Norton Commando vs Triumph T160V
ANDOVER on a cold, damp Thursday morning: about as uninspiring as any place
can be. The weatherman promised snow but we already had more than enough rain,
thank you very much. By eleven-thirty the only bright spot so far had been when
ace cameraman and travelling companion Bob Carlos Clarke wandered off down the
lurching corridor train in search of the smallest room. Within a minute of his
disappearance the train pulled into Andover station and Bike's road-test
duo were gripped with the cold fear realisation that they were en route to the
grand, all British, all electric, front cover photo session without a
photographer. A little old lady came to our assistance as we rushed an
assortment of equipment and riding gear onto the platform. A porter slammed the
carriage door, the train ground away in one direction and Bob shambled up in
the other, grinning. Bet he flushed while he was in the station.
Commando, to a lot of people, is a dirty word. There isn't anything that
hasn't gone at some time or other; head gaskets, cranks, exhaust systems you
name it, sooner or later it's blown, broken or fallen off. I'd only ever ridden
a Norton twin on a couple of occasions, never owned one; everything I'd heard
was second or third hand, not exactly a sound basis for constructive criticism
(but food for thought perhaps?). On the other hand, what I'd seen looked good;
Commandos blasting this way and that, a healthy exhaust note and an unmistakably
To dismiss the Mk 3 as just another Commando (yawn) was obviously out of the
question. There were too many changes to last year's specifications, too many
great big galloping strides forward to cross it off as yet another variation on
Bert Hopwood's original theme. It was time for the good old open minded
approach. Andover station, the state of the nation, the weather and all else
The only snag was, of course, that despite all the intriguing new bits and
pieces and my enthusiasm for the truth above all else, the Mk 3 Commando looked
unmistakably like last year's Mk 2a, the Mk 2 before that and etc, etc.
Lesson no. 1: don't be fooled by appearances. There are somewhere in the
region of 150 new or changed parts on the 1975 model which all in all add up to
one hell of a bike. For the first time in several years the Commando is able to
compete on an even basis with all the other bigsters at the upper end of the
market, it's no longer a second rate alternative to a real supabike. If
you'd been down in Andover during the rainy season you would have seen what I
I'll kick off with the obvious, though since last month's Ducati test I'm
already on tricky ground. (Look it up later will ya,
I'm up for three speeding offences in hall an hour's time and they don't like
you to be: late.) The Norton has an electric starter; it says so on the side
panels and if you nose around behind the barrels you'll see the gizmo itself,
the addition being more apparent from the left hand side where the gear drive
drops into the primary chain case.
The unit is solenoid operated and manu factured by Prestolite (press-to
light, get it?) in the USA. Finger-tip control comes from the new US standard
layout green forgo button on the right bar, the starter is power ed by a heavy
duty Yuasa battery, and that in turn is kept fighting fit by a 120 watt Lucas
It couldn't have been more than a couple of days before I climbed aboard the
beast itself that we received a rather unsettling letter from an American
reader. To wit, he had heard (same old problem) down at the local bike shop that
the Norton's electric starter wouldn't turn the motor until the mill had been
fully run in. Maybe somebody was out to make a few easy dollars first buy a
Norton, spread the rumour amongst the Jap bike and Harley owners, take on a few
bets and then clean up. Sure's there's a little piece tucked away in the
handbook that recommends freeing the engine with the foot lever before cold
starts, but I didn't get round to reading it until the test bike was long gone
and I hadn't noticed any problems. On the grottiest of mornings, with the
mercury in the minus zone, there was always a slight hesitancy as the first
piston came up onto compression, but with flooded carbs and full choke a second
prod at the button set things in motion.
Another obvious newie is the left hand gear change, right hand rear brake and
the standardised (that'll send shivers down a few spines) shift pattern.
Although shifting is now up for up, down for down, the basic box internals
haven't altered and the feel at the lever, a long, definite action, remains very
very British. Those weened on nimble toed Nippon changes may find themselves
missing a few cogs; personally (here comes a blatant all-out bid for life
membership of the NOC) I thought the action complemented the overall style of
the machine and with gobs of torque available at the twist of the wrist there
was a total absence of the multi-cylindered fussy urgency that has made modern
biking such a frenzied affair.
