A California-Inspired Triumph with a TR6 650 cc Engine: Some motorcycles speak of so specific a time that it’s like they have their inspiration emblazoned on their sleeve. This West Coast inspired Triumph is one of those motorcycles.
With his face pressed against the glass in the back of his parents’ car, a young Alan Richards stared slack-jawed as motorcycle outlaws sped past. In his New Zealand home, where most club members rode B.S.A.s and Triumphs on the twisty highways, the image of rebels tearing it up on British-based choppers and bobbers was seared in Richards’ memory. Owning his first Triumph at 18, it’s been a love affair with no end – regardless of where he’s lived.
Richards has hopped around the world, residing in England, the U.S., and as of 2007, Canada. He and his wife landed in Calgary, and here he’s continued to hone his chops as a bike-builder. His fascination with handcrafted motorcycles in 2009 led him to Oak Canyon Ranch in California and the first Born Free Vintage Chopper and Classic Motorcycle Show.
Born Free is a grassroots happening where thousands of garage and professional builders show up and display modified motorcycles. There are, however, a select group of 25 ‘invited builders’ who are meant to set something of a standard. In an off-the-cuff text to Mike Davis, one of the show’s promoters, Richards wondered how exactly one becomes ‘invited’.
“The text back said, ‘What are you building?’” Richards remembers. For several years, the Kiwi native had been collecting parts to build a pre-unit Triumph show bike in homage to Southern California customs of the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Mike then sent me an email that said, ‘Sorry to announce – but you’re in.’”
Richards had been working slowly on the Triumph, which is based on a 1953 rigid frame sourced from Baxter Cycles in Marne, Iowa, but he wasn’t exactly facing a deadline until the invitation to BF5. Now, there was a fire in his belly. Richards had found a 1959 Triumph TR6 650cc engine, and had Wes White of Four Aces Cycle in California rebuild the power plant.
“I’d had the engine for a couple of years, and pulled it apart,” Richards says. “It was a complete disaster, even the crank itself was cracked.” White fixed a whole host of problems, and installed high-lift performance cams with a replacement crank. When Richards found out he was going to BF5, he pulled the Bonneville head with its dual polished 26mm Amal carbs and the barrels so he could chrome plate all of the top end fasteners.
The separate gearbox is from a 1953 Triumph. Because Richards had also completely assembled the transmission before the BF5 invite, he painstakingly went back and polished the case by hand using progressively finer sandpaper, ending at 1000 wet and dry. Final lustre came from polishing compound and elbow grease. All aluminum was polished, including the primary and timing covers.
Because Richards fit a wider Newby belt drive in place of the standard single-row chain, the outer primary cover needed to move away from the inner. This job was entrusted to Neil Gordon of Calgary, who simply turned spacers to offset the two covers. Richards modified two unit-Triumph left-hand exhaust pipes to act as headers, welded in ribbed pipe from Factory Metal Works, and added tips made up by Neil Lots of Calgary.
Fork is circa 1950s Triumph fitted with chrome MCM covers and a replica Bates headlight. Richards ran his own wires, but Bob Klassen made all of the final connections. Dog bone risers clamp a 1” straight and narrow handlebar, complete with Schwinn bicycle grips, Tommaselli throttle and pre-unit Triumph levers. Wheels feature stock hubs with chrome-plated rims from SRM Engineering in the UK. Front is a 21” and the rear an 18”. Most of these components, including hubs, brake plates and actuating levers, were chromed by Victoria Plating in B.C.
Oil is carried in a narrowed Triumph tank, with gasoline in an aftermarket peanut tank that Richards also narrowed by 21/2″. He split it, fabricated the tunnel, tacked it together and took it to Derek Pauletto at Trillion Industries for final welding. Richards formed his seat pan, had it chrome plated, and sent it to Haifley Bros. in Phoenix, Arizona for a super sexy tuck and roll in white. After making five or six different sissy bars, Richards finally stuck with a bend he liked, completing the look with a Harley-Davidson Panhead taillight.
“The text back said, ‘What are you building?’” Richards remembers. For several years, the Kiwi native had been collecting parts to build a pre-unit Triumph show bike in homage to Southern California customs of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
After completely assembling the Triumph, Richards took it apart, made crates, and shipped frame, tank and fender to Sonny Boy Paint in Los Angeles. He wanted to recreate the look of Sixties customs, and Sonny Boy sprayed the frame candy apple red and the tank and fender candy brandywine. Richards couldn’t afford to add any other touches, but Sonny Boy said it had to be done. He laid down the tank panels gratis, and it was a gesture that blew Richards away.
“I look back now and wonder WTF?” Richards says. “Why would you go through all of that? But after all of the fabricating, chroming and painting it was just a big deal to be invited to Born Free 5. I’m happy with the results, and I’m continuously learning, even if I didn’t come back with anything from the show – it was a great experience.” Now, after working out a few teething issues, Richards hopes to see a few faces plastered to glass as he hits the roads.