Rules. Things imparted on us by adults when we’re young and supposedly don’t know any better. I never really liked following them and now try to avoid situations where should, supposed and ought to are frequently used vocabulary. The nice people at Triumph are unfortunately bound by rules, lots of them. The men in Brussels tell them how many daisies must be emitted from the exhaust to counter the nasty SOx and NOx. Roger in accounts won’t let Geoff in Engine Development use titanium valve stems and HMRC won’t let Triumph’s owner Mr Bloor keep all of his pocket money, despite employing 2000 people, producing 60,000 motorcycles every year and being a bastion of British engineering and business.
With all of these hoops to jump through and regulations to follow you could forgive Triumph for taking a safe approach to manufacturing. They could easily keep their heads down, follow the rules and maybe knock out a good bike every now and again. Thankfully there are enough companies in the motorcycle sector doing just that. The crew from Hinckley prefer to defiantly stride forward with a Steve McQueen-esque two fingers raised at conformity.
So, a few weeks ago Dutch & I headed to eastest East London for the press launch of the all new Triumph Bobber. Then there was a party with hip young rock stars playing guitars and a glitzy drag race inside a giant hanger, like really giant. Apparently there were a thousand people in attendance all keen to see if Triumph’s team had done their homework properly. On the whole the new Bobber was very well received, both during the event and on subsequent social media exchanges. But some of the tirades by a minority really got my back up. “You can’t do that!” “Oooww, the sacralidge, I won’t hear of it” and “Bobber, how dare they, those are supposed to be like this, with stuff like that taken off” Seriously, fuck off!
What on earth do you think grandpa was saying back in the fifties when bobbing pre-war classics really took off. Yup, pretty much the same sort of thing. Had everyone capitulated and listened to that fuddy duddy rhetoric the custom scene perhaps wouldn’t exist at all. And that would be sadder than the face of a baby seal who can’t find it’s mum.
Yes the newness of the new wave custom scene is behind us and the mainstream now offer bikes for the savvier and more discerning of the masses but how can that be anything other than a positive. And what did people expect Triumph to do? Watch every Tom, Dick and Harry tear apart a perfectly good Bonneville and turn it into a thing of beauty, to then go and launch a hybrid three-wheeler. Get with the program.
Right, that clears the chest a bit. So what’s all the fuss about with Triumph’s latest Bobber. Well, as mentioned in the launch feature we haven’t ridden it yet but next month we’ll be among the first bunch of journos to test the Bobber for real, on proper roads, hopefully somewhere warm! And no, we haven’t sold out and turned all mainstream, we’re still true to our values and even if scribbling about bikes didn’t pay the rent we’d still customise just about everything we own. And if we don’t own it we can always drum up a compelling case for convincing someone else to do something a bit different. Which is why we get on with the people at Triumph so well. Yes, they need to sell bikes and yes they have spotted trends and filled voids left by other manufacturers but the people we’ve met at the factory aren’t typical corporate types. They’re as geeky and passionate as us. After a full day at the coal face it doesn’t take much to engage a member of the design team in a conversation about the intricacies of one type of zinc passivating over another or whether a 15 weight oil might be better in a T120’s forks than 5w.
When choosing a partner for custom projects you’d think that with all their global reach and financial might Triumph would pick up the phone to a mega outfit, someone like Roland Sands Design perhaps. But no, they’ve built relationships with people just like their own team, albeit on a smaller scale.
Rotherham based Down & Out Cafe Racers are no strangers to weaving new clothes for the latest emperor and have built some impressive customs for Triumph over the last couple of years. But the launch of the Bobber was veiled in such secrecy and against such tight deadlines that D&O were up against the clock before the bike had even been delivered. Frontman and seasoned custom veteran Shaun Walker is experienced in delivering special projects for manufacturers and luckily has an understanding missus. The D&O workshop was lit by midnight oil for the entire month of October.
