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Old 07-25-2014, 02:47 PM   #1
vspeed OP
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Vintage Triumph/BSA For Everyday Use

I've been looking at a few older British bikes to use for cruising around my local back roads. I've owned a lot of bikes over the years but never an old Brit bike. I currently have a KTM 990 ADV as my only bike. I love the big KTM but I have had the urge to get another vintage bike lately.

Having owned a 1975 BMW R75/6 for a few years I'm aware that older bikes don't necessarily have the suspension, brakes, and power that more modern machines have and I'm OK with that.

I live in a rural area in southern Ohio. Around here there are hundreds of miles of narrow, twisty, country roads that start at the end of my driveway. I won't be riding on interstates or battling it out with cage traffic on city streets. I probably wouldn't ever take the bike more than 100 miles or so from home.

The be candid about the whole thing, the nearest liquor store to my home is about 30 miles away. It's a nice ride down a couple of curvy, hilly roads. Fetching bourbon would probably be one of the primary missions for this bike.

My concern with the British bike is really reliability and parts availability. I don't want a bike that is prone to taking me 50 miles from home and breaking down, and I don't want to have to scour swap meets for parts when it does.

A few of the bikes I'm considering are a '74 Bonneville, A '70 BSA Lightning, and a '68 TR6. I would appreciate advice, warnings, or encouragement from those of you that have spent some time living with machines like these.
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Old 07-25-2014, 03:13 PM   #2
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I had many Triumphs ovr the years i had a soft spot for an old 3TA 350 it was a 68 and i had it in about 1975 i was 17, it handled well and i realy felt a part of that bike i could cover the miles on it suprisingly quick for a little bike.
i had a daytona 500 this was a bit of a let down, it replaced my 3ta and was quicker mre torque but a bit of a let down i expected more than it gave.
I then went to a trident 4 speed a 1970 it was a great bike performed briliantly i then got my first oil in top tube twin a 1974 triumph tiger TR7 it had the crossover gear change shft made gear changing a little less slick in my opinion, but i realy loved that TR7, its perforemance matched it handling very well its single carb was adequate i loved that bike.
Went on back to tridents then for a wile T150v and a T160. last triumph i owned was a jubilee edition 1977 Bonie soild it and should not have done perhaps.

To run and maintain yourself for what you want to do i would buy a Oil in top tube frame 750 TR7, or perhaps the earlier Tiger TR6 650 i have never owned one of these though so cant talk on performance handling etc.
The tigers are single carb and i dont think they would comand quite the same premium as a bonie but not realy watching prices these days on British bikes.
Get a TR7 Man that bike was a part of me.
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Old 07-25-2014, 03:46 PM   #3
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first of all, be clear what you want to use the bike for.
for occational use to go to a rally, there is nothing wrong with a british bike.
if it is everyday use, and you want to arrive somewhere in time, i wouldnt advice a vitage british bike as transportation.

i used to run a 750 commando a triumph and a couple of enfields as a daily transport for years, ( 20.000 miles/year) but even if they didnt break down along the road , you will spend your weekends repairing and maintaining them.
the india enfield that replaced the norton was actually more reliable than the triumph and norton i used to run.

in my experience parts availability is good, if you can wait for the parts to arrive. ( so you need at least another bike)
reliability is not so good.......

still, they are very nice bikes, i still own the norton.
just dont expect them to be as reliable or maintenance free as your KTM or your bmw was....
now my guzzi's get all the every day use, the rest of the bikes only get occasional use.

All this reflects my personal experience, others might do mega miles without breakdowns....
lucky for them....

huub screwed with this post 07-26-2014 at 03:11 AM
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Old 07-25-2014, 04:28 PM   #4
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The 750 Bonnies are pretty good, 75 on are LH shift, parts are easy to get.There are plenty of upgrades for the electrics which will make it run nicer & give reliable service such as the Pazon ignition. Carbs will probably be flogged so consider a Mikuni conversion. All in all a sound solid bike.

The BSA's had a plain bearing on the timing side, look for one that has had the conversion or be prepared to spend on the upgrade. more vibey to ride than Bonnie . They look cool

TR6, one less carb = one less hassle, in the real world not a lot of difference in performance compared to the later 750 or 650 Bonnie. Nice bike

Commando , lots of parts & mods available . A well set up Nortie is a joy to ride but they do take a bit of work . My Mk2 850 is still the favourite bike I have ever owned, not the best but my favourite . I never felt the love for the MK3

They can all be reliable with sensible mods & treated with some respect & tlc
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Old 07-25-2014, 04:48 PM   #5
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The reliability is up to you. Many rookies and ham-fisted veterans have completed heroic adventures with them. They are heroes because they made them reliable or fought through. They are as good or crappy as you make them. What constitutes normal maintenance on a pushrod Triumph should not scare a KTM owner.

