Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Transatlantic Trend

I was completely fascinated by this article. It's a wonderful topic to see Edward Turner's insight on.

I had an Indian Chief and similar era Triumph Twin in my garage recently. The technological differences are pretty striking even though the two in question were only a couple of years apart in age.

Not long after this article was written Indian did develop a British like twin. During a visit to the USA in the 1940's Edward Turner was asked for comments after reviewing engineering drawings of the Indian Warrior vertical twin. Turner expressed concerns about the main bearing design. Ultimately it turned out he was correct. Indian motorcycles was dead within a few years. Ironically soon after Indian then became a branded British motorcycle importer.

So how right was Turner? Given the number of doo-rag toting guys I see cruising through town with their feet on their highway pegs the Lazy-Boy riding position has remained pretty popular. Overall HD has evolved probably less than any other motorcycle manufacturer in the world. In large part Harley's success has been more about marketing and image than technology since Turner's article was written. Certainly Harleys continued to get bigger and more bloated through the HD "Chrome Consultants" days. I suspect if HD could legally sell brand new 1948 Panheads complete with faux-tina like like Fender Guitars is doing through it's Custom Shop guitars there would be no shortage of buyers. Fender and Harley both are likely making more money off "Hard Rock Cafe" style merchandise marketing now than they do from selling their actual core products. I don't see how Turner could have predicted that though.

What about Triumph? Ultimately Triumph died for similar reasons as Indian, poor marketing decisions and failure to evolve at a rate that met their competition. Again somewhat ironically Edward Turner visited Japan in the early '60s, met Soichiro Honda and toured Japanese motorcycle production facilities. He Was awed by the organization, ļ¬nancial strength and manufacturing capabilities of the Japanese companies. Ultimately what Turner relayed to the board of directors had little effect. Turner retired from the BSA board (Triumph was then BSA owned) in 1967.

A modern Triumph 675 Daytona weighs 390 lbs. It's 675cc displacement is now generally considered to be "small" compared to say the 2,294 cc Triumph Rocket III. Remember the original 650cc Triumph Thunderbird was the 1949 answer to American demands for a larger displacement bikes. Even the "retro" Triumphs are much bigger and bulkier when compared side-to-side with a classic Unit bike. I'm not sure "all the speed and acceleration that could ever be required" that Turner mentions in the article has ever been a realistic criteria as far as American (and most other) motorcyclists are concerned.

That said, I ride Triumphs from (or near) the Turner era. As far as I'm concerned today he wasn't far off. If I was still 18 my perception might well be a little different, I honestly can't say. I can say however that I've always loved the simplicity, character and esthetic of old motorcycles.

1 comment:

english stephen said...

What an amazing article - just as relevant today as it was in 1947 - quite sad really that that spot on assessment was delivered 65 years ago and the US motorcycle industry is the same today...

I have often wondered why we don't have 300 lb bikes today - the Street Triple 'dry' weight is 370lbs (and by the time you can actually ride it quite a bit heavier) and that is considered a light bike! The weight of the new Speed Triple R ready to ride with a full tank is 481 lbs!!