The relocation of the gear lever has been effected by an internal crossover
shaft running to the front of the main gear-box assembly, emerging through the
primary chain case just forward of the clutch. This has meant that at long last
the gear-box is a fixed unit, although still of separate construction, with
engine and gearbox centres remaining constant. Chain tension is maintained
hydraulically, and in an effort to "improve oil sealing" what a pity the
brochure doesn't carry the conviction of actually achieving oil sealing
the case outer cover is held in place by peripheral screws. At least somebody's
been taking notice of all the waterproof boot argy-bargy, and if you really must
know the truth, it works, dammit, it really works. In fact, while we're on that
age old topic of conversation, it gives me great pleasure to announce,
gentlemen, that the merest hint of lubrication on the outside could only be
found at the junction of the rev counter cable and the crankcase, and only then
after continuous high speed cruising.
Which brings us rather neatly to the Norton in its element, bopping down the
blacktop in reassuringly confident style. The power characteristics of the motor
reminded me of the Harley Sportster we tested in December '74 the torque is
absolutely unbelievable, catapulting the machine off the line, making constant
gear-changing in Search of a power-band unnecessary. A total of 58 horses are
developed just below six grand, after which the slugging momentum drops off
noticeably although not before the speedo has registered a very healthy ton-plus
figure. After riding the Commando on the street I'll have to admit that the
speed trap findings came as something of an initial disappointment. On long
stretches of open motorway the extremely wide American specification handlebars
left the rider stretched like a sheet in a gale force wind, so in a bid to
reduce fatigue and a permanent death lock on the hand grips I was obliged to
keep things down to a sane, and would you believe it, legal level. However,
scratching back from Norton Triumph International's Kitts Green establishment
with Bill Haylock on the new Trident, I could find absolutely nothing lacking in
either performance or handling and at no time was the Norton obviously
outclassed by the amazingly swift Triumph three.
Undoubtedly the Isolastic engine mounting set-up raised more than a few
eyebrows when it was first introduced, but that's hardly surprising when you
consider the long-standing reputation of the Featherbed frame it had to follow.
Nowadays it's something we take for granted but even so changes have been made
in order to iron out the last of the bugs. The Isolastic rubbers are now bonded
together to prevent shifting, and the original shimming method of adjustment a
ridiculous imposition, no doubt born of afterthought, to place on any owner has
been superceded by a lockable thread.
As is to be expected, while the Isolastics absorb all the engine's high
frequency vibration, slow idle judder is quite pronounced despite the addition
of a spring loaded support to the head steady. At first the sensation of the
motor quivering around at tick-over is er, rather strange, but a little high
speed ear 'oling soon sets your mind at rest about everything being according to
plan. Besides, try blipping the throttle on a BMW at standstill if you're the
nervous type that really is food for thought.
The 850cc power unit, regularly the root cause of much gnashing of teeth, has
been given new, thicker walled crankcases and main bearing widths have been
extended. The Commando crank assembly, a forged steel bolt-up affair running in
roller bearings, has long been regarded as the height of notoriety, although in
fact the reputation was earned by the earlier 750s. Relying on two bearings for
support, it inevitably whipped at high revs and overstressed the edges of the
bearing rollers. The adoption of FAG Superblend bearings, the rollers of which
have a slight taper thus eliminating line contact, overcame the problem and now
even the crank itself has been beefed up. Con rods are shot peened to eliminate
Looking back through past road tests it's quite remarkable how performance
figures have been falling off year by year. Was a time when the 750 Norton
nudged the 120 miles per line, but in common with most contemporary machines the
latest, larger twin is well down in the speed stakes. Obviously it's carrying a
lot of extra weight, some 50 lbs in fact, and stringent overseas anti-noise and
pollution requirements have a lot to answer for. The engine breathing system
recycles oil mist first through the oil tank and then via a separator into the
induction system, the small amount of remaining oil being passed directly into
the inlet manifold forward of the carburettors. The moulded plastic air filter
box is designed for maximum inlet noise suppression, the filter itself being an
oil wetted foam element.
The exhaust silencers are billed as being "superquiet", which couldn't be
nearer the truth. Identical units are fitted to the Trident, but while they give
the three a rather satisfying raspiness to onlookers at least they reduce
the Commando's note to a very mediocre mumble, totally inaudible to the rider
encapsulated in a full face helmet. At the other end of the system, the pipe
flanges have been replaced by spherical swaged ends to allow unstressed pipe
alignment and bring an end to the constantly recurring loose pipe bugbear.