The architecture of a modern 1200cc water-cooled Triumph might resemble the early power plants but these days it’s a hell of a lump. In a good way though. And being the High Torque version means that the Bobber is meant to be a brute. If you saw the early release vids from Motorcycle News on launch day you’ll recall the young boy masquerading as grownup road tester Adam Child, with a four foot grin across his face after repeatedly smoking the rear tyre across a car park. The Bobber might be perfectly capable of cruising all day but we don’t care about that, and neither did the Triumph marketing team, they wanted Shaun and the team to build a dragstrip hooligan.
The first task for D&O was to bin the comfortable, swept bars and hunker the rider down with a pair of specially made clipons by Fastec Racing, clamped to the fork really low for maximum aggression. The remaining bolt holes are plugged with turned and brushed aluminium. Shaun has a thing for clean bars and has a pet hate for clumpy switchgear, replacing the lot with minimal buttons running off internally routed wiring. Triumph go to great lengths to protect their software which makes removing the clocks a royal pain in the arse. The internals and essential components have been hidden to placate the prima donna of an ECU and a simple Motogadget Chrono Classic speedo sits low ahead of the top clamp.
Seeing as the boffins in Hinckley had spent a huge amount of time and effort on the rear end of the bobber it made sense to show it off. And no, it doesn’t have to be a hardtail and no, they haven’t tried to pretend it is one. An underslung shock could have allowed for a clever pivot beneath the seat and to the untrained eye the bobber would have adhered to the critic’s imaginary rulebook. The swinging rear cage has been designed with looks in mind but the bike has to ride well, in real world scenarios, after all this bike needs to be ready for global markets, not just for pottering down Old Street.
Shaun might sound like a Yorkshireman but if you’ve seen his previous work you’d swear he was Danish. Minimal and hidden are a Down & Out signature so it’s no surprise that the side panels made the recycling pile early doors, allowing a clear view of the trick suspension linkage, and loads of fresh air. The airbox was also ditched in favour of simple pod filters, not that the motor needs any more punch. The sound of all that air being sucked in from around one’s nether regions will be wonderfully sonorous just before hitting the rev limiter.
The rear mudguard also made the box marked return to Hinckley, replaced by a hand rolled aluminium token gesture towards weather protection. You’d think this would make the floating seat look unbalanced but exposing more of the structure somehow gels and balances the backend. The saddle itself went under the knife to reduce the thickness of the foam and slim the width of the stock seat pan, which is now upholstered by Core Seating in diamond stitched full grain leather.
The job of converting all that shove into momentum goes to a Pirelli Diablo Corsa slick, 160 in diameter and mounted to a wider 5” rim. The grip from sticky race rubber will be needed as the sting in this bobber’s tail is a brace of gas canisters containing the drag racer’s drug of choice, Nitrous Oxide. 5 inches have been chopped out of the stock pipes and the slash cut ends welded back on. We’ve heard one of these engines uncorked and can’t wait to give this one a squirt up the road.
With the soundtrack sorted attention was turned to the looks. Triumph’s polishing department have the satin look dialled in but it was decided that raw metal didn’t scream mean so all the engine cases were replaced with matt black versions.
Triumph wanted to incorporate a touch of retro, apparently inspired by the metalflake paint schemes of fairground waltzers but for me the deep purple and gold leaf logo reminds me of hot rods and gassers that I used to watch tear down Santa Pod as a kid. Triumph’s recent trip to the Bonneville salt flats would have no doubt stoked the creative fires within the marketing team and instigated the lurid colour. Joe Black from custom paint guru 8-Ball was given the task of making the tank pop and from here it looks like he’s hit the nail squarely on the head.
OK, so this isn’t the most radical of builds in terms of out and out reengineering but what it highlights is that Triumph aren’t just dilly dallying around on the periphery of the custom scene, they want to own it. On a seriously limited timescale Shaun and the Down & Out crew have delivered a flavour of the potential that is the Triumph Bobber. Given the tsunami of Triumph based builds we’ve reported on over the last five years there’s no doubt custom workshops will be queuing up to make their mark on the Bobber. But for now ‘Hold On, Go Fast’ is being unveiled at EICMA and we’re on our way to have a look for ourselves, and make sure D&O have lined up all the screw heads and hidden all the wires.
We’ll let you know what it’s like up close and personal and of course expect a thorough road test to follow.