A History of Triumph Speed
The Fastest 110 Years in Motorcycling
Ever since 1902, when they strapped a tiny, 2hp Minerva motor to a bicycle frame, Triumph Motorcycles has been chasing speed. That original model, appropriately named the No. 1, was built to go faster and farther than any bicycle could, and it quickly announced Triumph’s intentions for the coming century. By 1905, the first all-Triumph motorcycle was produced. Soon after, Triumph was off and racing. In 1907’s inaugural Isle of Man TT, racers Jack Marshall and Frank Hulbert took home second and third place, respectively, on their then-powerful 3 ½ hp Triumphs. Both bikes averaged an impressive 35mph during the race, and things would only get faster from there.
In 1915, Triumph introduced the Model H, a model many consider the first modern motorcycle. With its 549cc air-cooled engine, the Model H was nicknamed “the Trusty Triumph” for its speed and dependability in the field during World War I. Over 57,000 units were sold between 1915 and 1923.
The Model H’s popularity paved the way for the innovative four-valve Triumph Ricardo. With an astonishing 20hp and a top speed of over 70mph, the ‘Riccy’ set three world speed records from 1921 to 1928. It was versatile, too, winning the 1923 International Six Day Trial off road event.
Aiming to build its first true ‘performance’ motorcycle, Triumph unleashed the iconic Speed Twin in 1938. The 27hp, 498cc parallel twin powerplant in the Speed Twin proved supremely reliable compared to its contemporaries, and with a top speed of over 90mph, it was one of the fastest motorcycles available. The Speed Twin’s combination of power, speed and reliability essentially launched the British Twin era and set the stage for Triumph’s assault on the land speed record books.
Starting in 1949 with the 650cc Thunderbird, American riders began to realize the high-speed potential that Triumph’s offered. By 1955, the Texas trio of Jack Wilson, Stormy Mangham and Johnny Allen rocketed their 650cc Triumph “Devil’s Arrow” down the Bonneville Salt Flats to a world record 193.3 mph. A year later, the bike they would call the “Texas Cee-gar” would hit an AMA-sanctioned world record speed of 214.7 mph.
Capitalizing on this Salt Flat success, Triumph launched their most legendary model in 1959. The aptly named Bonneville was a 650cc performance masterpiece. With a reliable top speed of 115mph, the “Bonnie” was billed as the World’s Fastest Production Motorcycle, and it fueled even more land speed record runs. In 1966, the Gyronaut X1, built and piloted by Bob Leppan, Alex Tremulis and Jim Bruflodt, reached a record speed of 245.6 mph. Featuring twin 650cc Bonneville motors, the Gyronaut’s record would stand for nearly four years. In fact, except for on 33-day period, a Triumph and its rider held the record of world’s fastest motorcycle from 1955 to 1970.
But land speed records weren’t Triumph’s only performance achievements over the years. Riders like Gary Nixon and Gene Romero ruled AMA road and flat track racing in the late Sixties and early Seventies, both scoring AMA Grand National Championships and Daytona 200 wins. Triumph racer Eddie Mulder took home numerous TT victories in the Sixties and would later dominate the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb aboard his vintage 1969 Bonneville, winning the event an incredible nine times. And in 1962, Bill Baird and his 500cc Triumph Trophy won the AMA Grand National Enduro Championship, proving Triumphs could win races off road, too.
That pursuit of speed has continued in Triumph’s modern era. Models like the aluminum-framed T509 Speed Triple, the 2300cc Rocket III and the race-ready Daytona 675R have all earned their place in Triumph’s high-performance history. On the track, Latus Motors Racing’s Jason DiSalvo and Dustin Dominguez continue to bring home AMA Road Racing victories. Bill Gately’s Bonneville Performance team turns fast times in AMA Pro Flat Track racing. And at the drag strip, Carpenter Racing’s 240hp Rocket III “Silverback” throws down low 9-second quarter mile times at more than 150mph.
For over 110 years, Triumph Motorcycles has been building motorcycles which prove that high performance and high style can coexist. What’s in store for the next 110 years? No one can tell the future, but if Triumph is involved, you can bet it will happen fast.