When you consider how apathetically the Norton twin has been projected in the
past (aren't the changes we've already discussed enough indication of a long
neglected potential?) it's so refreshing to see evidence that every last aspect
of the machine has been given consideration in the light of current market
trends, technical advances, and plain old owner requirements. For once we
haven't been served up with last year's model (faults an' all) in a simply
different colour, with a different seat or a different silencer.
One such example is the introduction of a rear disc brake, a Norton Lockheed
item identical to that already mounted up front. The foot pedal is pivoted on
the footrest support arm and is connected directly to the combined master
cylinder and hydraulic fluid reservoir. The hoses to both brakes are armour
protected and the connections have been routed neatly and well out of harm's
way. The old drum rear stopper was never anything to write home about; like so
many things, it worked and that was deemed sufficient, but thanks to a
characteristically heavy lever pressure the rear disc is capable of rapid yet
safe retardation. A very pleasant side to the braking is that at low to medium
speeds you don't get hauled unceremoniously to a tyre squealing halt with your
passenger flattened against your back and your bum thrust a good six inches onto
the top of the tank, while braking in the heat of a high speed moment is as
effective as hitting the brick wall you will be fortunate enough to miss.
The front brake caliper is now mounted on the leading edge of the fork slider
and the whole unit has been switched over to the left hand side. A reason has
been given for both changes, yet while the cynical will maintain that the forks
have simply been turned through 180 degrees for the hell of it, it would require
the knowledge of a braking, handling and turbulence characteristics expert to
get to the bottom of the matter, particularly since one of the reasons is a
direct contradiction of current practice on the Trident stablemate.
The left hand mounting is supposed to improve steering balace in conjunction
with the right side mounting of the rear disc. Fair enough. The forward mounting
is supposed to prevent the accumulation of road grit inside the caliper with
resultant excessive wear on the pads. Certainly this was a fault with the
previous set-up, pad wear being increased by as much as 80 per cent in bad
weather conditions with the additional horror show aspect of it being possible
to eject pads under braking if wear hadn't been regularly monitored and new pads
fitted in time. The wiper blades that are rumoured to be in the offing would end
the controversy once and for all, but they were not evident on our test bike.
Over to you, Mr Expert.
Further requirements dictated by American law can be found at either end of
the handlebars. The control switch units are of a new design finished in flat
back with the various switch functions engraved and picked out in white to
comply with US legislation. On the right above the starter button is a red
ignition cut-out, and the headlight / parking light switch. The brake lever is
of polished forged aluminium forming an integral part of the handlebar unit
which also includes the master cylinder and reservoir. Rear view mirrors screw
directly into either unit and although they weren't fitted to the test bike they
are listed as standard equipment.
Bottom left is a combined horn / headlight flasher button which is mercifully
easy to locate in a hurry, turn indicator switch and hi/lo (uuugh! what price
patriotism now, my friends?) selector. Even though all the switches and buttons
are located at the back of the units, they don't look particularly waterproof;
in view of the thoughtful rubber ignition lock shroud and steering lock bung I'd
have expected something a little more secure against the elements despite the
fact that throughout the rain sodden test period no problems were experienced.
The twistgrip, by the by, has a quick action operation and both throttle and
clutch cables are nylon lined for sooper smoothness.
Four warning lights are sited on a panel between the speedo and rev counter,
latest addition to the original line-up being the neutral indicator coloured
green. Main beam warning light is now regulation blue. There really doesn't seem
to be much point arguing the toss over the American stipulations (Canadian
models have the headlight wired in with the ignition); they exist and if you
want to sell bikes over there you have to comply. I suppose it is just possible
that a number of affluent Yanks will be saved a few premature grey hairs as they
chop and change amongst their vast stables of latest model two wheelers, but
over here it only adds to the cost. And after all, a century or so's motorcycle
production is going to take quite a while to wind up on the mantlepiece or the
So there you have it. open minded approach et al. I for one would
gladly brave the horrors of Andover station for another ride on the Commando Mk
3, for a chance to really absorb the character of the machine, to appreciate it
and to enjoy the very definite style of biking it offers. For that's a very
important thing with the Norton its character. It's something that tends to
get sidelined with the majority of modern machines, but once you've ridden a
bike like this you suddenly realise that you've been missing out.