You will learn stuff.

If there are any blue Scotchlok connectors, you will break down and hate the bike.
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Old 07-25-2014, 05:55 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by goatroper View Post
The reliability is up to you. Many rookies and ham-fisted veterans have completed heroic adventures with them. They are heroes because they made them reliable or fought through. They are as good or crappy as you make them. What constitutes normal maintenance on a pushrod Triumph should not scare a KTM owner.

You will learn stuff.

If there are any blue Scotchlok connectors, you will break down and hate the bike.
This on reliability, British bikes are reliable they need maintainance compatable with whats fitted to them ie points gaped etc etc, but overall i would not say any less reliable than any other bikes i have owned. They always got critisised for electrics but the worst bikes i ever had on electrics were a morini 3 1/2 and a 860 GT ducati, now some of the electrical components on those bikes were less than stellar back in those days.
If you get a decent British bike to start with you will have no problems, its the same with hondas yamahas anything.
One other British bike i enjoyed owning was a 1970 royal enfield interceptor, it was very quick and tourqey. would be a nice bike for your 30mile dash and a little different to the more ubiquitous of British offerings.
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Old 07-25-2014, 06:00 PM   #7
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I'd pick the '68 TR6-lean, agile, the pinnacle of Triumph style. One carb is all you need, and it has the twin leading shoe front brake, which is surprisingly good, and more than adequate for this machine.
There are modern upgrades for just about every aspect of a Triumph like this-high-output alternators, numerous brands of electronic ignitions, and modern electrical components which replace the rectifier and Zener diode. There are high-capacity oil pumps-the list goes on and on. Any part on that bike is just a click of the mouse away from a whole array of suppliers. You don't have to worry about that.
Reliability: When you get the bike, pull it apart. Carefully go through the engine, making sure to clean out the sludge trap in the crank, and make sure every mating surface in the cases is smooth and burr-free. Legions of would-be mechanics have pried covers off with screwdrivers,left big burrs, and then said "All Triumphs leak oil" to cover their ineptness. Get a new British-made wiring harness. Don't even try to use the old one. Make sure every connection is clean and tight, and secure the wires with LOTS of cable ties-wires flopping around eventually lead to bad connections. Make sure your ground are all to bare steel on the frame, and you won't have any problems at all. A TR6 was my drive-to-work bike for quite a while-Never late or broke down even once.
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Old 07-25-2014, 06:56 PM   #8
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Dive in the waters fine. I've had 3 Meridan era Triumph twins since I started riding in the 60's, Couple 650's and one 500. Loved every one of them. You'll likely have to sort out some issues, mostly previous owner neglect or perceived "owner improvements" but as mentioned already reliability is dependent on "you" but once sorted, reliable, light, great handling, crazy fun bikes. Super easy to work on when you have to. Other than the Brit's never quite figuring out electrickery or the art of mixing fuel and air the biggest drawback is extra long gas/coffee/pee breaks. Every geezer on the planet will want to look at it and tell you about back in the day when he rode one. If he's under 40 it'll be about his dad's or grandpa's. Even if someone don't know zip about Brit motorcycles they recognize beauty and wanna meet the prom queen. It's all just part of the deal.
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Old 07-25-2014, 07:33 PM   #9
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Thanks for the replies everyone. This is all great info.
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Old 07-25-2014, 10:59 PM   #10
Rob Farmer
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If you stumble across one the les harris bonnevilles are superb bikes. Very well made and without a doubt the best parallel twin I've ridden.

The spec on the bikes is very high. Paoli forks, brembo brakes. Bosch electrics, Bing cv carbs on some.
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Old 07-26-2014, 09:04 AM   #11
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I've got a 1964 TR6. One of the first things I noticed about it was how well it handled on gravel roads. Since then I've also found how much I like it on two lane paved roads, at 60 -70 mph speeds. It has an electronic ignition conversion, I would recommend this on a Brit bike. Also consider a modern voltage regulator. As someone said, you only need (want) one carb. I am not at all afraid of 150 mile rides on my TR6. One big advantage of the late sixties/early seventies Triumphs is the brakes. My '64 has a '69 front end on it, and I left it that way for the TLS front brake.

