior to any Brit bikes that are up to 40 years its junior are lubrication to the valve gear and passenger comfort. The former problem is because the design was based on an earlier open valve engine, hence the oil feed has to be severely limited to prevent excessive oil leakage. A top-end redesign for the later 3HW single solved this problem. The latter problem can be corrected by fitting a sprung hub, not an ideal solution, but by the standards of the day I guess some people would have considered it better than nothing.

I bought the T80 by mistake! I was looking for a 1930s MAC at the time but couldn’t find one for sale within a sensible distance. In spite of my love of Velos, I’m glad I went for the T80 as the primary chain case and dynamo belt on my Venom really annoy me at times (the Triumph is much more modern in these areas) The photo shows my cosmetically incorrect yet great fun to ride Tiger.

Matt Little

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I was interested to read Matt Little’s opinions about the pre-war Triumph singles, because the first four-stroke motorcycle I ever kick-started was a Tiger 80. It wasn’t mine; it belonged to an elderly gentleman who lived a few miles away from my home. This chap had lost his right foot in the First World War and when he wanted to ride his bike he pushed it out into the road and waited for a motorcyclist to come along. As this was the late 1950s he never had to wait more than a few minutes. He’d flag the rider down and ask them to start the bike for him. Most of the local riders knew him by sight and stopped automatically if they saw him.

The first time he stopped me he had to go through the starting sequence, which I have never forgotten. I was very chuffed when it actually fired up. The bike had been converted to positive stop hand-change with a short lever on the side of the tank. Instead of the normal quadrant with notched positions, you simply moved the lever backwards and forwards, just like a modern sequential gearbox. Plus ca change…

This chap didn’t have a proper prosthetic foot, he had a ‘Long John Silver’ type peg leg, which he lifted into an old tin cup that was bolted on top of the right footrest. He also rode very fast. I’m sure that some of older readers must remember characters like this; nowadays they all drive adapted cars . Sad, in a way. [Oh no they don't! www.NABD.org.uk RM]

At that time us teenage tearaways used to hang out at several cafes, one of which was the ‘Golden Hind’ at Hindhead. Occasionally London bike clubs would stop there on the way to the coast. We country bumpkins would study their bikes carefully, and I can remember at least one Tiger 90 which had been updated with telescopic forks, and a nacelle.

I can also remember a Tiger 90 scrambler which raced at Tweseldown; it also had teles, without the nacelle, and a swinging arm conversion. It was very fast, being quite light, but broke down a lot.

Triumph stuff on eBay.co.uk

In the late 50s there were still quite a few pre-war bikes in regular use, and many of them were as tough as old boots. The Tiger singles, however, were not. They had a reputation for being fragile, possibly because of the lubrication problem that Matt mentions. In those days oil got changed when you could afford it, and it was nowhere near as good as the modern stuff. The black gunge that came out of sumps and oil tanks could have been used to caulk boats, and sometimes was. Most of it didn’t come out, of course, and had to be ‘encouraged’ with flushing oil. Remember flushing oil?

However, if a Tiger single was properly looked after, it certainly went very well, and could be just as fast and reliable as many later bikes. I have to agree with Matt that they had more character than a lot of other machines.

Just needs a bit of a polish... Jim's Triumph Tiger 80

In 1990 one of my best friends died unacceptably young. His widow asked me to help sell off his small collection of bikes, which included a partly assembled Tiger 80. Not knowing exactly where everything went, I loosely tied several bits on with string and carted it off to auction, where we got a good price for it. A picture of this bike is attached, just before it sold. For some reason only the right hand side of the tank had been painted, and looked rather good. The left hand side, as you can see, had not. Odd that.

Finally, there was a young lad who used to turn up sometimes at Ron’s café in Haslemere. He had a very scruffy Tiger 70. His nickname was ‘Towrope’. Says it all really…

Jim Peace



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