The Commando complements the Trident surprisingly well. The three is sleek
and fast, really fast, and in its latest guise a front line contender in the big
bike world. The Commando provides the raw, brute force back-up of relentless low
revving power, the kind of action suited to effortless day long cruising with
the box set in top and a lazy right hand offering a little more or less throttle
as the situation demands. At a glance it may not have changed very much, but in
fact it has changed a great deal. It is very much a new machine, at long last
fulfilling the potential that until now has remained so ridiculously
unex-ploited. Above all else, the Mk 3 is definitely not just another Commando.
SALISBURY Plain, stretched out bare and open to a heavy grey sky, is bisected
by a thin ribbon of tarmac, one end of which unwinds in a blur under the front
wheel while the other disappears over the edge of the drab, wintry countryside.
Stonehenge's primeval silhouette looms out of the empti ness of the plain and
then vanishes behind my right shoulder.
This visual tableau of stark, primitive forms is accompanied by a rumbling,
growling noise that could almost be coming from the massive lungs of a
Tyrannosauru Instead, it's bellowing from the three lusty cylinders of the new
electric start Triumph Trident I've just collected from the nearby Andover
Oddly, the elemental landscape seems quite in accord with the feeling of
riding this, the latest, most complex machine to be launched on the market by
the British motorcycle industry. Thankfully sophistication hasn't spoiled what
has always been a good bike. It's polished blemishes away but left that raw edge
that is the quintessence of British biking.
Roller-coastering over the gentle swells and dips of the road I just relax
and take in the feeling of space and the exhilaration of riding one of those
big, honest bikes that demands very little of you, but gives all you could want.
Still a distinctively British bike, the Trident represents a biking ethos
that has been declining these past few years as the sadly shrunken state of the
British industry testifies. With so many super-smooth studs dashing around on
flash multis and screaming little two strokes, admitting to a partiality for the
simple joys of British biking is likely to get you ostracised from trendy
society. What the hell, I'm not going to start apologising for going into
raptures about the Trident's charms. It's not a question of blind patriotism,
it's just that I love that noise, the power and that hefty feel.
When the Triumph Trident was first sprung on the unsophisticated motorcycle
market of the late sixties circumstances conspired to deny it the popularity it
really deserved. A lot of bikers were ready for excitingly exotic machinery to
break the monotony of the ubiquitous parallel twin, and the Trident should have
taken the world by storm as the first of the seventies generation of so-called
But just a few months later the inscrutable Orientals outbid Triumph in
technological one-upmanship when they launched on a spell-bound public the 750
Honda with no less than four cylinders. Exotica from the mysterious East
seemed far more appealing than any bike from the grimy Midlands, and a four was
a breath-taking step into the realms of super-technology, or at least it was
back in those naive days before we became blase with a surfeit of threes, fours
and sixes. Sadly, that left the Trident, and its BSA stablemate, the Rocket-3,
in a state of limbo in a rapidly changing biking scene that must have left the
British designers feeling deflated and befuddled.
So the Japanese onslaught took the wind right out of BSA-Triumph's sails (and
sales), the Rocket-3 faded into history and the Trident underwent a few
superficial and half-hearted styling changes which demonstrated that Triumph
just weren't sure where they were going.
For a brief interlude it seemed they'd actually summoned up the resolve to
launch something bravely new and different, in the shape of the Craig Vetter
styled Triumph X-75 Hurricane (tested in the March/April '73 issue of Bike).
But then it seemed as though the more conservative elements of the staid
Meriden management got windy about it, and very few were produced before it went
to an early grave like so many other good ideas.
The Trident just didn't have the style to cut it along with the rash or more
exciting multis that sprang up from over the seas. Sure, it was a great bike to
ride, but many potential buyers were seduced away by the glitter of chrome and
electric starters. Anyway, with all the production problems the muddled British
industry was facing, what was the point of them stimulating a demand they did
not have the resources to satisfy?
But something had to change if the Trident wasn't going to fade away into
obscurity. Thank God it's happened at last, and I just hope it's not too late to
make up for the acres of ground lost in the first seven years of the Trident's
life. If the Trident had been like this seven years ago there wouldn't be half
as many Honda fours on the road now. At last it can stand up for itself among
the ranks of the world's best and most exciting heavy road-burners, without
looking inadequate or inferior.
For me, riding the Trident was something of a re-discovery of the joys of
British biking, and a glad realisation that the sickly remnants of the country's
industry is capable of presenting its products with the sort of style and
finesse today's discerning market demands.
