Memorable MC Triumph TR5T Adventurer

October 12, 2004
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

The Triumph TR5T Adventurer was fast enough to win the Daytona 200  motocross GPs and yet stable enough for trials competition.
The Triumph TR5T Adventurer was fast enough to win the Daytona 200, motocross GPs and yet stable enough for trials competition.

The Triumph Adventurer is one of the great, “If only…” stories of the British motorcycling industry. If only it had arrived seven years earlier. If only there had been the money to promote, and develop, the bike. If only it hadn’t been launched in a desperate, last gasp exercise at the end of the Triumph’s life as a world class motorcycle manufacturer. As things stand, the TR5T is still one of the best bikes ever produced by the British motorcycle industry – but if only…

The Adventurer first appeared in very late 1972 for the 1973 model year and its very presence showed the desperation of the BSA group, the parent company of the Triumph. Why desperation? The fact that the Adventurer used what was effectively a BSA chassis and a Triumph engine was an anathema to both of the two factories who actively and enthusiastically loathed each other.

To describe this state of affairs as sad is one of the great understatements of motorcycling history. The BSA B.50 MX chassis was state of the art at the time of the TR5T’s launch. Despite the fact that it had been around since 1966, fabricated in Reynolds 531 tubing, it was good enough for the works BSAs to be winning motocross GPs in 1972.

Everything on the chassis worked and was well made. The front forks were excellent, the front brake first-class – although slightly heavy – and only the rear brake was wrong, being too big and overweight. Even this problem was instantly soluble because Triumph still had access to the excellent BSA quickly detachable rear wheel originally fitted to both Triumphs and BSAs.

If the chassis was good, the motor was even better. The unit construction, 490cc, push-rod twin was outstandingly the best motor ever produced by Meriden. It was fast enough to win the Daytona 200, and to win in GP motocross and trials. The immortal Doug. Hele, who was responsible for much of its development, described it as: “The best power plant we (Triumph) ever made.”

As a trail bike motor, the single carburetor version of the engine was peerless. Producing a genuine 38bhp @ 7,500 rpm the power delivery was creamy smooth and effortless all the way from 2,500 rpm.

Just as good, it was ultra reliable and one of the very few British products which could challenge the Japanese in this respect. There were, however, some problems with the TR5T engine which ruined its otherwise peerless quality. First, it was only a four-speeder. For a true dual-purpose bike, the engine was crying out for a wide-ratio five-speed gearbox. A five-speeder would have fitted in the motor but there wasn’t the money to buy in a new ‘box from Quaife – or make it in house.

As the author points out - had this bike been created a half decade earlier it would have rivaled the best bikes of the mid-sixties.
As the author points out – had this bike been created a half decade earlier it would have rivaled the best bikes of the mid-sixties.

Then the engine was cursed with Lucas electrics. The motor was easy to fire up with the kick-start but the Lucas points, coil and alternator were desperately unreliable. Not for nothing was the joke: “Joe” Lucas – the Prince of Darkness.

However, the real disaster was the styling. Entrusted to ex-aviation and car designers at Umberslade Hall – the infamous BSA Group research centre – the TR5T was given a silencer which would have looked over-weight on a Chieftain Tank. The electrics dangled everywhere and the huge, clumsy switchgear and mudguards were robbed from BSA group road bikes.

Instead of the lithe, supple, athletic bike which the Adventurer should have been it looked clumsy, amateurish and heavy.

By 1974, the second full year of its manufacture, the Adventurer died along with its maker. Today, it still remains largely unloved and under rated despite being 10 years ahead of its time in terms of handling, power and sheer riding pleasure. Had the Adventurer been produced in 1966 – as it could have been – with a five speed gearbox it would have status of legendary proportions.

Facebook comments