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Classic Motorcycle Review - Posted 22nd January 2010

Triumph Tiger Cub - Profile and Guide

The tiny Tiger was in production for over a decade and nowadays the Cub has something of a cult following. If you're thinking of buying, here's a quick overview of the market...

'With its brilliant performance' chirped the 1958 brochure, 'the Triumph Tiger Cub is the popular" choice of the lightweight enthusiast today. He appreciates the lively four-stroke OHV engine with its simple dry sump lubrication system and four-speed gearbox built in unit. As for economy of running and value for money, the Cub is really on its own.'

Nice garden... Triumph Tiger Cub: This 1960 example was offered for private sale at the end of 2009 in 'good running condition' with seven months MOT

That flannel described the 200cc T20 which was a direct development of the 149cc Terrier, first built in 1952. Both were simple and compact machines, styled to match the fashions of the day. The 1958 Cub with its inclined OHV single cylinder engine was capable of 60mph at a push and returned around 100mpg. This combination of reasonable performance and fair frugality, together with a dash of Edward Turner's design panache, kept the Cub in production until 1970 despite some skimping on the spec of the earlier models.

Nice glare Triumph Tiger Cub: This 1965 200cc Tiger Cub went on sale at Andy Tiernan's ( in January 2010 for £2000

The unit construction, 63mm by 64mm, 199cc engine ran at 7:1 compression and was fitted with an alloy cylinder head, a plain big end bearing (famous for being fast wearing), and used a double-plunger oil pump. Although the duplex primary chain was supposedly 'silent', it was very sensitive to the level of lube in its oil bath and could easily stretch and slap if badly maintained. So although the motor output 10bhp at 6000rpm, you couldn't necessarily rely on that much power being used to rotate the rear wheel…

Nice snow Triumph Tiger Cub: French Army Tiger Cubs don't turn up very often. Built in 1966, this one came with its original equipment and had covered just 10,000km. It sold for £3350

The first Cubs used plunger suspension then swapped to swinging arm and rear shocks from 1957. The 16-inch wheels were equipped with 5.5-inch cast iron drum brakes, which were adequate for its featherweight of just 98kg (around 215lb). The Cub used telescopic forks, a slim and not very strong looped frame, and a multi-plate clutch to take drive from the four-speed box with a positive-stop footchange mechanism.

Nice planks Triumph Tiger Cub: The first Cubs wore skirts, as was the fashion of the late 1950s. They are rather less popular than the later models, which is why this 1959 sold for under a grand

'The Cub was an excellent performer' said Cyril Ayton of Motorcycle Sport, 'with a top speed of 65mph and plenty of acceleration to distance it on the road from contemporary two-strokes of comparable size.' There is always some downside, however: it was also noisy - both mechanically and from the exhaust - and prone to harsh vibration when caned (all the time, effectively).

Nice hedge Triumph Tiger Cub: Recently rebuilt, this Cub had done just 50 miles since an entire engine overhaul plus rebuilt forks, new chassis bushes and bearing, etc. It's a 1961 bike fitted with an earlier engine, and was offered for sale at £1250

The T20C was produced for 'the sporting rider' from the late 50s, with larger wheels, greater mudguard clearance, different gear ratios, and an upswept pipe which made it 'easily adaptable for competitive riding'. Alongside the lightweight Greeves, the trials Cub became a roaring (sorry) success and remains extremely popular with pre-65 trials guys.

Nice hinges Triumph Tiger Cub: When the Cub was discontinued, dealer Comerfords bought a batch and built works replica trials bikes. This one sold at auction for £3680

Extra road-going speed came along in 1962 with the Sports Cub, equipped with a three-gallon petrol tank, rectifier lighting and revised engine with a 9:1 compression ratio, which would carry it to the giddy heights of 70mph.

Nice explosion? Triumph Tiger Cub top-end exploded view

Tiger Cub spares on ...

By the late 1960s the Cub had morphed into an unusual animal indeed. In some bizarre genetic experiment the Tiger Cub and BSA D10 Bantam were combined to produce a feline-chicken hybrid, the Bantam Cub, with the four-stroke engine being slotted into the two-stroke's chassis. It could've been a completely turkey, but in fact is curiously successful and extended the Cub's lifespan for a few more years after its introduction in 1966.

Nice fairing. Not. Triumph Tiger Cub: One of the very last Cubs, this 1968 example comes blessed with a rear carrier and snoot fairing. Despite that, it sold for £1150

These days, Tiger Cubs are highly sought after either as easy to handle roadgoing classics or trials specials for serious off-road work. Prices start from about £1000 for an early, basic model; the mid-1960s street versions are perhaps the most practical for road mileage today, with Trials Cubs fetching big money -- £5k isn't unheard of for a tricksy off-roader.

The Cub Club offers support to owners, and Mike Estall's Tiger Cub Bible is considered the essential publication for would-be buyers and owners alike.

Nice purple twistgrip... Triumph Tiger Cub: The trial guys are very serious about their Cubs. This 'no expense spared' renovation was offered at the end of 2009 for £5400, and its spec included alloy square barrel, alloy fuel tank, Morad rims, stainless spokes, low gear set, Dell'Orto carb, trick forks in Triumph sliders, modified yokes with fat bars, race cam, PVL ignition and posh shocks. Phew

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