With three models representing the sum total of the NVT's range, including
the Bonneville twin workers' co-op special, test bikes don't come our way very
often, and we get to accept the values of Japanese designers as the norm, purely
because we ride so many of their bikes. But the sight, sound and feel of the new
Trident brought back the good feelings I had when I first rode one of the
threes, the BSA version, back in 1970. An overall impression of solid, honest
machinery hits you as soon as you punch the new starter button and the motor
rumbles into life with a deep throated, purposeful thundering, almost like a big
The Trident's sound, although somewhat emasculated by the new Norton type
silencers to satisfy those insidious American vehicle regulations, is still as
evocative as it always was. Anyone who has heard the soulful wail of a Trident
on the race tracks; will know what I mean.
We picked up the Trident from Kitts Green, home of the NVT development shop,
and having ridden the Norton there from Peterborough, the differences between
the twin and the triple felt all the more marked. Although) both bikes' heritage
stamps them with that distinctly British character, they each have a very
Despite the frills and finery, the Commando's attraction is still that of the
unsophisticated punchiness the parallel twin is known and loved (and hated by
some) for. But the triple's appeal is more subtle. It lacks the Norton's hefty
off-the-line torque, but makes up for it in a consistent surge of smooth, solid
power that goes on churning out long after the twin runs out of steam.
The Trident is, in fact, one of the fastest bikes we've ever put through our
electronic speed trap. It recorded a staggering oneway best of 126 mph. I could
hardly believe it when I went back to look at the speed on the clock after my
first run through the trap. Admittedly there was a moderate tail wind, but
minutes before in identical conditions, the Commando had only managed 111 mph.
It surprised everyone at the factory too: we'd been told that the extra
silencing, air filters, etc. had cut the power.
Perhaps it was an unusually good motor, but it went like a rocket and just
kept on revving. At that recorded speed of 126, the motor was in fact a couple
of hundred over the recommended safe max revs of 8,000. Either the company's
claimed power output figure of 58 bhp at 7,250 rpm is rather conservative, or
all the opposition are lying about their power output figures.
Standing quarter times would have been significantly faster I'm sure, but for
a slipping clutch. Under normal road conditions the clutch gave no problems, but
as soon as it was subjected to the brutal punishment of being dropped in while
the motor screamed at 8,000 rpm it slipped. Being a car-type single dry plate
unit, it survived this sort of treatment better than the normal multi-plate type
would. Half a dozen runs failed to have any permanent effect on the clutch, as
soon as it cooled down it was perfectly OK again under normal conditions. But
the slip meant that instead of catapulting off the line, the Trident just eased
away until the clutch began to bite, which wasn't until second gear was notched
up. Then the bike just powered up the airfield strip like a Phantom jet fighter
on red alert. Without the clutch problems, times in the low thir-teens would
have been no sweat. As it is, 13.77 sees still ain't bad by any standards.
The Trident's riding position feels immediately more functional than that
provided by the Norton's high and wide US export bars. The Trident's flat,
narrow bars and low seat give the sort of easy touring stance that British bikes
used to have before they started pandering to the whims of easy-riding Yanks.
It's comfortable and practical for long distance touring, or wriggling through
Handling has a lot to do with the characteristic British feel. It's not as
taut and responsive as some Italian machinery, but it gives a feeling of
security and supreme confidence I've never experienced on any Japanese
heavyweight. It sticks firmly to a predictable line, refusing to be deflected by
bumps or rough road surfaces, and makes it easy to relax and enjoy the ride even
when you're scratching around twisting country roads.
After the Norton motor's lazy pulsing, the Trident seemed hopelessly
undergeared as I headed homewards from Kitts Green, until a glance at the tacho
told me the three-pot mill wasn't spinning half as fast as I thought. In actual
fact, I quickly discovered the Trident could lug just as well at low revs as the
Commando. Perhaps not with quite such a crisp response, but
smoother than the twin, which feels lumpy when you let the revs drop too low.
It's surprising how the Triumph is content to bumble sedately along town streets
in top gear, but to get things moving you've got to rapidly drop a couple of
So cruising homewards, the tarmac effortlessly and rapidly skimming under the
wheels in a way that only happens when you form an affinity with a bike, I began
to wonder about the changes that make this bike cost £300 more than its
A price of £1215 is likely to horrify a lot of people who've got used to
thinking of the products of their home industry as a cheap substitute for the
costly brashness of a Honda or Kawasaki four. But in its '75 guise the Trident
is in the same league as the Kawasaki, or Laverdas, or (goddamit why
not?) the R75 Bee Em. There's always an element of the - grass - is - always
-greener syndrome that makes British bikers denigrate British bikes, but even if
the home market won't accept that the Trident is in the top league, I'm sure
export markets will. The two biggest things that will bring about this
acceptance are the electric starter and the superb new styling.