As far as reliability, lets face it, 40 - 50 year old machines require more maintenance. If the maintenance is done, they can be reliable for the kind of use you are talking about. If you don't want to work on your bikes, don't ride old bikes. In the sixties I remember that people would shy away from buying a used car with 40 or 50 thousand miles on it, because major mechanical problems were a real possibility at that point. For bikes, 20,000 miles was a ton of miles in those days. Now people commonly buy used cars with 150 thousand miles on them and use them as their daily driver, because they're more reliable. I've personally put 15 to 17 thousand miles a year for several years on modern bikes with no major issues.

So, don't fool yourself, old bikes are less reliable. But for the type of riding you're talking about they will be more enjoyable, if you keep up on the maintenance. Working on them is part of the appeal. In the end, if you buy it right, and you decide you don't like it, you probably won't lose much money.


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Old 07-26-2014, 07:57 PM   #12
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FWIW, I have a 1970 BSA Lightning I used as a daily commuter to work and back and to the next town over when I lived in North Carolina. It requires a bit more maintenance than my '73 BMW, but it's way more fun. Parts are relatively easy to come by and I was able to do almost all the work myself. In fact, if I had to get rid of all my bikes except one, I would keep the Lightning. I love's my baby. I rebuilt it from the ground up. I don't agree with trustme on the timing side bearing. If they're in spec, they're fine. I've put thousands of miles on mine. I've only had one problem when my Lucas rear brake switch came apart and shorted out the electrical system. Unfortunately I didn't have a spare fuse, but I was only 2 blocks from home when it happened. Personally, I think they're great bikes, but they're definitely not modern. AND they just look cool!

My before pic:

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Old 07-27-2014, 12:09 AM   #13
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As all the comments above - kept in reasonable condition they're pretty reliable and if you have a bit of mechanical knowledge, will usually struggle on and get you home even if things ain't 100% - unlike modern metal.

Regular oil changes & decent coils are the way to go.... a lot of the replacement coils are pure sh*t - they seem to be made in Asia and don't last long.

Strangely enough my '69 TR6R/Bonnie hybrid is stunningly reliable. It has Boyer ignition & a Powerbox, a Dyna coil and always starts and runs good. The Amal carb is a modern one and the bike may "rattle & roll" a bit, but it never seems to get worse and goes on & on & on....

If you fancy one - whats stopping you
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Old 07-27-2014, 05:32 AM   #14
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While not being a Triumph/BSA, but a 350 cc thumper I use my '53 Ariel a lot. For commuting, family visits, pleasure, you name it. Since Februari this year I have done roughly 2500 miles on it. No problems at all (knock, knock, knock).

My other 'Britt' bike is a Indian Enfield (1976, 350 cc). It gets to see a different kind of use....

It has done thousands and thousands of off road miles Like this. The only parts that failed were either made by me (fenders), or because of the previous owner (he forgot a valve cap. Can you believe that it actually runs with a broken inlet pushrod with an inch of play?!?!?). I didn't even reset the points gap in all that time. O, did I mention that it's extremely economical?

I also have a BMW R100 and an SR500, especially the latter is a real hangar queen...

So don't worry to much about the reliability. The bike you're looking for is 40 - 60 years old and it's still here. If it had been a total piece of crap, someone would have scrapped it already.
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Old 07-27-2014, 06:52 AM   #15
vspeed OP
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That's a beautiful Lightning Beezer. You really did a nice job on the rebuild. A silk purse from a sow's ear I'd say.

The Royal Enfield "dirtbike" is cool MIOB.

I have been considering one of the new India made RE's too. They've certainly got the look of an old bike and they're not particularly expensive. I'd still prefer something old though. I like a little bit of drama in my motorcycle life, I guess that's part of the reason I have a KTM.

As far as working on the old bikes, I do my own maintenance on every vehicle I own. The /6 BMW I had was in good shape when I bought it but I did all the basic maintenance stuff like fluid changes and tune-ups myself. I also kept an unrestored '69 Toyota FJ40 Landcruiser running for many years (parts were sometimes hard to find for that thing).

However, I don't think my mechanical skills, knowledge, and experience are anywhere nears as good as what some of you guys have. If I got a bike that needed an engine overhaul or transmission rebuild it would be a major undertaking and a learning experience for me.

I'm pretty sure that I can keep a bike running if I start with one that's in good shape when I get it. As I said earlier, one of my concerns was parts availability. As long as basic things like brake shoes, wheel bearings, cables, tune-up parts, etc. are available I should be OK.

I much prefer riding to wrenching though.
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