The early days — Triumph Tiger T110

One of my persistent memories of The Early Days recalls having difficulty mastering the manly art of kick-starting a British motorcycle. The offender in this case was my newly-acquired 1956 Triumph Tiger T110 — a magneto-sparked 650cc overhead-valve vertical twin.

triumph_tiger_t110You had to kick the snot out of it with your right hind leg while balancing its weight with your left, being careful not to rake the inside of your right kneecap on the oil tank cap.

Holding your mouth just so was critical. Prayer might have been useful as well

“Lemme start that bike for ya,” drawled Skyball in his inimitable scornful fashion.

Skyball, born Kenneth Knight, was the mechanic at the one-horse Triumph shop in Knoxville, TN. My riding career was less than two weeks old. I was greener than green, and watched in disbelief as Skyball first deployed a previously undiscovered-to-me side stand.

Where in hell did that come from?

When it had been necessary to park my new prize (which was infrequent in those first glorious days), I had struggled to lift it (by brute force rather than technique) onto the center stand. Discovering so convenient an invention as a side stand, tucked invisibly under the left header pipe, gave me new inspiration.

Using the stand to support himself and the weight of the bike, Skyball launched his tall, lanky self high over the kicker, and descended with his full weight on its pedal. Normally, this would have spun the engine smartly, and (all mouths positioned correctly) ignition would be followed by a throaty purr.

Instead, I watched in shock as the bike fell over on my embarrassed mentor, pinning him to the ground. Fortunately, the engine failed to start.

The weld affixing the side stand boss to the frame’s cradle had failed as well. British industry in the 50’s employed few welding robots, and each frame joint was a product of some craftsman’s attention and expertise. Only the return spring prevented the defeated stand from leaving the scene entirely.

Skyball, sputtering and cursing Limey build quality, picked himself up, righted the bike, and with a swift kick brought it to satisfying life, salvaging his manly reputation.

To his further credit, Skyball then rummaged through the back of the shop (a veritable treasure trove of accessories from the Tri-Cor Catalog, failed Lucas electrical system components, and old Villiers-powered motocross bikes). He surfaced with a used accessory side stand bearing the dubious brand of the Superior Corporation. Whatever; it had to be superior to the original equipment.

Once bolted in place, it swung out and more-or-less locked into position to support the bike, but it was dorky-looking. A design flaw allowed it, when folded (mostly) out of the way, to droop into view under the header pipe, instead of stowing invisibly as the original item had so cleverly done.

The Superior stand functioned, and remained permanently as a handy accessory on that bike (except during a period when the bike campaigned as a flat tracker), but I was always ashamed of its saggy appearance. Kind of like that rumpled uncle who always had a flask in his back pocket.

To this day, I will not trust a side stand to hold my weight as I swing a leg across the saddle to mount. Would you?

Pete Tamblyn © 2008