I'm sure one of the reasons for the Trident's lack of popularity in the past
was the totally uninspiring appearance, a petrol tank with all the grace and
sleekness of a housebrick, drab paint and a motor that sat primly and
uncomfortably bolt upright in the frame. That beautiful hunk of motor should be
flaunted, not apologised for. The NVT stylists have achieved that very
effectively, merely by tilting the engine forwards 15 degrees (like the old
Rocket-3), designing a tank that looks deceptively slim from the side, and using
an extra bit of polish on the alloy casings.
There's an option of two tank sizes; three or four gallon; and two paint
schemes, red with white or white with yellow. Our bike had the large tank that
conceals an amazing four gallons, from the side it looks no bulkier than the
three gallon option, but a squint from above reveals the extra width that
conceals the additional gallon. The classic lines of the tank are set off by
tasteful panels of contrasting paint and the good old traditional Triumph
Silencers are NVT's annular discharge type, new to the Trident but the same
as fitted to the Mk 2A Commando. The upward sweep of the silencers combines with
the slope of the engine to give the new Trident an aggressive elan the
old version never had. Detail changes in appearance although small, also make a
great contribution to the Trident's smooth new look. Seat and sidepanels are
redesigned, there's new, tidier switches and neat rubber mountings for the
instruments incorporating a warning light console with, for the first time
folks, a neutral indicator light.
Of course the changes go more'n skin deep. There's getting on for 50 major
design mods, and quite a few more minor ones. Fitting a starter motor involved
modifications to the crankcases, clutch and primary chain case. The starter is a
car-type pre-engaged, solenoid operated Lucas unit which hides under a satin
chromed cover-plate atop of the gearbox. The starter motor pinion meshes
directly onto gear teeth on the back of the Trident's single dry plate clutch.
Some of the design changes are not necessarily improvements, merely
standardisation forced upon NVT by the American legislators who have decreed
that gear change pedals shall be on the left, and brake pedals on the right.
Such is the power of the American Dollar, we get not necessarily what we want,
but what some politician a few thousand miles across the Atlantic thinks the
coddled American public needs., Other things they've foisted on us are
standardised and labelled handlebar switches, including an engine kill button,
and a neutral indicator light. Switching the gear-change to the left has been
achieved without any detriment to the action of the gearbox, in fact NVT have
taken the opportunity to make improvements to the camplate and shift lever
movement, resulting in slick swapping that's just about as faultless as it can
be. I never missed a gear once, and neutral snicks in soft and sure when you're
at a standstill.
The crankcases had to be redesigned to accommodate the cross-shaft which
achieves the change-over from right to left foot gear shift. It runs from the
right hand side, just behind the plate with the 5 speed motif which covers the
hole where the gear lever used to emerge, right through to the primary chaincase.
Quadrant gears mesh with a gear on the lever shaft on the left extremity, and
the other end is linked to the positive stop mechanism.
While making these changes, the development team also tilted the cylinders
forward 15 degrees to make more room to accommodate the starter, and to get the
weight lower and further forward. This meant redesigning the exhaust, with a
cast manifold for the centre pot feeding two small diameter pipes. It looks
neater than the old three - into - two system, it's more impressive with four
pipes tucked close into the engine, and it also gives more power.
One of the rather exclusive features that boosts the new Trident's status is
the hyd-raulically operated rear disc brake something none of its presently
available Japanese competitors can boast. The master cylinder is tucked away
behind the brake pedal and the fluid reservoir is out of harm's way underneath
the side hinging seat. It works well too well if anything. The rear wheel can
be easily locked on dry roads, if you don't have the dainty tread of a ballet
dancer. If that ingenious Mullard anti-lock system being developed by the
Transport and Road Research Laboratory had been incorporated it would really
have given the Trident the lead in safety. Then with discs front and back the
braking system could be coupled as our very own LJKS advocated in his
Cog-Swapping column back in August '74.
In addition to the repositioning of the engine, the Trident has a new frame
just like the production racer "Slippery Sam" the most famous Trident of all
which notched up three consecutive Production TT wins in '72, '73 and '74, and
many other racing honours. The swinging arm is longer, and the front forks are
shorter, all to get the weight lower and further forward. The new frame and
upswept silencers give the T160V extra Ground Clearance. I never grounded
anything, even though the confidence inspired by the Trident's virtuous handling
persuaded me to antics that I'm sure upright citizens would deplore.
The electric starter and its associated gubbins, and other additions make up
about 401b extra weight over the T150V. It's always been a hefty bike and now
it weighs in at 5221b with a gallon in the.fuel tank, or 5401b with the full
four gallons aboard. Still lighter than a few Japanese bikes I can think of, but
of course it does mean you have to take low speed turns slowly and deliberately.
At anything much above walking pace the weight turns to your advantage by
helping that confidence-boosting feel of solid, secure handling. Surprisingly
though, side winds affect the bike more than they should do, inducing a slow
weave which never turns into a wobble, but is annoying all the same.
I very much doubt this is due to any fundamental handling fault it is
quite likely a simple matter of tyre pressures, but with an insanely hectic test
schedule, I never got time to experiment with different pressures.
While we're on the moans I've got to tell you that our test Trident laid
itself open to all those old British bike jokes about oil leaks. It seeped from
the point where the clutch cable enters the primary chain case, and while no
great quantity of lubricant escaped it left an unsightly film of gunge over the
left side panel. Triumph's chief development engineer Doug Hele was aware of
this problem when I mentioned it to him, and he assured me that all bikes
leaving the production lines now have a section of tube inserted in the
chaincase to seal the oil out of the cable housing.
The Trident's thirst has always been notorious, and our average figure of
just over 36 mpg shows things haven't changed. But considering it's one of the
fastest 750s around (faster than the Kawasaki H2 which used to have a reputation
for speed, and a heavier thirst) that ain't too much to live with. Seems they're
working on the problem too with their prototype 850 Trident which Hele reckons
could eventually be more economical than the present 750. That's got to be some
machine too ah well, we'll just have to wait.
But until that 850 version becomes a commercial reality, I've got a feeling
the T160 is going to do a lot for the British industry's flagging reputation,
here and abroad. Let's just hope it's going to be the answer to NVT's financial
LOOKING back on this, only the second all-British Giant Test in Bike's
history, we can't help remembering that despite the usual frustrations of
unbelievably tight time schedules, crummy weather, and a thousand and one other
things clamouring for priority, those two machines really were good to ride. We
used any and every excuse to take them down the road, sometimes pushing them to
the limit, exploring every last ounce of potential; sometimes cruising free an'
easy, relaxing in the feeling of unruffled confidence they convey. That's the
first impression you get from riding the Norton and the Triumph, and the one
that always seems to come to mind afterwards they're so manageable. It's so
damn easy to jump aboard and go places without having to worry about a peculiar
handling or a particular power characteristic: you just get on and go.
Since its initial success back in '67 the Commando has lost a lot of ground
in the battle of the giants, but the latest specs plus the extensive revision of
known weak points slam it right back into the heat of the competition. With a
rather dramatic price rise over £200 up on the previous model it's certainly
no longer a cheap alternative machine, although it still undercuts the all
powerful Kawasaki Zl and Norton Triumph are confident they can hold the
The final outcome of the Commando story remains to be seen. So many factors
way beyond the limited scope of motorcycling will influence its future, yet
while national economies tremble, bikers at least will have difficulty finding a
more satisfying way of losing their troubles.
Meanwhile, the Trident now has sophistication, frills and finery the British
purists will probably abhor but it is still a fit machine to carry into the
seventies (and eighties maybe) the tradition that produced such British classics
as Brough Superior, Manx Norton and, of course, the Triumph Speed Twin.
It costs fifty quid above the Commando's list price, and £250 more than the
T150, but it also offers more refinement and a hell of a lot more style than
either the old Trident or the new Commando. And it has as much to offer as many
machines in the swelling ranks of luxury bikes costing as much as a couple of
Of the two bikes the Trident must have the brighter future. The Norton twin
inevitably looks dated, however well it performs, but the triple powerhouse is,
with the benefit of its new styling, one of the most exciting looking engines
around. And the way it performs compared to most of its opposition shows the
design still has plenty of youthful virility. What's more the Trident still
costs roughly the same as a British Leyland Mini (yeeuch excuse me while I
vomit). I know which I'd sooner spend 1200 notes on.